Exclusive: Newcastle United fans drop legal action bombshell in response to Premier League 'delay' tactic

Newcastle Consortium Supporters Ltd have responded to the Premier League’s request for more time to answer their Newcastle United takeover legal action letter.

Wednesday, 4th November 2020, 9:45 am

The Gazette can reveal NCSL’s legal representatives last night told the league they do not agree with the request for an extension.

The Premier League, via their solicitors, responded three hours prior to their 4pm deadline on Tuesday asking for an extra 14 days to put together a detailed response to NCSL’s anti-competition claims.

It’s understood that request has been knocked back, with the belief the Premier League have had more than enough time to address the issue.

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LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 04: Richard Masters, Chief Executive of Premier League, addresses journalists during a media briefing on February 04, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images for Premier League)

Back in August NCSL’s Keith Patterson and Gordon Stein both put together letters to the league outlining their intention to push legal action.

The Premier League have also been reported to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) regarding the issue.

Seven days ago, the league were issued with a ‘Letter Before Action’ in relation to their conduct in the owners’ and directors’ test, started after PCP Capital Partners, the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia and Reuben Brothers agreed a fee to buy the club – in the region of £300 million – with owner Mike Ashley.

The letter asked for the Premier League to provide disclosure of certain documents relating to the Newcastle United takeover, which has dragged out since April.

The documents claimed the halting of the deal to buy United was against UK anti-competition law.

Top UK anti-competition QC Robert O’Donoghue is leading up NCSL’s legal team, with the claimants chasing a Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT) hearing.

CAT is, according to catribunal.org.uk, “a specialist judicial body with cross-disciplinary expertise in law, economics, business and accountancy which hears and decides cases involving competition or economic regulatory issues”.

Gordon Stein's letter to the Premier League – dated August 6, 2020

FAO: Mr Richard Masters, CEO

6 August 2020

Dear Sirs

WITHOUT PREJUDICE

Potential Legal Action Against the English Premier League and Mr Richard Masters

Over the past 15 years, I have been a director of a number of public companies on the London Stock Exchange (“LSE”), so I am well versed on how good corporate governance works.

I have also been party to numerous mergers and acquisition deals in the past where confidentiality is critical to such transactions, so I fully understand what parties are able to do and say under such circumstances.

At this time, I am still a director of two public companies on the LSE but am forwarding you this letter in a personal capacity. I am also a passionate supporter of Newcastle United having first watched them from the terraces in 1971.

This letter serves as a warning to you that unless certain actions are taken within the next 10 working days, I (and others) plan to instigate legal action against the English Premier League (“EPL”) and also Mr Masters personally for a total failure to act in the best interests of the EPL and their members in this matter, as well as a total failure to follow the EPL’s own procedures & regulations … and, most importantly, to properly protect the best interests of one of their main members, being Newcastle United Football Club.

We will be seeking substantial damages from the EPL for the loss of the investment in our club. This is not an idle threat and I will have a very strong following behind me.

The actions of the EPL and Mr Masters over the past 18 weeks have been nothing short of scandalous, displaying total incompetence, a failure to follow good governance practices and utter contempt for all NUFC supporters.

As a Newcastle United fan, we have always accepted the ups and downs that go with being a supporter of a club with a great past. However, the past 13 years has been particularly frustrating.

We harp back to the “glory days” of Kevin Keegan and Sir Bobby Robson when we challenged amongst the elite, chasing the EPL title and also playing in the Champions League. We have longed and hoped for something different. We live and breathe our club every day, do you actually understand what that means?

So, you can imagine the hope that we suddenly had when we heard about the takeover by the PCP Partners Consortium. We loved their vision to succeed and thrive on and off the pitch, to invest in the team, our facilities and also in the local area. This was a huge opportunity which the vast majority of Newcastle fans fully support, over 97% of the Newcastle United Supporters Trust (NUST) at last count. It gave us hope and belief again. For most of us, it was a dream come true.

However, we have been hugely let down by the actions of the EPL and Mr Masters over the past 18 weeks … which has resulted in the consortium withdrawing from the takeover last week, blaming the prolonged process adopted by the EPL who appear unable or unwilling to make a decision. We were all dismayed at this announcement. Have you any idea what it feels like to have your hopes and dreams dashed by the incompetence of an organisation which is supposed to help protect its members?

The EPL effectively became the “classic emu”, it stuck its head in the sand and simply relied on the statement “No Comment” at all times, no doubt hoping the issue would just go away. That is totally unacceptable and totally disrespectful to all Newcastle United fans and to the Club too. It also displayed cowardice with Mr Masters bringing a new meaning to the word “shortly”.

Knowing confidentiality issues very well, I know that the EPL could still have issued suitable statements and, at least, established and communicated a reasonable timeframe for making a decision. By communicating nothing, the EPL Board have totally abdicated its responsibilities to the EPL, NUFC and its supporters.

