Cover Missing
1   Football in Liverpool – From the Very Beginning
2   Liverpool Out of Everton – One Seed, Two Clubs
3   Turning Ice Into Fire – Tom Watson, the First Great Liverpool Manager
4   As Many Downs as Ups – The Topsy-Turvy 1900s
5   The First FA Cup Final – 1914 at the Palace, and Then War
6   The Roaring Twenties – Liverpool Back on the Title Trail
7   ‘Where’s Liverpool?’ – ‘Top of the League!’
8   They Shall Be Our Teachers – The First Internationalisation of Liverpool FC
9   Lisha! Lisha! – Elisha Scott and the Liverpool Kop
10  Football Life During Wartime – Surviving the Conflict and Emerging Stronger
11  1946–47, Champions Again – George Kay and the Willie and Albert Show
12  The Almost Seasons – The Double Frustration of 1950
13  The Rocky Road to Glenbuck – The Bleak 1950s
14  Bill Shankly and the New Liverpool – Or How the Liverpool Board Finally Learned How to Spend Money
15  Ee-Aye-Addio, the FA Cup at Last! – Liverpool FC at Wembley and in Europe
16  Nothing but Blue Skies – Bob Paisley in Charge at Anfield
17  At the Dark End of the Street – Heysel and Hillsborough
18  Continental Drift – The New Liverpool Technocrats
Epilogue: There Must Be Some Way Out of Here – The Liverpool Ownership Crisis
Bibliography – Sources and Useful Reading



John Williams
This eBook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licenced or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author’s and publisher’s rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.
Epub ISBN: 9781845969578
Version 1.0
Copyright © John Williams, 2010
All rights reserved
The moral right of the author has been asserted
First published in Great Britain in 2010 by
7 Albany Street
Edinburgh EH1 3UG
ISBN 9781845966829
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any other means without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who wishes to quote brief passages in connection with a review written for insertion in a magazine, newspaper or broadcast
All photos © Liverpool Daily Post & Echo and Trinity Mirror Sport Media except where stated
The author has made every effort to clear all copyright permissions, but where this has not been possible and amendments are required, the publisher will be pleased to make any necessary arrangements at the earliest opportunity
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
For the lost 135, Heysel and Hillsborough
About the Author
John Williams has been studying football as a sociologist for the past 30 years and is the author of several books on Liverpool FC, including Rafa, Into the Red, Kennedy’s Way and The Miracle of Istanbul.
This book has taken much longer to produce than I thought it would. I want to thank those who have been waiting patiently for it to be born. But many more thanks are also in order. Much of the research for this text was undertaken by ploughing through the Liverpool press and connected sources, and my dedicated researcher David Gould did as much of this crucial spadework as anyone else. I want to thank him for his excellent job, and I hope that his beloved Stoke City continue to survive – and more – in the heady Premier League. We both want to thank the staff at the Liverpool Central Library for looking after us so well during our many visits there between 2006 and 2008. I must also thank my dear friend Cathy Long for letting me stay over in her flat in Liverpool when I most needed to. I could not have completed this work without my Liverpool base.
My friends and colleagues David Gould, Andrew Ward, Stephen Hopkins, Neil Carter, Viet-Hai Phung and Alec McAuley all read early versions of some of these chapters and offered many useful comments and scholarly support. Andrew Ward, especially, is a terrific writer and researcher as well as being a very good friend. Andrew helped me restructure chapters when I was in danger of losing my way. I also ‘entertained’ some of my fellow Liverpool supporters in the Flat Iron pub in Liverpool with ad hoc and often obscure stories taken from the text, and even the occasional historical football quiz about Liverpool FC. I thank them, as always, for their tolerance, humour and interest. They are the very best of knowledgeable Liverpool supporters. James Cleary and Adrian Killen gave me great advice on pictures and Liverpool FC’s past, and Ken Rogers at Trinity Mirror was kind enough, initially, to ask me to write this book. When the book transferred to Mainstream Publishing, Bill Campbell, Claire Rose and Graeme Blaikie performed heroics in keeping the whole thing on track. Finally, Stephen Done at the Liverpool FC museum read an early version of the text, and he offered many priceless correctives and pieces of sound guidance and advice. He also allowed me to look at the surviving official Liverpool FC minute books (1914–56), for which I am eternally grateful.
At home, as I tried valiantly to pull all this material together, my partner Sylvia offered her usual love, patience and encouragement, and my precious toddler granddaughters, Millie and Sasha, kept me amused and full of energy when things started to flag. They were even joined later on in the piece by little Esmée. Despite her US heritage, Sasha will be well schooled by her mother in the Reds tradition, and at just three years of age Millie can already sing whole sections of the Fernando Torres song and is now busy learning ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ – though her sudden and strange obsession with sharks and other matters has proved a distraction to her much more important Liverpool FC schooling. Her uncle Seb will help keep her focused on the main task.
I also want to say here that a number of sources, in particular, were completely invaluable as I tried to make sense of Liverpool FC’s extraordinary history. Tony Matthews’ Who’s Who of Liverpool is an excellent and comprehensive starting point for pen pictures of Liverpool players, going right back to the earliest days of the club. All Liverpool fans should own a copy. As he will no doubt notice, I used his research so frequently I could not always attribute it, and I give my heartfelt thanks (and sheepish apologies) to him here. Likewise, Brian Pead’s Liverpool: A Complete Record 1892–1990 is a very useful guide to the club’s early formations and playing records, and Eric Doig and Alex Murphy’s The Essential History of Liverpool is indispensable for its accuracy and detail. Vital too is the club website for providing lots of crucial historical information about the club and its players.
