Date:Monday April 30 2007
With the very real threat of an international takeover hanging over the heads of Arsenal Footballclub, we took the time out to speak to someone who has already experienced the trials and tribulations of a foreign investor taking over his club.
Gerry Ormonde of Vital Liverpool and Kopblog has agreed to answer some questions concerning his thoughts and feelings regarding the takeover of his own club.
Gerry, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. As you'll no doubt know, there's been a fair bit of upheaval at Arsenal this week, with David Dein's removal from the board, and Stan Kroenke's acquisition of shares, with what many feel is a prelude to a full takeover attempt on the club.
The reason we sought your views is that your own club have recently been purchased, and are under new American ownership, so we would be very interested to gather your opinions and views of what has recently happened with yourselves.
Now obviously, there has been a situation for the past couple of years with Liverpool, where Steve Morgan was pushing quite hard to replace David Moores at the helm of the club, so the fans at LFC are no stranger to boardroom tussles. What was the general consensus of opinion about how Liverpool were being run under David Moores? And how do you perceive Arsenal as being run under our current board?
Liverpool fans have tremendous respect for former Chairman David Moores and were delighted to hear he will be staying on as Lifetime President of the club under the new owners. Steve Morgan on the other hand, is almost a dirty word among our supporters and we breathed a big sigh of relief when his takeover attempts failed. His often stage managed attacks and media campaign against our former chairman, did not go down well with our fans and the financial side of his package amounted to little more then a three card trick which would have left us little better off then we already were. Moores was an old school type of Chairman, who respected the traditions of the club, backed the manager as best he could, didn't interfere in team affairs and stayed out of the spotlight. The fact that he put his hand into his own pocket to fund our purchase of Dirk Kuyt, really tells you all you need to know about the type of Chairman he was. However, it also tells you all you need to know about the type of precarious financial situation the club were in. So although we will always appreciate his efforts as our Chairman, there was a strong feeling among supporters that he had taken the club as far as he could and it was time for a change, which is a feeling I think he shared.
I think things are very different at Arsenal. Your club has always been known as perhaps the most well run club of them all. You have an excellent manager, some great players, God knows we are painfully aware of the excellent young talent you have coming through, your fantastic new stadium is already up and running and I believe you've also got a great new training ground built. So from an outsiders point of view, I think your board should be applauded for their efforts. I think another point worth noting is the fact that the plans for your new stadium and ours, were drawn up at about the same time but yours was finished last year and the work on ours still has not even started, which perhaps demonstrates the excellent work of your board.
Obviously, before Gillett and Hicks completed their buyout, there was the Dubai International Capital bid - how were the Liverpool fans dealing with the prospect of their club being sold, and to foreign ownership?
As I said above, I think we had already accepted the fact that the club would be sold and because of the money involved, we knew that it was likely to be bought by a foreign owner, so we had long since gotten used to the idea and its no longer much of an issue for us.
The situation between Liverpool and Arsenal differs slightly in that Moores sounded pretty welcoming to a foreign takeover, whereas the Arsenal board have reacted staunchly against the idea, and opinion at VF Arsenal towers seems quite divided on the subject, some for it, some against the prospect. did Moores' apparent blessing to the scheme help to allay the fears of Liverpool fans?
We strongly believe that Moores has always wanted what is best for this club and his blessing of the deal with Gillett and Hicks was hugely important to us and did allay our fears. We believe he has done the best deal possible for the future of the club. If however, he had come out against the idea, we would have supported him as we did during the Steve Morgan debacle. Considering the achievements of your board as outlined in my earlier answer, if I was in your camp, I would be very much in support of your board.
As a fan of Liverpool, a club that has enjoyed a proud history and tradition, like Arsenal, what's your take on our biggest clubs losing their ownership to folk from overseas - do you see this as much of an issue, and do you think, especially post-takeover, that there has been any discernible shift in the identity of your club? Does it still feel like the Liverpool FC that you know and love?
I don't really regard it as much of an issue to be honest. As long as the owners back the manager and respect the club and its supporters, I don't really care where they come from. Considering the amount of foreign players and managers in the English game, its only natural that we will also have foreign owners. The idea of having an English club with an English owner is something I regard as a nice to have, rather then a need to have. I don't feel there is any lose of identity for Liverpool. The one thing I do find slightly confusing about your boards stance on the clubs Englishness, is the fact that you guys are now playing at the Emirates Stadium. That's surely something that might be more of a challenge to the identity of a club then the nationality of its owner.
With our new stadium, and the debt we currently have (which the Arsenal board assure the fans is manageable, and offset against property sales, and bond schemes...), there is a concern - and has been for the past couple of years - that this will affect our ability to compete at the top end of the transfer market, and may inhibit Arsene's struggle to regain the league and launch a new assault on the CL.
