Sunday 20 August 2017

Independence Day as Anfield civil war ends

Liverpool freed from reviled owners

Rory Smith

Anfield has a long memory. It honours the darkest days in its history, never forgetting May 29, never forgiving April 15, and cherishing the most glorious, May 25.

Yesterday provided another date for the diary to add to the memorials for Heysel, Hillsborough and the celebration of the first and fifth European Cups. Liverpool Football Club will immortalise October 13 as Independence Day.

It was at 10.48 in the morning that managing director Christian Purslow leaned over to chairman Martin Broughton in Court 18 and, discreetly, shook his hand. Minutes later, Purslow pumped his fist in jubilation on the steps of the British High Court. At long last the battle was over. At long last the war was won.

ruinous

Liverpool are finally free from the ruinous regime of Tom Hicks and George Gillett, the speculators who took a club, on the verge of its second Champions League final in three years, that was once again clad in the finery of Europe's aristocracy, and dressed it in pauper's rags.

They are finally free from the burden of a £282m debt which has seen around £36m seep from Anfield's accounts every year, interest payments destined for the pockets of Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), an enforced penury which has, for three and a half years, cast a shadow over the whole club.

Liverpool is a club lifted, liberated. Anfield may not have played host to a raucous celebration, it may not have been hung with bunting, but for the first time in more than three years it does not fear what tomorrow may bring.

"It has been very difficult for fans to see the club they love so much dragged down by Tom Hicks and George Gillett," said Jay McKenna, spokesman for the Spirit of Shankly supporters' union which has done so much to highlight the toxicity of their regime.

"Tom and George have never been welcome here and they never will be. If this is the end of them and their empty wallets and empty promises, it will have been a momentous day for this club."

It is the empty promises that hurt the most. The promise to have a spade in the ground on the new stadium which remains so key to Liverpool's long-term future within 60 days of their arrival. The promise to build the best arena in the world for the best club in the world. The promise to provide the funds to create a side capable of winning the Premier League and the Champions League.

The evidence of their failure is inescapable. Just as telling as the white fence on Stanley Park which represents their best attempt at a stadium is the trophy cabinet, not opened since 2006, the year before they took charge.

And the squad list, which no longer contains the names of Xabi Alonso, Javier Mascherano and many others, either departed after growing dissatisfied with the lack of investment or sacrificed as Liverpool were forced to instigate a policy of selling to buy.

Most important, though, and most painful were the promises to be fit and proper custodians for the most storied, most decorated club in England and the vows not to "do a Glazer" and laden purchase debt on to the club's books, not to make the fans pay for the privilege of being their property.

Both were empty.

Rather than maintain the dignity which had come to signify the Liverpool way, Hicks and Gillett destabilised their then manager, Rafael Benitez, approaching Jurgen Klinsmann behind his back, prompting the first protests against their reign, the mobilisation of the fans, the rancour of the terraces.

Their fractious, fractured relationship tore the club in two, miring it in stasis as each opposed the other at every turn, airing Liverpool's troubles in public, exposing Anfield to ridicule and regular, ritual humiliation.

Gillett attempted to sell his stake to Dubai International Capital; Hicks blocked him. The Texan called for the sacking of then-chief executive Rick Parry; Gillett supported him.

And, of course, they did indeed do "a Glazer", saddling Liverpool with that onerous debt. They sought refinancing of their debts with RBS and Wachovia every six months. Every six months, the fees, the charges mounted. RBS, ever more concerned, first appointed Purslow, tasking him to find £100m of investment, then Broughton, mandating him to sell the club, to end the chaos.

Even then, Hicks and Gillett would not go quietly into the light. An attempted refinance, the embarrassingly public search for a new bank to hold the debt, a last throw of the dice as they tried to dissolve the board.

Total war. Endless war.

A banner displayed on the Kop this season showed snapshots of the owners, Purslow and Broughton under the slogan: 'Plague, Famine, War and Death -- the Four Liars of the Apocalypse'. Question marks were placed over the two Englishmen, a defiant challenge to their integrity. They can now be removed.

Purslow and Broughton, together with RBS, have done what they were employed to do. At 10.48 yesterday morning, war shook death's hand. Plague and pestilence were gone.

Liverpool's era of oppression was over. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport