The owner of Ireland's biggest sports retailer has emerged as a contender to buy all or part of ailing JJB Sports, which is up for sale as it sits on the brink of administration.
Stafford Group, which bought Lifestyle Sports, the owner of 62 stores across Ireland, in 2005 for 60 million euros (£48 million), is among about half a dozen bidders left in contention, Sky News said.
Dublin-based Stafford Group is a family-owned private company with 950 staff and a turnover of 500 million euro (£40 million), which operates in the energy and shipping sectors, as well as sports retail.
Mike Ashley, the founder of Sports Direct International and owner of Newcastle United FC, is reportedly the frontrunner to buy JJB, while restructuring specialists GA Europe and Hilco and US retailer Dick's Sporting Goods have also lodged interest.
Sports World parent Sports Direct is believed to be close to arranging to buy the most profitable stores from JJB under a controversial "pre-pack" administration. The deal would reportedly see more than half of JJB's 180 stores closed and put hundreds of jobs at risk.
But it is likely the Office of Fair Trading will launch an investigation into any attempt by Sports Direct to buy JJB due to competition issues.
Wigan-based JJB, which employs 4,000 staff, put itself up for sale at the end of last month after failing to secure the funds needed to overhaul its stores. It confirmed last week it was holding talks after receiving offers from a number of potential suitors as it seeks to secure the future of the firm.
The group has already warned shareholders - who include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation - they are likely to see their stakes wiped out under any rescue deal. It is now understood JJB will not be able to stave off administration, but is working towards a "pre-pack" arrangement that will allow it to be immediately sold.
JJB secured its most recent lifeline just four months ago when it landed £20 million from US retailer Dick's Sporting Goods and a further £10 million from existing shareholders.
It earmarked £20 million of the most recent funding on converting 60 of its most important stores in 2012 and 2013 into a new format that during trials produced much-improved sales and margins. But it admitted last month that continued poor trading meant it would need additional funds for the programme sooner than it had expected.