By Nick Harris
26 May 2010
Liverpool’s former owner David Moores says in a letter to The Times today: “I hugely regret selling the club to George Gillett and Tom Hicks.”
The letter, more than 3,100 words of it (below), was written to The Times‘ football editor, Tony Evans, and is a stonking bona fide exclusive for the paper on the day it launches its new website.
Bits of the letter are available here and here on the “old” Times website, with the former link carrying another link that takes the reader through to the full text. Except at different times this morning, users trying to access the full version have accessed only a 404 error message.
It is assumed this is down to sheer weight of numbers of potential readers / subscribers.
For anyone having trouble accessing the website, the full text of the letter is below; this full text is also already in circulation on fan sites. Some links have been added to the text below by sportingintelligence, linking to contemporary supplementary reading. This may be helpful as a reminder of context to events as they unfolded.
THE DAVID MOORES LETTER IN FULL
Thanks for getting in touch again. I’m writing to you not out of any mission to clear my name – if I felt I had anything to apologise for I would have done so, without hesitation, a long, long time ago. I’m sending this to you, in good faith, because my family, particularly the younger members, are continually being wounded by the combination of hearsay, mistruth and malicious gossip regarding my decision to sell the club, and the process that led the sale.
I’m writing because it’s 5 years this week since the miracle of Istanbul – my greatest moment as a fan and as Chairman of Liverpool Football Club – but which now feels light years away from happening again. But above all I’m writing to you because I care deeply about the club, the team and the fans. I hope against hope that Messrs Gillett and Hicks will see this letter, or some portion of it, and do the right thing. In holding on and holding out, they risk damaging a sporting institution of global renown and if they have any conscience or nobility they will stand aside and allow new owners to take over the club for its future benefit and that of its lifeblood – the club’s fans.
One of the principles that unites us as Liverpudlians, gives us pride and informs our sense of identity is the philosophy of doing things The Liverpool Way. On the pitch this evolved from Shankly’s fearless attacking football into a simple but wonderful game of pass and move, founded on hard work and a team spirit that relied upon everybody fighting for each other. Off the pitch things were not so different. We would put our faith in the manager and support him to the fullest extent we were able. Since the day I accepted the honour of becoming Chairman of Liverpool F.C to the day I stood aside, that has been my guiding principle; back the manager, invest in his vision and ensure that the heartbeat of the club – the methods and ethics that we hold so dear – are preserved and continue in The Liverpool Way.
When I asked Rick Parry to join the club as Chief Executive, I knew that he too cherished these ideals. While we were both very eager for success and both dearly longed to help guide the club back towards the good times, we equally knew that there was a correct way, a Liverpool way of doing things. And one thing we would never countenance was any notion of borrowing against the club to create a phony wealth for some “jam today” spending splurge. I can say with certainty that our housekeeping was immaculate. I have always acted with the very best interests of the club at heart, and if I’ve made mistakes – which I know I have, and not solely with regard to Gillett and Hicks – then they have been honest mistakes.
To give a proper context to the situation we find ourselves in now, it’s important to trace things back to their roots. I became the majority shareholder of LFC in 1991, and underwrote a new share issue in 1994. Pre Euro 96, football was incredibly unfashionable. There was nobody else on the scene in Liverpool who was even remotely interested in taking on the financial challenge of LFC. I became involved for one reason – for the love of the club. But in the wake of Euro 96 with the influx of more and more overseas superstars on superstar wages, I was aware the game was changing beyond all recognition and deeply worried, too, about my ability to continue underwriting the financial side.
I was from the ever-decreasing pool of old-school club owners, the locally-based, locally wealthy supporter like Jack Walker who stuck his money in out of his passion for the club. If we’d have done it as an ‘investment’ we’d have come unstuck pretty quickly. Back then, football was a mug’s game when it came to the finances. You did it because you loved you club – although, unlike the Chairmen of other clubs, I would never entertain the idea of a stand or a stadium being named after myself. That wouldn’t be Liverpool, and it wouldn’t be me.
If loyalty is a weakness then I’m loyal to a fault. I stuck to my guns in terms of backing the people I trusted, and it began to work. Under Gerard Houllier we began seeing the results of a long-term strategy. The Academy, the new training facilities at Melwood, investment in the squad all required serious money – much more money than the club could ever generate in those pre-Champions League, pre silly-money years. It’s easy to overlook the fact that we only qualified for the Champions League for the first time in 2001, and only really started making money in Europe thereafter. But 2001 was a year we’ll all remember with great affection – the year we finally began our concerted fight back. Rick and myself felt satisfied that the time, the patience and the investment was finally amounting to the targets we aspired to: winning the League again, and re-establishing Liverpool F.C as a force in Europe.
