The UK’s second-largest five-a-side football venue owner is being circled by potential bidders after its lender drafted in advisers to explore a review of its options.
Sky News has learnt that Goals Soccer Centres, shares in which have been suspended since March amid an accounting probe, is preparing to launch a sale process within months.
The review has been instigated by Lloyds Banking Group, which has hired Deloitte to advise on Goals’ future, City sources said this weekend.
The review is expected to take place over the medium-term, rather than being launched immediately.
Among the prospective bidders for the business, which trades from nearly 50 sites in the UK and US, is Mike Ashley, the high street tycoon who is its biggest shareholder.
Mr Ashley’s Sports Direct International has examined takeover bids for a string of companies in which it had built stakes, the most recent of which emerged last month when he made an offer for Game, the computer games retailer.
Sports Direct is also an investor in French Connection, which is in talks with potential buyers, and has tried to buy HMV and Patisserie Valerie in the last six months.
It was unclear this weekend whether Mr Ashley is interested in acquiring Goals outright.
When the company’s shares were suspended in March, it had a market value of just £20m.
The review instigated by Lloyds is unlikely to lead to a deal in the immediate future, not least because Goals is attempting to unravel the reasons behind a VAT liability of at least £12m.
In a statement last month, the company said work undertaken with its auditors had led it to conclude that full-year results for 2018 would be “materially below expectations”.
“The board can also confirm that following extensive forecasting work on the financial year ended 31 December 2019, in which a number of new accounting policies, corrected accounting treatments and revised VAT assumptions have been adopted, it expects the financial year also to be materially below prior expectations and historically reported financial performance,” it added.
A source pointed out that Goals, which employs about 700 people, remained cash-generative.
However, the lack of clarity about its discussions with Her Majesty’ Revenue & Customs about its tax bill, and Deloitte’s role, implies that Goals’ shares might never resume trading.
Insiders said that other potential bidders including turnaround investors had already begun to explore offers for Goals.
Power League, the biggest player in the UK market, has previously explored a merger with its rival.
The company’s future has been thrown into further doubt by the recent decision of chief executive Andy Anson, who has only been in the job for just over a year, to quit to run the British Olympic Association (BOA).
Mr Anson was drafted in after the departure of Mark Jones, with other senior executives also having left.
He is expected to remain with Goals until November to assist with resolving its VAT crisis, the company said last month.
A permanent successor to Mr Anson is unlikely to be sought until after Goals’ accounting issues have been resolved and, even then, only if the company is likely to remain independent.
A Goals spokesman declined to comment on Saturday.