The Football League Players’ Records 1888–1939 by Michael Joyce got me out of many tight spots in trying to establish the identities of early opponents of Liverpool Football Club and to track their careers, and Jack Rollin’s Rothmans Book of Football Records did the same for crowd data information and for relevant Football League tables. Simon Inglis’s terrific account of the history of the Football League, League Football and the Men Who Made It, was exceptionally useful for keeping me up to date with wider developments in the game as we lurched, uncertainly, towards the present. Finally, John Belchem’s wonderful edited collection in celebration of the city of Liverpool, Liverpool 800: Culture, Character and History, gave me plenty to contemplate – and to rely upon – concerning history, culture and social change in the city. I hope I have done no gross disservice in the text to any of these indispensable works.
When I use a source directly and extensively, I have indicated this fact in the text, though I must reiterate I used the standard Liverpool FC reference books and sites rather more liberally than such formal referencing suggests. Finally, I have tried to report on events covered in this book quite critically, as a researcher, and not simply with a supporter’s feverish eye: the reader will have to judge how well (or how badly) I have done in this respect. Needless to say, all the errors in the text – though only some of the insights – are mine and mine alone.
Sources and Useful Reading
A’Court, A., Alan A’Court: My Life in Football, The Bluecoat Press, 2003
Allt, N., The Boys from the Mersey: The Story of the Annie Road End Crew, Milo Books, 2004
Allt, N. (ed.), Here We Go Gathering Cups in May, Canongate, 2007
Bale, B., The Shankly Legacy, Breeden Books, 1996
Belchem, J. (ed.), Liverpool 800: Culture, Character and History, Liverpool City Council and Liverpool University Press, 2006
Belchem, J., ‘Celebrating Liverpool’, in Belchem, J. (ed.), Liverpool 800: Culture, Character and History, Liverpool City Council and Liverpool University Press, 2006
Belchem, J. and MacRaild, D., ‘Cosmopolitan Liverpool’, in Belchem, J. (ed.), Liverpool 800: Culture, Character and History, Liverpool City Council and Liverpool University Press, 2006
Blows, K., Terminator: The Authorised Julian Dicks Story, Polar Publishing, 1996
Booth, K., The Father of Modern Sport: The Life and Times of Charles W. Alcock, The Parrs Wood Press, 2002
Bowler, D., Shanks: The Authorised Biography of Bill Shankly, Orion, 1996
Carter, N., The Football Manager: A History, Routledge, 2006
Chinn, C., Better Betting with a Decent Feller: A Social History of Bookmaking, Aurum Press, 2005
Collins, T., Rugby’s Great Split: Class, Culture and the Origins of Rugby League Football, Cass, 1998
Corbett, J., Everton: The School of Science, Macmillan, 2003
Corbett, J., ‘Shankly: Forgotten Man’, in Observer Sports Monthly, November 2009
Cowley, J., The Last Game: Love, Death and Football, Simon and Schuster, 2009
Dalglish, K., Dalglish: My Autobiography, Hodder & Stoughton, 1996
Dohren, D., The Ghost on the Wall: The Authorised Biography of Roy Evans, Mainstream Publishing, 2004
Doig, E. and Murphy, A., The Essential History of Liverpool, Headline, 2003
Du Noyer, P., Liverpool Wondrous Place: Music from the Cavern to the Coral, Virgin Books, 2004
Fishwick, N., English Football and Society: 1910–1950, Manchester University Press, 1989
Foot, J., Calcio: A History of Italian Football, Fourth Estate, 2006
Fowler, R., My Autobiography, Macmillan, 2005
Gill, K., The Real Bill Shankly, Trinity Mirror Sports Media, 2006
Hale, S. and Ponting, I., Liverpool in Europe, Carlton Books, 1992
Harding, J., Football Wizard: The Story of Billy Meredith, Breedon Books, 1985
Hargreaves, I., Rogers, K. and George, R., Liverpool: Club of the Century, Liverpool Echo Publications, 1988
Harvey, D., Football: The First Hundred Years – The Untold Story, Routledge, 2005
Hewison, D., The Liverpool Boys Are in Town: The Birth of Terrace Culture, The Bluecoat Press, 2008
Hey, S., Liverpool’s Dream Team, Mainstream Publishing, 1997
Hill, D., Out of his Skin: The John Barnes Phenomenon, WSC Books, 2001
Hill, J., ‘Rite of Spring’, in Hill, J. and Williams, J. (eds), Sport and Identity in the North of England, Keele University Press, 1996
Holt, O., If You Are Second You Are Nothing: Ferguson and Shankly, Macmillan, 2006
Holt, R., Sport and the British: A Modern History, Oxford University Press, 1989
Hopcraft, A., The Football Man, Cox & Wyman, 1968
Hopkins, S. and Williams, J., ‘Gérard Houllier and the New Liverpool Imaginary’, in J. Williams et al. (eds), Passing Rhythms: Liverpool FC and the Transformation of Football, Berg, 2001, pp. 173–94
Huggins, M. and Williams, J., Sport and the English: 1918–1939, Routledge, 2006
Hughes, S., Secret Diary of a Liverpool Scout, Sport Media, 2009
Inglis, S., The Football Grounds of Great Britain, CollinsWillow, 1985
