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What do you do when both your owner and your manager are bonkers?

We all know that Mr Hill-Wood is a sweet old duffer.  I don’t mean it nastily, but you wouldn’t really want him handling your financial affairs – or come to that driving the Bentley with your kids in the back.  He wouldn’t break the speed limit – its just I can imagine him turning round to offer everyone in the back a humbug, just as he approaches the intersection of the A1/A406.

But, his family has been at the helm of Arsenal for decades, and they’ve done a great job of it – and Mr Hill-Wood can take a lot of the credit for that.

Where he has got something a bit wrong (like his famous statement on selling his shares to Mr Dein that it was Mr Dein who got the bum deal, or his awkward attack on Stan Kronke about “not wanting his sort”) it has rebounded mostly on him personally, not the club.  It’s foot-in-mouth stuff, and in a way it makes him all the more endearing.

I’ve only met him once – and that only in passing (he certainly wouldn’t remember me from the millions of people he must meet) and he struck me as the sort of kindly old uncle we’d most of us like to have.  The sort of guy who would give the bottle of 100 year old brandy to the ten year old, and the Arsenal socks to his business partner.  Great fun, lovely guy, mostly harmless.

But how different a regime they run in Liverpool. Everyone under the sun knows that the owners came in, took the money that was supposed to go on stadium building, and instead used it for their buyout, leaving the club in £350m debt and with RBS demanding a repayment schedule of £60m a year.

You’d think that if you’d screwed up what was (we must admit) quite a successful little enterprise (past its heyday of course and no longer capable of a league title, but still picking up the odd cup) you’d stay quiet.  Probably wear a mask, change your name by deed poll, leave the country – that sort of thing.

But this is Liverpool and they do things different ‘tup north.  George Gillett has attacked Rafael Benitez and defended his and Tom Hicks’s time at Liverpool.  Talk about defend the indefensible.

In a wild, rambling and generally worthy of removal by men in white coats, style attack, Gillett told the Spirit of Shankly supporters group that he and brother Hicks had made huge investment in Liverpool and that they weren’t responsible for any problems.  Fancy pointing the finger?  Benitez is the man.

(Actually Spirit of Shankly is a bit of an odd ball too.  They did seem a fairly decent supporters group who harked back to the golden years of semi-crazed “life and death” sayings, but that all changed when they decided to get a rapper on stage at their end of season party and have him sing supposedly funny songs about the Munich air crash.  But like I say, they do things different in the north).

So Gillett speaks to SOS, and this is what he says…

“We have invested more money than our competitors, in keeping with the history of the club.  In the last 18 months, we have invested £128m on top of what has come in. That means it should be getting better. Now if it’s not getting better, it’s not Gillett and Hicks; it’s the manager; it’s the scouting. You have to make sure you balance out your analysis. There was plenty of money, so if you have any complaints, take a look at the ins and outs.”

Now this is all fairly wacky stuff, mostly dreamed up by people living on another planet.   The truth is that if Gillett and Hicks had not bought the club through the same means as Manchester United was bought, the club would either have little debt, or they would have a new stadium.

The truth is that the extra money they put in had to be put in, because the banks refused to extend the loan without guarantees.  Had Gillett and Hicks not put their guarantees in the £350m loan would have been called in, and the club would have been sold to the highest bidder.

But of course when you have bizarre and eccentric gents from the Planet Zorg talking, the notion of when to shut up generally by-passes the brain.  And so the speech continued with this gem…

“Liverpool are in an extraordinarily good financial position. Far better than Manchester United, Chelsea or Arsenal.”

So, pays your money and takes your choice.  Mr Hill-Wood with his occasional gaffe, a club with a mortgage under control, and a whacking great profit.  Or Mr America with one of the oddest fairy stories of all time.

And you know the funniest thing of all? Mr Gillett actually believes what he says is true.  A bit like the blind leading the giraffe backwards up an icy slope and realising that the B57 on the horizon really is going to crash on your head in three seconds.

Or something like that.

Over on “Making the Arsenal” the exploration of the season 1909/1910 (100 years ago in case your calculator is switched off) is continuing.

Today there is an extract from the forthcoming “Making the Arsenal” book covering the first announcement of Woolwich Arsenal’s liquidation. Just as a reminder to Liverpool of what liquidation means.

(c) Tony Attwood 2009

17 comments to What do you do when both your owner and your manager are bonkers?

  • Consolsbob

    I read that article this morning, Tony. It would seem that Rafa might blow up earlier than usual this season. Very funny story.

    As well as being the club ‘most likely to drop out of the Top four’, we are also the one with ‘the most serious financial problems’. I’ve stopped being furious off with the excuses for journalism that passess muster these days and have started to see ‘the media’ as the great comedy act that it is.

    Expecting those hacks and their money driven bosses to perform a public function and actually anaylse a story and tell the truth is like expecting Stan Collymore to pass his GCSE’s. Don’t hold your breath.

