The Tom Hicks propaganda machine rolls on relentlessly as he moves closer to getting the loans he needs to continue with his unwelcome control of Liverpool Football Club.
Hicks is co-owner of Liverpool FC, although his approach to that ownership has seen his business partner disappear into oblivion. George Gillett may well be Hicks’ co-chairman, but Hicks might as well be alone in his control of the club.
Hicks would argue that there is an anti-Hicks propaganda machine churning out stories that make him seem the wrong kind of owner for the club – but he’s done nothing at all to prove otherwise. In fact in an interview with the local press in Texas, he’s shown contempt for all of his customers at this franchise – all the fans of Liverpool FC. His mocking and sarcastic tone, and that of the journalist who’s failed to attempt to find out any other side to the story other than the 61-year-old Texan’s, suggest that Hicks does not care one bit about the Reds.
The article is in the Star Telegram is headlined, “Liverpool fans see Tom Hicks mucking up their way of life” and is written by Gil LeBreton.
It starts off with some clear attempts to discredit Liverpool supporters, implying that they all wanted a Chelsea-style takeover with money thrown at the team without hope of it ever being earned back. The vast majority of supporters wanted nothing of the sort, they wanted an investor with enough clout behind him to build a new stadium that would then bring in new income that could in turn be spent improving the squad in step with the club’s rivals. If possible they wanted the investor or investors to be financially secure enough that they could start improving the transfer budget immediately. This, it was felt, would improve the team to a level where it was able to compete with its rivals immediately, and in theory would mean that future transfer windows would require less expenditure. And in truth, that is what the supporters and the manager were promised. We didn’t demand it; we asked if it would happen. We were told it would, and then we found that this wasn’t to be the case after all.
When he stood before the Liverpool home fans for the first time 12 months ago, Tom Hicks was showered with cheers and appreciation. Little did Hicks know, it seems, that after that glorious day at Anfield, he was expected to drop from sight, leaving behind as his only visible presence his fat American checkbook. This is the British way, and the learning curve is enormous.
The internet makes it harder for liars to perpetuate their lies. Liverpool fans will not stand for being mislead, whether through a bare-faced lie or through weasel words and spin designed to hide the truth. And since the takeover last year the owners have been quoted on numerous occasions, on numerous aspects of their ownership of the club. There are numerous Hicks quotes from before the takeover – quotes which should have raised alarm bells for Parry and Moores – which keep cropping up and are being spread amongst fans. Hicks has an image to uphold in his home country, and it doesn’t match the image being portrayed in England.
But Liverpool fans did not expect their new owners to disappear from sight. Quite the opposite – they hoped their new owners would be able to spend as much time as possible looking after the club and learning how things work in this country. But they did not expect that – they accepted the fact that Liverpool were but one of Hicks’ and Gillett’s business interests, that their families were in the US, and that we should just expect the owners to appear as and when they could. And at least we had Foster, Gillett’s son who was tasked with sitting alongside Rick Parry as the intermediary between the new owners and the old way of doing things.
It’s an insult to Liverpool supporters to suggest otherwise.
British soccer isn’t sport as much as it is passion, family and religion, all rolled into one.
“There is a big percentage of fans,” Hicks acknowledged Tuesday, “for whom the football club is truly their life.”
For a large number of Liverpool fans, without private yachts or second homes in sunnier climes to escape to, LFC is just about their only escape from reality. As if by routine they’ll go out every summer and buy any new shirts that have come out, buying the full kits for their kids. Supporters will spend a whole days listening to the engaged tone trying to get through and buy tickets – a whole day of their lives spent, often in vain, trying to buy tickets for a couple of hours sitting in cramped plastic seats watching the club that is literally in their hearts. Those who can afford it, and managed to get to the top of what is an ever-growing waiting list, have season tickets for league games. They’ll renew them come what may, summer after summer, regardless of how much of a sacrifice it might be, because they don’t want to go back to the bottom of that never-ending list.
Over the years, supporters have flown and even driven thousands of miles to watch the Reds in action, and spent amounts of money they’d rather not think about. We’ve seen real tragedies, tragedies that still, two decades later, make grown men cry. We’ve also seen glory and happiness that other supporters can only dream about. To differing extents, Liverpool FC dominates the supporters’ lives. The club isn’t something that can be bought. You can buy the stadium, choose which manager to employ and whether to support or undermine him, you can decide which players you want to sell, you can even demand the kit changes colour. But you can’t buy the club, because the club includes the supporters, it includes the spirit of Shankly, Paisley and Fagan – and it will fight back.