The fit and proper persons test is a simple test to determine if the proposed new directors and owners have broken any laws or have a criminal past. Your rules and procedures show this is a relatively mechanical process. It is only about the participants who will be directorsand the organisation/s they represent. It has nothing to do with morality… if it did, the directors of half the teams in the EPL would have failed that test.

It has nothing to do with the State of Saudi Arabia, piracy issues or the WTO report. We had a consortium of three parties working together, willing buyers with a willing seller and, indeed, this would possibly have been the first time ever where an Arab group is willing to work alongside Jewish investors, the Reuben Brothers, as business partners.

This created a huge worldwide opportunity which the EPL has failed to grasp and embrace. The implications of this new working relationship would have gone way beyond football and I’m amazed more store hasn’t been placed on that fact.

We have been led to believe that the EPL have listened to the views of individuals and organisations who, quite frankly, had never heard of Newcastle United until the consortium bid. Their statements that they care about our club are total nonsense, they don’t care.

This was simply an opportunity for them to attack the state of Saudi Arabia through this process. Ms Cengiz has been used by parties such as the Qatar Government, beIN Sports and Amnesty International who have all jumped on the bandwagon against the Public Investment Fund (“PIF”) and other Saudi individuals who are not even part of this process.

Newcastle United would appear to be in the middle of a supposed geopolitical feud between Qatar and Saudi Arabia which has nothing to do with the fit and proper persons test. And yet the EPL has apparently entertained this as being part of their process when it clearly shouldn’t be, based on the nature of the tests which should be applied.

It should also be noted that there have been numerous investments by the PIF in UK companies in recent times which have not been subject to any comments or complaints.

There are also Saudi Arabian investments in – and commercial deals with – other EPL clubs, as you well know, including Manchester United (where there was no loud campaign by Amnesty International or others about this).

NUFC is simply being used as a pawn by various organisations with a separate agenda, including the EPL. The UK Government welcomes investment by Saudi Arabian organisations and is exporting to the country too. Why should an investment in NUFC by a Saudi Arabian organisation be an issue?

Saudi Arabia is an ally of the UK. The Reuben Brothers are also investors in the city of Newcastle, owning various properties and commercial venues in the city, including the local racecourse. It should have taken just a few weeks for the EPL to have concluded that the individuals involved from the consortium would act in their roles as directors independently.

The outcome of the EPL’s failure to approve the consortium’s bid to acquire NUFC, is that the huge investment funds from the PIF may now go elsewhere; we hear of the PIF possibly transferring their interest to AC Milan in Italy or a club in France. How is this helping the EPL?

It is a disgrace that such significant investment, at a time when COVID-19 is causing economic mayhem in the UK, is not approved by the EPL. I have absolutely no doubt the Italian or French football authorities will have no issues approving such an investment in short order, they will welcome it with open arms. They won’t look at morality, piracy, consider geopolitical issues or the views of other jealous clubs in their leagues. They will simply see the huge investment potential across their leagues and a chance for their teams to thrive. We need that investment in the UK, not elsewhere!

I also suspect the EPL has been swayed by some of its other EPL clubs who would rather NUFC does not become an EPL powerhouse again. I will not name them here but their actions are a disgrace too, they have acted in self-interest and not in the interests of the EPL. If the concern was about piracy in Saudi Arabia, that clearly had nothing to do with the PIF as an organisation!

Despite the public withdrawal of PIF last week, I still understand they wish the transaction to complete. The seller has confirmed he is still 100% behind the consortium takeover, the other two consortium members (including Amanda Staveley and the Reuben Brothers) are clearly upset at the turn of events and would welcome a resurrection and approval by the EPL of the takeover. And NUFC fans are almost entirely still behind the consortium. So, everything is in place for this takeover to go ahead.

At the time of drafting this letter, nearly 85,000 fans have signed a petition calling for an independent investigation into the EPL and Mr Masters’ handling of this takeover; you have stirred a monster with your actions (or inactions). You may believe this takeover is behind you, that your tactics of saying nothing have worked. You are very wrong if you believe this will just go away.

I am therefore putting the EPL on notice that if the EPL does not either approve the takeover within the next 10 working days – or at least explain the reasons you failed to approve it – I (and others) will instruct lawyers to commence proceedings against the EPL and Mr Masters.

I can source the funds to do this, I certainly have the will… and I know I will also have the support of tens of thousands of NUFC fans.

The EPL has been made to look a laughing stock through their actions and we will make you listen. You are treating NUFC differently from your other members which is totally unacceptable.

It is time for the EPL to take responsibility and approve the takeover. Stop prevaricating and do the right thing!

As for Mr Masters, I would question whether he is a fit and proper person to be CEO of the EPL. I seem to recall he was your third choice which says everything.

Yours faithfully

Gordon B. Stein