Red Sox group set for takeover of Liverpool team

Whatever you do, Liverpool fans, don’t call your prospective new

American owners the Yankees.

The owners of the Boston Red Sox are trying to buy the

financially ailing Liverpool football club for 300 million pounds

($477 million) – about half the asking price of the current

American owners.

If approved, it would unite two of the most successful

franchises in sports – the Reds, one of the most decorated teams in

old England, and the baseball Red Sox, the oldest pro team in New

England.

They have a lot in common.

Both have red uniforms – in fact, Liverpool players also wear

red socks – and both have a proud heritage that includes

championships and long periods of agonizing failure.

Each has its iconic symbols: from Fenway Park to Anfield; from

the Green Monster to the Shankly Gates; from ”Sweet Caroline” to

”You’ll Never Walk Alone”; from the Citgo sign to the ”This is

Anfield” sign.

The Red Sox also had the Curse of the Bambino – the sale of

slugger Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees – that was finally

snapped when they won the World Series in 2004 after a wait of 86

years. They won the title again in 2007.

Liverpool fans hope John Henry’s New England Sports Ventures can

spark a similar revival of their debt-riddled club, which has

fallen on hard times since winning its 18th and last English league

title in 1990. Liverpool is off to its worst start since 1953 and

is in the relegation zone after losing last week to Blackpool.

As major port cities, Boston and Liverpool also share a rich

history and strong Irish links. After the famine in Ireland in the

mid-19th century, many Irish headed for the thriving port of

Liverpool, and from there sailed to Boston. By 1851, it was

estimated that a quarter of the populations of both cities was

Irish.

For all that, though, the Red Sox owners might not be so fab in

the home of the Beatles. Liverpool fans were already angry that the

team was owned by two other Americans, Tom Hicks and George Gillett

Jr., and now comes another U.S. group intending to take

control.

”These Yanks are making us look like a laughingstock in the

Premier League and in Europe,” said Paul Tremarco, a season-ticket

holder for 35 years. ”We don’t trust the Yanks anymore. They just

asset-strip companies.”

Liverpool chairman Martin Broughton said he understood the

”instant reaction about them being American. But being American is

not a problem. Leveraged ownership of a football club is the

problem.”

Serious financial issues have to be settled to conclude the long

and bitter boardroom battle over the club.

The Boston ownership group is headed by Henry, a financial

trader, with two other principals: Tom Werner, who made his money

producing hit TV shows such as ”The Cosby Show” and ”Roseanne,”

and Larry Lucchino, a longtime baseball executive.

The New York Times Co., parent of the newspaper, is among the

investors in the Red Sox ownership group. The Times said last year

it was trying to sell its shares. In April, the Times announced it

had sold a small portion of its NESV ownership stake.

The Red Sox owners’ offer is only likely to cover the debts and

bank charges stemming from the leveraged 2007 takeover by Hicks and

Gillett. They are fighting the NESV bid, saying it ”dramatically

undervalues” the club. Hicks wants to sell for about 600 million

pounds.

Rival members of the Liverpool board, which accepted the Boston

bid, are set to go to court to force the sale through before the

Oct. 15 deadline set by the banks to repay the club’s debt.

Liverpool is one of four Premier League clubs under American

ownership, along with Manchester United, Aston Villa and

Sunderland. Most prominent are Malcolm Glazer and his sons, owners

of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who took over Manchester United in

2005 in a leveraged buyout worth $1.4 billion. The Glazers are

deeply unpopular among United fans, with groups of supporters

regularly protesting and calling for their ouster.

Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber said the Red Sox

owners know how to take a franchise forward.

”There is something called the Red Sox Nation, a brand

supported by fans going back generations, similar to Liverpool

supporters,” he said. ”The ownership has not only graced that but

enhanced it.”

Liverpool fans will need to be convinced.

”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, a fan group named

after Liverpool manager Bill Shankly, who won three league titles,

two FA Cups and the UEFA Cup from 1959-1974.

AP Sports writers Rob Harris in London and Steve Douglas in

Liverpool, England, contributed to this report.