A FANS group vying to take control of Hearts is set to meet today after the club’s director claimed new owners could be in place at Tynecastle within months.
Sergejus Fedotovas said at the weekend that talks were taking place over the potential sale of Hearts with “a number of interested parties” and that a deal could be completed by the end of the season.
While the Foundation of Hearts, which is hoping to take ownership of Hearts on behalf of the fans, was reluctant to comment directly on the announcement, the Evening News understands that a meeting of figures involved with a proposed takeover is to take place today and that this week is seen as an “important” one for the bid.
Capital-based insurance chief Alex Mackie, the Foundation’s chairman, said: “We are focusing on finalising our plans and are progressing on matters within our control. I am listening with interest with what Sergejus has said. I’m not sure if we are in the mix, I’ve not heard from Sergejus in a while. The Foundation will meet to discuss this new position and see what the next stage is.”
The key summit will take place on what could be a landmark day in the history of the Gorgie club.
Ukio Bankas, the Lithuanian bank belonging to Hearts owner Vladimir Romanov, could go into permanent administration, following last week’s announcement that operations had been suspended with administrators called in on a temporary basis.
Hearts have admitted that it has a “debt facility” with the bank, although the amount and whether it is in the form of a loan or an overdraft is unclear. If the amount is significant and administrators opt to call in cash, the club could potentially be plunged into further financial turmoil.
Hearts’ existence was threatened last year by a £450,000 winding-up order brought by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and supporters’ fund-raising efforts over a share issue fell about £800,000 short of the £1.79m target.
In an indication of the club’s financial position, it is understood that bosses decided against contesting midfielder Ryan Stevenson’s suspension following a controversial red card against Dundee United, as they did not want to lose the £1000 fee required to lodge an appeal if it was unsuccessful.
Mr Mackie added: “We need time to digest what the administration of Ukio Bankas means. All I’m concerned about is some transparency over the cashflow management of the club. We can’t come back with another approach unless we have visibility over the funding gap.”
Labour peer and former Hearts chairman George Foulkes, who has pledged the maximum of £100 a month to the Foundation of Hearts and met with representatives of the group at the weekend, said he believed a new formal approach to take over the club could be made before the end of this season by the fans.
A dialogue between the Foundation and Hearts is ongoing and a £450,000 bid was turned down last year. He said: “The only discussions I know about relate to the Foundation of Hearts. I know they are meeting this week to discuss how to make an approach.
“Ukio Bankas is in administration. The club owes a substantial amount of money to Ukio Bankas, so effectively the administrator will decide on the future of the club.
“At the moment Hearts is getting money in and paying money out. It’s only if the administrator calls in the loan, but the hope is the administrator sees Hearts as a going concern.”
Hearts have publicly been up for sale since November 2011, although Fedotovas has refused to say whether the fans’ bid is the preferred option.
Last month, a consortium of six Scandinavian businessmen were linked with a move to buy Romanov’s majority shareholding in Hearts. It is believed informal talks have taken place between the Foundation and the Scandinavians, who are keen to secure the backing of the fans group before a formal bid is lodged. An American consortium is also said to be interested in making an approach for Hearts.
The shock revelation over the potential imminent sale has provoked intense interest among supporters as to the identity of the mystery bidders, while others have speculated that the move could be a bluff intended to “smoke out” genuine interest in buying the club.
Lord Foulkes said that regardless of whether the claims from Fedotovas were genuine, he believed now is the time for supporters to back the Foundation of Hearts.
He added: “There don’t appear to be any white knights around. If there isn’t, then this is the only way forward. If I was trying to sell something I would say there are a lot of people interested. The end of the season is a desirable time to make a bid. If the Foundation is moving towards success then there will be a huge boost in purchases of season tickets. I know people who are keen fans who held back because they didn’t want to give money to Romanov and I think they should back the Foundation.”
The Evening News can reveal that former Livingston owner Angelo Massone, who made an unsuccessful £4.5 million offer to purchase the club in November, is not one of the parties in talks, although he refused to rule out a future bid.
He said. “I made an offer several months ago and the offer was rejected. I don’t have any news.”
‘Positive’ news for club
HEARTS legends have today reacted to the shock announcement from Sergejus Fedotovas that the club could be in new hands by the end of the season.
The club’s record goalscorer, John Robertson, pictured, who made an appeal to supporters to support the recent share issue, said he understood that talks with a number of parties had been held and “kept quiet”.
He added: “There are a few buyers interested and they may be well down the road, but unfortunately I think there’s still a lot more to come.
“Although Vladimir Romanov gets a hard time of it, and for a lot of things rightly so, what a lot of people have to understand is Hearts were something like £22 or £24 million in debt before he took over.
“This is not just a Vladimir Romanov debt, this is a debt that was there when he took over the club. Hearts have been badly mismanaged for a number of years now, not just the years that Vladimir Romanov has been at the club.”
Former winger Allan Preston, below, who now works as an agent and a media pundit, said he believed the news was “positive”.
He added: “I think there’s been people in the UK trying to buy the club, there are Scandinavians interested and also Angelo Massone and the Hearts Foundation.
“So, there are a lot of people out there, hopefully, trying to get the club and if that was the case it would be terrific news for the club.
“They have to get to the end of the season. I don’t think the fans realise how important winning that semi-final against Inverness was, and the finances that brought.
“Hopefully, if they can get to the end of the season they can run their own ship.”
Ex-striker Donald Ford, pictured, who is a known supporter of the Foundation of Hearts, said the principle of the fans group was “absolutely brilliant”.
He added: “Something has to change in the game. It just can’t go on the way it is, in such a desperate situation. The hope is still that the Foundation’s ideas can be carried through.
“The hope has to be that Hearts avoid someone who says they have pots of money to sort it out. Because, as we have just seen from what Vladimir attempted to do, it won’t work.
“If nothing else comes out of this, the hope has to be that the days of someone coming along with a chequebook and trying to buy success on a football field at Hearts are over. There seems to be a belief that someone buying a club and pouring a lot of money into it is a guarantee that success will come along. It’s just a misnomer. It just cannot work.”
‘Are administrators calling shots?’
The prospect of new owners at Tynecastle has provoked a flurry of speculation and debate on fans message boards and micro-blogging site Twitter. Among recent tweets were:
George Foulkes @GeorgeFoulkes
I have pledged £100 a month to the Foundation of Hearts to help with their bid. Please join me with what you can afford from £10 to £100.
Calum Fraser @calumHMFC74
Hopefully if we can get bought over it will give fans hope and make people back us more
Andy Rae @AndyRae67
Do you believe Sergejus Fedotovas?
The Sock Thief @serialsockthief
We need a buyer but I don’t understand why any of these foreign groups would be interested.
Darren Weddell @Weddell3223
Interesting week ahead for Hearts, anyone’s guess on how this will pan out #hmfc #saveourhearts
George Crosshill @FatFellWalker
Our owner’s Lithuanian bank went bust this week so hopefully he’ll be forced to sell up to the fans
David Flint @daflint69
Rumours vlad no longer has a say on sale of #hmfc - out of his hands as Lithuanian gov/administrators calling the shots? #interestingiftrue
Mícheál Mac Eoghain @MrMacFunn
looks to me like selling Tynecastle could be the only way to save Hearts. Romanov needs to excerpt some muscle to save them.
Iain Mercer @IainMerc
Boo Romanov not the team/manager. His financial anarchy has led us down this path where we have to play kids with no SPL experience.