After a spell of statements, interviews and sound-bites in November, all denying the various negative stories related to the club’s owners or their treatment of the club, Liverpool FC chief executive Rick Parry went a little quiet.
One co-owner – George Gillett – disappeared and the other – Tom Hicks – took over the job of spinning the truth, glossing over the facts and in some cases telling what it would be difficult to describe as anything other than lies. When that started to backfire he got a PR company to do his dirty work.
One of the denials issued by Parry related to the relationship between Hicks and Gillett, which had been reported to be far from rosy. The denials went on, although Hicks now admits that they have had disagreements, but rumours persist that Gillett and Hicks are completely at odds with each other. One rumour has Gillett feeling betrayed almost as much as Liverpool fans at how Hicks went back on his promises, but if Gillett is so unhappy then perhaps he ought to own up to that scenario rather than hiding in Colorado, refusing to answer questions on the situation.
Hicks is already taking on more responsibility in the “running”, for want of a better word, of the club, alongside commercial director Ian Ayre. Ayre, Hicks and Hicks’ son Thomas Junior are the three representatives of the club at the next Soccerex event which takes place at Wembley in April. Hicks is interestingly listed as “owner” rather than “co-owner”, but of course it’s easy to read too much into these things. Gillett isn’t listed, nor is his son Foster who was originally intended to be based in England full time.
Whether or not that list of representatives from the club will change by then remains to be seen. Despite DIC’s reported interest in buying out Hicks having gone fairly quiet in terms of press coverage, the interest is believed to be still there and as strong as ever.
Amidst all the off-field turmoil Liverpool have been slipping up on the field. How much of an impact the off-field troubles have had on the on-field situation is impossible to gauge – but to say it’s had no impact would be rather naive. Cue Mr Parry: “It is time to look forward; there can be no question about that. The whole focus for the second half of the season has to be on football and the games we need to win. Everyone must pull together and there has to be a realisation that there is nothing the ownership can contribute to the winning of games.”
Nothing the ownership can contribute? Or nothing the ownership will contribute?
There has just been a transfer window, and in it the club brought one player in and let one player go. LFC actually made a profit in the transfer window, probably for the first time since transfer windows were introduced. After having invested nothing extra in the summer, despite their promises and implied promises, the owners had a chance to contribute. To put more money into the transfer coffers and bring in some new faces who would improve the attacking side of the team.
Being fair to the owners, even though they don’t exactly deserve it, it’s possible to argue that purchases in the January transfer window aren’t usually all that cost-effective and that the best players are already ineligible for Europe.
Rafa also needs – and it’s believed wants – an assistant manager. Pako wasn’t at the club recently for the purposes of discussing a return to his role as Rafa’s right-hand man. But Sammy Lee and Frank McParland are the names that Rafa is said to have asked for. And was said to have been told he couldn’t have. Yet this was another opportunity for the owners to contribute – and having allowed Pako to leave the club before the end of his contract there was even money there already to allow it to happen. But it didn’t.
George Gillett has still not even contributed a word this year. Where’s his backing for the manager, his support for his co-owner, his delight at the latest version of the new stadium plans being put into the public domain, if not on the planning department’s desks?
Rafa Benitez has remained dignified in recent times despite the Klinsmann revelations and the mocking of his anger as “pouting” after his future had been under threat. Some players have admitted that the uncertainty off the field has hit them although others deny it. Yet nobody is willing to deny that morale is at a low level within the squad. And with morale low, confidence is low. Parry has confided, with ex-chairman David Moores, that they made a mistake in allowing the US duo into the club. Rafa will have to sell before he can buy anyone decent, which of course hits morale even more. Yet Parry expects all involved to snap out it: “My message is in the second half of the season there can be no blame and no excuses and that goes for all of us at the club. There is a lot still to play for both in the league and in the two major cup competitions we are still very much in, so let’s just get on with the job in hand.”
Of course Parry’s job is also under threat, and it’s only a matter of time before Hicks is allowed to move him on and bring his own choice in, especially in light of Parry’s attempts to block the refinancing deal Hicks wanted from going through.
One issue many fans have had with recent protests and also Rafa’s hints in public that all was not well is that this just wasn’t the “Liverpool Way”. Unfortunately, the “Liverpool Way” has never been tested under circumstances like this before, meaning that we’ve never had to wash our dirty laundry in public like this before. But perhaps the “Liverpool Way” includes washing laundry in full view of everyone if the laundry is as dirty as it’s been since the owners came in one year ago today. To sit back and let them add more and more dirt without a challenge would not have been the “Liverpool Way”. Could anyone imagine Shanks allowing it to happen without comment?
Parry says the “Liverpool Way” matters and that now is the time to stop discussing the mess: “It is a reflection of the way fans are responding at the moment that the ‘Liverpool Way’ is very important to them. The way the club behaves and conducts itself is probably more important here than it is at any other club so let’s get back to what matters and I’m in no doubt that the Liverpool way still matters.”
Those words were spoken to the Liverpool Echo, but Parry spoke in a similar way in his column in the official LFC magazine: “This is not the Liverpool we all know and love. It has never been our style to wash our dirty linen in public and it is never pleasant for anyone when it happens. The sooner we can put all of this behind us and get back to the Liverpool Way the better.” Perhaps realising that his words could either upset the manager due to being taken as yet another attack from above, or could even upset the paranoid owners, Parry added: “That’s certainly not pointing the finger at anyone. It’s a hard fact of life in football that any negative publicity quickly leads to further headlines and debate.”
