The timing of the release of an anti-Tom Hicks video made by British film producer Mike Jefferies and Liverpool FC supporters couldn’t have been better. While a majority of the Liverpool board has agreed to sell the club to New England Sports Ventures (NESV), owners of the Boston Red Sox, New England Sports Network, Fenway Sports Group and Rousch Fenway Racing, Liverpool chairman Martin Broughton revealed that “I am only disappointed that the owners have tried everything to prevent the deal from happening and that we need to go through legal proceedings in order to complete the sale.”
The message in the above video is loud and clear. Liverpool supporters don’t want Tom Hicks (or George Gillett) anywhere near their football club.
But, at the same time, the sale of Liverpool Football Club is not over. If anything, the civil war between the board members is just starting, and the outcome could have massive ramifications on what happens next. According to The Guardian newspaper:
An official statement from Liverpool, surely unprecedented in the history of a club which has always prided itself on keeping internal disagreements private, said the board was preparing to approve the sale yesterday. However, Hicks and Gillett sought to block that decision by ousting the managing director, Christian Purslow, and commercial director, Ian Ayre, and appointing instead Hicks’s son and a close ally.
The three directors opposed to the owners – Purslow, Ayre and the chairman, Martin Broughton – who can outvote Hicks and Gillett, clearly approved the release of the statement. It suggested they believed both bids were solid enough to approve because they would “repay all [Liverpool's] long-term debt” and they were preparing to do so.
However, Hicks and Gillett, the statement said, not only opposed the offers, apparently because they would not provide them with a satisfactory enough profit for their shares, but tried to replace Purslow and Ayre with Hicks’s son, Mack, and Lori Kay McCutcheon, the financial controller at the Texan’s company Hicks Holdings. That would have given the Americans a majority on the board.
The other three clearly resisted and Purslow and Ayre remained on the board last night, finally at odds publicly with Hicks and Gillett. The statement said of the balance of power in the boardroom: “The matter is now subject to legal review.”
Kudos to Broughton, Purslow and Ayre for standing firm against Hicks and Gillett. But as The Guardian’s David Conn explains, the situation is far from over:
As for what happens next in this endgame being played by Broughton, Purslow and Ayre against the bank deadline of 15 October, it is still in flux. Hicks and Gillett sought to remove Purslow and Ayre yesterday to prevent the three, as a majority, approving a sale of the club to John W Henry, owner of the Boston Red Sox, or another, unnamed, Asian buyer. Neither, apparently, would have delivered a personal payday to the Americans. The statement said: “This matter is now subject to legal review.” But the fact that the board meeting did not proceed and a sale was not approved strongly suggests that the non-owning three cannot force Hicks and Gillett to sell.
Hicks has tried to refinance, borrowing the money he and Gillett owe Royal Bank of Scotland from another finance house, which the other three directors opposed and which did not come off.
The power, everybody knows, rests with RBS, the collapsed bank now 84% owned by the British taxpayer who bailed it out. Yet the last thing the bank wants is to be in charge of a football club as high-profile, crisis-hit and emotionally volatile as Liverpool. All along, the possibility most pondered has been for RBS to reclaim the club on 15 October, if Hicks and Gillett do not pay up, with a buyer lined up for the bank immediately to sell to.
There are many twists lying in wait before so clinical a solution can be orchestrated, especially with the club’s three directors having decided to make no secret of their opposition to Hicks and Gillett.
So the message from Liverpool supporters to Tom Hicks, courtesy of Mike Jefferies film is more important than ever. The pressure is on Hicks and Gillett to walk away and agree the sale rather than fighting for every penny they believe they deserve. What will be interesting is to hear Tom Hicks’s side of the story and whether he plans on conducting the legal dispute in private or whether he’ll come out in the public with his viewpoints.