HIBERNIAN have described reports that they are in the process of negotiating a total debt write-off as “speculative” but admit that discussions regarding the long-term future of the Easter Road outfit are ongoing between the club, the holding company and the bank.
The club also announced that its annual general meeting will not be held until the end of next month while these negotiations continue.
It had been mooted that the club’s long-standing majority shareholder Sir Tom Farmer was close to securing an agreement with bankers that would wipe a significant chunk off their estimated £8 million debt and place the ground and the East Mains training ground into a Trust.
However, in a statement issued yesterday evening, the club refused to confirm that, saying that suggestions of a total debt write-off were “not based on fact”.
The revelations have been met by a mixed response, with many welcoming the promise of greater financial security and stating that any debt reduction would make the club more attractive to potential buyers.
Others, however, remain sceptical, expressing annoyance that the groups interested in taking over the club – including BuyHibs – were not informed of these plans during their numerous meetings with board representatives, especially as they have been cited as the reason for the delay of the AGM – which is usually held in October/November but is now scheduled for
In yesterday’s statement, Leeann Dempster, chief executive of Hibernian, said: “Discussions have taken place involving the Club, HFC Holdings and the Bank.
“We have decided to hold the AGM slightly later than usual in order to allow these talks to be concluded.
“The outcome will be reflected in the Board’s plans for the future which we will present at the AGM and talk in detail to our supporters.”
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Former player Paul Kane, an active campaigner for change, said that the board will have to be prepared for the plans to be scrutinised by the fans in the wake of that meeting.
“It’s a little bit disappointing that they won’t be coming to the fans with proposals,” he said. “From the sounds of the statement they are too far down the line for this to be called a proposal, but the fans don’t just have to accept it. They have to prove that this is right for the club. It could be a pivotal moment in the history of our football club and we will wait to see what they say on the 28th. That’s when the Hibs support will hear what has been going on behind the scenes and that is when the Hibs support will make their judgment.”
While several fans’ groups have made it clear that they would prefer that control of the Leith club was transferred to the supporters, some reports have suggested that Richard Skellett is at the front of the queue to buy in and replace Sir Tom but, with this deal, it is understood that the Kwik-Fit founder, who currently owns 90 per cent of the club, is keen to keep Hibs in the hands of the Farmer family.
The 74-year-old self-made millionaire was hailed as a saviour when he bought over the club in 1990 and foiled Wallace Mercer’s plans for a merger with Hearts, but the natives have been restless for some time and the dark clouds descended further when the club tumbled unceremoniously from the top flight at the end of last season.
The desire for change has only been increased by an indifferent start to their Championship campaign which has seen them fall 19 points behind league leaders and city rivals Hearts. But following a summer campaign and rally designed to force Petrie’s exit, a number of separate fans’ groups have tried to table ways to assume the majority shareholding.
First, former chairman Malcolm McPherson’s consortium was stymied, and then Forever Hibernian attempted to negotiate a solution before BuyHibs, supported by Kane and fellow former player and Hibs legend Pat Stanton, announced its intentions last month.
Hoping to finance the buy-out and ongoing running of the club with the backing of some wealthy individuals and monthly pledges from fans, they made it clear that they would only discuss any takeover with Farmer himself and have been frustrated by his unwillingness to meet or name his price.
Yesterday’s revelations offer some explanation why he refused to do so.
But they will only be allowed to quell the agitation if they survive the microscopic examination of the fans after the annual general meeting.
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