That's the big worry. With your boards track record, if they say the debt is manageable I'd be inclined to trust them, but I'd still be worried. The question is, how are they defining manageable? As I've been writing this, I've been watching your guys getting a rather flattering 3-1 win over Fulham which moves you to within a point of us in third place, but to be honest, as long as our CL qualifying place is secure, do any of us really give a crap about whether we finish third or fourth? The thing that will be of most concern to both sets of supporters is the twenty point gap to the top. That's not good enough for our club and I've no doubt you guys will consider its not good enough for yours. I'm sure you would have been a lot closer if Henry and Van Persie were fit, but I still don't think you would have been close enough to seriously challenge. The only way to bridge that gap is with money. Your club has won nothing for two seasons and although you have a lot of emerging talent, it will probably take them another couple of seasons to fully develop and I doubt you will want to endure another two trophy-less seasons waiting for it to happen. I think a lot of questions about your board will be answered by the amount of transfer funds they make available to the manager in the summer.
Gillett and Hicks have assured Rafa that he will have a sizable war-chest at his disposal in the summer. how crucial an element do the LFC fans see this regarding Liverpool's efforts to re-assert themselves at the very summit of the English, and European game - was there much said and felt about the need to bring in outside investment to bolster Liverpool's transfer funds, and if so - what was being said and felt by 'pool fans?
Well its pretty much as I said above. Rafa has brought us success on a relatively limited budget in comparison to the big clubs in the Premiership and beyond. But because of the limited finance available to him, he has often had to take gambles in the transfer market, sometimes these have worked and sometimes they haven't. As things stand, I really don't think we are very far away but we really need to add two or three top quality signings to what we've already got, if we are to seriously challenge for the Premiership and the other competitions. However, these players don't come cheap and all the sounds from the new owners indicate that the transfer funds will be available to the boss, so we are excited to see what Rafa can do with the proper finances behind him.
And mentioning Stadia, your new 60,000-seater at Stanley Park - the new owners pledged their backing to the project. Did it seem like the project would have been able to have been fulfilled without the input of Gillett and Hicks?
I think this project has always hinged on us bringing in new investment, it simply wouldn't have happened without Gillett and Hicks.
I've heard that the two of them are looking into possibly delaying building work on the new stadium, so as to increase it's capacity from 60,000 to a much larger 80,000. Has this been substantiated, and if it has, what are the 'pool fans feelings of this?
Well both Gillett and particularly Hicks have a lot of experience in overseeing the building of sporting arenas and as we all know, there is nobody who does these things better then the Americans. We've waited so long for this stadium to get started that we really don't mind waiting a little longer if it means there is a possibility of increasing the capacity. The concern among Liverpool fans is that although a 60,000 capacity would be a welcome increase, there is no possibility of this ever being increased at any time in the future due to the constraints of the location of the site, so once its built that's it. So, if our American owners can come up with a way of increasing the capacity even by a few thousand, I think it would be worth the wait.
How have Gillett and Hicks been accepted by the 'pool fans? In one of their first interviews, they made references to Liverpool as a 'franchise' - i saw this as a bit of a self-referential nod to their being perceived as Americans who don't know the game - which seemed a bit tongue in cheek to me. What have Liverpool fans' first impressions been of G & H? Good, bad, or jury still out?
Personally I think its great news for the club but I think more then half of our supporters would say the jury is still out. Despite all of our glory years in the past, we have always been weak on the business side of things and didn't even have a corporate box at Anfield until 1992! As that side of the game grew in importance we found ourselves being left behind by some clubs, such as your own, and we are still trying desperately to catch up. Liverpool is one of the biggest names in world football with many fans across the globe but one of the biggest complaints I hear from our overseas supporters is how poorly the club is marketed and how difficult it is for these fans to buy club merchandise etc. Such things are meat and drink to the likes of our new owners, who between them have interests in baseball, hockey and American football clubs and Gillett was the former owner of the Harlem Globetrotters. So I think with their experience, that's a big area for them to exploit and we are already hearing that they have a Liverpool FC tv channel which they are planning to launch in time for next season. I think the initial impression from our supporters is a good one. They are two likable characters who have made it clear that they respect the club and its supporters. I also think it was wise of them to keep Moores on as Lifetime Club President and Parry as Chief Executive, that went down well with the fans, but the real test will come in the summer when work on the new stadium is expected to get underway and we see how much Rafa has to spend.
And finally, are you looking forward to a promising future under the ownership of George Gillett and Tom Hicks? New stadium on the horizon, greater funds released for player purchase - do you think these guys will take Liverpool F.C. places?
Yes indeed! Our clubs debts have been all but wiped out, our new stadium is on the way and we will have a decent transfer budget, who wouldn't feel positive? The futures bright, the futures RED!
Many thanks to Gerry and also to Vital's own Wingston75 for posing the questions.
Date:Monday April 30 2007
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