The long-term ownership of Kilmarnock remains uncertain after a consortium of local businessmen withdrew from negotiations to buy the club.
Talks had been ongoing for months with the chairman and major shareholder Michael Johnston, but the Kilmarnock Futures Consortium have now formally ended their interest after the deadline for their offer passed.
It now seems certain that Billy Bowie, a recently-appointed director at Rugby Park, will hold the key role in trying to secure a financial future for the club, which owes £9m to Lloyds Bank. Fans have grown increasingly disenchanted with Johnston, and some members of the local business community were adamant that any deal would have to involve his removal. The Futures Consortium were more pragmatic, but they have now accepted that they cannot reach an agreement with Johnston. Some sources believe that a personality clash with the chairman was an issue.
Loading article content
"After several months of lengthy negotiations with Kilmarnock chairman Michael Johnston, and more recently with new club director Billy Bowie, we set a deadline for our final offer to be accepted and that deadline has now passed without resolution," said a spokesman for the consortium. "We made several attempts to achieve the regime change we feel is necessary at Kilmarnock, but on each occasion our offer has either been delayed or rebuffed. This is despite being told that there is a belief among some of those involved in the process that we are the right people to take the club forward."
Kilmarnock have managed to service their debt to Lloyds Bank, however, cash flow tends to run tight in the final months of the season. They have been unable, though, to significantly reduce it and the debt is effectively holding the club back.
Bowie is prepared to invest in Kilmarnock, but the failure to reach an agreement with the Futures Consortium - Alan McLeish of local firm and kit sponsor QTS, Kenny Alexander, Chris McMail and Ian Welsh - means that four prominent local businessmen who wanted to invest have now instead withdrawn. "We believe our involvement would have secured the future of Kilmarnock FC on and off the pitch and at the same time have delivered greater community involvement in the club," the consortium spokesman added. "Each of the individuals involved in the Consortium are already running successful businesses and we simply cannot afford to dedicate any more time to a process where some of those involved do not share our and the majority of the Killie fans' vision for the future. We have been delighted to see the club's fortunes and results improve on the pitch in recent weeks and we would like to wish Allan Johnston and the team all the very best for the remainder of the season."
Kilmarnock generated their debt when the club built a hotel next to the stadium. It is a viable business, but the costs involved were too high compared to the revenue it generates, leaving the debt as a significant burden to Kilmarnock. Fan groups had previously hoped that a takeover would eventually lead to supporter ownership in the form of a community buy out, but that seems unlikely now. There remains, though, much disgruntlement with Johnston.
If a plan is to now be implemented to tackle the debt problem, it will be down to Bowie to provide the financial backing as well as being at the forefront, if it is to receive public support. A debt write-off by the bank could be sought, but there would be several problems to overcome. Working capital also needs to be raised for the club's long-term sustainability.