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Mike Ashley v Premier League CAT case – What happened at Wednesday’s hearing

2 weeks ago

Stage 2 of the Mike Ashley cases against the Premier League has finally taken place, stage 1 is scheduled for January 2022. Has it brought Mike Ashley closer to sale?

If the stages seem back to front, so the proceedings may have seemed to be that way during the hearing earlier today.

The opening case was presented by the lawyer representing the Premier League, Adam Lewis. This was in fact in response to papers submitted by Daniel Jowell.

The outcomes sought were for the Premier League, to avoid a full court hearing. For Mike Ashley, the objective was obviously for the court hearing to be approved. From there, if successful, then a court hearing would go ahead, from there, to leverage a sale to the Staveley led consortium, the prospect of compensation for delays or the deal collapsing, or a combination of both.

Observers have commented on social media how Lewis’s opening defence was verbose, to make some repetitive points. Those were punctuated by some breaks in transmission, whether it was for a break, to hear evidence confidentially, or for lunch.

In essence, Lewis argued that this was not the right forum for decisions to be made, that effectively, this could negate the need for the January tribunal to take place, the latter being a more appropriate forum, given the issues of the Saudi component of the proposed takeover. Under those circumstances, observers are not provided full information.

Lewis spent some time discussing the ownership structures that Ashley uses. The case was brought by St James’ Holdings, owning Newcastle United but owned by MASH Holdings, the latter owned by Mike Ashley.

He argued that the really crucial part with regard to the takeover lies within the Premier League (and Football Association) rules with regard to what we know as the fit and proper persons test. He also argued that the takeover had not been stopped, merely being on hold.

Lewis was followed to the main stage by Daniel Jowell, representing Mike Ashley (St James’ Holdings). The reputed whizz kid, Nick de Marco (in this instance, representing ‘Newcastle United’), was seen on screen but barely heard to comment. His presence was akin to Newcastle’s record signing starting on the bench, coming with the reputation of a Shearer rather than a Joelinton.

In contrast to the circuitous ramblings of Lewis, Jowell was direct, knew his reference points and fluent in outlining parts of the original written case, if at times overenthusiastic in his body language. Younger supporters might consider his legal work a version of St Maximin or Ben Arfa, twisting and turning with legal precedent at his feet.

Older supporters may relate him to Beardsley whose goal in Keegan’s last match as a player saw him dispossess a Brighton, rather than legal, defender, to turn legal precedent to a goal advantage.

Some of his trickery threw arguments about Premier League rules back to the current ownership structure. Ashley owns the company that owns the company that owns Newcastle United but it is the club, not the owner, who signs up to Premier League rules. Memories come back from some of Ashley’s gambles. As an owner he could bet with a mate, as a Director, he couldn’t.

The same principle could be applied to the Saudis.

The Premier League has a dual role. It is a commercial organisation, selling rights around the world, notably to Saudi regional competitors who own Bein Sports. It is also a, potentially influenced, regulator of the highest level of the national game. Who knows what extra points were made in the off-air sessions. Did other Premier League clubs have influence? What extra evidence is in store?

Did representatives of the Premier League really threaten to bar Newcastle United from the competition?

Lewis had argued that as yet, there has not been a loss so Ashley should not be seeking compensation. Jowell counter attacked with legal precedent, that the price achieved might not be the same, that compound interest is a consideration and that the club had devalued. The calculations of loss were kept confidential. It looked like a nutmeg with a shot on target, before the stream buffered.

What could be a killer blow was when Jowell added yet another Beardsley like twist, making an unpunished professional foul over the January hearing but smiling at the ref and getting away with an apologetic tap into the corner

Ultimately, it is for the tribunal to reach a decision. Gut feeling would suggest that the points of law merit a full court hearing, regardless of the outcome in January.

From a footballing point of view, today’s events can be summarised as Lewis scrambling some goals, Jowell playing a free flowing game with a few worldies, on the counter and from periods of dominance. The ultimate outcome depends on VAR decisions that will take place after the match.

There may have been a hint of further chat with both sides having the opportunity to discuss when heading down the tunnel at half time. Who knows what lawyers can come up with behind closed doors to avoid punitive costs?

The decision of the VAR committee will surely prove crucial.


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