Inglis, S., Football Grounds of Britain, CollinsWillow, 1987
Inglis, S., League Football and the Men Who Made It, Willow Books, 1988
Inglis, S., Played in Manchester: The Architectural Heritage of a City at Play, English Heritage, 2004
Inglis, S., Engineering Archie: Archibald Leitch –Football Ground Designer, English Heritage, 2005
Jackson, J., ‘The Witnesses’, The Observer, 2 April 2005
Jones, C.D. (ed.), The Social Survey of Merseyside Vol. 3, Liverpool Corporation, 1934
Jones, S., Sport, Politics and the Working Class, Manchester University Press, 1988
Joyce, M., Football League Players’ Records 1888 to 1939, Soccer Data, 2004
Keith, J., Shanks for the Memory, Robson Books, 1998
Keith, J., Bob Paisley: Manager of the Millennium, Robson Books, 1999
Keith, J., Billy Liddell: The Legend Who Carried the Kop, Robson Books, 2003
Keith, J., Dixie Dean: The Inside Story of a Football Icon, Sport Media, 2005
Kelly, S., Idle Hands, Clenched Fists: The Depression in a Shipyard Town, Spokesman, 1987
Kelly, S., The Kop: The End of an Era, Mandarin, 1993
Kelly, S., Rotation, Rotation, Rotation, Heroes Publishing, 2008
Kennedy, A. and Williams, J., Kennedy’s Way: Inside Bob Paisley’s Liverpool, Mainstream Publishing, 2004
Kennedy, D., ‘Class, Ethnicity and Civic Governance: A Social Profile of Football Club Directors on Merseyside in the Late Nineteenth Century’, The International Journal of the History of Sport, Vol. 22 (5), 2005
Kennedy, D., ‘Locality and Professional Football Club Development: The Demographics of Football Club Support in Late-Victorian Liverpool’, Soccer and Society, Vol. 5 (3), 2004
Kennedy, D. and Collins, M., ‘Community Politics in Liverpool and the Governance of Professional Football in the Late Nineteenth Century’, The Historical Journal, Vol. 49 (3), 2006
Kennedy, D. and Kennedy, P., ‘Ambiguity, Complexity and Convergence: The Evolution of Liverpool’s Irish Football Clubs’, The International Journal of the History of Sport, Vol. 24 (7), 2007
Kirby, D., ‘Rome, 1977’, in Allt, N. (ed.), Here We Go Gathering Cups in May, Canongate, 2007
Leigh, S., The Cavern: The Most Famous Club in the World, SAF Publishing, 2008
Liddell, B., My Soccer Story, Stanley Paul, 1960
Liversedge, S., Liverpool: From the Inside, Mainstream Publishing, 1995
Liversedge, S., Liverpool, We Love You!, Soccer Books Limited, 1997
Lloyd, L., Larry Lloyd: Hard Man, Hard Game, John Blake Publishing, 2008
Lupson, P., Thank God for Football!, Azure, 2006
Lupson, P., Across the Park: Everton FC and Liverpool FC Common Ground, Sportsmedia, 2009
McGregor, W., ‘The League and the League System’ (1906), in Leatherdale, C. (ed.), The Book of Football: A Complete History and Record of the Association and Rugby Games, Desert Island Books, 1997
Macilwee, M., The Gangs of Liverpool, Milo Books, 2006
Macilwee, M., Tearaways: More Gangs of Liverpool 1890–1970, Milo Books, 2008
Marne, P., ‘Whose Public Space Was It Anyway? Class, Gender and Ethnicity in the Creation of Sefton and Stanley Parks, Liverpool: 1858–1872’, Social and Cultural Geography, Vol. 2 (4), 2001
Mason, T., Association Football and English Society 1863–1915, Harvester, 1980
Mason, T., ‘The Blues and the Reds: A History of the Liverpool and Everton Football Clubs’, The History Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, No. 134, 1985
Matthews, T., Who’s Who of Liverpool, Mainstream Publishing, 2006
Milne, G., ‘Maritime Liverpool’, in Belchem, J. (ed.), Liverpool 800: Culture, Character and History, Liverpool City Council and Liverpool University Press, 2006
Munck, R. (ed.), Reinventing the City? Liverpool in Comparative Perspective, Liverpool University Press, 2003
Murden, J., ‘City of Change and Challenge’, in Belchem, J. (ed.), Liverpool 800: Culture, Character and History, Liverpool City Council and Liverpool University Press, 2006
Nicholls, A., Scally: The Story of a Category C Football Hooligan, Milo Books, 2002
Overy, R., The Morbid Age: Britain Between the Wars, Allen Lane, 2009
Page, S., Herbert Chapman: The First Great Manager, Heroes Publishing, 2006
Pead, B., Liverpool: A Complete Record 1982–1990, Breedon Books, 1990
Physick, R., Played in Liverpool: Charting the Heritage of a City at Play, English Heritage, 2007
Ponting, I. and Hale, S., Sir Roger: The Life and Times of Roger Hunt, Bluecoat Press (undated)
Pooley, C., ‘Living in Liverpool: The Modern City’, in Belchem, J. (ed.), Liverpool 800: Culture, Character and History, Liverpool City Council and Liverpool University Press, 2006
Preston, T., ‘The Origins and Development of Association Football in the Liverpool District c.1879–c.1915’, PhD thesis, University of Central Lancashire, 2007
Reade, B., 43 Years with the Same Bird: A Liverpool Love Affair, Macmillan, 2005
Reed, P., Football and Fortunes: The Inside Story of the Littlewoods Football Pools, 1923–2003, Brahm Ltd, 2003
Rippon, A., Gas Masks for Goal Posts: Football in Britain During the Second World War, Sutton Publishing, 2005
