George Gillett’s decision to accuse Liverpool fans of issuing death threats against him, his wife, his son and his daughter-in-law, ones he took so seriously that he decided to back out of a potential sale of his half of Liverpool FC, couldn’t have come at a worse time.
The claims were made on Canadian radio on Thursday night, when Gillett was interviewed on The Fan 590, a sports channel based in Toronto. The show was Prime Time Sports with Bob McCown, with both Bob and Stephen Brunt speaking to Gillett.
It’s pretty clear that Gillett had planned this interview, planned what he would say, and it says a lot about him that he chose to use Canadian radio to speak for the first time about his part in acts that have put Liverpool’s future potentially in doubt.
One point he wanted fans to believe as he worked towards his claims of those death threats was that he hasn’t had any abuse directed purely at him. He claimed he received up to 2000 emails a week, only 100 of which would contain abuse to both owners. The rest, another 1900 per week, were completely aimed at his partner Tom Hicks. It seems far-fetched to say the least. Not far-fetched that he would get emails demanding both owners leave the club, not far-fetched that he would get another chunk of emails complaining to him purely about Tom Hicks, but extremely far-fetched that he would not get one single email containing abuse aimed purely at him.
Also far-fetched is that he has had emails as recently as Thursday from fans (plural) from “important blog sites” (plural) inviting him to the “famous pubs” to “see how they sing their songs or get ready to sing the songs. And there’s none of the hostility or animosity that is felt or seems to have been directed at others in the ownership group.”
He admits that the 2000-a-week figure has dropped somewhat, down to just 25 on Thursday, but even so it’s extremely unlikely he’s getting no hostility. He certainly got one on Friday morning that contained a long line of angry questions.
After months of spin and leaks from people understood to be connected to DIC, Hicks, Parry, Moores and even Rafa, it was unexpected for Gillett to come out of hiding like this. There had been a lot of speculation about why Gillett had disappeared from the scene, even recalling his son from his Melwood office. Even before that he’d largely decided to stay out of the limelight. He even got praise for keeping quiet from some, especially when certain figures inside the club were letting it be known that he was somewhat the victim of Tom Hicks’ bullying.
Without absolving Tom Hicks of all his “sins”, George Gillett has far from been an angel.
It seems that one of the biggest reasons Gillett has been so quiet has been for tactical reasons. Tom Hicks spoke to the press, made statements, got Rick Parry to make statements and over time dug himself some holes. George Gillett sat back with his feet on his Colorado desk and watched the show. Hicks became the only true villain of the piece, the bad cop. Gillett got away with it, even now he’s getting praise from supporters who seem willing to forgive him and gloss over his part in a disastrous first year of American ownership.
In the interview it was clear he was desperate to get his allegations against Liverpool fans in. He’d had these death threats, and he was so sure they were real he’d now changed his mind about selling to Hicks. “I must say however that the most difficult part for us… the thing that angers fans the most is the prospect I might sell even one share of my stock to my partner. They do not want him to have a controlling interest in this club – they don’t even want him to have any ownership in the club. So as a result of that – and it’s been very difficult for my wife with the amount that I travel – we receive many phone calls in the middle of the night threatening us our lives – death threats. They’ve come to the office, a number of them have come into the office and Foster and Lauren, my son and daughter-in-law, have received a number of them themselves.”
Pause for a moment. That’s a serious allegation. It suggests a sustained and organised attack on him and his family.
If it’s true, and these threats were serious, not kids playing pranks, then it’s gone too far. Way too far. It’s only football, no matter how much it means to us. As we know ourselves only too well, it is not worth a life.
Do we believe Gillett? Is he seriously and genuinely in fear of his and his family’s lives?
