Tom Hicks’ favourite camera crew was summoned to his Dallas mansion for the most repulsive PR stunt ever pulled by anyone connected with Liverpool FC.
As he sat in his cosy armchair, his wounded expression as fake as the gas-flamed fire burning behind him, back at his Formby home Steven Gerrard stared at his TV in disgust.
A year into the Americans’ reign, civil war was raging at Anfield, with fans, manager and board members at each others’ throats. And now the absentee Texan owner was calling for chief executive Rick Parry’s head on worldwide TV.
That Sky interview was the final straw for the Liverpool captain. He never wanted to look at Hicks or Gillett again.
Gerrard says: “I was thinking, ‘When is this going to end? One year? Two years?’ You could see it was just going to get messier and the people really suffering were the team and the supporters.”
In their first meeting, the Americans promised Gerrard they would restore the club to the pinnacle of European football while respecting its history.
“But that wasn’t the case, especially when they were dragging the club through the courts,” he says. “That was a disgrace. I can’t find the words to describe them. Let’s just say they had some balls. I didn’t think they’d drag the club to those lengths for some money. It just showed how greedy they were.”
At his home a few miles down the Merseyside coast, Jamie Carragher watched that same TV interview in April 2008 in despair. He recalls: “That’s when I thought it had got past a joke. To fly a TV crew over to your house, dress your kids in Liverpool tops, and start dishing the dirt on worldwide telly I just thought, ‘Oh my God, what’s going on?’ It was unforgivable.”
Like Gerrard, Carragher became emotionally exhausted with the Anfield anarchy.
“It was like your mum and dad scrapping. You don’t care what they’re fighting about, you just want to scream at them to shut up,” he says.
“The manager and owners might not have liked each other but they should have concentrated on letting us play football. I got sick of the rowing – it just wouldn’t stop. Everyone was playing politics with no regard for the damage they were doing to the club. I wanted to shout, ‘Can we forget about this and just play football?’”
The two local legends were also conscious that, in the final 18 months the Americans were there, the team suffered from an acute lack of investment. “We were so close,” says Gerrard. “Two European finals, finishing second – we were two or three decent signings away from competing with anyone. That was the frustration.”
Gerrard won’t say it because it would seem like an excuse, but friends say there were times when he felt that the Americans cost him the one thing he’s craved all his professional life – the Premier League. Carragher feels the same. “I want to win medals and if the owners had put their money in like they promised then I might have won more than I did. You look at other players who are winning titles and you want to be better than them. So when the transfer money dries up like it did with those two, it gets you angry.
“I’d never say they definitely cost me a League title medal as it was down to us players, but if we hadn’t had crippling interest payments like we had we could have been spending an extra £15-£20million in the last few transfer windows, which could have made the difference.
“I’d loved to have played in a new Anfield, too, but I won’t. If they’d put that spade in within 60 days as they promised, I’d be playing in it now.”
Spanish goalkeeper Pepe Reina told the pair he was amazed they didn’t go public and demand answers. Both admit the dilemma tortured them at the time and still plays on their consciences today. “I totally understand why some of the fans were frustrated we didn’t speak out,” says Gerrard. “When I’m down with England I hear stories about what big players have said at their clubs, but when me and Jamie speak we’re worried people might say, ‘Does he think he’s bigger than Liverpool?’ So it was a horrible situation as I wanted to come out and use my status to help but I was terrified of it backfiring.
“Should I say something? Would it make a difference? Who are we to criticise our bosses? They were the questions I kept asking myself and at times they were on the tip of my tongue. But if I’d wanted to speak to the owners I couldn’t, they were never there. It was a mess.”
Carragher agrees: “Maybe me and Stevie should have come out when we had the power and said something, but we’re from here. We love the club and never like saying anything negative about it. It’s what we believe in. So whatever is thrown at you, you feel you have to take it.
“It’s like if someone in your family does something wrong you’ll still stand behind them even if you want to slag them off.”
The pair’s major worry was how the fans were suffering. Gerrard says: “The lowest point was when the Kop were holding sit-ins to protest. I was thinking, ‘Let’s get them out, enough is enough, the sooner these are out the better.’”
It got to Carragher so much he stopped reading newspapers. “I switched off. I wasn’t reading about football, it was backbiting and bitching and plots and people slagging each other off.
“The game wasn’t played on the pitch but off it. Political games. It became a bad soap opera. I wasn’t just thinking about my game. I was thinking, ‘Whose side should I be on?’ I wished I could do my training and think about nothing else, but it became impossible. I was taking it all home with me.
“In the end I was so pleased the Americans walked away with nothing as they had their chances to sell the club and make their profit but chose not to. They didn’t care about Liverpool – they just cared about themselves.”
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As George Gillett digested the words he was reading, the blood drained slowly from his face.
Surely there was a misprint in this report about Steven Gerrard marrying his long-term partner Alex which completely changed its meaning.
He read it again but it came out the same, so he phoned his co-owner: “Tom, there's something you need to know. Our team captain is gay.”
A bemused Hicks asked for the evidence and when Gillett read it to him, in between guffaws, he explained that in England the term “partner” can refer to a member of the opposite sex.
Their captain wasn't tackling for the other side. Alex was a woman.
It was just another example of the The Madness of King George, typified by him pulling a fistful of dollars from his pocket and claiming there was no limit to how much manager Rafa Benitez could spend. He could sign “Snoogy Doogy” if he wanted.
“He just sat there chuckling away looking like one of the Muppets,” said Jamie Carragher. “It only needed Hicks next to him and we'd have had Waldorf and Statler.”
Gillett’s favourite phrase, when Benitez tried to pin him down on his transfer budget was: “I'll give you £50million plus whatever we get in the draft”, which was so nonsensical it almost had Benitez butting walls.
