A Big Day for a Big Club

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John W Henry (L), new owner of Liverpool Football Club talks to the media, as current chairman Martin Broughton looks on, at the offices of Slaughter and May in the City of London, October 15, 2010. English Premier League club Liverpool finally changed hands on Friday after New England Sports Ventures, owners of Major League Baseball's Boston Red Sox, completed its takeover. The takeover ended a turbulent period for England's most successful club, with the final hurdle only cleared on Friday when a Texas court lifted a temporary restraining order blocking the 300 million pound ($480.8 million) sale. REUTERS/Paul Hackett  (BRITAIN - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL BUSINESS SOCCER IMAGES OF THE DAY)

It is difficult to know where to start when you think about the events of the last week in the rich history of Liverpool Football Club. Some people would say that this might be all forgotten by a Merseyside derby, but these events are something different. It is not often that you get a mate on the phone discussing their club like an analyst on Bloomberg. It was the Thursday evening. I was watching TV and wondering what was going to a washing machine rogue, who looked like Coco the Clown, who seemed to be sending women into a fast spin with shoddy machine repairs. The whole slot usually ends with a confrontation in a home counties car park surrounded by scarily black but reasonably priced MPVs.

I never found out whether Coco’s little exercise ended in tears. At the moment when daggers were drawn in the disabled parking bays, my mate phoned to discuss Tom Hicks and George Gillett. This was the first time that we had an in depth discussion about the club finances and the boardroom. For a club like Liverpool that always kept their boardroom affairs away from the papers and the Granada Reports studio (remember those days?) you did not really care about who passed the port the wrong away over the oak table. Times have changed and not for the better.

My mate spat venom about Hicks and Gillett and wailed about where the club would go next. On any other normal day, we would be talking about action on the pitch and I would lapse into reminiscing about some random Liverpool game from a twilight eighties Saturday. I would then be told to shut up and told to live in the present and we would finish off with a quick word on Gerrard and Torres. On this particular Thursday, when I had been worried about what I was supposed to do when my washing machine broke, we were talking about this football club that was actually broken.

The telephone call went the same way as probably many conversations have done on Merseyside, in the inns on Scotland Road, the shops in West Kirby, or the train carriages when there has been a signal failure at Birkenhead Central. In the corporate world of hair shirt America where everyone shuffles around in the sharpest of suits and the shiniest of shoes laid down with hair spray and a uncompromising comb over, it would have been easy to deal with Liverpool Football Club with a quick multi million pound transaction. In the real world, they were dealing with a religion and way of life for many people. Liverpool Football Club is more than a balance sheet with a sterile x/y axis.

Mr George Gillett and Tom Hicks Co Chairman who are under pressure to sell. Both Chairman are holding out on the sale Liverpool Football Club to new buyers New England Sport Ventures 2010/11 The Premier League Photo Robin Parker Fotosports International Photo via Newscom

If I was advising Tom Hicks and George Gillett, I would tentatively recommend that they avoid going anywhere near to Merseyside. Like someone who thought that they could eat a pop tart with as little as one blow, they found out that trying to own a football club was not the same as some sterile hedge fund that no one would care about other than the most nerdish of financial correspondents. They could not cope with what they had brought and the whole thing has blown up in their faces. A loss of ego in the courts and a hefty loss of finance is the result.

It is difficult to think of anything that has been positive about the whole sorry episode. At the time of writing, it seems that Hicks and Gillett still want their day in court but their losses are considerable. The reputation and the dignity, which has served Liverpool so well for the last thirty years, is currently lost in the seas of hysterical newspaper headlines and under a judge’s wig in these tug of war courtroom battles. The image can be repaired but it will take time and the fans will need to play a key role in this rehabilitation. It is refreshing to note that a key section of the Liverpool faithful have maintained something of the values of this club that have helped this outfit achieve success for so long. However, memories of this sorry episode should not be forgotten.

Liverpool fans cheer ahead of their Champions League semi-final, first leg soccer match against Chelsea at Anfield in Liverpool, northern England in this April 22, 2008 file photo. Liverpool have agreed the sale of the club to New England Sports Ventures (NESV), the owners of Major League Baseball's Boston Red Sox, the English Premier League club said on October 6, 2010. The sale is conditional on Premier League approval, resolution of the dispute concerning board membership and other matters, a Liverpool statement said. Picture taken April 22, 2008. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh/Files (BRITAIN - Tags: SPORT SOCCER BUSINESS)

Lessons learned?

If there is one lesson that could be learnt by the wider football community is that the arrival of a sugar daddy does not automatically mean a happy life of endless league championship titles, as well a groaning trophy cabinet, international success and an endless stream of the world’s finest footballers to play for your club without worrying that the dressing room will witness a battle of sulky egos. It should be hoped that the whole Hicks and Gillett episode tells us that we need to be even more discerning about who owns our beloved football clubs. I admit that this hope it based on optimism rather than hope. There are a lot of fans who do not care about who owns their club as long as they have some success to celebrate come May.

It is a new beginning for this club. That bit of VT that shows Hicks and Gillett backslapping their way down the player’s tunnel and showing up their special Liverpool FC shirts with ‘Hicks’ and ‘Gillett’ emblazoned on the back will be confined to the museum but those memories can not be forgotten. Liverpool fans have got what they wanted, but I sense that my friend is looking at his beloved club in a different way.

When success is replaced by words like “administration” and “nine point deduction,” you realise that the one constant in your life is under threat. It makes you even more concerned that the new owners will understand what makes Liverpool Football Club special and how they can take the club forward from this big day and in to the future.

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