Editorial: This sorry investment saga

Posted by Rushian on May 18, 2004, 11:09:06 PM

It is now nine days since the news broke that Rick Parry, Chief Executive of Liverpool FC, had flown to Bangkok to discuss a bid for 30% of the club with the Thai PM, Thaksin Shinawatra. Since then there's been rumour and counter-rumour from the Far East. Liverpool-born building magnate Steve Morgan brought forth his proposals, held a nationally televised press conference and briefed the press, and then saw his deal rejected as "not attractive". Now the Thais have emerged as favourites to seal a deal and are currently believed to be flying to the UK to agree the fine print and details.

This sorry investment saga is bringing no-one credit.

Firstly the club. It is understandable when confidential negotiations are taking place the club would wish to refrain from commenting. However they have allowed a vacuum to exist over the last week, which has resulted in conjecture and speculation filling the headlines and forming the opinions of the fans.

In this vacuum ideas on the nature of the Thai deal has been formed from snippets of interviews given 6000 miles away by various Thai spokespeople and the Thai PM himself. Similarly the brief statement rejecting the Morgan proposals as "not attractive" was unworthy of our great club and has been accused of misrepresenting Morgan's offer. How long would have taken a spokesman to come up with thirty minute presentation of what all this could mean for the club, to explain the ballpark figures of both deals, without going into confidential details? It has left fans angry and confused, as evidenced by banners against BOTH deals at the season-ending game against Newcastle.

The timing and speed of the deal has received wide criticism. The rush to complete the investment seems perverse at best. We're one of the richest clubs in the world and are more than financially viable. The timing, for what could have been a vital last week of the season, had inconvenience written all over it. Unless of course the timing was deliberate. A lack of games in the summer equals a lack of protests at the most visible outlet a fan can have.

The Thais have confused and frustrated at every turn. The source of funding has seemed to change by the day, starting with the Thai PM investing, then the Government and onto unnamed private and corporate investors. It now seems that the Thaksin deal will be half-funded by a stock issue to private investors and half by a glorified pub raffle for the people of Thailand. It's doubtful tickets will be sold in the pubs of L4. It's almost as if they made the offer and then realised they'd have to sort out a way of funding it. Hardly impressive to Reds.

The Thais should also realise that in repeatedly stating that if LFC turn down their bid they will be investing in another Premiership club, it strengthens already entrenched positions against their bid. Liverpool fans want investors interested in Liverpool Football Club not any old Premiership club. They also exhibit great unease at the mixing of State and sport. What happens if the Thai Government loses the next election and the opposition are uninterested in us?

The human rights issues, first broached with prominence in the UK by the likes of Amnesty International, cannot be glossed over. Serious concerns have been expressed by many fans and they need to be addressed. If the Thais do buy a 30% stake in the club then we will be inextricably linked with what happens in Thailand. Accusations against the Thais will have bad publicity sticking to the Liverbird like superglue. It cannot be good for the club.

Steve Morgan stands charged with playing the populist card after jetting in from his Jersey tax-haven for his Wednesday morning press conference. He reeled off a list of points he knew would play well. Hitched to games? Check. Bunked in? Check. Send a builder to hand in the proposal? Check. Want to win European Cup? Check. Whilst refraining from criticising the manager in front of the TV cameras it was clear in the next morning's newspapers where his feelings lay. Houllier out? Check.

He has also left the impression among many fans that he'd be personally investing £73 million in the club. This could and should have been explained more clearly by Morgan and Bridgemere. Not all fans work in finance or have the time to critically analyse the proposals from the rough outline given at the press conference. The points listed by Morgan should have been expanded upon. Morgan has also received stiff criticism from many for undervaluing the club and small shareholders appear extremely uneasy at the thought they'd see their current investment devalued through a rights issue.

The local press and media has at least covered the issue in some depth, but were slow to come to the party when explaining the proposals. By last Wednesday they were proclaiming 87% support for the Morgan bid in the City of Liverpool, yet it wasn't until Friday, after LFC had rejected the bid, that they'd explained the financial breakdown of his proposal in an article by David Prentice in the Echo that, to be extremely kind, "leant heavily" on an article published two days before on a fan website.

The coverage in the national press has been a competition in shallowness and nostalgia. One leading journalist pinned a sepia-tinted picture of Bill Shankly to his chest to condemn the Thai deal, and then wrongly attributed the quote from Shankly he had used as the base for his thesis. Another wrapped himself in the comfort blanket of Liverpool as a "family club", a description no fan who has had to deal with the club, and its ticketing structure, on a weekly basis over recent years would recognise. Tea and biscuits and a cosy atmosphere in the press box doesn't make LFC a family club. These were two of the finest sports writers in the country, so you can guess at the quality and paucity of the coverage elsewhere.

The fans, having been so poorly let down by those who should be providing unbiased and accurate information, have mainly fallen into extremes. Scouse v Thai. Progress v inertia. Human rights v Championship Manager spending. David Moores v Houllier sacked. Shinawatra has been caricatured as a diverse range of figures - from Pol Pot to an Asian Richard Branson. Steve Morgan has been glorified as Wacka, the Spirit of Scouse, and vilified as the Robber Baron preying on small shareholders. Reasoned debate has, in general, been thrown out of the window in the rush to judgement on the little information provided.

There are those who have suggested that the fans have no say in the investment issue. That we should sit meekly by and trust the board. Fans do, on the whole, trust the board however it is fundamentally wrong that they should be expected to sit quietly. The fans may not own the club financially (apart from the rare few with shares) but they do own the club both morally and emotionally. When these issues are at stake, and are questioned, they have to speak up. Fans' opinions do matter and should be taken into account, listened to and treated with the respect they deserve.

All the fans are asking for is honesty and openness from all parties. Is that too much when, after 112 years of history, fundamental changes in the club are imminent?

© RAWK 2004

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