Thursday, 14 October 2010

Hicks thows the dice, not the towel.

Even by the 'hard-ball' standards of corporate America, Tom Hicks' latest attempt to block the sale of Liverpool FC is breathtakingly audacious.

Despite being outvoted on the Board and defeated in the High Court, Hicks is not the kind of man to take 'no' for an answer. On Twitter yesterday, I expressed my suspicion that he would refuse to comply with the High Court's 8pm deadline for cooperation. I never suspected he would launch such a spectacular counter-attack.

But to a man like Tom Hicks, the High Court seems a mere irrelevance. And even as Liverpool's "English Directors" were gathering in London last night to receive Hicks' 8pm capitulation, the Texan was preparing a quite different response. Confronted by a legal ruling he didn't like, Tom Hicks had simply gone out and found a different judge who would agree with him.

That man was Judge Jim Jordan, sitting in the 160th District Court in Dallas yesterday, and the outcome was a restraining order, issued late last night. And just in case that wasn't enough of a bombshell, Hicks demanded 1.6 BILLION pounds in damages. His lawsuit claims he was sidelined by the other directors, who were intent on pushing through an under-valued deal. It further claims that RBS, whose loan Liverpool must repay by tomorrow, was exerting undue influence and pressure on the Board.

Well I sat through the whole High Court case and the conclusion of the judge couldn't have been clearer or - to my mind - more justified by the evidence. Far from being excluded from Board meetings, the judge concluded that Hicks had deliberately absented himself from the meetings in an attempt to thwart a deal which he disagreed with. His sacking of LFC directors Christian Purselow and Ian Ayre was, said the judge, an attempt "to renege on an agreement and issue a veto which the (Board's rules) were specifically aimed at preventing". The judge concluded that "the idea that RBS connived (with the Board) is not a realistic one".

But if there are few things more dangerous than a wounded tiger, and Hicks is not the kind of animal to skulk away licking his wounds. The truth is that he has nothing to lose and everything to gain by engaging in brinkmanship.

He is gambling that RBS will decide not to call in the £297m tomorrow, because to do so would mean the risk of administration, relegation from the Premier League, and the devaluing of an already damaged club.

Furthermore, he is betting that even if he loses, he will be able to avoid paying damages by pleading poverty. As the High Court judge concluded on Wednesday, "there is no evidence that the owners (Hicks) would be good for damages, indeed there is a little evidence they would not".

All that is scant consolation for Liverpool FC and its supporters, who have seen their beloved club undermined and weakened by the instability at the top.

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