Newcastle FC owner Mike Ashley's Sports Direct to buy Irish retailer Heatons
Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley is on course to take over one of Ireland's high street chains.
The billionaire's Sports Direct company, which owns half of the shares in Heatons, has struck a 47.5 million euro (£34.8 million) deal which would see him buy up the clothes and homeware retailer.
Heatons has 44 stores in the Republic of Ireland and 10 in Northern Ireland.
Sports Direct chief executive Dave Forsey said: "We look forward to accelerating investment into the existing store portfolio and strengthening the Heatons and Sports Direct brands across Ireland."
Mr Ashley secured an initial agreement with minority shareholder Sandra Minor to buy a stake in Warrnambool, the holding company of Heatons.
When that deal goes through, Sports Direct will own more than half of the company and it has a conditional agreement to then buy the remaining shares from Mark Heaton, Hugh Heaton, John O'Neill, Warrnambool and Katipo Limited.
Twenty-seven of Heatons' 44 stores in the Republic have a dedicated instore SportsWorld section, while the Northern Ireland shops either have a Sports Direct branded section or have a Sports Direct outlet in the same premises.
Warrnambool also owns and operates five stand-alone Sports Direct branded stores in Northern Ireland.
In the year to the end of April last year, the holding company had revenues of more than 219 million euro (£161 million), gross assets of 158 million euro (£116 million) and profits before tax of 10 million euro (£7.3 million).
The deal is subject to clearance from the Irish Competition and Consumer Protection Commission.