Well there’s an easy way to prove that. I asked Mr Gillett to provide details of his reports to police of those threats. Obviously anyone in Gillett’s position getting death threats that are considered to be even remotely plausible would go to the police. It’s a serious crime, and is probably something that could see the perpetrator charged with a list of offences. Despite the likelihood that the calls were transatlantic, technology is improving all the time and with the co-operation of US and UK police forces there is every likelihood those responsible can be traced, especially if steps were taken before the next death threat was made.
I’ve not had the details of any reports yet, or even confirmation that the offences have been reported, but no doubt Mr Gillett will be willing to provide either this, or an explanation for making these allegations when he didn’t even think they were worth telling the police about.
I know that certain posters on certain websites were posting details of switchboard and fax numbers for the offices of Hicks and Gillett, all of which are available on hundreds of US business-listings websites. It seems Gillett’s home number is also publicly listed, which may be par for the course in the US but seems an odd approach to have. I can’t imagine Richard Branson or Alan Sugar’s numbers showing up on a search of directory enquiries. Gillett said he was even getting calls to his mobile phone, which again is odd. He said “a number of the blog sites” had these private numbers on them, although I assume he means “forum” sites in the main. If the numbers are indeed private and otherwise unavailable on the net then they shouldn’t really be reproduced on any other sites, but if they have been taken from public phone book websites then Gillett really has no room for complaint to the sites that listed those numbers.
He said: “We’re very private people but my number is in the phone book.. I’m not shy and if I make a mistake I’m prepared to take the hit for it. It’s interesting the calls are not against my wife or myself or my son or my daughter in law, as much as they are against us selling to our partner and so, er, we’re rethinking that. Frankly I don’t think it’s fair for me to put my family in that kind of danger. So instead of thinking about selling maybe we’ll think about buying.”
He really did say that. He believed those death threats to the extent that he is now “rethinking” selling to his partner. And maybe, he claims, he’s even going to “think about buying.”
Putting the death threats to one side, it’s the first admission in public that Gillett has been willing to sell to Hicks. Behind the scenes it’s been known for some time that Gillett wanted to sell, it was never in any doubt, but this is the first time it has been admitted in public. The DIC announcement three weeks ago where they were willing to buy 49% made it quite obvious that Gillett was ready to sell 1% to Hicks, but that wasn’t actually confirmed.
The claims he’s thinking of buying sound hollow. It’s been made clear for some time now that he was stretched to his financial limit with the recent refinancing deal, in fact he was one of the main reasons the duo had tried so hard to put more debt onto the club. The loan of February 2007 for £298m was fully in the names of Gillett and Hicks, but by January 2008 they could only put £245m against their own assets, putting the other £105m onto the club. Their assets had dropped in value over the course of the year and so both partners had to use more assets to guarantee the loan. Gillett was just about at his limit. That was in January, and the markets have dropped yet further since then, so quite how he’s going to find the kind of money that would persuade Hicks to sell is difficult to imagine.
Claims that Hicks and Gillett had fallen out first surfaced in November, quickly dismissed by Rick Parry: “In fact it’s absolute nonsense,” he insisted. Hicks later admitted there had been disagreements between the pair, but insisted nothing more than any other partners might have. But eventually there was no longer any point pretending otherwise. Gillett said their relationship was now unworkable: “Oh it has been for some time, yes.” Not that any of it is his fault of course: “But not because of us – we have tried to be co-operative, we have tried to be supportive but when your public persona is more important than the facts, that makes it very difficult to have a rational relationship.”
We have all seen Tom Hicks seem to lose his temper after some story hits the press, responding off the cuff and in turn backing himself into a corner. But what was Gillett referring to specifically?
Was it the “Snoogy Doogy” interview with the wads of cash being waved around? If looks could kill Hicks would have done there and then what Gillett claims Liverpool fans have threatened to. Gillett was promising more than was eventually delivered. Assuming they’d already decided not to fund Rafa as promised, it seems in that instance Gillett was putting his public persona – Mr Generous Nice Guy – ahead of the facts that transfer funding would be much the same as past seasons.
