LONDON — A British judge ruled against Liverpool FC’s current owners Wednesday in a decision that brings the debt-ridden Premier League club a step closer to being sold to the owners of the Boston Red Sox.
High Court Judge Christopher Floyd ruled that American co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr. do not have the power to oust the boardroom rivals who sanctioned the sale.
The board agreed last week, against the wishes of Hicks and Gillett, to sell the club to New England Sports Ventures for 300 million pounds ($476 million).
“This will pave the way to a sale,” club chairman Martin Broughton said outside the court after Wednesday’s ruling. “We will have a board meeting this evening and proceed with the sale process.”
The current owners claim the price undervalues the club and Liverpool should consider other offers.
The judge, who heard five hours of court arguments in the case Tuesday, ruled that Hicks and Gillett have “no absolute right to veto a sale.”
“In these circumstances, it would be entirely wrong to grant the owners” an injunction to stop the sale, he said.
The judge said the board should meet later Wednesday to approve the sale to the Boston group, headed by financier John Henry, ahead of Friday’s deadline to repay the club’s debts to the Royal Bank of Scotland.
The judge said it would be “inappropriate” for Hicks and Gillett to appeal. Keith Oliver, a lawyer representing the duo, said he was consulting with Hicks and Gillett on their next steps.
The ruling is a victory for Broughton, managing director Christian Purslow and commercial director Ian Ayre.
“Well done Martin, Christian & Ian,” Henry posted on his Twitter account after the announcement. “Well done RBS. Well done supporters!”
Inside the court, after the ruling was announced, Purslow turned to a Liverpool fan behind him and said, “We’ve won.”
Outside the court, dozens of Liverpool fans – many wearing team shirts and waving banners and club scarves – cheered, chanted slogans against Hicks and Gillett and serenaded the three board members with the Liverpool anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”
Had the sale been blocked, Liverpool could have fallen into financial administration, a form of bankruptcy protection that would have incurred a nine-point penalty for the club from the Premier League.
Liverpool, which won the last of its 18 English league titles in 1990, is off to its worst start to a season since 1953 and is mired in the relegation zone.
Lawyers for Hicks and Gillett told the court on Tuesday the duo were excluded from parts of the sale process and there were other more lucrative offers for the 18-time English champions that should be considered.
Singapore businessman Peter Lim, whose first bid was turned down last week in favor of the Boston offer, announced Tuesday he was raising his offer to 320 million pounds ($507 million), with an additional 40 million pounds to buy new players.
It was also revealed Tuesday that American hedge fund Mill Financial has put in a bid that also pledges to wipe out the club’s debts and would provide up to 100 million pounds to fund a new stadium.
Mill Financial technically controls Gillett’s 50 percent stake after he defaulted on the loan used by Gillett to fund his part of the leveraged takeover in 2007.
It is the owners’ inability to repay around 285 million pounds ($453 million) of debt that led RBS to instigate a sale process in April and revamp the board to ensure the two no longer had a majority.