Hicks and partner George Gillett, owner of the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens, purchased the British Premier League’s Liverpool club in February, 2007, for a reported $432.9 million.
As John Thompson wrote in the Liverpool Echo that day, “What walked into Anfield yesterday looked, sounded, smelled and felt like very rich, very warm, very talented and very decent family people who love sport to their core and who see the chance to become — in George Gillett’s words — custodians, rather than owners, of something unique and special which is a rare privilege for them.”
Thompson is the editor of the Echo, and whoever he supports he was writing as someone who understands the club and its history. The same paper carried similar sentiments from the reporters who normally covers, and supports, rivals Everton. The editor was talking about his first impressions, which this scenario proves should never be trusted.
Fans were, mainly, willing to welcome and trust the new owners cautiously, and as more time went on and more of the right things were said, so that trust increased. But it wasn’t fans who wrote the piece above…
Almost 12 months later, during Monday’s 2-2 draw with Aston Villa, the same fans howled for Hicks’ and Gillett’s heads, calling them “liars.”
Carrying banners — like the one that read, “If it ain’t broke, don’t Hicks it” — and chanting through much of the night, the Liverpool faithful called upon the North American owners to sell, sell, sell.
The banners said “liars”. How else can you describe somebody who goes back on their word in so many ways? Back in December Liverpool fans were outraged as Hicks showed his contempt for Rafa, in the interview with Sports Illustrated where he said Rafa had pouted. Hicks said: “The media made up everything from that point forward. They made up that we were going to fire him (Rafa), that I told him to shut up, that there was a battle between Benitez and the Americans. It’s really funny to watch.” It wasn’t funny for supporters, some of whom still couldn’t tell whether to believe Hicks or not, but all of whom were disgusted at the mess the club was now in. Of course Liverpool FC isn’t in any way an important part of Hicks’ life, so he had clearly forgotten what he’d said to SI when speaking to the Echo last week about how he had, in fact, been preparing to sack Rafa. Hicks told the Echo: “In November, when it appeared we were in danger of not advancing in the Champions League, weren’t playing well in our Premier League matches, and Rafa and we were having communication issues over the January transfer window, George and I met with Jurgen Klinsmann… We attempted to negotiate an option, as an insurance policy, to have him become our manager in the event Rafa decided to leave our club for Real Madrid or other clubs that were rumoured in the UK press, or in case our communication spiralled out of control for some reason.”
First of all, at the time of that meeting with Klinsmann Liverpool were performing quite well in the league, it was certainly way too early to say otherwise. Still unbeaten, with perhaps a couple more draws than they would have liked, they were in the middle of a winning run. They were getting back on track in the Champions League. The communication issues were because they were still unwilling to admit to Rafa that he was not going to get any money for transfers because they were unwilling to spend anything! Hicks had used poor excuses for his reasons for speaking to Klinsmann. And he admitted with what he said that had the Reds gone out of the Champions League, the insurance option would be brought in – Rafa sacked, Klinsmann in.
Hicks, in his December denial about the plan to fire Rafa, was saying that the press were making things up, and were not to be trusted. In his January Klinsmann admission, he’s trying to justify a major, potentially catastrophic, business decision being made based on press rumours! Liverpool fans don’t like to be lied to, but they don’t like double standards either. The press weren’t making up the rumours about Rafa being fired, as Hicks has now admitted, but there’s no evidence of Real Madrid coming in for Rafa in November. It didn’t happen.
The Texan reporter has clearly been scouring the local Liverpool press for sticks to beat the supporters with. That’s really going to help relations.
According to the Liverpool Daily Post, “Such was the animosity towards the Americans at Monday night’s game against Villa, it is hard to see — due to security reasons — how they can ever appear again in the Anfield directors’ box.”
That was actually not a Daily Post story. It came from Paul Walker, a PA journalist who is often covering Liverpool matches, and was carried on hundreds of websites, the Daily Post being just one of them. It was a poor comment to make by someone who used to – incorrectly – chalk off Peter Crouch goals as own goals when the striker was in his debut season and having no luck in front of goal. It’s unlikely to be a security issue if they do decide to sit in the main stand; they certainly won’t be the clubs’ first enemies to do so.
Next the journalist used the “someone close to the situation” angle to claim this:
As someone close to the situation described it, the Liverpool tabloids have created a feeding frenzy designed for Hicks to take the blame for the club’s current disappointing, fifth-place performance.
