Hicks refuses to give up the fight
Liverpool chairman Martin Broughton might have hoped that Wednesday, 13 October would mark the end of his seven-month quest to sell the Premier League club.
Having defeated the attempts of Tom Hicks and George Gillett to wrest back control of the club by securing an emphatic victory at the High Court in London, Broughton was given the go-ahead to call a board meeting for 2030 BST that was intended to rubber-stamp the deal to sell the Reds to Boston Red Sox owner John W Henry.
But then at 2025 BST - as we all waited for a statement outside the offices of the club's lawyers in central London - came the latest delaying tactic from Hicks and Gillett, a quite extraordinary petition to a district court in the former's home state of Texas that resulted in a temporary restraining order blocking the sale.
Included in the petition are some truly remarkable claims against Broughton and his three fellow Liverpool directors - Christian Purslow, Ian Ayre and Phillip Nash.
Broughton faces the media outside the High Court - but there was a further twist to come. Photo: Getty
The general thrust of the argument is the same as the counter claim rejected by High Court judge Mr Justice Floyd on Wednesday. In short, the owners say that:
- Liverpool are worth far more than £300m (the deal agreed with Henry);
- better offers have not been considered;
- and that the board's English directors (the home team, as they would have it) shut them out of negotiations.
All this was part of a "grand conspiracy", they say, with Royal Bank of Scotland, who are owed £238m by Hicks and Gillett after funding their doomed takeover in 2007 and various refinancings since.
But the 28-page petition also includes new, truly astonishing allegations.
For example, Hicks and Gillett say the directors undermined a possible £170m financing deal with GSO partners, a subsidiary of financial giant Blackstone, which would have written off a large chunk of the RBS debt.
The owners claim that by the time a meeting scheduled for 1 September in Dallas between GSO and Broughton had been arranged a plot had been hatched to block their attempts to raise new investment or sell the club.
Hicks and Gillett said that, in doing so, the directors breached their "fiduciary duties". They go on to claim that all this was happening at the same time as Purslow, Nash and Ayre were trying to renegotiate year-end bonuses of between £250,000 and £300,000.
They describe this, and what they claim is connivance with RBS to force them to default on the loan, as an "epic swindle" and say they are entitled to £1bn in damages. This is made up of about £330.4m - the full economic value of their shares in Liverpool - plus a further £660m. Hicks and Gillett claim Broughton, Purslow, Ayres and Nash acted with malice - something that entitles them to three times what they say is the club's value.
Despite all the emotive language and talk of plots, conspiracies and swindles, the central legal question here is this: Did Hicks and Gillett sign binding agreements with Broughton when he was appointed chairman in April that gave him the right to conduct the full sale of Liverpool Football Club as he saw fit?
Just to be clear on this, here is what Hicks and Gillett said in an official statement upon Broughton's appointment in April: "We are delighted that Martin Broughton has agreed to take the position of chairman, working alongside the club's excellent senior management team. Martin is a distinguished business leader of excellent judgment and with a great reputation. He is a genuine football supporter and will seek to oversee the sales process in the best interests of the club and its supporters."
Hicks actually denied any suggestion that Broughton's appointment had been forced upon the owners by RBS and Broughton told me in an interview back in April he was the owners' appointment.
So whatever Hicks and Gillett now say is, as Wednesday's High Court ruling showed, irrelevant bluster.
But that is not to say Broughton will not have to treat the order seriously. While he and the directors may not be bound by the Texas court order, Henry would be unwise to disregard a ruling from an American court, as would a global bank like RBS.
The real problem for Broughton is not the credibility of these claims from Hicks and Gillett but the length of time they may take to unravel.
What Hicks and Gillett are doing is rolling the dice one last time and hoping Henry - who flew to London to attend Wednesday's board meeting and sign off the deal - will become frustrated by the delays and simply walk away.