Ian Herbert: Judgment Day ends in a flurry of chatter, chants and cheers
When the owners saw that the sale process was going against them, they set out to renege on their agreement. There is no basis in the case that what they did is justified
Thursday 14 October 2010
It was 10.48am in Court 18 when Christian Purslow, the Liverpool managing director whose Harvard education had surely prepared him for none of this, could finally lean across to his chairman, Martin Broughton, and discreetly shake his hand. He had already hidden two punched fists of triumph under his chin.
Though Slaughter & May solicitors will have offered both men the same legal advice reported by The Independent seven days ago – that George Gillett's and Tom Hicks' legal case was doomed if they really had effectively signed over to Broughton the power to sell the club – you can never count anything out with those two. That's why Purslow admits he did not sleep well on Tuesday night.
He need not have worried. Mr Justice Floyd delivered what by legal standards was a stinging and punishing rebuttal of Hicks' and Gillett's case. The desperation of the Americans' barrister, Paul Girolami QC, while shipping water over in Court 16 on Tuesday afternoon, to argue that his clients had felt hurt and marginalised by the closet efforts of Broughton, Purslow and staff to conclude the sale of the club on the quiet, was writ large in the yellow Post-it notes placed in front of him as he argued his case on the hoof.
The judge was more sure-footed. He used an obscure 40-year-old piece of case law, about a man being locked out of his hotel room and suing the owners, to reach his conclusion that the Americans' perceived grievances should be given no hearing since they had illegally reconstituted the club's board in the first place, to block the £300m sale to New England Sports Ventures (NESV). "Wrongful acts are no passport to favour. We should see that the law is observed," was the legal wisdom that emerged from that particular case.
The sport of football seemed almost tangential to these proceedings – Liverpool "is an English Premier League football club," the judge intoned after the bustle of the packed chamber stilled at 10.03am and he began to speak. But the footballing consequences of the current owners' attempt to filibuster the NESV deal into a position where the club's £237m debts are due and it risks administration, were not lost on him. "An event of this kind would result in nine points being deducted. There's no doubt that such an event would have a very serious effect on the value of the club," the judge declared. The Americans' final act of desperation was to try to delay a board meeting until today. It must be no later than 8pm last night, the judge declared.
The "high point" of the owners' case, he added, was their assertion that they had been excluded from the most thoroughly analysed Liverpool board meetings of all time which, minus Hicks and Gillett but including the two directors they had just sacked to stop them voting for NESV, gave the Boston Red Sox owners the green light last Tuesday. Hicks and Gillett "would have been able to take part in the meeting," the judge said.
He added: "They ceased of their own volition to take any part. The owners have released absolute control of the sale process, which they are now seeking to regain. When they saw that the process was going against them, they set out to renege on their agreement. There is no basis in the case that what they did is justified."
And that was pretty much that, save for what Hicks and Gillett will probably have considered the unkindest cut of all: the closing debate over what court costs they should pay and how much leeway they should be given before signing undertakings to reinstate the directors they illegally suspended, namely Purslow and the commercial director Ian Ayre.
Might the six-hour time lag between London and Dallas be taken into account, the judge initially pondered? "Well, they may well be up early," replied barrister Richard Snowden, to general hilarity. The pair must pay only standard 66 per cent damages, not the 100 per cent indemnity damages charged to defendants adjudged to have had no genuine case to make. But some of that money, for which they are personally liable, must go to NESV and that will sting.
The dear-departed Americans were barely in the ground, incidentally, before those new ones popped up, via a John W Henry tweet from the United States. "Well done Martin, Christian and Ian," he said, "Well done RBS. Well done supporters!"
And so, barring a late appeal, Liverpool's relationship with the Americans they took to heart and grew to abhor is over. Lord Grabiner, Liverpool's QC who has rather stolen the show this week, left court to cheers, receiving them like a footballer might. By the time Broughton and Purslow had battled through the scrum, made a brief statement outside court and marched off down The Strand, the chants of "We love you Martin, we do" and "One Christian Purslow" were echoing after them.
Given the abuse Purslow has endured in some quarters on the rocky road to salvation, that was a surreal scene – but one rapidly eclipsed by the sight of some utterly baffled Japanese tourists, who busily snapped the scene with their phones and cameras after their open-top bus slowed down. Such is the crazy world of Liverpool, now swinging into another unpredictable chapter.
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