The only Liverpool tabloids are from the same publishers, the evening newspaper the Echo and the morning newspaper the Daily Post. Both of those papers, particularly the Echo, have a good working relationship with the club. It’s a regular complaint of supporters that with neither paper having any competition, they can take it easy in their relationship with the club. They certainly take the side of the club more often than not, and that’s been the case through most of this embarrassing saga. Reporters have to be careful not to step too far over the line, despite their feelings for the club, and often find themselves repeating statements issued through the club that they know are completely untrue. By all means make up stories about the nationals and their attitude towards this story, but the Liverpool press have had an editorial policy that has helped Hicks and Gillett until this week. This week they could hardly carry on pretending all was OK, and so we saw a little more freedom for the reporters.
Even the description of Anfield is an insult:
Liverpool has an old, inadequate stadium, which Hicks and Gillett have pledged to replace. And when original architectural estimates came in $200 million more than expected, and the new owners sought additional financing, the newspapers fed fans’ hysteria with stories of broken promises and massive debt.
That’s £100m over budget, which means it was actually more over budget than what the full building cost would have been had the new stadium got underway all those years ago when we first, reluctantly, accepted we had to move. Even at today’s estimates that was a long way over budget. Did it not occur to Hicks and Gillett (if he’s ever allowed a say) to brief the architects first about what the budget was? And even when the takeover first happened, the figure quoted for the new stadium was £215m. In other words, those plans were almost 50% over budget. It smacks of incompetence to release those plans to such a fanfare, to waste so much money getting them approved, and to only then find out that they are way over the top in cost and so can’t be used. We’ll come back to broken promises later.
As for the owners seeking additional financing, this imminent new financing doesn’t touch the new stadium. A lot of money has been frittered away in the last 12 months, when the owners borrowed £298m, with an annual interest cost of £21m, in order to spend just under £219m on buying the club and paying off the debt. That £219m was made up of £174.1m for the shares, and £44.8m for the club’s debt. So what happened to the other £79m? The amount of money coming in from prize money, ticket sales, merchandise and the lucrative new TV deals was more than enough to pay for Rafa’s summer transfer outlay. Where did all that money go? It seems it has all gone, because the new loan will be for £350m, an additional £52m, which of course means the interest payments will be higher, more so if as is likely they are at a much higher rate of interest.
Back to the Texan attack on Liverpool fans:
There hasn’t been anything seen in Britain like it since… well, since Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Malcolm Glazer bought the storied Manchester United club in 2005.
In England, if I’m reading this correctly, Americans — especially rich Texans — are expected to pay cash for sports franchises and to purchase new stadiums with their American Express cards. To do anything less, British soccer fans feel, is to compromise the player purchasing power of the local football club.
In the United States, of course, what Hicks is doing is not at all unusual.
Jerry Jones borrowed liberally to purchase the Cowboys. San Francisco Giants owners built a waterfront stadium with private funds, then still had $126 million to spend on Barry Zito.
Owners going into debt and still signing free agents, we realize here in the States, are not mutually exclusive options.
The way Glazer went about purchasing Manchester United has so far been successful, because United have so far been successful since their takeover. What worried United fans at the time, and may worry them again, is if they do go through even a short phase of underachievement. It seems highly unlikely at this moment in time, but if you’d said in 1990 that Liverpool would go on at least an 18-year run without a league title you’d have been laughed out of town. But some United fans are still unhappy with the takeover, still concerned about their club’s long-term future – to the extent that chairman David Gill’s home was vandalised recently.
Paying for stadiums with a loan is acceptable – much like buying a property with a mortgage is acceptable. We expected the stadium would be built using a loan, and at one time there was talk that in the absence of a buyer the club were looking at whether they could get a loan off their own backs for the stadium. But the owners now want to turn Liverpool’s debt from just over £40m into £350m, a massive rise, and not including the stadium costs. It’s unjustifiable, as simple as that. Borrow money if you like, but do it in your own name and secured on your own assets. One bad season for Liverpool could be disastrous; there is no room for error at all. But this fact no doubt made a whooshing sound as it went over the heads of owners who probably thought trips to Athens happen every year.
The reporter then takes Hicks’ word for it with regards the interest from DIC:
The latest Liverpool headlines had a group of Dubai investors waiting in the wings for Hicks and Gillett to desperately sell.
Hicks has flatly denied it.
In fact, when asked Tuesday how much of the recent tabloid speculation was true, Hicks replied, “None of it.”
None of it? None whatsoever? Far too many reporters from different news organisations have been told by sources that DIC are preparing bids or putting proposals to Hicks and Gillett for it all to be made up. When Hicks admitted his Klinsmann treachery last week to Tony Barrett of the Echo, at the same time the same reporter revealed for the first time that the owners had actually been in touch with DIC before Christmas, with a view to selling a stake of between 10% and 20% to the Dubai group. This was in October, and fell through because Hicks’ asking price valued the club at a ridiculous £1b. In all his denials this past week about offers from DIC, he’s carefully avoided mention of this earlier approach.
