The recent resignation of Tom Hicks Jr. is just the latest in a long line of controversies between Liverpool’s American owners, George Gillett and Tom Hicks, and the fans they have failed so spectacularly to connect with since buying the club in 2007.
But it might be the most interesting.
Hicks Jr.’s resignation was confirmed this week after the public leaking of a now-infamous email he sent where he encouraged a concerned Reds fan, Stephen Horner, to “blow me, f***face. Go to hell. I’m sick of you.”
After the tirade was publicly leaked, Hicks Jr.’s resignation was quickly proffered, despite the suspicion that he could have held onto his job if a whole-hearted apology—which came anyway—was quickly released:
"I am very sorry for my harmful words. To the fans and club, please accept my sincerest apologies," Hicks Jr. said.
"I have great respect for Liverpool Football Club, especially the club's supporters. I do not want my actions to take away from the club's future.”
The Spirit of Shankly, the most powerful of Liverpool supporters’ groups and most outspoken critics of the Gillett and Hicks regime, released a statement stating their pleasure with Hicks Jr.’s resignation, having loudly demanded it:
“Spirit of Shankly welcomes the resignation of Tom Hicks Junior from the Board of Liverpool FC and its parent company,” a statement on their website read.
“This Club has standards—on the field, off the field, on the terraces and in the Boardroom. If these are the kind of values [the American owners] see fit for Liverpool Football Club, and this is how they respect our legacies and traditions, it underlines the need to remove them from the club.
"The action taken by the Union to publicise and seek Tom Hicks Junior's removal is another part of us saying, 'If you won't recognise our standards then we will remind you again and again until you do'."
For their part, the club took Hicks Jr.'s resignation as an opportunity to also announce something of a re-shuffle at the boardroom level:
"Liverpool Football Club today announce that Thomas Hicks Jr. has resigned as a director of both the club and its parent company Kop Holdings," a club statement read.
"Three new directors have been elected to the boards of both companies. These are Philip Nash, LFC chief financial officer, Ian Ayre, LFC commercial director and Casey Coffman, executive vice-president of Hicks Holdings."
On the surface of it, the suggestion was that the change in personnel would diminish the American owners’ influence. But Coffman is the de-facto replacement for Hicks Jr, the lawyer having worked for Hicks Holdings for a number of years.
And while both Nash and Ayre have developed a reasonably respected position among Liverpool fans, as they are both believed to have the club's best interests at heart, both men are seen in some quarters as disciples of Hicks, having travelled to the Middle East last year on behalf of the American to try and obtain investment for his share of the club.
Sources inside the club have been quick to play down any such suggestions, however.
What is really interesting, is that both ‘new’ appointments to the board were listed as club directors in Liverpool programmes as far back as the Boxing Day clash against Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Coffman’s addition—as a direct replacement to Hicks Jr—is the only new move.
The question, then, is why did the club wait to announce both men’s elevation?
Why, for that matter, did Hicks Jr. respond in the way he did to that email? Considering that, by all accounts, Horner’s initial email was simply the sending of a link to a Liverpool Echo article questioning Liverpool’s transfer budget, with no further comment attached, the reaction seems rather excessive.
“The departure of Hicks Jr will have little or no impact on the running of the club given that he had no day-to-day involvement and had only a nominal role on the board,” The Times reported yesterday.
Hicks Jr. is an educated man, having graduated from the respected University of Texas and then having made his own name in business before joining his father’s company. It seems odd that he would respond so crassly to an innocent email—and even odder that he would have no real duties in his role on the club’s board.
Now, it looks likely he will simply return to working on the Hicks' other major sporting interests—Major League Baseball's Texas Rangers and the National Hockey League's Dallas Stars.
On a personal level, the fallout for Hicks Jr. at least will be minimal.
Given that is the case, is it beyond the realms of possibility the whole saga was a carefully concocted ploy, designed to appease the baying fans for a while with fresh blood—at a time when tensions have never been higher?
Considering that the whole saga might actually make the club more attractive to potential investors and sponsors—who might now see the club as a more appealing prospect, believing that one of the major disruptive influences has been cauterized—it is a tempting thought.
And of course in the midst of all this, arguably Hicks’ position in the boardroom has only been strengthened.
Groups like the Spirit of Shankly will not be quelled so easily—“The action taken here by the Union and fans shows that we do have some power and influence. All that is needed now is for Dad, Uncle George and the rest of the entourage to follow” their statement finished—but the great majority of Liverpool fans might be satisfied in the short-term; Perhaps just long enough for Rafa Benitez to get results on the pitch back to an acceptable level.
Fans will always love a conspiracy theory. But the fact remains that, arguably, Hicks and Gillett have brought themselves some breathing space at Anfield—while deflecting attention away from the team's struggles on the field.
Good crisis management or deliberate ploy?