This is the takeover story that just won’t go away. The potential sale of Newcastle United to the consortium led by Amanda Staveley and her PCP Capital Partners Group, along with the Public Investment Fund (PIF) of Saudi Arabia and the Reuben Brothers, first made the news way back in January. Now coming up to the middle of September it doesn’t look like its going away any time soon.
As we know a bid was accepted at the end of March, and on or around 9th of April, the Premier League started their Owners and Directors Test (ODT) on the group. The test which is expected to take up to four weeks, as stated in the Premier Leagues guidelines on the test, would drag on into May, then June and then July. You could almost forgive the Premier League for taking longer than was normally expected, due to the unnatural nature of event this calendar year.
Yet at the end of July, beginning of August it all seemed to end. A statement from the group was read out on Sky Sports News, stating that they were withdrawing their bid, owing to time taking and financials due to the Covid Pandemic. That seemed to be it, but an interview from Amanda Staveley that same night would reinvigorate the Newcastle Fan base. It was almost a call to arms for the fanbase to fight for the takeover. Petitions were started, MP’s were written to, members of the group would communicate, and send not so subtle cryptic messages to the fanbase via twitter…It was going away.
The Premier league were forced to respond to allegations! In a letter to Newcastle MP Chi Onwurah, Richard Masters would state ‘no specific timeline’ and that arbitration had been offered to sort out the issue would the Saudi Government be a ‘shadow director’ due to their ties and influence with PIF. Masters would say a lot, but nothing really. It didn’t appease anything, more questions were asked, and avoided, or at least answered in the least way possible. Ms Onwurah even started her own petition to take to Westminster to get more transparency from the Premier league, which gained almost 22,000 signatures before it was presented before the house.
Throughout all this, there felt like there was one man missing from the fight. Yes we had a statement from the club saying that the owner was still committed to THIS deal. Talk of meetings behind the scenes to get everything sorted, and find an agreement that would suit all parties. Yet Mike Ashley hadn’t really entered the fight! That was until Wednesday 9th of September. The club had just confirmed the signings of Jamal Lewis, Callum Wilson and Ryan Fraser, Mike Ashley was in town and he was ready for a fight!
For once it wasn’t a fight against the fans, it was on the side of the fans. The club would release an explosive statement calling out the Premier League and specifically Richard Masters. It would also back up everything we had been told by the group, and would contradict anything coming out from the Premier League offices.
It was assumed that Mike Ashley would take legal action action against the league. A first in Premier League history. Since its inception in the 1992/93 season, no member club has taken the league to court, never mind accusing them of not acting accordingly.
This raised more questions! how could Ashley take them to court unless the takeover had been rejected? Yet the League tell us it hasn’t officially been rejected, who do we believe? For once, and possibly the only time since Ashley bought the club, we were believing Mike Ashley.
Then further news came on the morning of Monday 14th September. Mike Ashley had hired the services of Nick De Marco QC and Shaheed Fatima QC, as confirmed by their firm Blackstone Chambers, to take action against the league.
Mr De Marco had been called the ‘Messi of sports law’, looking at his success rate, its not hard to see why. He was part of the team that successfully got Manchester City’s Champions League ban overturned. He has represented a who’s who of world football, including some governing bodies (FIFA, Scottish Football Association and the Saudi Football Federation). His partner on this Shaheed Fatima QC brings an extra element to proceedings. An award winning public/human rights lawyer, has represented Nations (Bahrain, Iran, Russia and Cyprus), Including bodies such as the UN, Amnesty, the British Government and high profile clients like former PM Gordon Brown and Prince Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia. Ms Fatima is no stranger to international and commercial law! On the face of it, it certainly looks like a dream team, and not one that is accustomed to losing.
The fact these two have been chosen speaks volumes. Now I am by no means an expert on law, sometimes I don’t even consider myself an expert of football, but there is certainly a reason these two specific QC’s have been picked.
The main sticking point seems to have been the Premier leagues insistence that PIF and the Saudi Government are one and the same. Although there have been reports of letters from the Saudi Royal court, stating they would not be involved with the club. The clubs statement last week even said they had provided legal proof that the Leagues assumptions were in fact false, and even talk of involvement from our own Government to try and get the deal pushed through to help post Brexit! (On a side note once this is over I hope I never have to say the words Brexit, Takeover or Covid again!)
The ever reliable Liam Kennedy from the Shields Gazette, stated yesterday that all the names on the ODT had PASSED, yet the league still sat on their hands, seemingly wanting the big fish, they wanted to do a test on Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. The article also states that Ashley is not after compensation, but a way to force the takeover through.
Which brings me back to why these two specific lawyers have been picked. De Marco will know how to deal with the Premier League, he has won cases fro and against them before, and from the literature about him, in terms of sport there is no-one better. As for Ms Fatima QC, her experience dealing with nations and people of prominence will help in explaining why the sovereign wealth fund is LEGALLY separate to the Saudi Government. It could be the case that she may have to explain it in laymen terms to the Premier League board and their lawyers why they are wrong, as they seem to be the only group of people in the world who cannot make this distinction.
Needless to say this is not over by a long stretch. The fact Ashley and Newcastle United are leading the fight may give the case/appeal more traction. It must be an embarrassment for the League that through their actions, a member club has deemed it worthy enough to take them to court, or at least the Court for Arbitration in Sport. Lets not forget, if Ashley did not have a case, it would be very doubtful Lawyers of this quality would put their name to it.
The contradictions coming out of the League will come to a head. This will get messy, and yes Ashley is doing this to benefit his own pocket, to the sum of £300m, but for once, the wishes of him and the fans seem to be on the same page. But it feels like the final chapter in another Newcastle United takeover, its time for the big end sequence battle! And like the movies, you get the feeling the good guys will win!