Thursday, October 7, 2010

Liverpool fans try to banish bad American memories

           Memories of unfulfilled promises and bitter rows have made it hard for Liverpool fans to whole-heartedly embrace the idea of more American owners coming to restore the club to former glories.
          Three and a half years ago, when beaming US sports tycoons Tom Hicks and George Gillett posed for photos with a red Liverpool scarf on the Anfield turf and promised a new stadium and players, the club seemed to have a bright future.
          That initial optimism soon vanished, along with the pledge to start work on a new 60,000-seater stadium within 60 days of their takeover, and fans turned against the duo before they put the debt-laden club up for sale this year.
          Rumours of interested parties circulated before the club’s chairman Martin Broughton announced on Wednesday that the board had accepted a 300 million-pound bid from New England Sports Venues (NESV), owners of baseball’s Boston Red Sox.
An NESV statement spoke of dedication and success.
          “Our objective is to stabilise the Club and ultimately return Liverpool FC to its rightful place in English and European football, successfully competing for and winning trophies,” it said.
         “NESV wants to help bring back the culture of winning to Liverpool FC.”
           There has been no word yet from NESV’s American owner John W. Henry but as long as he does not make the mistake of calling Liverpool a “franchise” — as Gillett did in his first news conference — he will have got off to a better start.
Winning mentality
           Internet fan forums were flooded with reaction ranging from “out of the frying pan and into the fire” to “please let this be the end of the nightmare” but with the overriding feeling one of relief that the club could soon have new owners mixed with a heavy dose of caution.
           Chairman Broughton tried to reassure fans by speaking of the new owners’ “winning mentality”, as demonstrated by their transformation of the Red Sox into a title-winning outfit.
He said money would be available to buy players in the next transfer window and that the club would soon have the 60,000-seater stadium, although it was not clear whether this would be a new ground or a redevelopment of Anfield.
           Fans keen to make clear their expectations, wrote messages on Henry’s Facebook page like “please bring back our glory”, “do for us what you did for the Red Sox and you will be a legend in Liverpool” and “look after the club and you’ll be loved”.
         Supporters have seen their club go from Champions League finalists in the year Hicks and Gillett took over to sitting in the relegation zone now after their worst start to a season for more than half a century.
          Although Spain forward Fernando Torres was signed with them at the helm, less money has been available as they spent funds on servicing the club’s debt of more than 200 million pounds.
          There were also public relations blunders, such as when the owners admitted the club had made an approach for German Juergen Klinsmann with a view to replacing Rafa Benitez as manager and Tom Hicks junior’s foul-mouthed tirade in an email to a fan which forced him to resign from the board.
Gillett and Hicks have also barely been on speaking terms for the past couple of years and they have been at loggerheads with the board.
          Those who know the prospective new owners think there will be no repeat of these problems.
“The fans of Liverpool should be excited,” Dave Checketts, owner of MLS team Real Salt Lake, said at the Leaders in Football conference in London.
          “From a business perspective they’ve done a superb job (with the Redsox), from a PR perspective — superb — and they got success on the field. I think they’ll repeat the model at Liverpool and I think they’ll be outstanding.”

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