Controversial retail tycoon Mike Ashley is set to beat his Cumbrian counterpart Philip Day in the race to save the Jack Wills clothing brand, according to reports.

North East-based Mr Ashley – who recently hit the headlines following the chaotic release of a trading update for his Sports Direct empire – has emerged as the preferred bidder for the struggling brand, according to Sky News.

It is understood that Mr Ashley and Edinburgh Woollen Mill Group boss Mr Day are going head-to-head to take over Jack Wills after the company appointed advisers KPMG to explore options for its future after reporting a downturn in trading.

Bluegem Capital Partners is reportedly unwilling to inject new funds into the brand, which is bought in 2016.

According to Sky News sources, Mr Ashley is expected to buy Jack Wills in a pre-pack administration deal. Any deal with Mr Ashley is expected to result in a significant restructuring of the business which has 110 standalone stores and around 1,800 employees.

A previous pre-pack administration deal is already causing Mr Ashley significant angst.

Sports Direct snapped up House of Fraser for £90 million through the process almost a year ago, in a move that saw the department store chain’s Carlisle store spared the axe.

However, Mr Ashley has expressed his regret at buying House of Fraser, citing “complexities” with the takeover and “uncertainty as to the future trading performance of this business”.

Sports Direct was forced to delay the release of a trading update for a second time after it emerged House of Fraser owed the Belgian authorities 674 million euro (£605 million) relating to VAT charges on goods moved within the EU.

While the results, eventually published last Monday, showed sales were up, underlying pre-tax profits - the company's preferred measure - fell 6 per cent to £287.8m.

And in a warning to Sports Direct investors, Mr Ashley has said there will be more House of Fraser closures in the short term, casting fresh doubt over the future of the Carlisle store in English Street.

Coincidentally, Mr Ashley beat Philip Day to the takeover of House of Fraser.

Dubai-based Mr Day, who has an estate in Brampton and financial links to Carlisle United, reportedly offered £10m more than Mr Ashley in a bid that including taking on the business as an on-going concern, including its stores and pension liabilities.

However, administrators EY opted for Mr Ashley’s offer.

Despite losing out Mr Day congratulated his counterpart on securing House of Fraser, but urged him do the “honourable” thing by paying its supplier and concessionaires in full and on time following months of uncertainty over its future.

Mr Day has a long legacy of turning around struggling retailers, adding the likes of Peacocks, Proquip, Austin Reed, Country Casuals, Jaeger and Jacques Vert to his growing Edinburgh Woollen Mill Group empire.

His is currently finalising the takeover of womenswear fashion chain Bonmarché through his wholly-owned Dubai-registered company Spectre Holdings Limited.

The deal, and Bonmarché’s delisting from the London Stock Exchange is expected to take place this month.