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The Yanks Are Coming!
by Peter Hooton (Season Ticket Holder in the Kop)
The charm offensive began immediately following the collapse of Sheikh Mohammed’s Dubai International Capital takeover bid on the last day of January. Liverpool fans had been sold the idea of the DIC proposal since early December and Rick Parry the clubs Chief Executive had described the deal as ‘perfect for the club’. The withdrawal of the DIC bid at the eleventh hour was earth shattering for many Liverpool fans. The Liverpool board of directors had failed to formally accept the DIC bid in a hastily organised meeting before the recent away fixture at West Ham. The meeting, which took place at a hotel in London docklands before the match, was asked to consider a fresh bid from American businessman George Gillett Jr. Instead of rubberstamping the Dubai deal the board asked for more time to consider the new proposal from the USA. DIC were furious thinking they had shaken hands on the deal in December. They had been dishonoured! They gave Liverpool a 12-hour take it or leave it ultimatum that was ignored by the Liverpool board who felt they were being bullied into a decision.
This news sent shock waves through the red half of the city. Almost immediately journalists started to leak stories about the new improved ‘American offer’. For many fans though this simply didn’t ring true. Gillett had approached the club before and his talk of ground share with rivals Everton had made him the most unpopular man on Merseyside. His original plan had been rejected in favour of the DIC deal so why had the men in suits dithered on the DIC deal? Message Boards and phone-ins went into knee-jerk meltdown, as shocked fans demanded an explanation form Liverpool FC hierarchy. It felt like fans had been told their numbers had come up on the lottery only to be informed that the syndicate organiser hadn’t purchased the ticket. Fans demanded resignations, explanations, or at the very least a positive statement of re-assurance from the club amidst the shambles. After years of telling billionaires around the globe ‘WE ARE FAMOUS AND SUCCESSFUL AND WE ARE FOR SALE’ fans feared that the directors had unbelievably scored a last minute own goal!
In Liverpool’s inimitable way they issued a simple statement on the official website which seemed to fan the flames;
“Liverpool Football Club has noted today's announcement by Dubai International Capital. The process of seeking new owners for the club is still underway and a decision on the future will be taken in the next few days …….
On ‘Red All Over The Land’ one of the best Liverpool message boards David Moores and Rick Parry were dubbed Laurel and Hardy. As the DIC withdrawal statement extolling the virtues of LFC was studied, panic, confusion and anger spread like wildfire. How could Liverpool Football Club turn down Sheikh Mohammad allegedly the fifth richest man in the world! Some isolated voices of reason asked for calm and to put trust in David Moores and Rick Parry but most were adamant that Liverpool FC had lost the deal most clubs could only dream of, through a combination of incompetence and inertia.
Football fans around the world can’t wait for the day when people of power and influence get it wrong and most football clubs are one bad decision away from a crisis. The general consensus from the websites, letters pages, and phone- ins was how could Moores and Parry lose such a lucrative deal, how could they get it so wrong? A minority of fans adopted a lets wait and see policy but the overwhelming majority were for calling for resignations and fan mobilisation. Fans wanted the Sheikhs money and they wanted it now. Concerns over human rights and lack of freedom in Dubai were conveniently overlooked. Liverpool fans wanted to compete with Chelsea in the transfer market and they didn’t care less where the money came from!
Sky and the Premiership had changed the goalposts and although Liverpool were successfully competing in Cup competitions epitomised by winning the Champions League in 2005 but the Holy Grail of the Premiership was still as far away as it was ten years ago. We had witnessed Man United chipping away at our record 18 League titles and panic was setting in.
The front page of the Liverpool Echo 24 hours after the DIC pullout carried a message from Liverpool’s Chief Executive Rick Parry ‘TRUST US. He said ‘the overriding message is: Don’t worry. ‘Whatever decision is finally taken will be done so in the best interests of Liverpool Football Club’ This attempt to reassure panic stricken fans was undermined by a photograph of Rick Parry looking remarkably like Harpo Marx.
