TWO of the saviours of Hearts, Ann Budge and Ian Murray MP, hailed a momentous day for the club yesterday after a deal was struck to transfer a crucial 29% shareholding from Lithuania.
Budge said the decision by Ukio Bankas' creditors to transfer their Hearts shares was "the beginning of a new era" for the club. Murray described it as the second most important day in Hearts' modern history. The most important of all, in his view, was still to come, when the sale and purchase agreement is officially signed, sealed and delivered. But that should be only a matter of weeks away and Hearts will be back in Scottish hands for the first time since Vladimir Romanov became the club's owner nine years ago.
Hearts took a major step towards emerging from administration - and staving off the threat of liquidation - yesterday when Ukio Bankas' creditors' committee agreed to accept a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) and transfer their shares. Last week the bank's parent company, UBIG, had agreed to sell its 50% shareholding in the club.
Ukio Bankas also had security over Tynecastle Stadium, but that, too, will pass to Budge's BIDCO takeover vehicle in her £2.5m deal. Budge's plan is to run the club for no more than five years before passing it over to the fan-ownership model established by the Foundation of Hearts. The club went in to administration last June, having plunged £30m into debt when former owner Romanov's business empire imploded. The 15-point penalty applied for an insolvency event contributed to the team being relegated.
The club can begin to emerge from administration after April 27, the final day of the 20-day period in which objections can be raised to the UBIG share deal. As of yesterday no objections had been submitted.
The decision by the Ukio Bankas creditors came after a long period of uncertainty and fears that Hearts's money would run out under administrators BDO, forcing the club into liquidation within weeks, or even days. Instead, there should be enough to keep the operation running until the Budge takeover is finalised.
"This is the beginning of a new era for Heart of Midlothian Football Club," said Budge. "I would like to express my gratitude to the fans for their support and I am confident that together we can rebuild Heart of Midlothian FC to once again become one of the greatest clubs in the country.
"We are not across the line just yet, but this is a very positive step. The fans have been magnificent throughout but I would urge them to keep backing the team in their numbers during the last few games to ensure we get to the end of the season. The end is now in sight and together I am confident we can achieve our target."
Budge's BIDCO should take ownership of Hearts next month and that will eventually be passed on to the Foundation of Hearts, which has more than 8000 ordinary supporters making regular payments. The Foundation intends to give BIDCO £1m for immediate working capital once the takeover is complete.
Foundation of Hearts leader Murray said: "This is the day we have been waiting for and hoping for. It's probably the second most important day in Hearts' modern history: the most important day will be when the sale and purchase agreement is signed and is winging its way by plane or otherwise to Tynecastle. We're not quite there yet, but in terms of momentous days in the club's history it's certainly up there with the best."