I’d pinpoint 2002-2003 as pivotal in what led to my ultimate decision to stand aside if the club was ever going to truly progress – and if we could find the right calibre of investment, and curator. At the end of a terrific 2001-2002 where we made a bold and realistic scrap of the Premier League title chase and came agonisingly close in the Champions League, I backed Gerard in a significant summer of signings. The £20 million we spent was a huge outlay in those pre-Abramovich times, and it was done in the knowledge that we couldn’t repeat the spend again without significant progress – a proper go at the Champions’ League and, chief among our goals, the return of the League Title to Anfield. Very regrettably, 2002-03 failed to deliver our aspirations, and the players we invested in were unable to make a difference.
Rick was always vocal about planning for success, and after much soul-searching from everybody close to the club we bowed to the inevitable. We began to accept that the only way we could continue to compete was by building a new stadium. Anybody who cares to dredge the archive will find myself on record as finding the decision difficult to come to terms with; but looking back now, the thing I was finding most difficult, was the transformation of the game I loved. Football clubs were beginning to be seen as a source of profit rather than a source of pride; they were as much financial institutions as they were sporting legacies. The Abramovich era was upon us, and I knew that I could never compete.
The search for suitable custodians began in earnest. I don’t really care whether the supporters like me or approve of me – but it’s important that they believe me. I would never lie, never – and I have nothing to hide. We looked long and hard for the right person or institution, we followed up every lead. We WANTED that fantasy investor to come forward – the infinitely wealthy, Liverpool-loving individual or family with the wherewithal to transform our dreams into reality. And so sincere was our commitment to finding that person or company, that we invested huge sums and massive amounts of time investigating potential investors, only to conclude that they were not the right people for Liverpool. It would have been easier, I assure you, just to take the money, cross our fingers tight and hope things worked out – but we dug deep into every file and asked all the tough questions, knowing the answers might scupper any deal.
To give just one example, we responded to overtures from Thailand – the figures discussed were so enormous we were obliged to take a closer look. We had just persuaded Rafa to join the club as manager and were eager to back him in the transfer market. No matter how dizzying their wealth though, we would never simply rush into a relationship with an unsuitable partner, and so it transpired with Thailand. After looking closely at the deal we withdrew from the proposition, and did so for all the honourable reasons you’d expect from our club. So it was ironic that Manchester City was subsequently sold to the same entity, without so much as a murmur of disapproval from their fan base. When it suits them, football fans can turn a blind eye to the things they’d rather not have to acknowledge. We did acknowledge it though – we confronted the reality that the Thai offer was unethical, made our decision to withdraw and carried on the search. Rick’s remark about selling the family silver has been used repeatedly against ourselves and the board – but it was said in all seriousness, with all sincerity. Several years down the line, I do sometimes wonder if we took the process too seriously. Do the majority of fans just want owners, whoever they are, who’ll buy all the best players, come what may? Speaking for myself, I could never square that outlook and that legacy with our own unique football club.
Around that time, by the way, I experienced my first real backlash from the fans. It started with a few letters in The Echo and quickly grew into a campaign aimed at forcing me to sell. There’s an irony there somewhere that, in holding on and giving prospective new owners the third degree I was somehow seen as deliberately holding the club back! It was loud minority giving me stick, but this growing ill-feeling was certainly a factor I took into account. Our search for funding took us to the U.S where we spent time with the hugely impressive Robert Kraft.
Both Rick and myself were disappointed that the Kraft family decided not to take their interest any further – Robert is a good man, and would have been a fitting custodian for LFC. Around the same time we met George Gillett for the first time, liked him very much as a man and were struck by his sheer passion for the club he owned, the Montreal Canadiens. There was a cultural similarity between the Canadiens and LFC, in that Montreal is perhaps the most un-Canadian of Canada’s major cities; the fans see themselves as separate (and perhaps superior) to the rest of the country. They are devoted to their team, which gives them a sense of pride and identity. Importantly, too, all the fans we spoke to on the street and around the stadium had nothing but affection and praise for their owner, George Gillett. Sadly George was unable to follow up his very real interest with the necessary funding to take our club forward.
We have been accused of failing to capitalise on the Istanbul Effect – in fact our talks with Dubai International Capital stemmed directly from winning the Champions League in 2005, with Sameer Al Ansari from DIC introducing himself to Rick Parry in Istanbul and making it known that he was an ardent Liverpool supporter. Rick wasted no time in following up this lead, and having laid out our needs (significant investment for players; a new stadium;) we spent the next year working out a deal with DIC. On 1st December 2006 we informed DIC that they were our preferred option – and that the deal would have to be completed by 31st December 2006, for 2 reasons.
Firstly, so that Rafa could take advantage of the January transfer window, and secondly the timeline of non-negotiable targets we had to hit if we were to start the new stadium on time. Several things happened (or didn’t happen) that gave cause for concern. Our being made aware that DIC had devised a 7-year exit strategy was one such issue, along with a suggestion they intended to raise £300 million in working capital (i.e debt), secured against the club. But by far biggest reality check came when we got down to the practicalities of planning a schedule of works on the new stadium. Under strict terms we had negotiated with the various agencies, local and European, with whom we had to deal over grants, planning permissions etc, we were on course to complete the stadium in time for the 2009/10 season, but we had to keep resolutely to the timetable. Therefore (also in December 2006), the club put it to DIC that it was essential we placed an immediate order for the steel required for the new ground’s infrastructure. The steel was going cost in the region of £12 million. Deadlines passed before and after Christmas. New Year 2007 came and still no steel, and quite frankly (and, I think, justifiably) we began to have misgivings.