Fans couldn’t understand why the Liverpool board seemed to be placing their faith in the new bid by George Gillet Jr. At this stage there was absolutely no mention of Tom Hicks the American billionaire who would emerge 24 hours later as the added muscle behind the new bid. By this time Liverpool fans were in a state of confusion. This was turning into an episode of Dallas. It had everything, power, money, intrigue and private jets. When Hicks the 60-year-old owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team and Dallas Stars hockey club emerged as a player in the bid, fans started to warm to the idea of the American takeover but this was tempered by the fear that this deal might also collapse at the last minute. Liverpool fans have conveniently ignored the fact that Tom Hicks was a contributor to the Republican Party and was allegedly a close personal friend of President George W Bush. Twenty years ago a neo-con Republican taking over our beloved club would have been unthinkable. It just shows how far things have gone when there is not a murmur of protest. Most grassroots fans blame Sky TV and Rupert Murdoch for changing the game we love for ever but accept that if you want to compete at the top level you may as well take the Yankee dollar!
Liverpool fans do have pro-active groups such as ‘Reclaim The Kop’. This is a grassroots organisation launched this year, in an attempt to reclaim the game from the Sky Sports generation. Fans are fed up with moronic Soccer Am style chants and being shafted by 12.45 kick offs which the new fans seem happy to embrace but the real test for the likes of the RTK will be to see if a supporters organisation can really influence policy at board level. George Gillett Jr has made noises to the effect that the new regime are only ‘custodians’ of Liverpool Football Club and that they would like to meet the fans, so the signs are good. It should also be remembered that all successful businessmen always look after their customers and it is significant that the new bid dropped the idea of a ground share with Everton.
As far as most fans are concerned to compete at the top you need deep pockets and Chelsea regarded by most in the game as a small club before Abramovich changed the rules. Just as everyone is an expert on formations and tactics now (I definitely blame SKY for this) most people have an opinion on football finances. Years ago people never really talked about the intricacies of takeovers, flotation and debt but now every pub within listening distance of Sky Sports boasts an ‘expert’ on the subject.
Civil war was declared in Manchester during the Glazers’ takeover of England’s other big club but the silence of the fans has been deafening since United started playing well and went top of the Premiership. If season tickets were given up due to the takeover, as I’m sure some were, it hasn’t affected the clubs finances one iota as fans continue to flock through the gates. The turmoil of eighteen months ago seems a distant memory.
For Liverpool fans the prospect of getting hold of some real hard cash has helped to alleviate any feelings of sadness that the club been taken over by American billionaires. The naming of the ground might prove more difficult but as one die-hard Liverpool fan observed about the ground move ‘I’ll be sad but glad. They knocked the original Kop down and we got over that and time waits for no-one, we must move on’. The bottom line of course is results on the pitch. Rafael Benitez has performed miracles with what fans perceive as a limited resources compared to Europe’s elite. Last season Benitez wanted to buy Simao from Benfica and Alves from Sevilla, players he thought would help him mount a serious challenge to Chelsea and Man United for the Premiership but at £12million each they were well over his budget. He could only afford Pennant and Gonzalez and the Anfield faithful have since voiced their frustration with both players on more than one occasion this season.
At the press conference on Tuesday when the smiling Americans were introduced to the waiting media both men were keen to emphasise the great tradition and heritage of the club. Rick Parry looked like the cat that had got the cream, sandwiched in between the affable Americans. It was a confident performance from the trio. Rick Parry will remain on the board as will David Moores as life president and inevitably the sons of Gillett and Hicks (There are always sons involved in these deals). The business partners ticked all the right boxes for fans, talking about Liverpool FC being one of the biggest and best clubs in the world. They emphasised their desire to win, win, and win! They had an ‘outstanding’ meeting with Rafa Benitez and asked him to come up with a wish list of players. These are the type of things ordinary supporters want to hear and want to believe. Even when Gillett lapsed into talk of ‘goal tenders’ and ‘defense men’ it could not spoil the honeymoon. Twenty –four hours after the marriage the Liverpool Echo revealed that prices might rise and the stadium name was up for sale, issues which the new owners may well find will be met with more than token resistance. It was a case of the morning after the night before but as long as Liverpool win their 19th title sooner rather than later will anyone have the time to protest as we will be too busy celebrating!
By the way what was that Sheikh’s name again?
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