Liverpool

The Red Knights vs The Spirit of Shankly

The game's up for Gillett and Hicks

It is a cold, desolate night. The SS Liverpool is steaming uncontrollably towards a mountain of debt submerged just beneath the surface. The mighty ship cannot steer away to safer waters as its unscrupulous owners have sold its rudder leaving Captain Benitez to look on helplessly as he and his crew face almost certain death.

This might just sound like a rip off of everyone’s favourite movie Titanic but it is in fact the warning shot fired by Liverpool Supporters’ Union The Spirit of Shankly to highlight the current plight of their club. This eye-watering analogy might also strike a chord with Manchester United fans who for once find themselves in unison with their North West rivals bound closely by their mutual resentment of their clubs’ respective owners.

In Liverpool’s case, co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett are the target of their anger after saddling the Reds with enormous debt that threatens to compromise any further success on the field.  35 miles to the East, fellow Americans the Glazer family are also doing their utmost to destroy one of the most famous clubs in the World by burying it under shocking levels of borrowing. In this sorry saga, a wealthy band of supporters known as The Red Knights are opposing the forces of evil as they attempt to ride out and liberate the club from its Yankee enslavement.

The figures are mind boggling. Liverpool’s accounts for 2009 showed a debt of around £470m which required an interest payment of £43m in order to service. To put this in perspective, when the Reds announced details of a new stadium in 2002, the whole project was estimated to cost £60m. If that wasn’t enough to get the wind up you, the Reds’ esteemed owners have thrown £45m at the aforementioned scheme without a single brick being laid leaving fans understandably angered by the whole charade.

United’s debt looms even larger at a dizzying £700m after the Glazers used the club as collateral to raise the money needed to buy their stake. The discontent that has rippled through the Old Trafford stands is now making waves at boardroom level as the Red Knights up the ante for a billion pound buy out.

So whose supporters are best placed to achieve their ultimate aim of wrestling ownership from their much-maligned custodians?

Let’s consider the case on Merseyside. All Liverpool fans are currently being encouraged to join the Spirit of Shankly movement which has steadily been gathering momentum since 350 hardy supporters met in a pub near Anfield back in January 2008. Their plan to eject Gillett and Hicks consists of a £350m buyout with funds being raised through a combination of donations, commercial investment and even more money from our mate the high street bank. Together with the group ShareLiverpoolFC they can muster 12,500 members who would need to raise £150m. This could prove rather difficult as the sums dictate a sum of £12000 being extracted from each member unless they can increase their subscription. It also assumes that the Americans would sell the club for less than half of their £800m valuation. That amount seems overly ambitious given the level of debt that the club is burdened with but you get my point. The one virtue the plan does have is that Liverpool’s owners are prepared to sell and have appointed Martin Broughton to make sure this happens relatively swiftly.

The Glazers on the other hand have released an unequivocal statement declaring that Manchester United is not for sale. This could just be financial manoeuvring, however, as there is a large discrepancy between what the Red Knights originally wanted to offer (£1bn) and what the Glazers privately think the club is actually worth (£1.2bn). Despite an increasingly visible campaign among the fans to drive their American jailers out, mainly involving the wearing of Green and Yellow scarves, they show no sign of bowing to pressure. The family have also answered critics of their financial management skills by boasting figures that United’s commercial revenue has increased by 65% since 2005 and that they have struck lucrative deals with telecommunications companies in Africa, the Middle East, India and the Far East to broadcast their matches to hoards of new fans from across the seas.

So there we have it, two clubs with two sets of fans equally desperate to show their current owners the door. On one hand we have Liverpool, whose owners are trying to jump ship but are unlikely to get their asking price from the Spirit of Shankley, and on the other, the Red Knights are willing to pay substantial amounts only the be continually rebuffed.

Although moral justice may require the end of tyranny and subjugation at these two pillars of English football, the notion that possession in nine tenths of the law has never rung more true.

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