James Lawton: For sale: another prime chunk of the English game

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The Independent Football

Bill Shankly once invoked the power of Chairman Mao's Red Army. He was standing on the balcony of Liverpool City Hall at the time, waving a red handkerchief and proclaiming the power of "his people". He was referring to the followers of Liverpool Football Club.

Bill Shankly once invoked the power of Chairman Mao's Red Army. He was standing on the balcony of Liverpool City Hall at the time, waving a red handkerchief and proclaiming the power of "his people". He was referring to the followers of Liverpool Football Club.

Calling up the name of Thaksin Shinawatra, who proposes to make a £60 million investment in the legend that Shankly created, a legacy which has been so passionately underpinned by the kind of people who flooded into the square that day to salute one of the club's routine triumphs, does not carry quite the same resonance. In fact it has more than a whiff of betrayal.

Liverpool, of all the football clubs of England, surely belongs to fans who, perhaps better than any of their rivals, convey the idea that a football club properly lives at the heart of its community. Now they are being asked by the chairman, David Moores, and his fellow directors to share their emotional investment with the financial one of a prime minister of Thailand who is charged by Amnesty International with serious human rights offences. The Anfield fans still sing their thunderous version of "You'll Never Walk Alone". But, if this deal goes through, in what kind of company?

There are no human rights charges against Chelsea's owner Roman Abramovich, only the intriguing question of how someone in their thirties gets to be worth billions in an impoverished Russian society where doctors and university professors drive taxis and toil on allotments to eke out their existence.

The point is that now Liverpool are threatening to join Chelsea in giving English football a dismal status indeed. It is of a national game willing to sell itself to all-comers, including a politician strongly suspected of blurring the line between democracy and a vicious one-party state, a sport which is saying essentially, "we don't know how you got your money, but, please, let's have as much of it as you can spare."

What other interpretation is there to face up to when Rick Parry, chief executive of Liverpool, a position he once held with the Premiership, flies to Bangkok to sell off a huge slice of a sporting estate that has for so long engendered so much fierce local pride?

"Here we are," English football also appears to be saying, "bail us out - and fill your boots." Invest in Liverpool, or any section of the old football culture, sell some shirts and make some money - and help us live for the day.

One huge problem, of course, is the feebleness of the financial supervision of the game by the Football Association. Somewhere on the agenda at Soho Square is a forlorn little item concerning the need for much stricter control and investigation of potential owners. These, the theory goes, should be "fit and proper" persons. The practice flies in the wind. Football in this country wants giant commerce and pygmy administration.

At Liverpool now the issue is a classic one of independence and dignity about appealing for help, virtually anyone's help and the need, potentially so damagingly to the current board, for a decision on two clear options. One of them is presented by the electioneering Thaksin, whose representatives have thus far failed to make clear whether the funds are coming from his personal fortune or the Thai taxpayers. The other comes from Steve Morgan, a local businessman and long-time Liverpool fan whose financial and personal affairs have been conducted with such transparency it is well known that his wronged first wife received a settlement that might have appeased Ivana Trump.

Morgan, despite such generosity, is still ranked 133 on Britain's rich list and his counter offer of an investment of £73m smacks far more of the altruism of a Sir Jack Walker, Blackburn Rovers' late, selfless benefactor, than the machinations of some plainly questionable Far Eastern politician. The problem, of course, is that Morgan, while withdrawing his threat to the chairmanship of David Moores, is still highly sceptical about manager Gérard Houllier's right to make another huge splash in the transfer market after £120m worth of spending which has, to use Morgan's phrase, left Liverpool "nearer the bottom than the top".

Morgan yesterday said: "All I ask is that my offer is treated with the honesty and integrity with which it is made and that we think first and foremost of the good of Liverpool, because that is what I'm doing. I want them to make the right decision. If the right decision is to take the Thai offer, then I accept that. I don't personally believe it is. I'm not saying I'm confident but I'm hopeful."

Meanwhile, the Liverpool fans who take the pain and the glory so personally, whose sentiment can swing so wildly between the inspiring and the mawkish, wait to know if 30 per cent of the ownership of their club is shifting to Thailand, and a politician whose personal fortune is estimated at £800 million. It is not a prospect to warm their blood, not like the sight of Shankly waving his red hankie. But if the worry is Liverpool's today, whose fans will share it tomorrow? It is what happens when you lose control of your own affairs, when a game once given proudly to the world, is put up for grabs and sold, humiliatingly, piece by piece.

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