Was it the first attempts at revealing the new stadium under the US ownership? The announcement in July made the pair look like heroes, but was later dumped because of cost. Was Hicks too busy making himself look good to consider getting it priced up properly.
Was it the admission that they had spoke to Klinsmann? That has been rumoured as a major factor in their split already. Klinsmann was Gillett’s business associate, and it was Gillett who is understood to have recommended him to Hicks as next boss. Some sources have claimed Gillett had pushed for Rafa to be sacked and replaced by Klinsmann, and have said this was why Gillett was at the Marseille game days before the December meeting between Rafa and the board. If the team had lost in France, Rafa would be sacked. But eventually the sacking didn’t go through, Klinsmann didn’t want the job – especially with Rafa still in it – and by the time the meeting had been admitted to – in January – Gillett was fuming. He didn’t want Hicks to reveal what they’d done, up until then they’d managed to keep this false image of it being all a misunderstanding and a storm in a tea-cup, but now Hicks was admitting it was much more of a plan than that. In that case Gillett was putting his public persona (Mr Nice Guy and Rafa’s Mate) ahead of the facts (allegedly Mr Hatchet Man and Rafa’s Enemy).
The other big claim of being a cause of a split was the refinancing situation. And that in itself is full of claims and counter-claims over who said what. Gillett allowed it to be leaked that he was trying to block Hicks from putting all the debt on the club. Other claims said it was Parry and Moores trying to stop any of the debt going onto the club. In fact it seems most likely that it was Parry and Moores, with the help of the banks, blocking moves to put 100% of the £350m onto the club. Hicks has never denied that he wanted to try and do this, but of the two owners he was almost certainly the one most able to take more of the burden on his own assets. Gillett could barely afford the deal that finally went through, so quite why or how he would be blocking this move is difficult to work out. Gillett was said to be angry when Hicks made an official statement detailing the terms of the new finance package. Hicks put the facts in the open, Gillett didn’t like it – again was this his personal public persona being more important than the facts?
Talking of facts, Gillett was asked how this possibility of him buying more of the club would work, was it feasible or was it a dream? Sounds like a dream: “It’s really hard to say until you literally put something in writing and you put the money in the bank that’s a speculative answer, any answer I give you, but what I would say is this: We were very fair. We gave our partner a long period of time to try and make the arrangements to buy us out we didn’t put pressure on him we could not have been a better partner and he ultimately didn’t get to the finish line.”
What a quick change of subject – diverting from the question of whether he could afford to buy Hicks’ share into an attack on Hicks for failing to find the means to buy his half. Gillett can’t afford to buy Hicks out. Strange also that Gillett claims not to have put pressure on Hicks, when it’s been in the public domain, albeit in a cloak-and-dagger off-the-record kind of way, for some time now that he’s been in bed with DIC looking to sell to them for a profit quoted in some instances of as much as £80m. Just before the Dubai meeting between DIC and Hicks it was rumoured that Gillet was still turning down that level of profit for selling 49% to DIC.
Gillett insists that he won’t be selling to Hicks because of the alleged death threats: “In the meantime, because of things that he said, the fans’ reaction has been so negative towards him – and towards us if we sold to him – that that has now made that an untenable alternative for us.”
So what options does Gillett have? He can stay, and face the same worries Hicks will face in summer 2009 when this finance option comes to an end. He can’t buy Hicks out on his own, so unless he has a secret partner lined up then that’s nothing more than a dream. And if his dream comes true, he’s then got to make Hicks and offer he can’t refuse. He can’t sell to DIC unless Hicks agrees to it, or until he finds a way of getting around the veto Hicks says he will use to block any sale to DIC.
Hicks hasn’t yet blocked any offer from DIC – it seems DIC haven’t actually made one yet. Asked about Hicks blocking the deal Gillett was reluctant to answer but eventually coughed up: “Well that’s another one of the points (laughs, hoping that he isn’t pressed). (When pressed) He threatened to.” Obviously DIC can make an indicative offer, but with making an actual offer then there is nothing for Hicks to veto.
