It’s 10 years to the day since Liverpool FC were taken over by New England Sports Ventures.
That dramatic day inside London’s High Court saw NESV – who would later become Fenway Sports Group – finally rid the Reds’ fanbase of Tom Hicks and George Gillett, another American ownership group who had ran England’s most successful football club to the brink of ruin.
FSG’s case to buy the club was handled by London legal firm Slaughter and May.
In 2019, the ECHO’s Reds correspondent Paul Gorst spoke to two of the solicitors who worked on the deal to ensure FSG walked out of court as the new owners of Liverpool Football Club.
This article first appeared online on October 15, 2015.
“We’ve known in the last nine years that, every morning when we get up, what we do impacts on millions of people’s lives.”
John Henry might have been talking about the fortunes of the Boston Red Sox as he sat in Anfield’s Legends Lounge on October 16 2010, but those words would not sound out of place if he reiterated them this week as principal owner of Liverpool Football Club.
It’s been 10 years since Fenway Sports Group rescued the Reds from the incapacitating vice grip of the detested Tom Hicks and George Gillett.
Ten years since a triumphant Martin Broughton and Christian Purslow stood on the steps of the High Court, celebrating a cup final victory for the “home team” – the phrase they referred to themselves as during their attempts to heave Hicks and Gillett out of a position they should never have been allowed to reside in.
“I am elated – elated,” said Purslow. “[A] very, very important day for our club – I am elated. I am delighted.”
It was one of the most tumultuous weeks in the club’s history off the field. The Royal Bank of Scotland had loaned Hicks and Gillett £300m to buy the 18-time champions of England in 2007 and they wanted the sizable sum back.
Broughton was on board to find a buyer for the club as the walls came falling down around the American owners.
FSG – who were then known as New England Sports Ventures – were sounded out before a deal was dramatically pushed through against the wishes of Hicks and Gillett who tried and tried to block the sale with injunction attempts in London and America and a $1billion legal claim at the 11th hour.
“An epic swindle,” Hicks would later call it.
Liverpool should have been worth more, he was right about that, but it was his disastrous stewardship that sent the price of one of world football’s biggest clubs tumbling. Today, Liverpool FC is valued at around £1.77bn.
“Every Liverpool fan knows that the most nerve-racking way to win a football match is in a penalty shoot-out,” Broughton said. “But as long as you get the right result, it’s worth the wait. We’ve always known that we were in the right and now we’ve got justice.”
Justice; it’s not a word Liverpool supporters use lightly. Here, it was all theirs.
But just what was it like to be there during that dizzying week of injunctions, threats, counter-claims and big-money sales? The ECHO spoke to two of the legal experts from Slaughter and May who helped drive out Hicks and Gillett and usher in the FSG era.
“It was a bit like the thing in Terminator 2 where you keep killing it and then it comes back to life and at you from a different angle,” says Mark Zerdin, a partner who presided over the specifics of an exhausting week that ended with the sale of Liverpool Football Club.
“Hicks and Gillett just kept bringing more and more lawsuits and tried to get all kinds of injunctions and none of them had any merit. Once you’d defeated one, they came back with another one and they were very persistent, they wouldn’t let it go. And they just kept trying different tactics.
‘We do a lot of extraordinary and unusual things here, but that was an amazing week’
“There were days we were in court and we would be successful, get the result we wanted and we would go to bed, wake up and there would be another one the next morning where we found out they had gone to Texas. So we instructed lawyers there and got that defeated and the next day, they had done something in London and it just went on and on and on.
“They were clearly going to try everything they could to try and stop the sale going through.”
Litigator Efstathios Michael advised the Reds in relation to the flurry of injunctions that were incoming as time ticked away for Hicks and Gillett. An employee of 26 years at Slaughter and May, the partner admits he has rarely experienced a transaction like it.
He told the ECHO: “This week does stick in the mind! We do a lot of extraordinary and unusual things here, but that was an amazing week. The moment the deal is announced, Christian, Martin and John Henry come down the stairs and we let the press in. It is not often you come out of court to bus loads of supporters cheering, it was an amazing time.
“There wasn’t a huge amount of sleep going on around that time, by the Friday, which would have been the 8th, we had applied to the English court for an injunction, just so [Hicks and Gillett] wouldn’t try anything else, because what kicked it all off was they were about to vote on the deal with the two offers on the table.
“The problem from Hicks and Gillett’s perspective with both of those was that [the offers] were enough to pay off the debts for the club but didn’t give them anything for their shares. They were not going to get anything out of it and as ever, when people have nothing to lose, that is a dangerous position to put them in.”
As Hicks and Gillett’s attempts to stop the sale going through became increasingly fraught and frantic, desperation appeared to have kicked in for the soon-to-be-jettisoned owners. But their shameless attempts to thwart the sale still needed to be effectively dealt with.
