The boardroom battle at Liverpool is set to be decided in court after owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett challenged the validity of the £300m (€344m) sale to New England Sports Ventures after failing in a boardroom coup.
With two bids on the table the Americans yesterday attempted to wrest back control by trying to sack managing director Christian Purslow and commercial director Ian Ayre.
They intended to replace them with Mack Hicks, Tom’s son, and Lori McCutcheon, financial controller at Hicks Holdings, in order to reclaim the power to stop any sale minutes before a meeting was due to be held to discuss the deal.
Chairman Martin Broughton described it as an “astonishing move” but rejected the proposal after claiming they had “flagrantly abused” undertakings to major creditors Royal Bank of Scotland which outlined Broughton was the only man with the ability to change the composition of the board.
The club are pressing ahead with the sale to NESV, owners of the Boston Red Sox baseball franchise, but the outcome will be decided by a legal hearing after a challenge from Hicks and Gillett.
“In trying to remove Christian Purslow and Ian Ayre they made an astonishing move,” said Broughton, who was parachuted in to the Liverpool board when the Americans announced their intention to sell in April.
“I say that because, as part of my appointment, they gave specific undertakings to the Royal Bank of Scotland that said Martin Broughton was the only person authorised to make any board changes.
“They basically flagrantly abused those two undertakings to RBS and removed Christian and Ian from the board and sent us details just before the board meeting saying they had been removed and appointing two others.
“We took legal advice and I determined that the action was invalid. So I went back to Tom Hicks and George Gillett, reconvened the board meeting and said ’Look, your action is invalid.’
“I told them I was continuing to hold the meeting with Christian Purslow and Ian Ayre present. They objected, called for an adjournment – which I declined - and offered them the opportunity to take part.
“They chose not to, although George Gillett’s lawyer was there.”
Broughton said the club would now apply for a court judgement, which he hoped would come in the next week, to resolve the issue.
“No one likes being in court – someone comes out winning and someone comes out losing,” he told the Liverpool Echo.
“We need to go to the court to get a declaratory judgement, which is for the court to declare that we did act validly in completing the sale agreement, and then the buyers can complete the sale.
“We have to get Premier League approval and I’m certain that’s not going to be an issue. There are one or two minor things like that but the key issue is the court, which should meet I would think next week sometime.
“That is the most likely time, in short order. There is an appeal process but that is also very fast.
“If they (Hicks and Gillett) win the court case they can block the sale but then we may have one or two other thoughts in mind as well.
“I am confident. I wouldn’t have taken the board through that process yesterday if I hadn’t been confident.
“I wouldn’t have exposed everybody to that risk if I hadn’t been confident, but you can never be certain. These things are legal judgements. We have been properly advised and I am confident.
“If there is any justice we will win.”
The Premier League said this afternoon they were ready to give the sale the go-ahead as early as Friday.
“The board of the Premier League has been kept fully informed of developments regarding the potential sale of Liverpool FC by the chairman and senior executives of the club and has, accordingly, been made aware of a number of potential prospective owners in recent weeks,” said a statement.
“We can confirm that Liverpool FC has formally notified the Premier League of an intended change of control and that the board has undertaken to complete all the necessary processes by Friday, October 8 so that the sale of the club can proceed.”