The last time George Gillett gave an interview to Toronto’s sports-based radio station The Fan 590, the war for control of Liverpool FC went right back to the top of the headlines again; it signalled the beginning of one of the ugliest phases in the fiasco of the past six months. It was the first time one of the owners had admitted they had a problem with their partner since DIC’s hostile takeover bid began late last year. Gillett admitted his relationship with Tom Hicks had broken down some time before. The interview included allegations from Gillett suggesting he’d received death threats from fans. It also contained a vow from Gillett that he would not sell a single percent of his stake in the club to partner Tom Hicks.
What followed was a public war of words which involved Gillett, Hicks, Rick Parry and David Moores, with Dubai International Capital sitting back and enjoying the fireworks, hopeful that when the dust settled they’d find both Hicks and Gillett standing pens in hand waiting to sign the shares away.
That didn’t happen, in fact very little has changed at all in terms of the club’s future. The battle was potentially damaging, certainly to Liverpool’s reputation, although the team did play on as if nothing was going on off the field. All that heartache for fans, yet the club is still jointly owned by Messrs Gillett and Hicks.
So when news filtered out that Gillett was about to do another interview with the same presenter on the same station, fans were understandably anxious about what was going to be said, and what the fallout might be. It was made more worrying in that it followed on from a statement two weeks ago by the Liverpool supporter’s union, Spirit of Shankly, implying the ball was now firmly in Gillett’s court: “Is George Gillett still looking for every last penny?” the statement asked. “Well, why is he still here? Gillett is happy enough to give the impression he wants to sell. Well, SOS has been told he can sell whenever he wants. The opportunity is there to get out of our club. Why hasn’t he?” The impression was this information had come from the Dubai representatives in contact with SOS. And Gillett was possibly looking to defend himself.
Presenter Bob McCown told Gillett that fans had contacted the Toronto station in huge numbers ahead of last night’s broadcast, making it clear they wanted the interview to throw light onto the ownership situation. Gillett said that wasn’t going to be the case: “They’re going to be sorely disappointed; the reaction we got last time was so profound that we are going to have to tone it down. In fact just two seconds before we got hooked up on this I got a call from Norway saying that it had been disclosed over in Norway that at 11.00 or something tonight I was going to be on your show, so the world knows it.”
The co-host, James Deacon, asked Gillett if he’d ever experienced a reaction like the one to his last interview on the station: “No, I haven’t. It was really amazing. Notwithstanding your wise-guy comments regarding Portugal, soccer is the leading sport in the world! It was just shocking how popular Liverpool is so it did surprise me, but er…”
Deacon cut into Gillett’s pause, suggesting it must be humbling as Liverpool’s owner to know he has such responsibilities to Liverpool’s “fervent” fans: “Absolutely right. It really is an amazing responsibility. You know, we’ve always felt, you know, for 40 plus years I’ve been around professional sports, that we really hold these assets in trust for the fans and that we have an obligation, er, to the fans, and we feel that very strongly, both in Montreal and Liverpool.”
McCown then asked Gillett if there had been any developments in terms of the ownership since that last interview. Gillett was unwilling to give anything away: “No, I, I, nothing… Nothing that either I would talk about or would be worth talking about.”
He did however say that the relationship between the warring partners had improved: “I think it’s fair to say that there has been, erm, the communication between the Hickses and the Gilletts, erm has been, erm, substantially improved and I believe that it will erm, it will be for the benefit of the club.”
McCown suggested this was surprising, given the reaction from Tom Hicks to that last interview. He said Hicks seemed not to have taken it too well: “No, but time is a healer,” said Gillett. “And there were things that had happened previously the other way as well, and er it took a while for both of us I think to realise, well, I think that we both realised, that perhaps we weren’t communicating very well, the huge responsibility we have to the fans and to do the right thing for the club, and I believe the Hickses are communicating better with us and we’re communicating better with them. And I think that will be much better for the club.”
In light of this admission of better co-operation, McCown asked if, for want of a better phrase, the “For Sale” was sign still up. Gillett was tight-lipped: “I’m not going to comment on anything Bob, specifically on… anything.”
Instead Gillett seemed to suggest that the co-operation was related to the day-to-day running of the club: “All of us are focused on the transfer window coming up and so forth, we want to be ready for that and we want to have adequate resources and good communication with Rafa and our hope is that we’re making that kind of progress.”
Asked for his views on Liverpool’s season, Gillett again seemed reluctant to put his own feelings forward: “I would rather the fans be the ones to make that decision, but for a club that has a history of winning trophies, any season that you don’t win one of the five or six trophies we compete for, I suspect the fans as well as the Hickses and the Gilletts, are disappointed.” Liverpool’s first team competed for the standard four trophies last season.
He suggested he wasn’t pleased with the middle part of the season, but did notice Torres wasn’t a bad signing: “Overall, I thought the team played quite well, erm, particularly er, beginning and late. I think they were very representative and I think Torres was a wonderful, wonderful selection last summer, I think that the rest of the boys played quite well, and er, you know, I think we’ve got to help Rafa try and be more competitive in the chase for The Premiership.”