At this juncture – January 2007 – George Gillett returned with a new proposal. We asked to hear more, and George introduced his partnership with the Hicks family. On 30th January 2007 (the day we played West Ham away) we put the Gillett/Hicks proposal to the board, and they voted in favour. I was conscious of the fact I’d agreed a deal with DIC, and telephoned Sameer Al Ansari to tell him that the board preferred Gillett and Hicks’s offer, and I wanted 48 hours to think things through. DIC representatives confronted me prior to the game and put it to me that I had to sign off on their offer immediately or the deal would be withdrawn. I told them I wouldn’t be held to ransom – and they withdrew the offer. With hindsight, we may have had a lucky escape there as Dubai is not the buoyant market it was in 2007.
We moved ahead with Gillett and Hicks with all due speed (even now I can not accept that we were hasty) – and here is an element of the process I accept we could have handled better. We had looked into George Gillett’s affairs in detail, and he came up to scratch. To a great extent, we took Tom Hicks on trust, on George’s say-so. There was still the very real business of obtaining approval of the shareholders, however. I was the 51% majority stakeholder, but I was obliged to -and I wanted to – obtain a mandate from Liverpool’s shareholders great and small. Gillett and Hicks produced a very substantial offer document containing all the key assurances re debt, the stadium, investment in the squad and respect for Liverpool F.C’s unique culture, traditions and legacy. It was impressive stuff – and it did the trick. For the motion to be carried we needed around 90% in favour. Over 1700 shareholders voted and the result was 100% in favour of accepting Gillett & Hicks’s offer.
So many times I have had people ask me, and write to me, and quiz the people who are close to me:
“Wouldn’t a simple Google search have told you all you needed to know about Tom Hicks?”
I could be flippant and tell you I don’t know what Google is (I have never used a computer in my life). I could point out that internet searches are as likely to mislead as to inform. But the truth is that we went way beyond Google in our check-ups. We retained Price Waterhouse Coopers to advise us on the fabric of the deal, and they received assurances from Rothschilds, one of the most respected and respectable names in global finance, who vouched for both Tom Hicks and George Gillett. Indeed, Rothschilds – who were representing Gillett and Hicks – telephoned a non-executive director of LFC, Keith Clayton, to assure him that both were good for the money. Could we have done more? Probably – though under those circumstances, in that time-frame, probably not. We did our due diligence on Messrs Gillett and Hicks and if we’re guilty of anything it is that, after four years searching, we may have been too keen, too ready to hear the good news that George and Tom had passed their tests.
The Google question, along with any suggestion that the shareholders and I preferred the Gillett/Hicks bid because it promised to net us more money, is a source of anger to me. Internet culture is inexact and gossip-driven… to suggest anyone at our football club would run a financial health-check via a search engine is just silly. Don’t forget that everyone was delighted with their takeover at the time. Significant shareholders like Granada and Steve Morgan were insistent the board of LFC should accept the G&H offer, and left me in no doubt about my legal duty to accept the offer. George and Tom were carried shoulder high through the city centre on the afternoon of the Barcelona game in March 2007 – it wasn’t just me who was taken in. And as for the extra money I netted from the G&H deal – you really don’t know me if you think that was a factor. Ultimately, the deal we signed up to was laid it in unambiguous terms in the share offer document. That is a matter of fact. But at the end of the day you can carry out any number of checks with infinite degrees of scrutiny and certainty, but I doubt there’s any procedure available that will legislate for a guy you’ve come to trust looking you in the eye, telling you one thing and doing the exact opposite.
As I’ve already said, I feel no duty to justify myself and in writing to you now there is much I’ve withheld out of decency, more than duty. There’s also the very real possibility that, in speaking out, I might derail the process that many believe I can positively effect. But it has been hard for me, sitting mute on the sidelines as the club I love suffers one blow after another. Since resigning from the board I have not set foot inside Anfield – and it hurts. I hugely regret selling the club to George Gillett and Tom Hicks. I believe that, at best, they have bitten off much more than they can chew. Giving them that benefit of the doubt – that they started off with grand ideals that they were never realistically going to achieve – I call upon them now to stand back, accept their limitations as joint owners of Liverpool Football Club, acknowledge their role in the club‘s current demise, and stand aside, with dignity, to allow someone else to take up the challenge. Don’t punish the club’s supporters any more – God knows they’ve taken enough. Take an offer, be realistic over the price, make it possible. Let the club go. It is a sign of strength, not weakness, to concede for the greater good.