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Soup of This Day #25: Dude She’s My Friend Too

June 29, 2011

The Kop, Anfield
The Kop, Anfield. 1 day, mark my words – Photo: Robert Cutts, 2011. Robert Cutts is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

When you hang with a group of friends it’s always a worry when a couple of them hook up. Sure, you’re outwardly happy that they’re happy but mentally you’re getting ready for when it all goes pear-shaped.

Because it almost certainly will.

Dean Saunders. A Welsh striker who played for Derby County FC in Division 1 (Now the Premier League). In 1988/89 he helped the Rams to 5th, their best finish for 14 years. The upturn in fortunes for Derby was short-lived though and in 1991 they were relegated, putting Saunders front and centre in the shop window. A host of clubs were in for him and to be honest I reckoned he was a good buy. A striker that reminded me of the great Peter Beardsley, I’d figured him a good fit for the Reds since that 88/89 breakout season. My genius was confirmed when Liverpool got him for an English record £2.9 million.

And so in 1991 he joined Liverpool, pulled on the red shirt and turned shit.

Really quite crap.

And when you consider how much he cost he was even more shit. Oh he scored goals. 23 that season. It’s just that only 10 were in league matches. Of the remainder, 4 came against Finnish side Kuusysi Lahti in just 1 match. He almost scored for Liverpool in the 1992 FA Cup Final.

Almost.

Michael Thomas went 1 better and did actually score for Liverpool in the 1992 FA Cup Final. And here’s the thing: We didn’t like Michael Thomas. In 89 he scored the goal for Arsenal that gave the Gunners the title, a title that should have been Liverpool’s and he scored it against Liverpool. At Anfield. In injury time. Liverpool fans talk about him with a pained expression on their faces. Yet he still scored for us in the 92 Final. Unlike Deano, who we wanted to like and who almost scored but didn’t.

Liverpool finished the 91/92 season in 6th and recognizing that the relationship had gone bad turfed Saunders out to Aston Villa for £2.5 million. He did ok for the Villans, who finished 2nd in 92/93 and according to Wikipedia, is still remembered fondly by their fans today.

Good for them.

Not by me. Nope. The breakup killed that and by the end of his career in 2001 I wondered why I’d wanted him to sign for Liverpool in the first place. He’d been involved in a season of relegation 8 times in his career and at his penultimate gig, at Sheffield United, he pulled off this piece of morally questionable trickery to great acclaim. I, like the Port Vale keeper, just wanted to punch him.

Which brings me to an alliance that scares the crap out of me. The parent company of the Boston Red Sox also owns Liverpool FC and the Fremantle Dockers.

Ok, I made the Dockers bit up.

The Red Sox and Liverpool FC however do share an owner and for me it’s a relationship fraught with danger. To see how it happened let’s rewind a bit…

At the beginning of 2007 Liverpool was majority owned by the Moores family, who had owned a portion of the club for over 50 years. David Moores had been the chairman since 1991. There were however a number of challenges facing this great club. On the pitch they had won trophies, including a much coveted 5th European Cup and 3 FA Cups (No thanks to Deano). They had however not won the 1 trophy that Liverpool’s fans wanted most of all – A Premier League title. The team needed investment to compete with the likes of Chelsea (bankrolled by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich). Off the pitch and they needed investment there too. Anfield is a wonderful stadium with history and an atmosphere unmatched in the game. It does however hold only 45000 fans, well short of the capacities of The Emirates Stadium (Arsenal – 60000) and Old Trafford (Manchester United – 75000).

So in 2007 the Reds were up for sale. Despite interest from the cashed up Dubai International Capital, Moores plumped on a sale to 2 Americans, George Gillet and Tom Hicks. Both were wealthy and both had form in the sports industry. Gillet owned NHL’s Montreal Canadians. Hicks had been involved in the ownership of Brazilian football side Corinthians. He also owned NHL’s Dallas Stars and was the owner of MLB’s Texas Rangers. Hicks’ specialty was leveraged buyouts. This was to be critical in the Liverpool deal.