Rollin, J., Rothman’s Book of Football Records, Headline, 1998
Rollin, J., Soccer at War: 1939–45, Headline, 2005
Rous, S., Football Worlds: A Lifetime in Sport, Faber and Faber, 1978
Russell, D., Football and the English: A Social History of Association Football in England, 1863–1995, Carnegie Publications, 1997
Russell, D., Looking North: Northern England and the National Imagination, Manchester University Press, 2004
St John, I., The Saint: My Autobiography, Hodder & Stoughton, 2005
Sampson, K., ‘Brussels, 1985’, in Allt, N. (ed.), Here We Go Gathering Cups in May, Canongate, 2007
Sandbrook, D., Never Had It So Good: A History of Britain from Suez to the Beatles, Abacus, 2006
Sanders, R., Beastly Fury: The Strange Birth of English Football, Bantam Press, 2009
Scraton, P., Hillsborough: The Truth, Mainstream Publishing, 1999
Shankly, B., Shankly, Book Club Associates, 1977
Smith, T., Anfield Iron: The Autobiography, Bantam Press, 2008
Taw, T., Football’s War and Peace: The Tumultuous Season of 1946–7, Desert Island Books, 2003
Taw, T., Football’s Twelve Apostles: The Making of the League: 1886–1889, Desert Island Books, 2006
Taylor, I., ‘English Football in the 1990s: Taking Hillsborough Seriously?’, in Williams, J. and Wagg, S. (eds), British Football and Social Change, Leicester University Press, 1991
Taylor, M., The Leaguers: The Making of Professional Football in England, 1900–1939, Liverpool University Press, 2005
Taylor, M., The Association Game: A History of British Football, Pearson Longman, 2008
Taylor, R. and Ward, A., Three Sides of the Mersey: An Oral History of Everton, Liverpool and Tranmere Rovers, Robson Books, 1993
Tischler, S., Footballers and Businessmen: The Origins of Professional Football in England, Holmes & Meier Publishing, 1981
Ward, A. and Williams, J., ‘Bill Shankly and Liverpool’, in J. Williams et al. (eds), Passing Rhythms: Liverpool FC and the Transformation of Football, Berg, 2001
Ward, A. and Williams, J., Football Nation: Sixty Years of the Beautiful Game, Bloomsbury, 2009
Whannel, G., Fields in Vision: Television Sport and Cultural Transformation, Routledge, 1992
Williams, G., The Code War: English Football Under Historical Spotlight, Yore Publications, 1994
Williams, J., ‘Ian Rush’, in Stead, P. and Williams, H. (eds), For Club and Country: Welsh Football Greats, University of Wales Press, 2000
Williams, J., Into the Red: Liverpool FC and the Changing Face of English Football, Mainstream Publishing, 2001
Williams, J., The Liverpool Way: Houllier, Anfield and the New Global Game, Mainstream Publishing, 2003
Williams, J. et al. (eds), Passing Rhythms: Liverpool FC and the Transformation of Football, Berg, 2001
Williams, J. and Hopkins, S., The Miracle of Istanbul, Mainstream Publishing, 2005
Williams, J. and Llopis, R., Rafa: Rafa Benítez, Anfield and the New Spanish Fury, Mainstream Publishing, 2007
Wilson, J., Inverting the Pyramid: A History of Football Tactics, Orion Books, 2008
Wilson, J., All Change at Anfield: Liverpool’s First Five Seasons, Now and Then Publications (undated)
Young, P., Football on Merseyside, Stanley Paul, 1963
The Liverpool Ownership Crisis
Liverpool Football Club had now acquired an ambitious international manager who seemed imperious in Europe, if rather less certain at home. But the economics at the club still lagged behind developments on the field, and the ailing remnants of the Littlewoods empire could no longer provide the cash to build a new stadium and fund the team. In their search for finance to build a stadium on nearby Stanley Park, club chairman David Moores and chief executive Rick Parry had been keen to try to conserve as much as possible of the cultural heritage, the administration and the ‘family ethos’ of the Liverpool club. Ideally, the Liverpool Way built patiently over many generations of essentially conservative (and often Conservative) club stewardship, would remain intact and relatively unsullied. But despite this ambition and Liverpool’s complex mix of parochialism and historical ‘openness’ as a city, the realisation that investment in Liverpool Football Club was now being sought from all corners of the globe made some fans – especially locally based supporters – understandably uneasy.
Back in May 2004, the billionaire prime minister of Thailand, Thaksin Shinawatra, had offered a £65-million investment for a 30 per cent stake in the Liverpool club, while a ‘hostile’ counter-offer of a reported £73 million had been placed on the table from local building magnate Steve Morgan to buy outright control of the club. Both offers were eventually rejected, Shinawatra’s possibly because of rising public unease among fans about his alleged human-rights abuses in Thailand. Morgan’s offer was at least made up of more local capital, but it was claimed by the Liverpool board to ‘undervalue’ the club. Morgan also, undoubtedly, posed a threat to the future at Liverpool of both Moores and Rick Parry.
