Hicks sings from his own hymn sheet as DIC waits in wings
Published 23/04/2008 | 09:36
He sat in the front row of the directors' box, as he had promised, he surrounded himself with adoring supporters – his own, not his club's – and he sang along to one of the most rousing and sustained choruses of " You'll Never Walk Alone" prior to kick-off. Except Tom Hicks does. Walk alone that is.
The Liverpool co-owner defied the advice of the Merseyside Police, who had deemed his presence a security risk, and attended last night's semi-final at the club that, 50 per cent at least and for the time being, belongs to him. Except no one wants him there. There were no anti-Hicks banners, no chants calling for him to go and only half-hearted goading of "USA" from the Chelsea supporters.
That was how it should be. The fear was that, with representatives of Dubai International Capital, who remain supremely hopeful that they can buy Liverpool, in attendance, that there would be more action in the directors' box than the penalty box. Admittedly, there was quite a turnout in the posh seats – including past and present England managers in Steve McClaren and Fabio Capello, although Sven Goran Eriksson, interestingly, was consigned to sitting just in front of the press alongside the coach of Slovakia.
As promised, DIC were here. Led by Samir Al-Ansari, the organisation's chief executive and a life-long Liverpool supporter who took his seat half an hour before the start to soak up the atmosphere, and their chief negotiator Amanda Staveley, they sat in the third row as guests of the club's other owner, George Gillett. The American millionaire has already agreed to sell to them. He was not here, officially laid low with a virus, but his son, Foster, one of the six current board members, was.
It made for a surreal atmosphere. This was a Champions League semi-final and yet the lenses were trained, for a while at least, on the directors, not those who should be directing the action on the field. When Dirk Kuyt scored, they erupted. Al-Ansari and Staveley high-fived – maybe not a response that would have featured high on the Kop – while Hicks ensured he was the last one to sit back down after play had eventually restarted.
He had arrived at Anfield early. The police warnings had been clear. They did not want either Hicks or Gillett at the ground but the Texan pulled up, in one of three blacked-out people carriers, more than three hours before kick-off and prior to the arrival of the fans who usually throng the Shankly Gates. There were a dozen or so people in Hicks' entourage who all wore Liverpool scarves, which looked suspiciously as if they had only recently been liberated from their cellophane wrappers.
Earlier in the day Hicks – who was staying at the same dockside hotel as the Chelsea team – had ventured to Liverpool's training ground, Melwood, where he briefly met with Rafael Benitez. It put the manager in an uncomfortable position and, later, he confirmed that he had said "hello" to Hicks. "We spoke about maybe having a meeting together, the owners and everyone," he said. "It was positive and just to say hello and arrange to meet. That will be a positive meeting. We will all be together."
They weren't last night. There was plenty of tension in and around the executive lounges. The chief executive, Rick Parry, who clearly wants the DIC bid to succeed and has continued to talk to the company, even if it is likely to mean he will eventually leave, hung around. He was anxious to see how the various parties greeted each other and there was some expectation that DIC would try to speak to Hicks either before or after the contest.
He is still posturing that he wants to acquire the club wholly for himself but, increasingly, his words are just that. Posturing. He cannot get the financing. There is now an inevitability, it seems, that DIC will take control, maybe even before the European Cup final next month although Hicks will surely hold on until then, not least because he will feel it will increase his bargaining position if Liverpool progress.
Hicks has chosen to be increasingly aggressive. He has demanded Parry resigns, which he cannot do, and last week went on the offensive even further, calling the chief executive's tenure a "disaster", which is going too far, although DIC, also, realises changes have to be made. But first it has to get Hicks out.