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Liverpool sale complete

Hicks, Gillett drop restraining order

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / October 16, 2010

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Red Sox owner John Henry stretched his sports empire across the Atlantic yesterday, completing what amounted to a hostile takeover of Liverpool FC, one of the cornerstone teams of the English Premier League.

Team owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett gave up what turned into a bitter court fight, withdrawing the temporary restraining order they had obtained from a Texas court earlier in the week. That allowed Henry to pay $476 million for a soccer team valued at $822 million by Forbes magazine in April.

Henry now owns the Red Sox, Liverpool FC, and 50 percent of Roush Fenway Racing, the successful NASCAR team.

“It’s a chance to compete at the highest level in the world’s most popular sport,’’ he said after toasting the deal with champagne.

In a statement released by his company, New England Sports Ventures, Henry said he was proud and humbled to own the team, and was committed to winning.

“We have a history of winning, and today we want LFC supporters to know that this approach is what we intend to bring to this great club,’’ he said.

Henry, who spent much of this week in London, told reporters there he planned to attend Liverpool’s next home match, Oct. 24 against Blackburn at Anfield Stadium.

“I think it’s better for our first experience with the supporters to be at home,’’ he said. “We are going to do a lot of listening and hope our actions speak for us.’’

NESV initially agreed to purchase the team Oct. 6 after making a bid that would pay off the debts incurred by Hicks and Gillett with the Royal Bank of Scot land. That deal was made with the team’s independent board of directors.

Hicks and Gillett first attempted to change the makeup of the board to block the sale. When that was rebuffed, they obtained the restraining order.

After the English High Court ordered the restraining order be withdrawn, the deal was completed.

“There were many days where I was wondering whether or not we would be going home,’’ Henry said. “In fact, even today. I wasn’t 100 percent confident. There were days where I was confident, but there were a lot of twists and turns here . . . I’m just happy it ended successfully.’’

Hicks and Gillett said yesterday they would file a $1.6 billion lawsuit seeking damages from NESV, the board, and the bank. That claim was later withdrawn to comply with the English court order. But further legal action seems certain.

“This outcome not only devalues the club but it also will result in long-term uncertainty for the fans, players, and everyone who loves this sport because all legal recourses will be pursued,’’ said Steve Stodghill, one of the lawyers representing Hicks and Gillett.

Hicks and Gillett, who owned the team for three years, were immensely unpopular among Liverpool fans, who took to the streets in protest of their regime on several occasions. The 18-time league champion is off to its worst league start since 1953 and in danger of relegation.

Liverpool, much like the Red Sox when Henry purchased the team in 2002, needs an improved facility. Anfield is a small, antiquated stadium that will have to be substantially renovated or replaced.

“We have to work to address that,’’ Henry said.

Henry’s first task will be to win over Liverpool’s impassioned fan base. He got off to a good start earlier this week when he dropped into a Cambridge pub, the Phoenix Landing, owned by a Liverpool supporter.

“It’s being received very positively. I don’t know one person that thinks this is a bad idea. I, myself, am ecstatic at the news,’’ said Tim Treacy, chairman of the Boston Liverpool Supporters Club. “The last year and a half has been a roller coaster with this club.

“I think we are all going to enjoy a few pints this weekend. Finally the saga of our ownership situation is gone.’’

NESV chairman Tom Werner, Henry’s main partner with the Red Sox, will have an active role with Liverpool.

“We recognize that Liverpool Football Club is an historic institution ultimately grounded in the community and the fans,’’ his statement read. “Our first step as new owners will be to listen. We want to hear from the manager and the players and those who are part of the daily operation of the club. We will be visible at Anfield and will embrace and listen to those who have stood by this club and who are the rock on which its future success will be built.’’

For some Red Sox fans, the question will be to what degree, if any, this purchase will affect Henry’s ability to improve their baseball team.

Team president Larry Lucchino said last week that the transaction would not divert resources away from the Red Sox.

Stan Grossfeld of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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