The busi­ness end

Martin Broughton comes out roar­ing af­ter the quiet man saves Liver­pool.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - MOVIES - by daVid coNN

Martin Broughton comes out roar­ing af­ter the quiet man saves Liver­pool.

Through­out the grim course since the 1990s of English foot­ball clubs be­ing bought by “own­ers” for per­sonal en­rich­ment, con­trary to the game’s time­honoured tra­di­tion that di­rec­tors should be “cus­to­di­ans”, none have been served with the wal­lop meted out on Wed­nes­day to tom hicks and ge­orge gil­lett.

Beam­ing on the steps of the high court, Liver­pool’s chair­man, Martin Broughton, declar­ing him­self “de­lighted”, said: “Jus­tice has been done.” he re­peated what he has said for a week, that the club’s Amer­i­can own­ers com­mit­ted “fla­grant abuses of un­der­tak­ings” when they tried to sack Chris­tian Purslow, Liver­pool’s man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, and Ian Ayre, the com­mer­cial di­rec­tor, and op­pose the board’s agreed sale to New Eng­land Sports Ven­tures.

Broughton said the fact the judge, Mr Jus­tice Floyd, agreed, rul­ing that hicks and gil­lett com­mit­ted “the clear­est pos­si­ble breach” of their agree­ment with royal Bank of Scot­land, had won Broughton, Purslow and Ayre their case. the chair­man em­pha­sised again how dam­ag­ing the Amer­i­cans’ lever­aged (debt-based) buy­out had been for the club hicks and gil­lett bought in Fe­bru­ary 2007 with £185mil bor­rowed from royal Bank of Scot­land – re­payable in only 12 months – then loaded on the club to ser­vice. the of­fers, from NESV, own­ers of the Bos­ton red Sox, and the Singapore busi­ness­man Peter Lim, both pro­posed re­pay­ing rBS that debt, since re­fi­nanced for a se­ries of fur­ther short pe­ri­ods, now up to £200mil.

“the vi­tal thing is that all the of­fers have wiped out all the ac­qui­si­tion debt,” Broughton said. “that puts the club on a sound fi­nan­cial foot­ing.”

that, of course, is the bur­den which dare not speak its name at Manch­ester united, where Sir Alex Fer­gu­son and the chief ex­ec­u­tive, David gill, main­tain the stance, wholly con­tra­dicted by Broughton, that huge debt – £769mil in united’s case – does no dam­age to a foot­ball club.

hicks and gil­lett, watch­ing Broughton, Purslow and Ayre ap­prove a sale, will lose the money they loaned to Liver­pool which, ac­cord­ing to the chair­man Broughton, amounts to £140mil. that sug­gests one of the hold­ing com­pa­nies, Kop Foot­ball, which owes the £200mil to rBS, is the com­pany be­ing sold, not solely the foot­ball club.

this is not the exit hicks and gil­lett fore- saw when they bought into Liver­pool and the Premier League’s ex­pand­ing tV rev­enues which hicks, in par­tic­u­lar, spoke of so ea­gerly at the time. that loss, and the sale of their shares in the club for noth­ing rather than the fat profit they en­vis­aged, has been wrought by Broughton, the blue-chip chair­man who kept his coun­sel for months, then came out fight­ing so de­fi­antly last week.

Dur­ing the quiet time, Broughton’s si­lence sowed doubt. he is a Chelsea fan, and as the chair­man of Bri­tish Air­ways and pre­vi­ously Bri­tish Amer­i­can to­bacco (BAt), not the most ob­vi­ously sym­pa­thetic fig­ure to the An­field faith­ful. Very lit­tle in­for­ma­tion was re­leased about what he and Bar­clays Cap­i­tal, ap­pointed to find a buyer for Liver­pool, were ac­tu­ally do­ing. Fans winced dur­ing the em­bar­rass­ments of the deals that never were, fronted by the hong Kong wheeler-dealer Ken­neth huang and the Syr­ian-Cana­dian for­mer pizza shop pro­pri­etor, Yahya Kirdi.

It was also dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand what board­room sources meant when they in­sisted Broughton, Purslow and Ayre had the right to out­vote hicks and gil­lett in a de­ci­sion over a sale. Sure, they had a board ma­jor­ity, but di­rec­tors can nor­mally only rec­om­mend a deal to share­hold­ers, which, as half-each own­ers of Liver­pool, the Amer­i­can pair could surely re­ject.