He answered one transfer budget request by telling Benitez he’d spotted a new running machine in America, and perhaps if he got one it would improve the players he already had.
As someone who saw the Benitez e-mails remarked: “They looked like they'd been sent from the funny farm.”
The irony was that Gillett confided in more than one journalist that Benitez had serious mental problems. He even coined a name for the condition. Rafa, he would say, is a “Serial Transactionist.”
Not long after Robbie Keane signed for £20million, Gillett breezed into the hotel restaurant on the morning of a game, shouting “Hey, where's Keane? I gotta see this Keane.”
Keane piped up: “I'm Keane.”
To which Gillett replied: "Jeez, you're not very big for all that money we spent on you, are you?"
He was on true eccentric form when Liverpool travelled to Fiorentina.
Ten minutes into the second half, he disappeared inside the stadium only to return laden with Cornettos, Magnums and choc ices, which he handed out to everyone in the directors' box. At 10pm. With winter around the corner.
A senior figure tells of the comical nature of one of the early board meetings.
Halfway through, Gillett stood up and announced he and his son Foster were leaving to watch the players train at Melwood.
There was an embarrassed silence as the pair left and a decision was taken for the entire board to climb into cars, zoom off in pursuit of the Gilletts and re-convene the meeting in the Melwood dining room - a scenario made even more surreal by Gillett constantly leaping up to wave at players.
Whenever he was at his Colorado ski resort and heard a footballer was visiting surgeon Richard Steadman’s nearby clinic he would ingratiate himself with them.
He once cornered Robbie Fowler, phoned a senior figure at Anfield, and said: “You'll never guess who I'm with out here in Colorado. Let me put him on.”
When Robbie said “hello,” the Anfield man asked: “Are you as embarrassed about this as I am?”
Robbie replied: “Far more embarrassed” and was told: "OK, just turn the phone off, hand it back to him and pretend you lost me.”
But a hard-nosed operator lurked behind the avuncular exterior.
One morning, Gillett burst into the office of commercial director Ian Ayre after suspecting he’d been conspiring against him with Tom Hicks and unleashed a tsunami of abuse: “You f***ing bastard, you've been trying to sell my f***ing club from under me. This is not the f***ing way to do it. I'm going to make sure this is the last f***ing day you work here.”
He swore and threatened for three minutes, veins popping out of his skull, sweat dripping from his brow, slaughtering a man who'd been in his job less than a year but who was already turning around the club's finances.
When he stopped, Ayre explained himself, and told him: “If you've got nothing else to say to me, then I've got nothing else to say to you.”
To which Gillett replied: “Anyway, what's going on in our club?”
As the din from the fans protesting outside the boardroom grew louder, Tom Hicks sidled up to a senior club figure and asked what the hell was going on.
“You can't have it both ways,” he was told. “When I asked you why you bought Liverpool you said one of the reasons was the fans who are so engaging and loyal. You can't expect them to be those things then sit back and take it up the a**e when you're giving it to them with both barrels. That's why they're out there.”
Hicks muttered “gimme a break” and sauntered away with the noise ringing in his ears.
The billionaire Texan didn’t take to people threatening his power.
At the initial 2007 press conference, although he had only been involved in the deal for weeks, he demanded the running order be changed so he spoke ahead of Gillett, who had been working on it for six months.
There was never any doubt about who was the alpha male in the partnership.
Gillett would bad-mouth Hicks and vow to stand up to him but, time after time, he would cave in.
A classic example came in the spring of 2009, with Rafa Benitez's proposed new five-year contract. He swore to a senior Liverpool figure he would never sign it. Three days later, it came back signed.
When they rowed, Hicks swatted Gillett away like a mosquito.
A typical scenario would be Hicks dismissing him with a put-down and Gillett playing the injured victim asking: “What have I ever done to you?” To which the Texan would reply: “What have you ever done?”
An Anfield insider who saw one row unfold said: “Hicks looked at him like he was a sad little man. He made reference to the meat-packing deal which brought them together and said: 'When you were a minor shareholder you acted like you were in control. Now you have parity you are insufferable.’”
Anyone who challenged Hicks was bullied into a corner.
Only days after buying the club, he decided to ditch plans for a new stadium and get his architects in Dallas to design something bigger.
“We ain't building that stadium,” he said to project manager Martin Jennings, “it’s not big enough. I'm going to get new designs done.”
When Jennings told him the architects had allowed for an option to expand the planned stadium to a 70,000 capacity, Hicks snapped back: “Are you f***ing listening to me? Are you with us or against us?”
To which Gillett rode in on cue: “Martin, we ain't building that f***ing stadium.”
They didn't build that stadium. Or their own one.
Whatever happened, Hicks always seemed to come out on top.
Seven minutes before kick-off of a 2007 Champions League against Barcelona, Gillett demanded someone get him a scarf, intending to show the world how much he loved the club.
A senior club figure told him: “This is Liverpool. You don't wear big scarves, especially if you're a director.”
A peeved Gillett then took his seat in the directors' box, only to find, standing next to him with the biggest, reddest, shiniest Liverpool scarf resting on his shoulders, Tom Hicks - and a cameramen clicking away at the pair of them.
Hicks with scarf, Gillett without. He wasn't happy.
George Bush’s Texan buddy, on the other hand, never sought anyone's advice and cared little about tradition or taste.
How else do you explain him walking into the Anfield boardroom before one game and hitching up his suit trousers to reveal a new pair of cowboy boots bearing the Liver Bird crest?
Worse still, he told everyone he had summoned to admire his leather masterpieces, that if they wanted a pair he could get them a good price.
TOMORROW: Killer e-mail revealed in Hicks' attempt to sack Benitez and why Rick Parry sold the family silve
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