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Liverpool boardroom battle between Hicks and Red Sox chief more exciting than football

Liverpool FC may be failing to excite on the pitch, with Roy Hodgson’s team losing at home to Blackpool on Saturday following a Carling Cup exit at the hands of Northampton, but they’re producing sparks in the boardroom.

Chairman Martin Broughton (also chairman of British Airways so he’s used to the odd rumble), managing director Chruistian Purslow and commercial director Ian Ayre want to sell the club to Boston Red Sox owner John W. Henry, a Wall Street commodities trader.

Bankers RBS and Wachovia want their £280m of loans and fees paid off by October 15. But they, like the directors named above, don’t want the current owners, American businessmen Tom Hicks and George Gillett, to remain in charge even if they can raise the money from somewhere.

But Hicks and Gillett have gambled mightily on turning their ‘investment’ in the club (the investment has been almost wholly with the club’s money, following the example set by the Glazer family at Manchester United) into a fat profit, seeking £600m (they paid £174m).

Henry is offering £300m, which will pay off the banks although it will still leave Liverpool with heavy debts and little to spend on the new players the club rather obviously needs. It won’t pay for a new stadium either although Henry has won praise for sprucing up the old Red Sox stadium at Fenway Park.

The English members of the board (and the banks presumably) have accepted the Red Sox bid but Hicks (who has all the charm of one of those sheriffs, usually played by Gene Hackman, in Clint Eastwood films) and Gillett are opposing it, probably through the courts. They’re also trying to get Purslow and Ayre kicked off the board.

Is this the Alamo for the hated Texicans?

Hicks and Gillett may just be huffing and puffing (not for the first time) to try to get the money up. Nobody really knows how much money Hicks, in particular, has borrowed against his stake in Liverpool although his other US sports interests took a battering in the recession. So an exit without a profit may leave him in a parlous position.

Which will be music to the ears of Liverpool supporters who have seen their fond illusion that Liverpool is still one of the world’s elite football clubs rudely trampled upon. Making Hicks suffer would be a psychological result at least.

But they will have doubts about another American owner, particularly one who clearly doesn’t have the resources enjoyed by, for example, the Abu Dhabi owners of Manchester City, the team that’s making life uncomfortable for the four Premier League clubs (Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and, mostly, Liverpool) who fondly thought they were entitled to a top four place and consequent entry to the lucrative Champion’s League.

But who cares about the fans? Well Liverpool’s can be a pretty bolshy lot and they’ve made life hot for the Hicks and Gillett gang, particularly Hicks’ son (also Tom) who was unwise enough to engage in some spirited email correspondence with them.

There’ll be more twists and turns including, perhaps, other bidders.

But nobody, including the banks, wants to see Hicks and Gillett walking away with a fat profit.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.
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