Liverpool FC takeover: a trainee's story
25 October 2010
“Liverpool Football Club has been sold” – this announcement from a Freshfields partner marked the end of my sixth week as a new trainee in the banking team at Freshfields.
On my first day, my supervisor had explained that he was involved in the firm’s ongoing work advising RBS on the financing for the club and its holding company Kop Football. He’d promised to get me involved but I could never have imagined the reality – an exhilarating whirlwind of a deal involving long hours, runs to the High Court, worrying about Texan judges and eventually the sale to New England Sports Ventures.
The deadline for the repayment of Kop Football’s existing debt was 15 October 2010. Something had to happen before then, only this was certain. Meanwhile, we had to plan for all possible outcomes, without knowing which course of action would be followed. Maintaining the confidentiality of the deal was essential but difficult, particularly when it came to friends discussing the story based on what they had gleaned from the media. It seemed like everyone was talking about the deal but it was only afterwards that I could, with pride, tell people that I had been at the centre of it all.
The litigation between RBS and the then owners, Mr. Hicks and Mr. Gillett, was one aspect of the deal which was firmly in the public domain. Never had the classic trainee task of legal research felt so crucial as when I was investigating the legality of the changes to the board of directors of Kop Football that the owners had purported to make; an issue we would be contesting in the High Court the very next day. We had to remain focussed and continue preparations that day on the assumption that we would win the case, whilst attempting to make sense of the barrage of real time Tweets and blogs from journalists in the courtroom (despite signs ordering all phones to be switched off…). I got to have my moment at the courts when I was asked to “run” down with papers that had only just arrived but were urgently needed by the Freshfields team. Having taken the instruction to run literally, I arrived at court huffing and puffing. Luckily the hordes of photographers didn’t look twice. On my return it was bizarre to read on the Guardian’s “minute-by-minute blog” that those documents were now being discussed in court.
The favourable outcome in court, including the anti-suit injunction granted against the owners at RBS’ request following the proceedings brought by the owners in Texas, was a huge relief. However, the rumours and speculation continued – would the sale to NESV be completed or would Kop Football’s debt be repaid at the eleventh hour? Staying motivated was never a problem since I knew that the contracts I was scrutinising could need to be signed by the directors at very short notice.
Predictably, it was on 15 October that we packed up our carefully drafted documents and battled through the photographers to get to the proposed signing. The buzz in the offices was incredible. We were still unsure what the outcome of the final discussions would be, but we had to set up as if this were a normal transaction with closing expected to happen at a pre-arranged time. Once we had confirmation that the sale to NESV would proceed, our priority was to ensure all the documents were executed correctly before press announcements were made. We managed to get everything signed by the relevant parties in less than five minutes whilst John Henry prepared to meet the assembled crowd of journalists and fans.
It felt unreal to be part of such a headline grabbing transaction. Working in such close contact with a number of highly regarded lawyers in the field was an invaluable experience and I now feel better equipped to continue on the steep learning curve every trainee faces. The result was fantastic, and after all our hard work we felt our celebratory champagne was well deserved.