In the light of the obvious difficulties involved in finding suitable new investors or owners for the club, other avenues were also tentatively explored by Liverpool, ones that stressed the local affinities of the club much more clearly. There had been discussions below the surface for some time on the potential for a shared stadium with neighbours and eternal rivals Everton FC. The Goodison Park club were also eyeing several potential sites for relocation (including the vacant King’s Dock on the city’s waterfront). Predictably, there continued to be vehement objections raised to the idea of a shared stadium from many diehard fans and elements within both club boardrooms, who viewed the proposal as little short of sacrilegious. More prosaically, a shared stadium would cut potential profits as well as costs, and where would the near-destitute Everton club come up with their share of the capital required for such a venture?
More than two years of searching later, Liverpool still had no new investment capital. Then a consortium representing Dubai International Capital (DIC), an arm of the Dubai government and ruling family, reportedly offered a total of £156 million for the purchase of all existing Liverpool shares, plus funds to cover debts and the building of a new stadium on nearby Stanley Park, a total package of around £450 million. The Liverpool board seemed keen to accept the Dubai bid, despite further human-rights concerns. However, just two months later, in February 2007, two American sports and property tycoons, Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr, men who had never worked seriously together in business, raised the offer for the club to £5,000 a share, or £172 million, plus promised funds for a new stadium. The DIC group had earlier sneered that the ‘soccer-phobic’ Gillett would not know Liverpool FC from a ‘hole in the ground’, but it was now publicly furious at the sudden collapse in negotiations, describing the Liverpool board as ‘dishonourable’ and the club as ‘a shambles’.
Liverpool chairman David Moores now had the onerous responsibility of weighing up the pros and cons of the American and Middle Eastern options. He eventually decided to take the plunge and agreed to sell his controlling stake to the US entrepreneurs. Rick Parry was quick to deny that Moores was being swayed by the increased offer for the club shares, saying: ‘The price is not a factor in David Moores’s mind. He is not after cash for himself, absolutely not. Be assured, the only thing David Moores is concerned about is the club being in the right hands for the future. You can be certain he has done his homework carefully and will make a decision in the best interests of the club.’ Moores, himself, was determined to make it clear that he was selling up only to secure the long-term future of the club: ‘When you have a decision to make like this and you are so desperate to see the club go into the right hands, then you have to be comfortable with whatever you decide.’
Moores would certainly be ‘comfortable’: he stood to raise his own cut of the club buyout by some £8 million, to a reported £89.6 million. He was also installed as honorary life president of the club in recognition of his decade-and-a-half service, and he was charged to act as something of a nominal ‘boardroom delegate’ for astonished Liverpool fans. David Moores might well have favoured passing on his Liverpool shares to the Americans for reasons other than profit. After all, these were two identifiable sports benefactors from across the Atlantic, people who understood the global sports business and who had money to invest, but who also had the club apparently at heart. These might have looked a better bet for a city with strong business and cultural links to the USA than a faceless and rather ‘alien’ corporate government body from the Middle East. And David Moores was hardly the first football-club chairman in England in the new era to profit from the sale of a club.
But what is more significant is that this profiteering seemed like a complete reversal of the history of the patrician and custodian local funding for Liverpool Football Club. Indeed, it seemed like an inversion of the entire Moores family project of long-term investment in the Merseyside football clubs and in the city of Liverpool itself over more than 70 years. This was a business deal typical of the new age of global liberalisation, one that plainly traduced the core tenets of the Liverpool Way. It was certainly unlikely to endear David Moores to Liverpool fans in 2007, even to those who approved, initially at least, of the American investment over that offered by the men from Dubai.
Two American billionaires, Tom Hicks, owner of the Texas Rangers baseball franchise and the (US) National Hockey League’s Dallas Stars, and George Gillett Jr, owner of the Montreal Canadiens and formerly of the Miami Dolphins, had cobbled together in just two months an unlikely alliance to secure a reported £470-million funding package, via a loan from the Royal Bank of Scotland, to buy Liverpool Football Club and to allocate some £215 million to begin work on a new stadium. Hicks, a Texas acolyte and former business partner of President George W. Bush, had made his fortune from raising private equity to fund multimillion-dollar corporate takeovers. Liverpool Football Club was suddenly in the hands of the sort of global sports capitalists who made no secret of their financial motives, their ignorance of ‘soccer’ or their ambitions to model this highly atypical English football club, commercially, along the lines of an NFL franchise. They openly highlighted the attractions of English football’s booming TV monies, the growing Internet income streams for the English game, expanding markets for the Liverpool club in South-East Asia and in South America, stadium naming rights and even their plans for introducing American-style ‘bunker suites’ into the proposed new Liverpool stadium: underground ‘living rooms’ where corporate elites could dine in plush splendour and watch banks of TV sets before taking an elevator ride to their match seats. This seemed like ‘Americanisation’ writ large.
And yet local resistance on Merseyside to this cultural, as well as corporate, takeover of one of the city’s core institutions was, for some commentators, surprisingly muted to say the least. This apparently benign reception for the Americans on Merseyside was mainly for four reasons. First, a realist resignation now existed among most Liverpool supporters that in the age of open borders non-local financing was inevitable for any football club with serious pretensions to be competitive for titles at home in England and in Europe. More knowledgeable (and, perhaps, more cynical) Liverpool fans could even make the appropriate historical connections here, about the origins of the club and the commercial hard-headedness of one of its great cultural leaders of the past, as ‘Real Deep’ told readers of Through the Wind and Rain in 2007:
Haven’t we been a plaything for the rich from day one, when we were formed, not for sporting reasons, but to fill a recently vacated Anfield and provide the owner John Houlding with a steady stream of income from both paying customers at the game and the sale of beer in the nearby hostelry? And he imported a whole troop of Scottish mercenaries to fill the team. [Bill] Shankly, if he ever stops spinning in his grave (to listen to some people), was quick to threaten to resign when not offered enough money in the transfer market . . . He was also happy to advocate a move away from a dilapidated Anfield.