Last tues­day the quiet man fi­nally showed his met­tle. De­spite world­wide at­ten­tion and re­lent­less prod­ding from the me­dia and fans, Broughton and Purslow had man­aged to ne­go­ti­ate with NESV and Lim with­out a leak. Purslow ob­served, as many se­ri­ous busi­ness peo­ple do, that the deals which are con­cluded are usu­ally ones no­body talked pub­licly about be­fore­hand.

With the NESV deal agreed and hicks and gil­lett hav­ing sought to block it by sack­ing Purslow and Ayre and re­plac­ing them with hicks’s own son, Mack, and Mack’s as­sis­tant, Lori Kay McCutcheon, Broughton took the strate­gic de­ci­sion to go to court, and go pub­lic. Sud­denly he was on tele­vi­sion, ra­dio, on a con­fer­ence call with jour­nal­ists and even giv­ing hicks and gil­lett a maul­ing on Liver­pool’s of­fi­cial web­site.

Broughton re­vealed what we had not been told ear­lier: he had not taken on the job of be­com­ing Liver­pool’s chair­man, get­ting the club sold and re­lieved of its ap­palling debt, with­out hav­ing the power he re­quired. he had in­sisted hicks and gil­lett give the un­der­tak­ing to rBS that only Broughton had the right to ap­point and re­move di­rec­tors, and that they would not ob­struct a “rea­son­able” sale process.

Say­ing, straight­for­wardly, what ev­ery­body has known since they breached their prom­ises to build a new sta­dium and not load debt on Liver­pool, that hicks and gil­lett had “no cred­i­bil­ity,” Broughton said: “I was not pre­pared to be their patsy.” they now know that he meant what he said.

Amid the ab­sorb­ing drama which erupted this week, it was rev­e­la­tory to watch a busi­ness­man of Broughton’s qual­ity op­er­at­ing in foot­ball. this is an emerg­ing change in the Premier League: the pres­ence of busi­ness peo­ple of a higher cal­i­bre than those tra­di­tion­ally in­volved. Chief ex­ec­u­tives such as Ivan gazidis, at Arse­nal, seem to un­der­stand what a foot­ball club is, that it is not “just a busi­ness like any other”, the spivvy thatcherite philis­tin­ism which dom­i­nated through the 1990s. Broughton, who has run a com­pany with as du­bi­ous a moral pur­pose as BAt, has stated that a foot­ball club is dif­fer­ent, and that debt is bad for it.

Purslow is known to have watched ap­prov­ingly Arse­nal’s “fan­share” ini­tia­tive aimed at giv­ing sup­port­ers an own­er­ship stake in the club, and at the week­end he said: “I’ve asked (NESV) to con­sider a scheme at our club that will give our fans a real sense of own­er­ship, a real sense of in­clu­sion, the kind of voice they de­serve and NESV have told us they’ll look at this very se­ri­ously if they com­plete.”

Liver­pool’s sup­porter groups, strangely cred­u­lous when hicks and gil­lett rode into town, be­fore wak­ing up and mount­ing spir­ited cam­paigns, must now show them­selves to be part­ners for peace time, to play a part – per­haps in­clud­ing rais­ing money as ShareLiver­poolFC al­ways promised – in de­ci­sion-mak­ing.

It may be too much to hope that Broughton’s vic­tory might usher in a more en­light­ened fu­ture not just for Liver­pool but for foot­ball clubs more gen­er­ally. the cul­ture is surely set: own­ers will ex­pect to make money for them­selves, by see­ing the value of their club in­crease. But this bet­ter-ed­u­cated breed of busi­ness­man seems to un­der­stand they must do so over the long term, by nur­tur­ing their clubs and work­ing with sup­port­ers, by cher­ish­ing the game’s tra­di­tions and her­itage, as hicks and gil­lett promised and spec­tac­u­larly failed to do at Liver­pool.

Many false dawns have cast shad­ows over op­ti­mism, but jus­tice was done this week, so the re­form­ers will al­low them­selves to dream. – guardian News & Me­dia 2010

A new hero: Martin Broughton is likely to have his name sung by the Kop soon.

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