Ex-Liverpool chief hails ‘amazing’ fans’ role in ‘crazy’ FSG sale
Former Liverpool chairman Sir Martin Broughton believes fan activism played an important part in the sale of the club 10 years ago.
The dysfunctional management of Tom Hicks and George Gillett, who owned the club for just over three years from 2007, provoked great unrest among supporters.
It prompted the formation of the Spirit of Shankly group in 2008, whose prime motivating factor was to force out the American duo with protests inside and outside Anfield and an orchestrated social media campaign.
Such was their influence an internal club document was drawn up on the leading figures as pressure grew on the owners in 2010.
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The club was eventually sold to more Americans in the shape of Fenway Sports Group and Thursday is the 10th anniversary of their £300million purchase after a “crazy week”, the like of which Broughton had never seen before, with supporters packing the public gallery at London’s High Court and celebrating victory outside afterwards.
“It was amazing support. I have never come out of a courtroom to an audience, let alone one like that,” he told the PA news agency.
“It was great to be able to celebrate it with the fans, they were terrific right the way through.
“For a long time they weren’t quite convinced whose side I was on as I was employed by Hicks and Gillett and I refused to carry out the negotiations in public.
“Was I there to do the right thing for Liverpool or the right thing for Hicks and Gillett?
“One occasion I actually felt sorry for Tom Hicks as he was in New York to see a bank, nothing to do with Liverpool, but he was spotted by a fan who took pictures and put them on social media and before they knew where they were all the directors of the bank were receiving threats if they agreed to put up money to support Hicks to take things further.
“The bank was taken by surprise because that was not what they were doing but it showed the degree the fans on social media were active in the process.
“It was, at times, helpful but I was marginally uncomfortable with it; I wasn’t entirely sure about this third party trying to involve themselves in the logistics of a negotiation because you never quite know what impact it was going to have.
“But looking back they were helpful.”
Jay McKenna, a Spirit of Shankly founder member, said supporters felt they were left with no option.
“The anger and frustration at the way the club was being run, and the broken promises so quickly after Hicks and Gillett took charge, led fans to say something needs to be done,” he said.
“The anger grew month after month as the owners dragged us further down – away from being successful and away from being well run.
“There was real concern, and at times desperation, that if we didn’t get rid of them, who knew what the future would hold?
“Thankfully for us, we did get rid of them and it’s right to say that fan activism helped make that happen.”
Broughton – along with Christian Purslow and Ian Ayre, then chief executive and commercial director respectively – managed to sell the club to FSG against the wishes of Hicks and Gillett, who tried to sack the latter pair to sabotage the process.
“It certainly was a crazy time. I have never been involved in anything like it,” Broughton added.
“My legal advice showed great foresight, recommending at the outset I had to have written into the articles I was the only person who could change the board.
“That proved absolutely critical because right at the end when they wanted to stop the process and remove Christian and Ian from the board and put on two of their own nominations I was able to say ‘You’re not able to do that’.
“It did make legal history as it was the first time an entity was sold against 100 per cent of the shareholders’ wishes.”
Four months into a six-month timescale set by the banks, to whom the owners owed £275m, Broughton had no offers on the table and in the final weeks it came down to two similar bids: FSG or Singapore businessman Peter Lim.
Broughton made a judgement call based on the Americans’ proven record with baseball’s Boston Red Sox and after winning the Champions League and Premier League, their first domestic title in 30 years, it proved to be the right one.
“They (FSG) had been there and done it at Red Sox,” he added.
“Their pedigree was a group that had acquired an old, established, traditional team, invested in the stadium and team and won the World Series, which they hadn’t done for 80 years.
“The parallels with Liverpool were similar and they demonstrated they were serious about doing the right things.
“You take a punt, you think you know the people you are selling it to, you hope you have judged them well but at the end of the day you are not sure until 10 years on.
“I think it is fantastic they have delivered everything they said they would.”