Second, the cosmopolitan ‘city of the sea’ of Liverpool was no stranger, of course, to global cultural exchange or, more specifically, to American cultural and commercial investment. Indeed, for much of its history Liverpool had looked west to Ireland and the United States for guidance and inspiration on identity issues more than it had to other English cities. Near its height in the early years of the twentieth century, the port at Liverpool had provided direct employment for up to 60,000 people in the city, much of it in trade involving North America. Even before the First World War, Americans were envied in Liverpool for their supposed modernity and stylishness, and American fashions were imported by Liverpool tailors, who regularly copied clothes brought in by seamen from the eastern seaboard of the USA. Later, this maritime connection – seamen on the passenger services to the USA were known locally as ‘Cunard Yanks’ – also fed directly into Liverpool street idioms and language, nightlife and music, with ‘the most American of English cities’ acting as a site of feverish transatlantic cultural exchange of a sort that allowed the city to take the lead in pop music in the world during the 1960s. In short, the city of Liverpool already had ingrained American sensibilities and sympathies well before Tom Hicks and George Gillett strode into Anfield early in 2007 with their ‘good ole boy’ homilies about ‘tradition’ and ‘heritage’ and their promises to make Liverpool FC the most successful football club in the world. Given the city’s distinctive history, the possibility of transatlantic investment and exchange in football did not strike most of its citizens as an especially alien or threatening intrusion.
Third, allied to their obvious commercial savvy, the new Liverpool co-owners were experts in ‘selling’ themselves to the Liverpool supporters in the set-piece press conferences that followed. They showed little of the arrogance of the Glazer family at Manchester United, for example, who seemed to believe that money was its own explanation for their actions and who had made little attempt to engage with Manchester United fans. ‘They are very private people,’ said Tom Hicks of Malcolm Glazer and his family. ‘I have owned sports teams for 13 years. I gave up my privacy a long time ago, and it is easier for me to be open about these things . . . He showed us how not to do it.’
With the Merseyside press acting largely as enthusiastic cheerleaders, crucially, the general assumption was that the Liverpool buyout would not involve the kind of leveraged deal that had loaded more than £600 million worth of Glazer debt onto the Manchester club. Indeed, in the offer document for the Liverpool club the Americans had made it very clear that any loans taken out to secure the deal would be personally guaranteed and that payment of any interest ‘will not depend to any significant extent on the business of Liverpool’.
The new owners also cleverly, and rather humbly in this charm offensive, played back to the Liverpool club’s supporters some of the familiar and comforting rhetoric about the club’s past. ‘We are custodians not owners of the franchise,’ Gillett said, thus combining the Victorian Britain of John Houlding with the language of late-modern American sport and both reassuring and alarming Liverpool supporters simultaneously. It was left to David Moores to admit,‘I don’t think we have maximised our world brand and hopefully they [Gillett and Hicks] will help us get into these areas where we have fantastic fan bases.’ And it was George Gillett who coyly told the same group of journalists on 6 February 2007, ‘I don’t think it’s appropriate for Tom or I to try to convince the fans today that we understand the history, the support or the legacy anywhere as well as they do. What we would try to say to the fans is that we have respect. Respect is the way we feel about the history and the legacy of this franchise [sic] . . . I am still learning about the club but I will get it into my blood in every way I can.’
Finally, another familiar device skilfully employed by the Americans and their advisers to mask some of the bleak economics of the deal was the notion of the Liverpool ‘family’. The friendly Moores family dynasty – that had followed other Liverpool boardroom families – would now be seamlessly replaced by a transatlantic equivalent, made up of the Gilletts and the Hickses. This message about ‘respect’ and ‘family values’ was strongly reinforced in words and images in a commemorative booklet issued by Liverpool FC, carrying pictures of the American buyers and their adult sons at Anfield. It was almost as if the club had been acquired through marriage by some august royal family from a superior and distant culture. Gillett’s son Foster would even come over to work inside the club on a day-to-day basis on an executive level with Rick Parry, while Tom Hicks Jr would join the club board. How, exactly, this arrangement would pan out remained a moot point, because it seemed full of potential tensions and conflict. By the end of the 2006–07 season, there were already reports that, smelling who now held the club purse strings, Liverpool manager Rafa Benítez had started to bypass Rick Parry and was talking directly to Foster Gillett in order to expedite transfers and other matters. Parry was now the self-appointed guardian of continuity and the main defender of the ‘Liverpool Way’ inside the club, but he was already starting to look increasingly and disturbingly isolated in the new Liverpool ownership structure.
