Hearts’ future still to be resolved

Tynecastle was shrouded in anxiety yesterday as Hearts' future remained uncertain. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Tynecastle was shrouded in anxiety yesterday as Hearts' future remained uncertain. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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EVER been to a football match which you are told has to have an outcome on the day, only to find that there will, after all, be a replay?

Perhaps that has never happened in real life, but it must have been how thousands of Hearts supporters felt yesterday afternoon as they learned that the future of their club had yet to be decided one way or the other.

Two meetings were due to take place in Lithuania, or so just about everyone in Scotland had thought. First the creditors of Ubig, then their counterparts at Ukio, would vote on whether to transfer their shares in Hearts, and their security over Tynecastle in the case of Ukio.

A yes vote in both cases, and the Foundation of Hearts’ Company Voluntary Arrangement would be all but over the line. A 20-day cooling-off period would still be required, but around 80 per cent of the shares in Hearts – along with, crucially, ownership of the club ground – would be pledged to the united supporters’ group.

Ubig said yes around mid-morning UK time, raising hopes that Ukio would follow suit. Several hours later, however, it emerged that the Ukio creditors’ meeting had not in fact been convened, and that instead the talks were between Ukio administrators and Bryan Jackson of Hearts administrators BDO. Jackson himself had apparently flown out to Vilnius expecting the Ukio creditors’ meeting to go ahead, and only learned at the 11th hour that it was not going to happen at all yesterday.

Even that meeting between Jackson and Ukio did not conclude, instead being suspended after several hours. Talks are expected to resume within the next few days, and it is believed that Jackson will stay in Lithuania until they do start up again. But, after the expectation of clarity, this was another confusing and muddled episode in a saga that has already gone on for too long.

That was as bad as it got yesterday for those long-suffering Hearts fans. There had not been two yes votes. In fact there had not been two votes of any description at all.

Inevitably, that was a worrying turn of events, especially given the fact that BDO have said money is running out at Tynecastle and they cannot wait much longer before resorting to preparations for liquidation. But, on reflection, despite the frustration of yet another delay, there are still grounds to be positive.

As a statement issued by the Foundation last night said, a successful exit from administration is now significantly closer for Hearts. Ubig is sorted – an advance which “should not be underestimated”, as chairman Ian Murray said in the statement. The discussions between Ukio and BDO were “lengthy and positive”.

Provided those latter discussions resume in the coming days, as it has been said they will, and provided their outcome is positive, there will still just be enough time for the CVA to be completed before the money runs out. The very fact Ukio are still talking is an indication that they want the CVA to succeed.

So why the hold-up? BDO declined to say a word either on or off the record yesterday, other than to confirm what everyone with the slightest interest in the subject already knew, that the Ubig end of the deal had been successfully completed.

But there can be only one major reason why the talks are going on: money. Ukio’s administrators, in common with people in charge of any company anywhere, want to get as much as they can for what they have to offer. If one little delay nets them, say, an extra £50,000, from their point of view that would be well worth the hassle. The incentive for BDO and the Foundation in agreeing to any such increase would be a promise from Ukio that they would then do their utmost to sell the deal to their shareholders. On the other hand, BDO have very little money to spare, and the Foundation have already put more money into the CVA than they would like. There is no point in forking out millions to buy a football club if you have no cash left with which to actually run it.

So the line from BDO to Ukio will be “Take what is on offer”. The alternative to that £2.5m, liquidation, guarantees nothing at all to Ukio.

The only rival “bids” to the Foundation’s have been shown to lack substance. The Foundation remains the only game in town, even if it is taking longer than expected to reach a successful conclusion.