England soccer fans want U.S. owners out

January 31, 2008 1:47:36 PM PST
Liverpool's American owners are facing a new takeover bid -- from frustrated fans. The longshot member-share scheme launched Thursday aims to raise around 500 million pounds ($995 million) to oust Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr. and fund a new stadium.

UAE-based group Dubai International Capital recently failed in a renewed bid to purchase the Premier League club after losing out to Hicks and Gillett last March. Hicks owns baseball's Texas Rangers and the NHL's Dallas Stars.

Rival Manchester United fans still opposed to the Glazer family's 2005 takeover of the Red Devils unveiled a similar scheme Thursday.

Drawing inspiration from FC Barcelona's model, Share Liverpool FC appealed for 100,000 fans to each contribute up to 5,000 pounds ($9,950).

"Liverpool fans all over the world have a way of raising money to do what they want to do," said soccer academic Rogan Taylor, who is spearheading the initiative. "They've been to Istanbul and Athens in the last three years for Champions League finals and if you add the cost of those two trips together you're not far from the entry fee -- the price of owning this club forever.

"And nobody will ever will own it more than you do."

Stakeholders will be limited to a single share, with each member having one vote. Key decisions, such as managerial changes, will be made by an executive board elected for a minimum three-year term.

"The Chinese word for crisis is translated as opportunity and there's a very good reason why that's the case," Taylor said. "It's very difficult to change things when everything is fine. Things are certainly not fine both on and off the pitch."

Rafa Benitez's side slumped to seventh in the Premier League standings on Wednesday -- 17 points behind leader Manchester United -- with a 1-0 defeat at West Ham.

To help fund Anfield stadium's replacement in nearby Stanley Park and refinance the loan used to purchase the Reds, Hicks and Gillett last week completed a $682 million refinancing package. But the package leaves the 18-time English champion with debt topping $205 million.

Many fans were also angered by Hicks' admission late last year that he approached Juergen Klinsmann as a potential replacement for popular manager Rafa Benitez.

Taylor said that individuals "carrying weight and authority" were now required.

"That will beef up the proposal," he said. "If we can get it off the block, if we can get the first 10,000 we've got 50 million pounds ($99.4 million) pledged and we will begin to look like players."

At Barcelona, more than 156,000 members pay to be selected at random to meet with the board and vote on key decisions.

The 32,000-strong Manchester United Supporters Trust -- England's largest such group -- said the race was on to become the first supporter-owned soccer club in the country.

"This is bound to spark fierce competition between the two sets of rival fans," the trust's chief executive Duncan Drasdo said. "We've been working on our own plans, which we'll reveal later in the season."

Drasdo said he believed a successful bid would require a financial boost from investment banks.

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