This was the background against which, in May 2007, Liverpool had reached the European Cup (Champions League) final for the second time in three years. By the autumn of 2007, it had become clear that the American owners would have to renegotiate a new financial package worth £350 million with the Royal Bank of Scotland and the American investment bank Wachovia in order to pay off their original loans and raise cash to begin work on the Liverpool stadium. Revised plans for the new stadium insisted upon by the new owners had considerably increased its price, so proposals to raise a further £300 million for the funding of the new ground would now have to wait until 2009. Worse, despite their initial denials, the Liverpool owners now reportedly wanted to load the whole of the original acquisition debt of £298 million onto the club’s balance sheet, thus replicating core aspects of the Glazer deal at Manchester United. Gone was the earlier talk about ‘respect’ and the ‘tradition’ and the ‘heritage’ of the Liverpool club. Instead, Hicks chose to compare the purchase of Liverpool Football Club to that of a breakfast cereal company. ‘When I was in the leverage buyout business, we bought Weetabix and we leveraged it up to make our return. You could say that anyone who was eating Weetabix was paying for our purchase of Weetabix. It was just business. It is the same for Liverpool: revenues come in from whatever source, and if there is money left over it is profit.’
The first element of the refinancing package was finally agreed in January 2008, with £105 million of the debt saddled on Liverpool and £185 million secured on a holding company, Kop Investment LLC, held in the tax havens off the Cayman Islands and in the US state of Delaware. These were the routine machinations of global capitalism in full flow. The Americans increased their personal guarantees, mainly in the form of credit notes, to around a reported £55 million. This suddenly looked like very deep financial water and not the sort of deal that Liverpool fans – or Moores and Parry – had anticipated. Added to this, a very public row over transfer funds between manager Rafa Benítez and Tom Hicks in November 2007 mobilised Liverpool spectators squarely behind the manager and against the new owners, sparking fan protests. By January 2008, any debates there might have been over the ‘politics’ of foreign ownership at Anfield had, for some fans, effectively been replaced by a stark pragmatism: broadsheet newspapers carried pictures of Kopites holding up a large home-made banner reading ‘Yanks out, Dubai in. In Rafa we Love’. This position hardened still further when it was revealed that Parry, Hicks and Gillett had all secretly met with ex-Germany national coach Jürgen Klinsmann to discuss the managerial position at Liverpool should Benítez’s position at the club become ‘untenable’. The mood was changed decisively with this revelation. Moreover, despite repeated promises given by the new owners – and this was the main reason, after all, why the club had sought large investors – no visible progress had yet been made on building the proposed new Liverpool stadium.
Finally, as rumours began to circulate early in 2008 that DIC were considering a new £500 million offer for the club, it was clear that Hicks and Gillett were no longer in direct communication with each other nor could they agree on the future of Liverpool Football Club. Gillett looked as if he might be willing to sell his share of the club, possibly to DIC, while Hicks publicly demanded the resignation of the ‘failing’ Rick Parry. Parry would soon leave as the club began to look like a laughing stock and its borrowings were reported to be some £313 million. David Moores was pronounced to be ‘disgusted’ at Parry’s treatment, and he retired from the Liverpool board in June 2009, saying he was ‘heartbroken’ at how the new owners had treated the club. At the same time, Merseyside MPs called for the British government to resist an application from the Americans for a loan of £350 million from the majority government-owned Royal Bank of Scotland. Liverpool Football Club, once a model of conservative and unobtrusive stability in the English game, suddenly seemed to be impossibly split, rudderless and constantly in the public eye. Public protests organised by the Spirit of Shankly group continued to occur in the city into the 2009–10 league season, as the Liverpool owners were reputed to be looking for new Middle Eastern investors in the club.
Despite all this hugely distracting background noise and lack of focus and direction off the field, the Liverpool manager Benítez had soldiered on and had continued to strengthen his team and his squad by bringing in a number of differential quality signings in the summer of 2007. Yossi Benayoun was among them, a skilful and intelligent Israeli wide midfielder. Benayoun had real ability, some speed, mental strength and loads of energy – and he could also score goals. He was the signing Liverpool should so obviously have made when Benítez brought in the soon to be discarded Pennant. The Israeli might even have helped secure a second European Cup for Benítez in 2007.
The much-hyped but pedestrian Brazilian midfield man Lucas Leiva joined from Grêmio in Brazil, having won the coveted Bola de Ouro (Golden Ball) for being the best young player in the 2006 Brazilian championship. He would take time to settle – perhaps he never would. Ryan Babel, another highly rated young star, joined from Ajax for £11.5 million, and he could score extraordinary goals. But the forward seemed destined to be better known for his ‘romps’ with serial Liverpool ‘WAG’ Danielle Lloyd than he would be for incisive and courageous play for his club. He lacked technique and heart and seemed destined, at best, for the fringes of the Benítez project.
But the signature signing was the £20-million capture of the Atlético Madrid centre-forward Fernando Torres on a six-year deal in July 2007, with Luis García joining the Madrid club. Benítez had built a successful team at Valencia without a major goalscorer, but his Liverpool side had lacked this sort of flexibility and range of goal contributors. Peter Crouch scored only in spurts, and Dirk Kuyt had reinvented himself as a right midfielder when goals had evaded him in England. So the manager brought in a man who pretty much guaranteed front-end goals. Torres was already a major football figure in Madrid, a man who had been made Atlético captain at 19, so he had some maturity and a sense of responsibility to the collective as well as the necessary selfishness of an authentic frontman. He also had power and threatening pace and was a brilliant finisher. He had turned down a move to Chelsea in 2006, and the only question mark was how he would stand up to the sheer physicality of the English game. Could he stay fit and committed in the hurly-burly of the English Premier League? He showed some early signs that at home, with Liverpool on the front foot, he could be consistently lethal, while away from home he sometimes lost a little enthusiasm if defenders were allowed to buffet him and Liverpool were under the cosh. But this is carping about a player with such talents.