Playing to the crowd, Gillett used the fans again to attack Hicks. Despite implying already that DIC hadn’t actually made an official offer, he made out it was Hicks who had blocked moves from DIC to buy into the club. No admission of having turned down repeated unofficial offers of a massive profit himself, he pinned all the blame on Hicks for DIC having been unable to buy the club: “I think that was certainly one of the things that made the fans upset. Lord knows they had the money and with oil prices going up every day, that’s not an issue. They certainly have the history and they’re fans and I think they’d have been very responsible owners so I guess not making that possible or making that difficult again didn’t endear people to the fans.” DIC have actually not yet left the building, despite the implication here it was now a lost cause. They still believe they’ll have won the battle within a month.
Gillett’s failure to stick to his promises, including the implied promises, has messed the club up and put its future at risk. He’s no less guilty than Hicks for that. But he continues to work the fans with his well-worn sincere face and over-used phrases: “So as you all are saying there’s an awful lot going on here, much too complicated for me to try and handicap but what I know is that, er, the fans and the great fabled history of this club deserves better – and, er, we’re going to do everything we can to provide that in whatever role we play.” Jim Royle has a saying for moments like this.
To defend Gillett for a moment, although he’s being far from honest, a pattern we’ve grown used to, the claims he’d held out until offered £80m, that he’d forced Klinsmann onto Hicks and almost onto the club and that he’d been the main reason for the attempts to refinance the loans using the club for 100% of the debt could all be denied by him, all of those claims are from unnamed sources.
Hicks did not respond directly, instead taking a refreshing approach of avoiding making things worse by issuing official statements or giving interviews. There was however a brief statement from “a source close to the Texan,” which said: “It is not very helpful to talk about this situation, given the importance of the next two or three weeks coming up in the fixture list. These bits and pieces in the media are not beneficial to the overall performance of the club and that’s what we want people to concentrate on at this stage. With games against Everton and the Arsenal coming up, football has to come first.”
The mess looks like never ending, but sooner or later hands will be forced. Ignore Gillett’s claims he can buy Hicks out – he can barely afford to hang onto what he’s got. But as more and more time goes by the claim from Hicks that he can buy Gillett out is looking increasingly hollow. And so DIC wait in the wings for something to give. Eventually something has to. Hicks might have to admit defeat if his US fortunes are hit hard enough by the financial chaos in the US. He may well have somebody lined up, but perhaps is being led down the garden path. Gillett might hit the point of being forced into a sale before Hicks though, but with Hicks and DIC unwilling to share power he might not get anything like the profit he wanted.
It would be far better for the club if the public spats came to an end, especially when, like Gillett’s attempts on Thursday, they feed the opposition with more ammunition to aim at us.
Full transcript of questions relating to LFC.
Asked what was happening at Anfield now: “Oh boy! I think we’re at that point where there are things going on- there are pieces on the chess board being moved or being contemplated to be moved but I think it would not be helpful for us, or the club, to comment.
“Suffice it to say however, that our goal from the beginning was to try and be supportive and add to the lustre of this magnificent storied franchise and what’s happened this year has not done that.
“We certainly haven’t done it on the pitch yet, although we’re playing well in the Champions League, but we’ve had a marginally good year in the Premiership [Premier League], our loss to Man U on Sunday 3-0 was a heartbreaker because you know we played them 11 on 10. We had Mascherano thrown off for what’s unclear as to what happened but clearly they sent a referee with a no tolerance program and we happened to make the wrong comment to the new tough referee at the wrong time. You just can’t play Man U. It’s tough enough playing them 11 on 11.
“So I think we’re at a point now where we want to finish the season out, play well in the Champions League- Foster and I are going to be going over to the Arsenal game next week and we’ve just decided this is an extraordinary time and we’re going to enjoy it and we’re going to be there and by God we’re going to try and be a positive influence on this process.