Liverpool owners FSG are marking 10 years in charge of the Reds.
And nowhere else will have better coverage of their decade-long tenure at Liverpool than the ECHO.
Our LFC reporters will be taking you behind-the-scenes at Anfield to lift the lid on how the club has been transformed by John Henry and co.
We’ll be looking back at their initial takeover, key decisions, mistakes and achievements, with special Q&As, exclusive interviews and much more besides.
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“The banks appointed by RBS had run an exhaustive sales process around the world,” adds Mark in an exclusive chat with the ECHO. “Everyone knew it was happening and loads had expressed an interest, so the idea that it was getting sold on the cheap was ridiculous because it would have been sold for more if it was.
“I think they were desperate. They tried everything they could. They went through about three different law firms in three weeks and every day you were dealing with someone different. There were board meetings every day in our offices because you had to decide how to respond to different situations. We chose which bid to go with because it was the most credible, they had the money and could get a deal done.
“There were then decisions on how to respond to all the different legal actions [from Hicks and Gillett]. So certainly Martin and Christian were camped out here for a good few weeks. We were just dealing with them 24/7.
“There was no point in them going home because at any moment, something could happen and we would need them back. So they were with us here all the time. It was just a very relentless period where not much sleep was had.
‘It was desperate from Hicks and Gillett but at the time, it was quite a big spanner in the works’
“It wasn’t a normal week at the office, because of the prominence of it all, it was a big deal, but it wasn’t a big deal in financial terms in terms of what we deal with day in and day out. It was huge in reputation.
“We buy and sell companies for billions every day of the week, but they are not high profile or glamorous, but because of this – the hostility from the fans to the previous owners, the fight they had to stop it happening, and going to court every day – it was very, very unusual and I don’t think any of us had experienced it before or since.”
“I think the issue for us was ‘how do you deal with this in a timeframe that still enables us to get it done Friday evening?’” adds Efstathios. “The initial thought was we would have to go to Texas to deal with this, which would have been tricky. We came up with the view that we would try and get an anti-suit injunction in England.
“It was desperate from Hicks and Gillett but at the time, it was quite a big spanner in the works. It wasn’t straight forward how we were going to get around it. We were all pretty relieved when we did.
“What we got was a real sense that Martin and Christian wanted to do the right thing, because I think it would have been easy for them to think that it was getting out of hand.
“They were getting threatened with all sort of things and by the Thursday morning with the board meeting the night before, even though the injunction was in place, we knew they could have been in contempt of the Texas court.
“So I think there was a steely determination not for any other reason than this was the right thing to do. It would have been quite easy for them to be spooked with the threats that were flying around and actually what they did was did the right thing and I thought they were very professional about it.”
At the 11th hour, with the RBS deadline hanging over proceedings, a deal was finally confirmed. Hundreds of jubilant Liverpool supporters celebrated outside the High Court as a new dawn approached for their football club.
But if the emotion of the fanbase was laid bare on the streets of the capital, what was the feeling on the inside, from the people who had worked tirelessly to secure the right outcome?
“It was a mixture of emotions actually,” says Mark. “Normally when you are doing deals like this, the last few days are around the clock and you have that mixture of elation of getting it done, relief that it is over and then the adrenaline stops running and your body shuts down because you are exhausted.
“It was the same here but everything was exaggerated. The highs were higher and the lows were lower, so coming out once the final outcome had been confirmed in the court hearing, coming out of there with all the fans who had got the buses down, that was pretty amazing actually.
“Everyone was there singing with the scarves and trying to get Martin and Christian out of court was almost impossible because there was so many people. So that was pretty impressive.
“So then we finally got them to our office for a glass of champagne just to calm down, but that took forever because of the road outside court with all the fans. So that was a high that you wouldn’t normally get at the end of the transaction, but then we were back celebrating.
“And then when the adrenaline and the champagne wear off, it sort of kicks in that you haven’t slept for about 10 days so, it was an extraordinary time.”
Rarely has a glass of celebratory champagne been better earned.
Ask our writers a question about FSG’s tenure at Anfield by submitting it here
Efstathios adds: “We all had the sense it was a really important thing and we just need to see it through. It was the right thing to do. Going home that night, I was absolutely shattered but really pleased about it. I did think it was absolutely the right thing to do.”
The result even saw Liverpool add to their sprawling worldwide support.
“My son, who was four at the time, off the back of this, he decided he was going to be a Liverpool supporter!” says Efstathios. “He still is, he has stuck with it and it gives me the opportunity to jokingly remind him that I saved his football club!
“He tells me I didn’t but it was a great thing to be a part of. Partly because of my son and partly because of this, I was jumping around the room when they beat Barcelona and I was really pleased when they won the Champions League. So I have built an affinity for them.
“I really want them to win the title this season.”