Taking control of Liverpool for a shade over £218 million, Hicks and Gillet came on board with much fanfare. They loved the club, would invest in players and a new stadium, the glory days of Liverpool FC would return.

They didn’t.

The Americans broke a promise and saddled the club with the debt used to buy it. Yep. Think about that. They bought Liverpool with loans and then passed the responsibility for the loans on to the club. Apparently this is only legally possible in England and Zimbabwe.

Ok, I made the Zimbabwe bit up.

Over the next 3 years there was little money for investment and no chance of a new stadium. Apparently there was a global credit crunch. Furthermore Gillet and Hicks were no longer friends and neither would allow the other to sell. Which was ok because they were asking between £600 million and £1 billion for a club they had bought in 2007 for £200 million and which now had a substantial debt attached. Nice bit of business if you can get in on it. Dodgy. But nice.

Meanwhile, over the pond and the Boston Red Sox were leading a very different existence. By 2002, they had been ably owned in some way or another by the Yawkey family and associated trusts since the 30s. They did however have an aging stadium and hadn’t won the World Series since 1918. In stepped New England Sports Ventures with principal owner John Henry. Taking ownership in 2002, Tom Werner came in as Executive Chairman and Larry Lucchino as President. They cleaned out the General Manager and the manager, eventually settling on 28 year old Theo Epstein for the GM role and, after a catastrophic 2003 Game 7 ALCS loss to the Yankees, Terry ‘Tito’ Francona as manager. Off the field and they decided against a new ballpark, choosing to invest instead in one of the oldest, most storied stadiums in world sport.

The results were spectacular. The Red Sox won the 2004 World Series, their first for 86 years. They went on to win it again in 2007 and proved themselves one of the dominant teams of the decade. ‘Wow’, I remember thinking, ‘I want that for Liverpool.’

In 2010 they got it. The John Henry led NESV splashed a figure thought to be around the £300 million mark in a board forced sell out of Liverpool FC. Gillet and Hicks huffed and puffed but in the end were hoist by the very board they put in place to find a buyer.

And the relationship is going well. NESV, now known as Fenway Sports Group, have invested heavily in player development, bringing a Sabermetrics type approach to English football. They have been unafraid to sell big name players who don’t want to be at Liverpool (Fernando Torres) and have spent heavily bringing in young talent for the future. They’ve put the re-development of Anfield back on the cards and appointed club stalwart Kenny Dalglish as manager. The club and it’s fans seem to be buzzing with optimism. Bring on 2011/12. And over at Fenway they’ve made some good trades too, bringing in quality (Gonzalez and Crawford) to supplement an already talented roster. They are contenders in 2011.

An interesting footnote to this is that FSG has a number of other sporting assets either in the stable or allied with it. FSG owns a motorsport team, Roush Fenway, fielding 4 cars in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup, making it 1 of the largest teams in the NASCAR infield. Of more relevance to fans of Liverpool FC, in April of 2011 they signed a deal with Miami Heat show poney superstar LeBron James. The deal involves FSG ‘aggressively pursuing business opportunities’ for James and in return he gains a small stake in Liverpool.

Somehow that last bit just makes me feel unclean.

Just 2 things I want to say:

1. If you guys fight, maybe can’t decide who your favourite is and neglect the other, please try and remember the fans. I’d like one day to wear a Liverpool shirt along with my Red Sox cap to both Fenway and Anfield. It’s a dream and I don’t want some cross Atlantic spat stuffing that up. I could wear the shirt under a jumper and the cap under a sombrero but I’d get hot in summer and I’m gonna block someone’s view in the Kop. Not too mention they’d think that I was taking the Mexican Wave too seriously.

2. Michael Thomas got a goal. Hooked it across his body from a mile out. How hard could it have been to score Deano? How bloody hard?

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