Aston Villa vs Liverpool: The reasons why Christian Purslow and Paul Tyrrell will always be villains at Anfield

Purslow was managing director at Anfield a decade ago and Tyrell was head of press. It was a toxic era and the pair have still not been forgiven by supporters

Tony Evans
Friday 01 November 2019 10:52
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The Kop have always known that Christian Purslow and Paul Tyrrell were Villains, even before they became chief executive and chief of corporate affairs at Aston Villa. The former Liverpool employees face their old team on Saturday as representatives of the Midlands club. Few people will be glad to see them.

Purslow was managing director at Anfield a decade ago and Tyrell was head of press. It was a toxic era under the ownership of George Gillett and Tom Hicks. They bought Liverpool in 2007 and loaded debt on to the club. When the global financial crash occurred a year later, the Americans struggled to repay the loans. Purslow, the founder of a private equity firm, was brought in to find a new buyer. Instead many believe he sold the club’s soul.

The managing director and Tyrrell became embroiled in an increasingly antagonistic relationship with fans. The Spirit of Shankly Supporters’ Union (SOS) had been formed in response to the manner in which Gillett and Hicks were running the club. In an early meeting with SOS, Purslow played to the crowd and was extremely critical of his employers. The conversation was taped because the union wanted to send a transcript to the members. The managing director asked for it to be edited to remove the negative references to the owners. SOS said no. The war was on. After that, SOS were referred to as “the Sons of Strikers” in the boardroom.

Things got worse. Tyrrell wrote an internal briefing document – it is signed ‘PT’ and contains references to the head of press’s own family background – for his boss nine years ago which has become infamous. It is titled “What do these people want?” It is essentially a blacklist of journalists and prominent fans who were supposedly actively opposed to the club’s hierarchy. It is riddled with errors. A number of writers featured were not campaigning against the owners but merely reporting and commenting on the chaos at Anfield.

It is a remarkable insight into the crazed paranoia that can mushroom behind the scenes at a football club.

It has become known as ‘the Khmer Rouge document’ because of an overblown comparison between those showing concern for Liverpool’s future and the genocidal Cambodian regime that killed as many as two million people. “They are the sporting version of the Khmer Rouge,” Tyrrell wrote. “They like the idea of getting to Year Zero to start all over again and see the opportunity of furthering their general political beliefs through LFC.”

This was a staggering deduction. What ‘they’ wanted was simply to see the club taken out of the hands of asset strippers who were pushing the business towards potential insolvency. I know, because I was one of the people featured prominently on the list.

“… Evans and other key members of SOS were very active in the Militant movement in the 1980s,” it says. “They just don’t want Hicks and Gillett out, they want to replace the management structure of the club with a supporters’ cooperative.

“They would be prepared for LFC to plummet down divisions, effectively go bust and reform in a pure socialist form – run by a Supporters Trust.”

The ideas conveyed were so detached from reality that it is hard to comprehend the mindset that existed within the walls of Anfield. The document was finally leaked in 2013, although some people were aware of its existence before. A year before the leak, John W Henry, the club’s principal owner who took over after Gillett and Hicks were removed, told me he had been given the names of a number of people he should never speak to when he arrived on Merseyside. He asked if I knew where I was on the list. “Champions League slot?” I suggested. Henry made a gesture with his hand to indicate higher.

By the time it came into the public domain, Tyrrell was head of communications at Everton. He went on to work for Derby County and now Villa. Compiling blacklists of journalists and supporters is no barrier to a career in football.

Fenway Sports Group (FSG), the present owners of the club, were appalled when the document came to light and apologised unreservedly, even though it was not compiled on their watch. They confirmed the document’s provenance.

Purslow: More Forrest Gump than Fernando Torres

Tyrrell operated behind the scenes but Purslow craved attention. The players nicknamed him ‘Forrest Gump’ because of his tendency to insert himself at the centre of every situation. The managing director had a more grandiose view when he looked in the mirror: he referred to himself as ‘the Fernando Torres of finance.’ He liked to be around the star players, making a beeline for the striker and Steven Gerrard whenever he entered the dressing room. It became a running joke within the squad.

Purslow did not have the same sense of reverence for Rafa Benitez. He became increasingly keen to get rid of the Champions League-winning manager. When he finally succeeded in 2010 after Liverpool struggled to seventh place in the Premier League, Purslow had the ideal replacement in mind: Roy Hodgson. Not only that, but he had the perfect welcoming gift for the incoming manager: Joe Cole.

The decision to sign the Chelsea midfielder on a free transfer was made before Hodgson was appointed. When Cole backheeled the opening goal in the London club’s 2-1 victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford in a game that effectively gave Chelsea the title, Purslow texted a journalist – who, incidentally, was on the blacklist – with the message “wouldn’t you love to see him in a red shirt?” The answer was no but the deal was done anyway. Cole was awarded a contract worth £140,000 per week. He would go on to play 26 Premier League games for Liverpool and score three goals and cost the club in the region of £28 million.

Liverpool's former joint owner, Gillet

By the time of Cole’s arrival many of the players were disenchanted with life at Anfield. They no longer believed the assurances from the hierarchy that better times were on the way. Javier Mascherano left for Barcelona in a rage. The Argentinian wanted to give a farewell interview with a trusted journalist that lambasted the club and Purslow in particular but was persuaded that Barca might not be impressed by this course of action. Torres was thinking about leaving in January as soon as the summer transfer window shut. Hodgson’s stewardship of the team during the ensuring months made him even more keen to go out the exit door.

Purslow did play a part in FSG’s takeover. He voted against Gillett and Hicks in a boardroom battle that effectively forced the despised owners out of the club. The managing director stepped down as soon as the Boston-based group took control and stayed on as an adviser until the following February. However, FSG were not impressed with the mess they found and the contracts that had been handed to players by Purslow. The view from across the Atlantic was that it was the work of ‘the Joe Cole of finance.’

It is generally an honour when the Kop produce a banner with someone’s name written on it. Purslow is the exception. The flag dedicated to him is a long, thin and crude depiction of male genitals with P-U-R-S-L-O-W written down the shaft of the penis. It may well make an appearance on Saturday at Villa Park.

Tyrrell and Purslow may well be gone but they are not forgotten. They will always be villains at Anfield, no matter which club they represent.

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