  • shotta-gunna

    Cbob – I, as you may be aware, am a ravenous reader of the on-line football press, and the level of financial illiteracy is amazing. The number of times chief football correspondents, no less, assert that Arsenal is in financial crisis or Liverpool have money to spend is countless. The fact that this is in the immediate background of major bank failures in England and that a global financial crisis centered in the USA makes it even more inexcusable. The current financial meltdown at Pompey, no doubt hastened by Happy Arry’s wheeling and dealing, with Peter Storrie now having to to cap in hand to some oligarch in Saudi Arabia to save the club seem to have made no difference to the reporting. Thanks to Tony for consistently being the exception to the rule.

  • steww

    The problem I have is this. Now I know how utterly incompetent and downright untruthful the press are in reporting all matters pertaining to football, I simply cannot believe a word they say on any other matter. You catch someone lying about one thing, how can you trust them on anything else?
    Thanks for the Douglass Adams reference Tony.

  • steww

    Or Douglas even.

  • IndianGooner

    I would take Mr. Hill-Wood and a club with its future secured any time.

    The decisions Hill-Wood and the other board members took along with Arsene few years back would have to be included in our rich History. The decisions were very risky but were for a secured future. The board and Arsene should be praised for this. They held the interests of the club more than their personal interests.

  • Abhishek

    Hi Tony

    Nice article, I was just reading the comparison between Arsenal and Liverpool.
    After takeover Liverpool’s net spending has increased from 10 million to 15million. SO I guess Rafa is only responsible for 25 million extra spend. Where has the rest of money gone is not clear.
    While Wenger has reduced the net spending to -9millions per year from 5 million.
    Now either Rafa has paid a very high salary or he is beong blamed very poorly. But let us again salute the genius(or Lord) whatever we say. He has saved the club net 42 millions in the past 3 years alone with his policies.

  • Just a little update: I have now put the extract from Making the Arsenal on the Woolwich Arsenal blog at http://www.blog.woolwicharsenal.co.uk

    Appropriate for today as it covers the day when it was first announced that Woolwich Arsenal were heading for liquidation and urgently needed a new owner.

    Seems nothing changes in football – except Arsenal learned from that lesson, and moved forwards, rather than backwards.

  • walter

    I think it will take another few years before people will realise what Mr. Hill-wood and his board along with Wenger did for our club.
    Now they are getting stick from some unhappy fans because of a temporary lack of trophees. We have known longer periods in our history without trophys so I can eat it, chew it, swallow it in the knowing that in the next decade we will see the strongest Arsenal ever. Some shortsighted fans will need more time to see what was or is happening for the moment.
    Well, I rather have uncle Hill-Wood as our president then the Abramovitsj, the Hicks-Gillet ones, or the Arab ones.
    Good you pointed that out again, Tony.
    And the trouble between board and manager will have its, negative affect, on the team. Not that I care….

  • walter

    I really liked the preview of Making the Arsenal, Tony.
    I think you hit the right tone.

  • Pete the First

    Hillwood becoming the Chairman of Arsenal was fortitude of birth. It’s a bit like giving the Queen credit for the growth of the British economy. Well done Lizzy!

    If he was such a caring uncle maybe he could have donated his shares to the fans for the real good of the club. Hey here’s a thought: What if David Dein had done the same? Well he’d be worse off to the tune of £80M, but the club’s future ownership might be less confused.

  • LRV

    Only those still living in coocoo land or those with extremely low IQ still believe the press. They simply write the wishes of their minds, not reality. They figure that if they wish really hard and write it often enough, it will make it true. What they write does not bother me. Let’s see them contest the Arsenal Finacial Report and come up with an alternative, if they can. I am sure they will have done, were it possible.

    I just pity Liverpool fans (I have many friends amongst them who even have some likeness for my club). If only the supporters can come up with a way to save their club. As for Little & Large, nothing good can come from them except the ruination of such a big club with such rich history.

  • SDK

    In a way, it’s good that we are being underestimated by all and sundry. It’ll just make success a bit sweeter, that’s all. Also, this kind of attitude brings togetherness and fighting spirit into the team.

    We’ve to agree that we did lose the two big matches we featured in, but, the team is getting more and more confident and improving both technically and mentally. Best thing is to keep winning all the matches that come our way before the next big match where the media again starts looking at us seriously.

  • Consolsbob

    I say, Shotta! Don’t you think that your new avatar goes rather well alongside mine?

    Two wise and handsome chaps putting the world to rights with a smile!

  • I think that statement from Gillet about how Liverpool is in a better financial situation than Arsenal, when he is trying to sell his shares, bothers on being fraudulent.

    If I were a buyer and the potential seller made that statement, I’d be really worried.

  • don't believe the hype

    Thanks for the link to the extract from ‘Making the Arsenal’ Tony. It looks good and I look forward to reading more.

  • mingus

    Ole Gunner, nice reply to Gabriel Marcotti in The Times today.

  • shotta-gunna

    Consols – That was remarkable; I was thinking that myself. However I was a little less generous; I thought we were two old geezers with pretty impressive avatars. LOL.