“You know, we get, or we’ve gotten, as many as 2,000 emails a week here. And I would say that ninety-five percent of them have been directed at some of the comments made by my partner and five per cent have been (laughs) frankly aimed at both of us saying, you know, ‘Go Home Americans!’
“But for the most part, and you know as recently as today, we’ve gotten 25 emails, I’ve had several conversations with fans who represent important blog sites and so forth and they are inviting me to come in and come to the famous pubs, be their guests, see how they sing their songs or get ready to sing the songs. And there’s none of the hostility or animosity that is felt or seems to have been directed at others in the ownership group.
“I must say however that the most difficult part for us has been that because of the things that have been said that have upset and angered the fans as much toward one or both of us the fact is that the thing that angers fans the most is the prospect I might sell even one share of my stock to my partner. They do not want him to have a controlling interest in this club – they don’t even want him to have any ownership in the club. Based on what they’re saying and sending to me.”
“So as a result of that – and it’s been very difficult for my wife with the amount that I travel – we receive many phone calls in the middle of the night threatening us our lives – death threats. They’ve come to the office, a number of them have come into the office and Foster and Lauren, my son and daughter-in-law, have received a number of them themselves.
“A number of the blog sites have, you know we’re not, we’re not, we’re very private people but my number is in the phone book and you I, you know, I’m not shy and if I make a mistake I’m prepared to take the hit for it, but the private phone numbers the cell phone numbers and so forth are apparently on some blog sites and we’ve received a number of calls and again it’s interesting the calls are not against my wife or myself or my son or my daughter in law, as much as they are against us selling to our partner and so, er, we’re rethinking that. Frankly I don’t think it’s fair for me to put my family in that kind of danger. So instead of thinking about selling maybe we’ll think about buying.
(Asked if the partnership with Hicks was unworkable) – “Oh it has been for some time, yes. But not because of us – we have tried to be co-operative, we have tried to be supportive but when your public persona is more important than the facts, that makes it very difficult to have a rational relationship.
(Asked what the exit or entry strategy was a phone conveniently rang which Gillett decided he had to answer. The presenter went to a break and on their return the question was changed to one about whether buying out Hicks was feasible or more of a wish). – “It’s really hard to say until you literally put something in writing and you put the money in the bank that’s a speculative answer, any answer I give you, but what I would say is this: We were very fair. We gave our partner a long period of time to try and make the arrangements to buy us out we didn’t put pressure on him we could not have been a better partner and he ultimately didn’t get to the finish line.
“In the meantime, because of things that he said, the fans’ reaction has been so negative towards him – and towards us if we sold to him – that that has now made that an untenable alternative for us.
(Regarding Hicks claiming he would block Gillett from selling to Dubai). – “Well that’s another one of the points (laughs, hoping that he isn’t pressed).”
(When pressed). – “He threatened to (block the deal).”
(Regarding DIC, the interviewer asked a question in the past tense, did Gillett think the deal would have and could have gone ahead?) – “I think that was certainly one of the things that made the fans upset. Lord knows they had the money and with oil prices going up every day, that’s not an issue. They certainly have the history and they’re fans and I think they’d have been very responsible owners so I guess not making that possible or making that difficult again didn’t endear people to the fans.
“So as you all are saying there’s an awful lot going on here, much too complicated for me to try and handicap but what I know is that, er, the fans and the great fabled history of this club deserves better – and, er, we’re going to do everything we can to provide that in whatever role we play.”
Hicks did not respond directly, however “a source close to the Texan” said: “It is not very helpful to talk about this situation, given the importance of the next two or three weeks coming up in the fixture list.
“These bits and pieces in the media are not beneficial to the overall performance of the club and that’s what we want people to concentrate on at this stage.
“With games against Everton and the Arsenal coming up, football has to come first.”