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Liverpool agrees sale to Boston Red Sox owners

Ian Herbert,Nick Harris
Wednesday 06 October 2010 12:49 BST

Liverpool's board of directors have agreed the sale of the club to New England Sports Ventures, subject to Premier League approval and the resolution of a board dispute.

NESV currently owns a portfolio of companies including the Boston Red Sox baseball team, New England Sports Network, Fenway Sports Group and Rousch Fenway Racing.

The Merseyside club revealed last night they had received "two excellent financial offers for the club that would repay all its long-term debt".

Reds chairman Martin Broughton told club website "I am delighted that we have been able to successfully conclude the sale process which has been thorough and extensive.

"The board decided to accept NESV's proposal on the basis that it best met the criteria we set out originally for a suitable new owner. NESV's philosophy is all about winning and they have fully demonstrated that at the Red Sox.

"We've met them in Boston, London and Liverpool over several weeks and I am immensely impressed with what they have achieved and with their vision for Liverpool Football Club."

Broughton added: "By removing the burden of acquisition debt, this offer allows us to focus on investment in the team. I am only disappointed that the owners (Tom Hicks and George Gillett) have tried everything to prevent the deal from happening and that we need to go through legal proceedings in order to complete the sale."

A last-ditch struggle by Liverpool's owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett to hold onto the club turned into all-out civil war last night when it was revealed that the Americans had sought to oust the other members of the board, just as they were poised to accept the offer from NESV.

The club then took the step of declaring through its website that the two bids it had received – one from NESV; the other from Asia – were "excellent financial offers" which would repay all the club's debt and enable the construction of the new stadium which is critical to the club's future.

But yesterday afternoon Hicks and Gillett, whose contribution to Liverpool's London board meeting came via a conference call, possibly from Texas, considered managing director Christian Purslow and commercial director Ian Ayre to be suspended. The Americans were attempting to replace these two individuals, who along with executive chairman Martin Broughton wanted to accept one of the bids, with Mack Hicks, Tom Hicks' son, and Lori Kay McCutcheon, a vice-president at Hicks Holdings.

The Independent understands that the non-American board members believe that Hicks and Gillett do not have the right under the Companies Act to remove Purslow and Ayre. The international law firm Slaughter & May, engaged by Broughton in June, had already begun work last night to prove this point. That legal battle is critical in determining if the sale to NESV goes through.

The two bids Liverpool received are believed to value the club in the region of £300m, would mean Hicks and Gillett walking away with nothing in return for the investment they have put into the club.

Hicks and Gillett said in a rare joint statement early today: "The owners have invested more than $270m in cash into the club, and during their tenure revenues have nearly doubled. There is no change in our commitment to finding a buyer for Liverpool Football Club at a fair price that reflects the very significant investment we've made."

The next few days will be crucial to the future of Liverpool Football Club. If Hicks and Gillett win the legal argument, the Americans will be able to block the sale to NESV and the club's destiny will then fall into the hands of its bankers Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), whose £273m of loans and fees owing is due for refinancing by 15 October.

One option open to RBS is to foreclose on the Americans. This is a route the bank have not been keen on though there was a growing feeling around Anfield last night that the presence of two imminent prospective buyers – who have undertaken all the due diligence needed – may make RBS more willing to foreclose. How the club might therefore be handed over is difficult to ascertain but the Americans' seem to be spiralling through their Anfield endgame.

Today's statement from the club confirmed the sale was "conditional on Premier League approval, resolution of the dispute concerning board membership and other matters".

The Americans know if the bank steps in then they will receive nothing.

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