x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Liverpool club owners block offer by American buyer

Even fans want majority stakeholders to sell to Red Sox proprietor and showed their displeasure with the team's performance in a 7,000-strong protest.

Liverpool fans protest against their US owners after losing to Blackpool in their English Premier League football match at Anfield on Sunday.
Liverpool fans protest against their US owners after losing to Blackpool in their English Premier League football match at Anfield on Sunday.

LONDON // The proposed takeover of Liverpool FC, one of the most fabled names in English football, hung in the balance yesterday.

Although the board had voted 3-2 on Monday in favour of a £300 million (Dh1.8 billion) buyout by John W Henry, the multimillionaire owner of the Boston Red Sox baseball team in the United States, the two votes against were cast by Tom Hicks and George Gillett, the Americans who own 50 per cent each of the football club.

The two current owners will, basically, end up with nothing if the deal goes through, because of the club's massive debts - a poor return, they feel, three years after they bought the team for £219m. The pair are now threatening legal action to block the sale in a move that has not impressed the club chairman, Martin Broughton, whom Mr Hicks and Mr Gillett tried to fire after he came out in favour of the bid from Mr Henry's New England Sports Ventures (NESV).

"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," Mr Broughton said. Equally unimpressed were Liverpool's fans, 7,000 of whom demonstrated before Saturday's home game against Blackpool at the Anfield ground, singing, "All we are saying, is sell up and go" to the tune of John Lennon's Give Peace a Chance.

Times are rough for the Red side of Merseyside at the moment. After the weekend's shock defeat by newly promoted Blackpool, Liverpool languish in the bottom three of the Premier League and have been knocked out of the League Cup by lowly opposition. Only the blue side of Merseyside - supporters of Everton, the city's other team - seem to be relishing Liverpool's discomfort. Last season, the team who have garnered such a bounty of domestic and European honours, failed for the first time in years to finish in the top four of the Premier League and their manager left along with several key players.

"These are the strangest of times for anyone who has grown up supporting Liverpool Football Club," commented the Liverpool Daily Post yesterday. "In the past, the club was a bastion of stability, renowned for its sense of doing the decent thing, and famed for its ability to conduct its business behind closed doors, on very much a need-to-know basis. "Yesterday's activities at Anfield were in complete and stupefying contrast to the discretion with which affairs were conducted in the boardrooms of the past.

"What has happened, though, only reinforces what thousands of Liverpool fans are thinking - that the quicker this whole sorry saga can come to a conclusion, the better it will be for the club, and for the city." The supporters have formed their own campaign group called Spirit of Shankly (SoS), named after the late Bill Shankly, a legendary manager at the club who once remarked: "Some people say football's a matter of life and death. It's not. It's much more important than that."

James McKenna, an SoS spokesman, said yesterday: "As fans we are worried that the next set of owners will be just as bad. It is absolutely vital that the new owners talk to supporters to alleviate our many concerns. "The main things we need to know are their plans to invest in the team and for the new stadium. We want to know: What are your plans? Where is the money coming from? "We want them to engage with us and use the fans as a positive. After Hicks and Gillett we are extremely sceptical so we need to know that the next owners are the right owners. We accepted the last owners too easily and we won't be doing that again."

The planned takeover has also resurrected the issue of the foreign ownership of Premier League clubs at a time when nine out of 20 are no longer controlled by Britons. While the overseas ownership of the majority - Chelsea and Manchester City, particularly - has proved a success, for others it has been a disaster.

West Ham was taken to the brink of bankruptcy, Portsmouth went into receivership before being relegated last season, and even Manchester United fans have staged mass protests over what they see as a lack of investment by the club's US owners.

The omens for Liverpool look better with the arrival on the scene of Mr Henry. He helped rejuvenate the Red Sox after buying the club in 2002. Two years later, they secured their first World Series victory since 1918. In 2007, the Red Sox did it again. Liverpool's legion of loyal fans are now hoping that Mr Henry can do something similar for their own Reds.

dsapsted@thenational.ae