Liverpool fans protest U.S. owners
Posted: Monday January 21, 2008 5:35PM; Updated: Monday January 21, 2008 5:45PM
LONDON (AP) -- "You'll never walk alone," says the famous song roared by Liverpool's soccer fans.
Forgive Liverpool owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr. if the sentiment is lost on them. At Anfield right now, some fans want the American owners to start walking and sell the famous English team.
Hicks and Gillett are trying to refinance the loan that enabled them to buy the club last March. There reportedly is a wealthy consortium from Dubai with a buyout bid on the table.
Hicks and Gillett, who own baseball and hockey franchises, say they have no intention of selling, however. That means the Reds, for so long the most stable club in English soccer, lurch from crisis to crisis.
Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez accused the Americans of failing to pledge financial support for new players. Hicks acknowledged he and Gillett talked to former Germany coach Juergen Klinsmann in November as a potential replacement for the Spaniard. Hicks said it was in case Benitez left the club, but the talks prompted a furious response from Liverpool fans.
The fans in Liverpool also might be angered by comments Hicks made in an interview last year.
"People are worried that I might take money away from the (Texas) Rangers to build Liverpool," Hicks said, referring to his baseball team. "It's just the reverse."
The lingering dispute seems a long way from the days when Liverpool reeled off nine league championships between 1976-90 to run up a record of 18 titles which still stands.
After Bill Shankly launched the Liverpool title charge in the mid-60s, the owners rarely interfered with his successors Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan and Kenny Dalglish, who also added four triumphs in the European Cup -- later to become the Champions League.
The trouble is Liverpool hasn't added to that record of league titles since 1990. Manchester United has won nine Premier League titles in the past 15 years and, at the top of the standings, could make it 10 in 16 this season.
Liverpool has fallen so far behind United and Arsenal in the title race that it is virtually out of contention again this year. Its only chance of a major success lies in the Champions League, a competition it won three seasons ago and reached the final last year.
That means Liverpool fans, for so long able to hail their team as the best in the country, haven't been able to say that for more than 17 years. If neighbor Everton maintains fourth place in the standings, Liverpool may not be able to say it's the top team in the city.
Yet the fans are staunchly behind Benitez, largely because he has a standout record in European soccer.
Having upset Benitez and the fans, Hicks and Gillett appear to be in a corner.
They bought out Liverpool's shareholders with a then $431 million offer, which included an agreement to pay off about $89 million of club debt and finance a new, bigger stadium.
But they have until the end of February to refinance the loan they needed to complete the buyout. If they fail to do it, then Dubai International Capital, which tried to buy the club before Hicks and Gillett came along, reportedly are standing by with an offer.
"I have not received any offer to purchase the club from the DIC or anyone else, much less accepted any such offer," Hicks said Sunday in a statement. "Nor do I have any intention of doing so."
If Hicks and Gillett obtain the backing to refinance the loan and DIC is thwarted again, then the embarrassing impasse with Benitez and the fans could go on. It may well have gone too far for the wounds to heal.
Benitez refuses to comment on the issue, maintaining he's focusing on Liverpool's next game.
He doesn't really need to say anything. Unlike Hicks and Gillett, he has the fans to say it for him, and he's not walking alone.