Liverpool were seconds from financial 'disaster' before FSG took over - Ian Ayre
Liverpool managing director Ian Ayre says the club have recovered from being “seconds from financial disaster” to re-establish themselves at the top of English football.
It was only four years ago that Liverpool secured one of the most important victories in their history at London’s High Court.
That was when the combined force of legal, financial and fan power ousted the cash-strapped former owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jnr, compelling them to sell their shares to Fenway Sports Group.
The FSG takeover in 2010 avoided administration and has been the catalyst for the restoration of Liverpool as a club of substance rather than image.
“People sometimes forget how bad it was,” said Ayre. “I speak to people now and they have really short memories. When you think about that day when we tipped it over the edge and finally pulled it back, we have come such a long way.
“It is no secret. It’s like that TV programme, Seconds from Disaster – we were sort of in that vein. It was horrific to see the football club in that state.
“I do not think there was a Liverpool fan in the city or anywhere who was not worried we would not get back to this position.
“We went from the court ruling to two years of scrapping via lawyers. Being told I was being sued for a billion pounds was a particularly low point.
“The Royal Bank of Scotland [who were owed money by the club] took a lot of stick from Liverpool fans at the time but deserved credit for how they stepped up, as did the club directors. It was an awful situation to be in, just as a fan. The hardest thing after the event was the previous owners never felt the right thing had been done but it was the right thing.
“One of the biggest parts of the court case was they said we could not legally make the transaction. John W Henry was waiting for the ruling to do the deal.
“As one of the few people who was here with the last ownership and through this one, I can say the club is in a fantastically sustainable position now and that’s down to the people running it in the best interests of the club, not the best interest of the owners.
“It’s easy to say we were 10 years into a stadium move and it’s about time we are back in the Champions League, but if you think about where we were financially, just because you’re Liverpool it does not mean you have a right to get back up there. There are plenty of teams who could have slipped and slipped, despite new owners, so it’s an unbelievable achievement to get back where we are today. That is testament to the people who invested in it and worked on getting us back there.”
This week’s unveiling of designs for a new Anfield – a stadium revamp that will actually go ahead rather than remain a figment of the owners’ imagination – and announcement of the latest commercial partnership with restaurant chain Subway was further proof that, unlike previous title challenges in the last 24 years, this one has stronger foundations.
“It’s definitely not built on sand,” said Ayre. “It’s built on a lot of hard work and a lot of analysis and a lot of looking at different solutions.
“We’re one of the biggest shows in town at the moment in football, playing great football, and everyone is excited. Hopefully we can capitalise on that. Our biggest value is the size of the fan base, the appeal of the club globally is the biggest asset for sponsors.
“When I came here seven or eight years ago, there were all these stories of the club shop being closed the day after the Champions League final, and us only having a couple of sponsors. Over a long period of time we have been trying to build the infrastructure that services a great club like Liverpool.
“You’ll have good years and bad, but a club of this size, with this level of fan base, has to be set up to service that demand. That wasn’t the case. We’ve got over 500 employees at Liverpool now, which would put us at the top or close to the biggest workforce in football.
“The success on the pitch means we can capitalise. Rather than the club shop not being open when we’ve won something, we’ll have club shops all over the world all open.”