D-Day for Hearts as creditors meet to decide fate
According to sources in the Baltic republic, Pat Munro, who has tried unsuccessfully several times to take over Hearts, has offered £15 million for the ground – six times what Ukio Bankas are due to receive under the terms of the Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) agreed between administrators BDO and the Foundation of Hearts.
The Foundation are confident that Munro will be unable to come anywhere close to meeting the terms of his own offer, which would see a company of his pay £1m a year for 15 years to Ukio, the Lithuanian firm which has a security over Tynecastle. But Ukio’s creditors, who meet today, as do their counterparts at Ubig, could decide to take their time in determining for themselves whether Munro has the money. That is time that Hearts may not have, as Bryan Jackson of BDO has said that current funds will run out around the end of this month. BDO cannot carry on treading water: they need to know whether they can complete the CVA, or whether they have no alternative but to start winding up the business.
Ukio Bankas, the holder of a security over Tynecastle and owner of nearly 30 per cent of the shares in the club, approved the CVA in principle more than four months ago. For that approval to become reality, it needs its creditors to agree to it at one of today’s two meetings. The incentive is most of the £2.5 million which has been agreed between the Foundation and BDO as the price of the takeover.
At the other meeting, the creditors of Ubig, which owns nearly 50 per cent of the shares but has no security over its debts, will be asked if they agree to the CVA. There is no cash incentive for them to do so, but nor is there any clear reason for them to vote against. They stand to gain nothing either way.
Creditors are free to vote as they wish, and it is unlikely any of them would be motivated by sentiment towards a foreign sporting body of which they know little. But Hearts are a relatively small part of what was Vladimir Romanov’s business portfolio. Those creditors have substantially bigger fish to fry, and they have been urged to accept that letting Hearts go will allow them to concentrate on more important – and certainly more lucrative – matters.
If both meetings approve the CVA, there will then be a 20-day cooling-off period. If that period passes without any challenge, BDO can then get on with the task of completing the Sale and Purchase Agreement that will see Hearts change hands. Such completion would at last allow Gary Locke to begin planning for next season, above all by opening discussions with players whose contracts are due to run out shortly. But if failure today were followed by a move to liquidation, all players would then become free agents. Hearts’ future at Tynecastle would be uncertain, as would their membership of the Scottish Professional Football League.
It goes without saying that the Hearts players hope it does not come to that. Having played their best football of the season in the past week, they are confident that they can keep on improving if they stick together, and are hopeful of a positive outcome today. “The players haven’t been saying much about Monday, because it’s out of our hands,” midfielder Scott Robinson said after Saturday’s 4-2 win at Partick Thistle. “We’ve just concentrated on matters on the pitch, hope things go well in the meeting and the club don’t end up suffering any more.
“I’m definitely keen to stay. There is no question: this is the club I want to play for, no matter what division we’re in. I think most of the boys would say the same. I’ve not heard anyone say that, because we were getting relegated, they wanted to leave. They will know themselves, deep inside, but everyone seems keen. We’re all fighting for the cause, fighting for each other.
“We’ve improved as a team together. You can see us growing in confidence, the young boys are playing even better – it’s just unfortunate that we couldn’t get a few wins earlier in the season.”
If the Foundation does take over, and if Robinson and most if not all of his team-mates remain at the club, they can look forward to a Championship which should be far more competitive than the top flight. Rangers’ promotion is already confirmed, and Dunfermline could join them from League 1 via the play-offs. Dundee and Falkirk might also be there, and another club from this season’s Premiership could join Hearts in going down, again through the play-offs. No prizes for guessing which club Robinson would most like to see being relegated from the top flight along with his own.
“It’ll be great going to Ibrox again next year, Rangers coming back to Tynecastle as well,” Robinson continued. “That will be a massive game. If we can get a good start and get to the top of the league, hopefully it will be us two fighting it out for the one automatic promotion spot.
“And we could have Hibs down there, too. That’s what we’ll be hoping for. I think that would be the most interesting league to watch, if Hearts and Hibs got relegated, with Rangers already in there. What will happen will happen – but they’re not in the best of form right now. I’ve nothing planned for Monday but I’ll certainly watch the Hibs game at night, and be willing Aberdeen on.”