The article then speaks about the first time it was clear, in public, that Hicks and Rafa weren’t seeing eye-to-eye:
Hicks admits that he didn’t help things, though, when a disagreement last November with Liverpool manager (coach) Rafael “Rafa” Benitez turned into a public spat.
Benitez thought Hicks should be spending more money to buy players. Hicks more or less told Rafa to do a better job of coaching the ones he’s got.
In reality Benitez just wanted to know where the promised funding had gone. The owners had still not explained that they couldn’t afford, or were unwilling to try and afford, any addition to the transfer budget. The plans they’d agreed with Rafa last season were never going to really be carried out. He also got wind of his imminent sacking. The root of this problem can be traced back to the day they told Rafa they agreed with his plans, when all along they had no intentions, probably no means, to buy the players listed.
Fans sided with Benitez. They were inflamed further when Hicks admitted talking to Germany’s Jurgen Klinsmann about the possibility of coaching Liverpool, should Benitez resign — as he’s threatened to do often, it seems, over the past 2 1/2 years.
Excuse me? Rafa’s threatened to resign “often” in the past 2½ years? Ok, name one occasion. Now who told you that nonsense? I can guess – a source close to Hicks by any chance?
Rafa resisted temptation from Real Madrid, a team close to his heart, before the owners arrived. And that’s about it.
Hicks called the talks with Klinsmann “an insurance policy.” The Liverpool fans have made Rafa a martyr over the incident.
No, the Liverpool fans were disgusted first of all that the owners had interviewed a replacement for Rafa for reasons that do not stand up to any scrutiny whatsoever. League performance wasn’t poor enough to warrant a sacking. Champions League elimination at the group stage is not a sackable offence. Newspapers reporting interest in the manager from other clubs is not enough to line up a replacement, nothing like enough, and Hicks is forever claiming the UK press make everything up. The reasons given are all false. They’d already made their minds up before the season started, and were waiting for an excuse.
The other reason Liverpool fans were outraged was because of the choice. Jurgen Klinsmann, who has only coached a handful of games, all at home, failed in the task he was set and has never coached a club, was an extremely ill-advised and poor choice. If the day comes that Rafa does deserve to be fired, or if he does decide to resign before suing for constructive dismissal (he’s already had advice from the manager’s ‘union’, the League Manager’s Association (LMA) about his predicament) then we all hope the owners get someone else to advise them.
Hicks wouldn’t discuss the latest rumors Tuesday, fearing that his words would only be turned around by the British press.
“It will all work itself out on Thursday,” he told the Star-Telegram. “There are no problems.”
Hicks’ words are rarely turned around; they just aren’t taken at face value. Maybe he’s got away with spin in the past, but he won’t achieve that here. We want honesty.
A source close to the Liverpool situation said that it likely means that there will be an announcement Thursday that Hicks has secured financing for the revised new stadium. Hicks had asked both proposed architects to go back to their drafting boards and submit revised designs using more “value-engineering.”
The signs are increasing elsewhere too that the finance package will finally be approved, but will the Gillett family remain a part of it? Rumours earlier in the week that Foster Gillett had cleared his Melwood desk are now being added to with reports that the son of George resigned from his position of company secretary at the holding companies that actually own Liverpool FC.
Hicks is certainly the only owner speaking these days – and he is telling anyone who’ll listen that tomorrow is the day the latest version of the new stadium plans will be unveiled, just after he announces he’s got that finance.
The new stadium — the original plans were dazzling — will allow an additional 30,000 Liverpool fans to see their beloved team.
The additional revenues would be used to pay off the stadium debt, as well as allow the club to compete with its Premier League rivals.
The current ground holds 45,000, and the plans being spoken about by Parry referred to the new ground holding 70,000, which is 25,000 more, not 30,000. The club only has planning permission for 60,000. Not everybody is confident that even a 60,000-seater stadium would be full all season, and it’s hoped that Hicks has been advised that this is a distinct possibility.
In reference to that banner:
It isn’t broken, in other words, but he is trying to “Hicks” his soccer team.
Somehow, that’s been getting unfairly lost in the translation.
It wasn’t broken, but now it is. Mocking the supporters won’t fix it. Borrowing more money than can’t be paid back won’t fix it.
And translation wouldn’t be necessary, if only spin and lies were replaced with truth.