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UK judge clears way for Liverpool sale

Liverpool Chairman Martin Broughton, left, leaves the High Court Wednesday as fans celebrate.
Liverpool Chairman Martin Broughton, left, leaves the High Court Wednesday as fans celebrate.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • High Court in London condemns Liverpool co-owners over efforts to block sale
  • Singaporean businessman Peter Lim withdraws rival bid for club
  • Liverpool co-owners had gained Texas court injunction against sale to NESV
  • UK judge had ruled against Liverpool owners in their bid to stop the club's sale

London, England (CNN) -- Liverpool's Football Club's proposed sale took another legal twist Thursday after a High Court judge in London condemned the English Premier League side's co-owners for attempting to block the sale in a Texas court.

American pair Tom Hicks and George Gillett had obtained a temporary restraining order in Texas delaying the sale following an earlier ruling in London rejecting their right to veto the agreed sale of the club to New England Sporting Ventures (NESV), the owners of baseball's Boston Red Sox.

But English judge Mr. Justice Floyd said the move by Hicks and Gillett amounted to "unconscionable conduct," and granted anti-suit injunctions in an effort to nullify decisions taken in Texas.

Hicks and Gillett have until 1500 GMT (1100 EST) on Friday to comply with the ruling, a spokesman for Liverpool chairman Martin Broughton told CNN.

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"The Independent Directors of Liverpool Football Club are delighted with the verdict of Mr. Justice Floyd in the High Court this afternoon which now requires Mr. Hicks and Mr. Gillett to withdraw their Texas Restraining Order by 4 p.m. tomorrow," the club said in a statement.

"We are glad to have taken another important step towards completing the sale process.

However, the UK Press Association reported that Hicks and Gillett -- who were not present in London -- told their legal team to return to court in Dallas on Thursday, and said it had now adjourned until 7 a.m. local time (1200 GMT) on Friday.

Liverpool's board, headed by Broughton, whom Hicks and Gillett hired to find a buyer, says the proposed £300-million ($477-million) sale is necessary to prevent the club going into administration ahead of a Friday deadline for the repayment of a $377-million loan to the club's main lender, the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS).

Liverpool board members and NESV had intended to wrap up the sale Wednesday night but the Texas court order prevented the transaction being completed.

Meanwhile, Singaporean businessman Peter Lim said Thursday he was withdrawing a rival £360-million ($575 million) offer for Liverpool, saying in a statement that the board was "intent on selling the club to NESV to the exclusion of all other parties."

Explainer: Liverpool in legal limbo

The board approved the NESV deal last week without the consent of Hicks and Gillett as a way to rescue the club from its financial problems. However, the pair said through their lawyers that superior offers had been on the table and were not chosen. They have called the proposed sale "an epic swindle."

From the frying pan into the fire for Liverpool?

While the NESV deal would pay off the bank's debts to RBS, it would also mean that Hicks and Gillett would lose $130 million on the deal.

Liverpool fans opposed to Hicks and Gillett's ownership welcomed Wednesday's ruling, chanting the club's anthem "You'll Never Walk Alone" and waving red and white scarves as board members left the court.

NESV called the ruling "a huge step forward for Liverpool." The sports conglomerate said it had a "binding agreement in place with the board of Liverpool FC and we are looking forward to concluding the deal."

Praise also came from RBS, which was the plaintiff in the suit. "Today's judgment vindicates the actions RBS has taken to ensure that decisions concerning the future of Liverpool Football Club are made by a properly constituted board acting in the club's best interests," the bank said in a statement.

"RBS has every confidence that having been put on a proper footing, the board will now reach appropriate decisions regarding the next steps."

NESV has promised that if its offer is successful, it will keep all acquisition debts away from Liverpool's football operations and stabilize the club in order to return it to its glory days.

History of Liverpool in images

The club has earned a joint record of 18 English titles -- but none since 1990. It is also England's most successful club in European football, winning five European Cups, most recently in 2005.

Adminstration -- the British equivalent of bankruptcy, which carries a nine-point penalty for Premier League clubs -- would heap more problems on a club already struggling this season.

One win in seven games has left them 18th in the 20-team Premier League table and at risk of relegation if their fortunes fail to improve. The club faces one of its biggest matches of the season this Sunday against city rivals Everton.