In his first season, and playing in concert with a supporting Steven Gerrard, Torres showed exactly why the Liverpool manager had signed him and why he had joined Pepe Reina and Xabi Alonso as one of Benítez’s three gold-standard Liverpool signings. Torres scored 24 goals in 33 league games, the first Red since Robbie Fowler to score 20 or more in the league, and a record for a debut season for a foreign striker in England. In February and March 2008, he became the first Liverpool player since Jackie Balmer in 1946 to score consecutive Anfield league hat-tricks (v. Middlesbrough and West Ham). When he scored the home winner v. Manchester City on 4 May 2008, Torres equalled Roger Hunt’s club record of scoring in eight consecutive league matches at Anfield.
The Madrid man ended up by scoring 33 goals in 46 matches in all competitions in his first season, and he could now already be added to the post-war list of truly great Liverpool goalscorers that included Hunt, Rush, Fowler and Michael Owen. This was all good news, of course, but the fitness of Torres seemed an enduring problem. And wider doubts about Benítez and his policies persisted. The manager was at odds, for example, with the club’s youth policy, even though Liverpool academy director Steve Heighway had managed to produce two recent FA Youth Cup-winning sides out of the Liverpool youngsters. These two men clearly cared little for each other and had very different views on youth team football. Heighway wanted to raise mainly local talent in a caring and supporting environment, and he thought that some of his young stars should have been getting more of a chance in the Liverpool senior squad. How else could you offer incentives to local young players? Benítez, however, wanted to recruit globally and thought the academy was producing sub-standard products ill-prepared for the intensity of the Premier League. Heighway soon left the club, muttering darkly about the loss of important Liverpool FC traditions.
Another low point – and these doubts never fully went away – was when in February 2008 a rotated Liverpool side, excluding Torres and other senior players, abjectly lost 1–2 at home in the FA Cup to the modest Championship club Barnsley. This kind of submission – an invitation to defeat in a competition the club had spent years trying to win – was intolerable for Liverpool supporters who were hungry for more success at home. Benítez seemed to care little for the domestic cups, and his raft of expensively recruited young global squad members seemed little better than the local men who had been patiently raised by Steve Heighway. A number of these imports – the £2-million Argentinian centre-back Paletta among them – represented appalling squander. Later, however, in a generally fretful season, the money-well-spent Fernando Torres almost got Liverpool to another Champions League final with an equalising goal at Stamford Bridge (where else?) in the semi-final second leg in 2008, but at last it was the turn of Chelsea to slide past the Reds to reach the final, only to be defeated in Moscow by Manchester United.
The Liverpool manager had now assembled his talented Spanish spine – a great goalscorer, a sophisticated midfield organiser and a world-class goalkeeper. Also his key English midfielder Steven Gerrard seemed truly settled for the first time, and the Scouse Carragher was solid at the back. Benítez had signed some centre-back cover in the shape of Martin škrtel from Zenit St Petersburg in January 2008 for £6.5 million, and the manager was given more money to invest in the summer of that year. At last this was looking like a real championship squad in the making. Some judicious recruitment now and Liverpool would surely run the others very close. But Rafa’s spending in 2008 was mysterious and his targets proved, ultimately, to be self-destructive. In some strange ways, chasing the very competent and model professional Gareth Barry from Aston Villa was analogous to Roy Evans signing Stan Collymore in the mid-1990s, because it would eventually have the same sort of corrosive impact on the Liverpool team. Barry was highly rated and an excellent team player, but Benítez crassly let it be known that he was willing to sell the pivotal Xabi Alonso to bring in the Villa man. Not only did it seem like poor management to try to offload his key midfield organiser, but all this took place long before Barry was a confirmed capture, and in the end the England international stayed in the West Midlands. Predictably, Alonso decided he would leave Liverpool when the next chance came – which was for Real Madrid in the summer of 2009 for £30 million. Steven Gerrard, for one, was ‘devastated’ by Alonso’s departure.
Benítez compounded this error by signing, for an inflated £20-million fee, Robbie Keane from Spurs to replace the disillusioned and little-used Peter Crouch, then wondering how to fit the Irishman into his Liverpool side. The manager seemed almost immediately unimpressed by what he had bought, and he started to leave the new man out, even after impressive performances. Stripped of any confidence, the intelligent Liverpool-supporting Keane returned to White Hart Lane soon after for a hefty loss. This left a title-chasing Liverpool squad with little experienced forward cover for the fragile Fernando Torres in the second half of the season. Left-winger Albert Riera joined his Spanish international mates at Anfield, but he had already tried – and failed – to make it in England at Manchester City. Riera seemed to lack pace and a little heart, omissions not recommended in the Premier League.
Finally, Liverpool’s first-ever Italian signing, international left-back Andrea Dossena, joined the club from Udinese for around £7 million in July 2008 as a direct replacement for John Arne Riise. On paper, this looked like good business: the top Italians are usually very good defenders, men with a cynical edge. But Dossena seemed to have little of what competent defenders needed in England: he lacked speed, good positional play, height, power and tackling ability. He seemed slightly better going forward than defending, but he also struggled for a decent final ball. Had the Liverpool scouts even been watching the right man? The Italian soon became despondent and virtually sank from view. When Glen Johnson arrived at Anfield in the summer of 2009, it was noted that the England international picked up Dossena’s number-2 shirt and the Italian was allocated the rather marginal number 38. He returned to Italy in January 2010.