Moores and Parry have been attacked for failing to do any homework on the new owners. If they had, they’d have seen Hicks wasn’t suitable ownership material for this club. The owners have been attacked for a long list of valid reasons. Rafa has been attacked by some due to the slump in form. Parry believes that it’s ok for supporters to discuss their own clubs, but not “outsiders”. Parry is perhaps playing on the normal behaviour of supporters over their owns clubs: Brothers and sisters will argue with each other, but defend each other should someone else join in the arguments – and so supporters will criticise their manager – as long as nobody from another club is listening!
Parry wants to see an end to this criticism from outside being allowed to grow, he wants Reds fans to go back to how they’d be over defending one underperforming player if criticised by some other club’s fans. “What really frustrates me is when outsiders start having a go. When this happens you know instinctively it’s time to unite, draw some strength from our togetherness and get back on the rails.” But these issues are bigger than an underperforming player. The fans are uniting, and perhaps more than they’ve done in countless years – uniting against the owners, against the lies and deceit.
As if wanting the protests to stop – like the 15-minute-plus noisy sit-in after the Sunderland game – Parry puts a message out that somehow it’s wrong for fans to voice their deep concerns about the owners, wrong for the fans to embark on a journey towards ridding the club of the parasites that pretending to be something else a year ago. He claims: “We can argue amongst ourselves, but we can’t change the club in the process.” That’s wrong Mr Parry. The supporters didn’t protest lightly, and one way or another they will at the very least make the owners reconsider their futures as owners of this club. The press coverage in the US has been fairly weak so far, but it’s building. Boycotts will spread to more than just programmes and club shops. The supporters mean business.
To be fair to Parry, his actions may have resulted in us being in this mess, and his past inactions may have seen us come close to losing Steven Gerrard and missing out on countless transfer targets, but he has been trying hard to protect the club from the Hicks steamroller. He made a lot of money when the takeover went through, but can’t be enjoying his job these days, a job in which he finds he’s not got the trust of anyone above or below him. “I’m a fan like you,” he says. “Always have been and always will be. I know how much our history and tradition means to you. We all want to be focusing on winning things. Instead, we have been embroiled in rows about other things. Yet everyone has the same basic aim which is to make our club the best in the world. To that end, I’m pleased that we have taken an important step along the new stadium path.”
Good point – the new stadium. The whole reason we got sold off. We needed a new stadium so that our match income would be similar to our rivals’ match income, so that in the future we’d be able to invest in our squads the same way they could. The new stadium was supposed to open in summer 2006, but delay after delay and a lack of success in finding investment for so long now sees the opening date – so far – as 2011. Not only that, the price has rocketed from £80m to something like £300m – and that’s really still nothing more than an estimate. At £80m it was felt the new stadium wouldn’t have a negative effect on squad building, and that stadium would have seated 60,000 people. A proposal to build a 70,000-seater was abandoned because it would have cost an extra £50m.
The new stadium plans are still special, still unique, but it seems that’s more by luck than anything else. The plans shown in July were found to be out of reach financially and so both firms of architects were asked to come up with new plans at a lower budget. This shows that there was little confidence in producing plans of similar quality at a 75% lower price. Parry himself referred to them as “downgraded”, before Hicks ordered at least the official site’s version of his statement to read “different”. Yet now Parry talks as if all this was a minor blip: “Clearly, the revised design is very similar to the one unveiled in the summer, plans that excited every one of us. They are almost identical to the naked eye. When we said we were revising things, perhaps there was a bit of consternation that we were somehow going back to the drawing board to make dramatic alterations. In fact, it was a case of looking at some costs to see if we could make them more efficient.”
So why involve two firms of architects, one of whom produced plans completely different to the July ones? Parry glosses over this: “Could we look at some aspects of the build to make it work better without losing the impact of the design that had made it so special? That is exactly what has happened and our plans remain on course.” Lucky, and how much did this cost?
Liverpool still wait for planning permission to be granted, and with the increased capacity there’s nothing whatsoever to suggest it will be granted. It’s already set to be five years late: “We plan to be ready for the summer of 2011. Work will commence this year. Obviously that will be an extremely positive and welcome step for everybody.” And again, perhaps protesting a little too much, Parry tried to play down the concerns that came from fans when the club finally admitted they were downgrading the plans. Parry tried to deny it initially, admitting it two days later, and seems surprised that uncertainty ensued: “The review clearly created a bit of uncertainty as to whether it was going to happen. The answer is: ‘Yes it will.’ We all know how crucial the new build is to the ongoing progress of the club.”
That’s not quite the case now though. Fans have started to question whether a new stadium really is crucial. Fans have begun to ask whether a rebuilding of Anfield might have been the better option after all. Fans are wondering if the increase in capacity – which remember doesn’t mean a guaranteed attendance increase at the same level – is going to cover the costs of the finance to build it, by the time interest has been paid and the owners have taken their chunk.
Words are easy, as Mr Hicks constantly claims – but we need to see some action.
And by the way Mr Parry, Mr Hicks – how about a statement on why the Gillett family have lost interest in the club?