Liverpool fans skeptical of another American owner

The message regularly written on scarves, flags, blogs and fan

forums of die-hard Liverpool supporters the past two seasons was

simple: ”Thanks but no Yanks.”

So it came as no surprise – given the recent abuse directed

toward co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr. – that news of a

possible takeover by another group of Americans was greeted with

reservation by the Reds faithful.

”I don’t think they will be given a chance. We don’t trust the

Yanks any more,” Paul Tremarco, a Liverpool season-ticket holder

and manager of The Arkles pub near the Reds’ stadium, said

Wednesday.

”They’re making us look like a laughing stock. We really wanted

a rich Arab from the United Arab Emirates.”

Liverpool’s prospective new owner, New England Sports Ventures,

had a 300-million pound ($477 million) bid accepted by the club’s

board on Tuesday. Hicks and Gillett are resisting the sale,

claiming it ”dramatically undervalues” the 18-time English

champions, and tried to oust two members of the board just before

the NESV offer was accepted.

So legal action will be needed to force the existing American

owners out and push through the sale to NESV, which owns the Boston

Red Sox. The deal will also need the approval of the Premier

League.

But there is concern among supporters that the club is simply

being shifted from one set of unsafe hands to another.

”We have done a lot of research into NESV, but it’ll still be

important that these people come out and engage with supporters and

tell us what their intentions are,” said James McKenna, spokesman

for the Spirit of Shankly fans’ group.

”Supporters are understandably going to be cautiously

optimistic about what these people are like and we are going to

want a lot more than what we got from Tom Hicks and George

Gillett.”

NESV, whose portfolio of companies also includes New England

Sports Network, Fenway Sports Group and Rousch Fenway Racing,

pledged to clear Liverpool’s debt – which currently stands at 285

million pounds ($453 million) – when it takes over.

”Our objective is to stabilize the club and ultimately return

Liverpool FC to its rightful place in English and European

football, successfully competing for and winning trophies,” a

statement by NESV said Wednesday.

”NESV wants to bring back the culture of winning to Liverpool

FC.”

Liverpool has stumbled at the start of this season, dropping

into the relegation zone of the Premier League after an

embarrassing 2-1 home loss to promoted Blackpool on Sunday. It is

the Reds’ worst start to a season since 1953.

They were knocked out of the League Cup by fourth-tier

Northampton two weeks ago, one of the lowest points of the club’s

proud history that includes an English-record five European

Cups.

”This whole takeover saga will take quite a while, if it indeed

goes through,” McKenna said. ”Supporters hope it can have an

impact on the pitch and a bit of positivity through the club.

”It’s been an absolute nightmare having someone like Tom Hicks

and George Gillett in charge. Until we finally see the back of

them, the supporters are still skeptical and cynical that they will

try to pull something out of the bag.”

Hicks wants to sell for about 600 million pounds ($952 million)

– an ambitious figure that has deterred many potential buyers. He

and Gillett bought the club for 174 million pounds ($276 million),

taking on 44.8 million pounds ($71.1 million) of liabilities, and

say their inflated asking price reflects the amount of money they

had since invested in the team.

”We’ve never been happy with these two,” Tremarco said.

”They’ve sold us down the river.

”They told us they were going to build a new ground – they

never did. They told us they were going to give us money for major

players. They’ve bought one – Fernando Torres. That’s it. We have

lost some of our best players to pay debts off.”

The Liverpool board says it’s impressed with the NESV’s vision

for the club and its history of success with the Red Sox, who ended

an 86-year drought with a World Series title in 2004 before winning

the championship again in 2007.

Fans will want to see a similar revival at Liverpool, which was

a dominant force in English and European soccer in the 1970s and

1980s but has not won a domestic league title since 1990. The club

did claim the Champions League title, the biggest prize in European

soccer, in 2005.

”Liverpool fans are the best supporters in the country. They

know their football,” said 45-year-old Noel O’Reilly, who lives

next to Anfield stadium.

”They applaud opposition off if they’ve played better football

than their own club. You don’t see that anywhere else in England.

The club is the heart and soul of the city.”