Fans of English soccer club Liverpool skeptical over prospect of another American owner

By Steve Douglas, AP
Thursday, October 7, 2010

Liverpool fans skeptical of another American owner

LIVERPOOL, England — The message regularly written on scarves, flags, blogs and fan forums of die-hard Liverpool supporters the past two seasons was simple: “Thanks but no Yanks.”

So it came as no surprise — given the recent abuse directed toward co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr. — that news of a possible takeover by another group of Americans was greeted with reservation by the Reds faithful.

“I don’t think they will be given a chance. We don’t trust the Yanks any more,” Paul Tremarco, a Liverpool season-ticket holder and manager of The Arkles pub near the Reds’ stadium, said Wednesday.

“They’re making us look like a laughing stock. We really wanted a rich Arab from the United Arab Emirates.”

Liverpool’s prospective new owner, New England Sports Ventures, had a 300-million pound ($477 million) bid accepted by the club’s board on Tuesday. Hicks and Gillett are resisting the sale, claiming it “dramatically undervalues” the 18-time English champions, and tried to oust two members of the board just before the NESV offer was accepted.

So legal action will be needed to force the existing American owners out and push through the sale to NESV, which owns the Boston Red Sox. The deal will also need the approval of the Premier League.

But there is concern among supporters that the club is simply being shifted from one set of unsafe hands to another.

“We have done a lot of research into NESV, but it’ll still be important that these people come out and engage with supporters and tell us what their intentions are,” said James McKenna, spokesman for the Spirit of Shankly fans’ group.

“Supporters are understandably going to be cautiously optimistic about what these people are like and we are going to want a lot more than what we got from Tom Hicks and George Gillett.”

NESV, whose portfolio of companies also includes New England Sports Network, Fenway Sports Group and Rousch Fenway Racing, pledged to clear Liverpool’s debt — which currently stands at 285 million pounds ($453 million) — when it takes over.

“Our objective is to stabilize the club and ultimately return Liverpool FC to its rightful place in English and European football, successfully competing for and winning trophies,” a statement by NESV said Wednesday.

“NESV wants to bring back the culture of winning to Liverpool FC.”

Liverpool has stumbled at the start of this season, dropping into the relegation zone of the Premier League after an embarrassing 2-1 home loss to promoted Blackpool on Sunday. It is the Reds’ worst start to a season since 1953.

They were knocked out of the League Cup by fourth-tier Northampton two weeks ago, one of the lowest points of the club’s proud history that includes an English-record five European Cups.

“This whole takeover saga will take quite a while, if it indeed goes through,” McKenna said. “Supporters hope it can have an impact on the pitch and a bit of positivity through the club.

“It’s been an absolute nightmare having someone like Tom Hicks and George Gillett in charge. Until we finally see the back of them, the supporters are still skeptical and cynical that they will try to pull something out of the bag.”

Hicks wants to sell for about 600 million pounds ($952 million) — an ambitious figure that has deterred many potential buyers. He and Gillett bought the club for 174 million pounds ($276 million), taking on 44.8 million pounds ($71.1 million) of liabilities, and say their inflated asking price reflects the amount of money they had since invested in the team.

“We’ve never been happy with these two,” Tremarco said. “They’ve sold us down the river.

“They told us they were going to build a new ground — they never did. They told us they were going to give us money for major players. They’ve bought one — Fernando Torres. That’s it. We have lost some of our best players to pay debts off.”

The Liverpool board says it’s impressed with the NESV’s vision for the club and its history of success with the Red Sox, who ended an 86-year drought with a World Series title in 2004 before winning the championship again in 2007.

Fans will want to see a similar revival at Liverpool, which was a dominant force in English and European soccer in the 1970s and 1980s but has not won a domestic league title since 1990. The club did claim the Champions League title, the biggest prize in European soccer, in 2005.

“Liverpool fans are the best supporters in the country. They know their football,” said 45-year-old Noel O’Reilly, who lives next to Anfield stadium.

“They applaud opposition off if they’ve played better football than their own club. You don’t see that anywhere else in England. The club is the heart and soul of the city.”

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