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Liverpool's revolution that wasn't

This, maintains our cynical columnist, was a big business coup, not a power-to-the-people usurping of Liverpool's unpopular co-owners.
What John Henry, left, engineered was a takeover, not a revolution.
What John Henry, left, engineered was a takeover, not a revolution.

"You say you want a revolution? Well you know, we all want to change the world."

John Lennon, musician and Liverpool FC fan, 1968.

Knowing Liverpool fans as I do, they will see the recent ousting of Tom Hicks and George Gillett as a victory for people power, as yet another revolution for a plucky city steeped in socialist and separatist ideology.

The People's Republic of Liverpool strikes again, they will say. The yoke of the hated capitalist oppressors was unshackled by the sheer force of collective will: the protests, the chants, the banners, the sit-ins, the marches, the chilling threat of celebrity damnation via YouTube.

And, like all the best revolutions, this one has a charismatic young leader to whose banner the masses could rally. OK, so at 61 years of age, John Henry is not as young as his suspiciously baby-smooth face might suggest. But he is young at heart. Henry is one of those open-collared, wise-cracking, guitar-playing dudes who just started playing the futures market like he just started playing hacky-sack.

And so he was mobbed on the steps of London's High Court by cheering fans, following his acquisition of the club with New England Sports Ventures. Then he was mobbed again when he stepped out of his limousine at Melwood Park, Liverpool's training ground.

Autographs were signed, flesh was pressed, a young scamp's hair was almost certainly tousled. I half expected one of the grateful urchins to look up with saucer eyes and exclaim: "Say it is so, John. Say you're gonna save the Reds."

Compare this to Hicks and Gillett. Remember their first trip to Anfield? No impromptu meet'n'greets for those two grey old men. Just a closed photocall, with fixed grins as starchy as the box-fresh Liverpool scarf they held in their fingertips like it was a week-old kipper wearing a "Vote Hillary" badge. Beside that pair, Henry is Che Guevara. He already has the big cigar - all he needs now is a beret.

And so another fairy tale is inked into the annals of Liverpool FC: the revolution of 2010. Case closed, the "suffering" is over (Steven Gerrard's word, not mine), now let's all walk on into golden skies to the sound of sweet, silver lark-song.

But, of course, it was not really a revolution. It was a coup d'etat. Revolutions come from the bottom up, and change the world. Coup d'etats are brokered by those already in power.

The Liverpool coup was hatched within the boardroom, not the barricades. It was supported by the state-owned Royal Bank of Scotland, and by the High Court. This coup has the whiff not of cordite, but corduroy. It could not seem any more Establishment-sanctioned unless James Bond himself had been sent to whack Tom Hicks with a poisoned pretzel.

I have no sympathy with the outgoing owners, and I celebrate their departure, but you can see why Hick feels he was the victim of an "epic swindle". I have seen courts take longer to adjudicate over parking offences.

Granted, Liverpool fans will see no reason to quibble over semantics. To them, "Coup d'Etat" might as well be a promising right-back from the Ivory Coast. They have swapped toxic owners for an apparently benign billionaire with a proven track record for breathing new life into slumbering giants. (The only difference being that the Boston Red Sox, another jewel of Henry's sports empire, slept for 86 years between baseball World Series titles, making Liverpool's 20-year spell without winning the league sound more like a cat nap.)

Despite losing 2-0 to local rivals Everton yesterday, Roy Hodgson, the manager, will enter the January transfer window with a reported £25 million (Dh146,849m) in his war chest. With a fair wind, Liverpool could find themselves back in their "rightful place" by the end of next season, if not this one.

And so the natural order will be restored. Liverpool will be back in the Champions League, to the relief of advertisers and television executives. The big clubs will get richer, the small ones poorer, and the world's favourite game will continue to be carved up by big business. As for the Premier League authorities, they will be vindicated.

"Look," they can cry. "The system works. We can allow clubs to be sold to any Tom, Dick or George with a credit card and a brass neck, but it will all come good in the end."

Personally, I would have liked to have seen Liverpool go into administration because of Hicks and Gillett's leveraged buy-out. Not because I harbour ill will towards them - I do not - but because maybe it requires the humbling of a great club like Liverpool to provide the wake-up call football so desperately needs.

You say you want a revolution? Or, you know, do you just want to win the league?

Will Batchelor is a writer, broadcaster and self-confessed cynical sports fan.

Published: October 18, 2010 04:00 AM


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