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
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