Liverpool have hope in their hearts as court case nears climax
Tom Hicks and George Gillett have admitted their ownership of Liverpool is coming to an end but made a defiant last attempt to cut their losses ahead of judgment at the High Court today.
The Americans threw in every last argument available to them, in Court 16 of the High Court, as they sought to stall the decision of Liverpool's non-executive chairman Martin Broughton to accept the £300m bid for the club by New England Sports Ventures (NESL), which will force them out of Anfield with £144m losses.
They claimed that two more lucrative alternative bids were still ‘active’; that Liverpool's non-American directors have marginalised them by engaging in a secretive search for new owners; and that a ‘sub-committee’ of the club board which opted for the bid didn’t have the legal right to do so.
In the same courtroom at 10.30am today Mr Justice Floyd will rule whether the Americans, who were not in court for yesterday's four and a half-hour hearing, breached signed undertakings to Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) when they summarily suspended the managing director Christian Purslow and commercial director Ian Ayre shortly before last Tuesday's meeting at which the NESL bid was voted through.
The owners' lawyer, Paul Girolami QC, did not challenge that fact when RBS began proceedings based on the breach yesterday.
Girolami told Mr Justice Floyd that Broughton, Purslow and Ayre had ‘rushed’ into a sale to NESL when Meriton Group, headed by Singapore's eighth wealthiest man, Peter Lim, and with representatives in court yesterday, had offered a financially superior deal. Lim, who has seized on the uncertainty created by the legal case in the past 24 hours, issued a dramatic statement while yesterday's case was unfolding to say he was ready to up his bid and spend £40m on players. His offer for the club now stands at £360m, £20 more than NESL's.
Mill Finance, the Pennsylvania-based finance company which is understood to have taken over Gillett's 50 per cent share of the club after he fell into default on the $75m loan it provided him to buy into Anfield, was the other prospective buyer cited by Girolami which said it was ready to write off Liverpool's debt and make a £100m commitment to finance a new stadium.
Strong evidence points to NESL's being the better offer. Broughton has always said the biggest offer is not the best. NESL has vastly more experience in running sports franchises while £100m for a stadium is a third of the projected cost of Liverpool's new Stanley Park stadium.
Girolami also argued that Friday's deadline for the repayment to RBS of a £200m debt facility did not mean that RBS would put the club into administration — with a nine-point deduction which could jeopardise the NESL deal.
The rest of the Hicks and Gillett case appeared to have been formulated on the hoof.
Richard Snowden, RBS's barrister, accused the Americans of “breath-taking arrogance.” He concluded: “It is quite astonishing for two businessmen who are owners of their company to say 'we don't care we owe the bank £200m on Friday. They can wait.”
The case continues today.