Liverpool fans raise glass to brighter future

LIVERPOOL - Delighted Liverpool fans clinked beer glasses on Friday as they toasted the departure of the club owners they hated and cautiously welcomed the start of a new debt-free era for their club.

Celebrating the news that the takeover of the Premier League club by New England Sports Ventures (NESV) had gone through, supporters headed to pubs near Anfield to ponder a brighter future both on and off the field.

They were united in their relief over the departure of Americans Tom Hicks and George Gillett, who manager Roy Hodgson said were seen by fans as "draining the club of money and dragging the club back".

"I'm pleased that Hicks and Gillett have gone, they were borrowing money and not spending. They were a pair of clowns to be honest," taxi driver Peter Griffiths, who had extra reason to celebrate his 36th birthday, told Reuters.

"The new owner has a good sporting background - and he's not called it a 'franchise' yet," he added in reference to Gillett's faux pas when he took over three and a half years ago.

"Hopefully this will be the turning point of our season."

Against the backdrop of the bitter boardroom battles, the team has been struggling on the pitch and sits in the Premier League relegation zone with six points from seven games.

Many fans have put the poor start down to the fact the club have been unable to buy new top players because much of its money was spent on huge interest payments on a debt of more than 200 million pounds.

They do not want another repeat by yet more American owners.

"As long as it's not the same as the other lot, as long as they stick to their promises," industrial cleaner Graham Teare, sinking a few pints with his friends at the bar, said.

"Hopefully they will do the job for Liverpool like they have for the Boston Red Sox."

NESV own the Major League baseball team and since their 2002 takeover, the team have won two World Series after a more than 80-year drought.

With Sunday's Merseyside derby at Everton approaching, supporters are keen to get back to what they do best - cheering their team on at the stadium.

"Now that the takeover has gone through we can just focus on the football and concentrate on getting up the table," fireman Lee Duncalf said, while televisions showed pictures of how the day's events had unfolded.

"What Liverpool fans want is for them to steady the ship and to hold on to Fernando Torres until the end of the season.

"Hopefully they will give us more money to spend too."

Even the rain that had been pouring down in Liverpool city centre before the takeover was announced had stopped as supporters got ready for a night of partying.

"It's absolutely fantastic," said Duncalf. "When I heard it I was just over the moon. We're having a few drinks to celebrate."