Court clears way for Liverpool sale


LONDON, October 13 – Liverpool owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks lost a legal bid to block the sale of the club here Wednesday, clearing the way for a takeover of the English football giants.London’s High Court granted injunctions brought by the club’s major creditors, the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), which had been attempting to remove the final obstacles to the deal.

Lawyers for Gillett and Hicks had on Tuesday argued for more time to find a better offer than the 300-million-pound bid tabled by US-based New England Sports Ventures (NESV), the owners of baseball’s Boston Red Sox.

However Justice Christopher Floyd rejected Hicks and Gillett’s request to halt sale negotiations. "I am not prepared to grant any relief," he said. "If I did it would risk stopping the sale and purchase agreement going ahead."

Hicks and Gillett, who took over the club in 2007, claimed that the English members of Liverpool’s board — chairman Martin Broughton, Christian Purslow and Ian Ayre — had not acted in the best interests of the club.

"It was an excellent outcome," Broughton said outside court after the ruling. "I just want to thank the fans for the support they’ve given through a very difficult time. We’re almost there.

"The club’s going to have a great future.

"We will re-establish the right base for the future; the acquisition debt which had been plaguing us will be gone. We’ll have a great future."

Broughton said a board meeting would be held later Wednesday but refused to confirm the board would formally rubber-stamp the sale to NESV.

"We will get the right owners for the fans," Broughton told reporters. "I cannot pre-judge the board’s decision. It would be inappropriate to pre-judge what the board is going to say."

Meanwhile NESV chief John W Henry took to micro-blogging site Twitter to applaud the outcome. "Well done Martin, Christian & Ian. Well done RBS. Well done supporters!" Henry wrote.

Hicks last week tried to sack two members of the Liverpool board who supported the deal and attempted to replace them with his son Mack Hicks and another business associate.

However lawyers for RBS claimed the move was a breach of terms agreed to by Hicks and Gillett when the club was put up for sale earlier this year, when Broughton was given sole authority to alter the make-up of the board.

Lawyer Richard Snowden said Hicks’ actions were an attempt "to frustrate the sale necessary to repay the bank," saying evidence filed to the court showed "breathtaking arrogance on the part of Mr Hicks and Mr Gillett."

Wednesday’s ruling allows RBS to recover their 237 million pound (376 million US dollars) loan, which Hicks and Gillett had been required to pay back by October 15.

However the NESV sale will leave Hicks and Gillett an estimated 144 million pounds (228 million US) out of pocket.

On Monday Singapore businessman Peter Lim made an improved offer of 320 million pounds (507 million US) plus 40 million pounds (63.4 million US) for investment on players.

The judgement appears to signal the end of Hicks and Gillett’s turbulent three-year ownership of Liverpool, a proud sporting institution which remains the most successful club in the history of English football.

Liverpool were put up for sale by the unpopular duo in April, who initially sought an asking price of around 800 million pounds (1.27 billion US), a figure that they subsequently dropped to 600 million (951 million US).

The American owners have been the subject of fierce protests from fans, who have blamed them for a steady decline in the club’s on-field fortunes and failure to deliver on a promised new stadium.

Around 7,000 supporters demonstrated before the club suffered a shock home defeat to Blackpool earlier this month, a humiliation which sent Liverpool into the relegation zone and confirmed their worst start to a season for 57 years.