Newcastle United takeover: Exclusive Q&A with Newcastle Consortium Supporters Limited chief as NUFC and Mike Ashley launch new legal challenge
The biggest kept Newcastle United takeover secret is out - Newcastle Consortium Supporters Limited's anti-competition legal challenge against the Premier League has been taken on by Newcastle United Football Club and Mike Ashley.
Today the Gazette exclusively broke news NCSL's case has been adopted by Ashley & Co, months after the fan group's challenge, privately financed by Keith Patterson, backed by fellow director Gordon Stein and fronted up by Robert O'Donoghue QC, was presented to the Newcastle hierarchy and their legal representatives.
Ashley now has his arbitration hearing and this anti-competition court action lined up against top flight chiefs, in relation to the stalled and ultimately incomplete takeover by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, Reuben Brothers and PCP Capital Partners.
In this exclusive Q&A, Patterson reveals his thoughts on anti-competition, the club case itself and NCSL's future.
County Durham businessman Patterson also reveals what it's been like keeping quiet about his work with NUFC - and the true cost of his fan-led takeover rallying cry, including threats to his life and livelihood.
Is it a relief to finally hand over the baton to Newcastle United and Mike Ashley?
"Massively. I might have managed to get a result without the huge financial risk of going to court.
"I now feel a little more in control of the finances of it.
"I believe any other fan would have done what I have. The only reason some wouldn't is maybe they don't have the money to do it, or the commercial, anti-competitive background. And they're probably not stupid enough to do it!
"No one knew I'd been working with the club all this time - and I could not have been treated any better by them.
"Newcastle United are intelligent people who have been wronged, want to get on and want to win. In some people's eyes they can't do anything right. But I listened to them and they listened to me - and at the end of the day our case is their case, and theirs is ours."
How hard has it been to keep quiet about the whole thing, especially given all the questions and interest on social media?
"Really difficult - but confidentiality applies in commercially sensitive situations like these.
"People have been saying 'he knows nothing' a lot - and to be honest it doesn't bother me, but you do want to put them straight.
"If people say I am not kind, not caring, not loving - that would hurt. But if they say I am aggressive or out-spoken, people need to get over it.
"I am someone who is driven, who is determined. I want to win and I do not give up.
"When people have been asking about how my case has progressed it has been hard because you want to tell them, but can't."
What are the benefits to handing over your case to Newcastle?
"This is my case made 10 times better by Ashley.
"And they know how to tackle the case because of the Premier League s responses to my letters. Now they know what the Premier League want to battle on, and what they don't.
"By getting the club involved this ticks every box the Premier League tried to fight NCSL on - none of which were competition points.
"They told us we didn't have any money - that's not true. I certainly have enough money to run a competition action.
"Secondly they said we didn't have a good case - well, they would say that. And in that they said we didn't have loss, known as standing. That was wrong as well because any fan who learned that Amanda Staveley would have given all of the season ticket money back had standing. Any member of staff who was furloughed by the club has standing, as Staveley has said she wouldn't have done that.
"But the person who has the most standing in this is Ashley, £300m of it.
"The third one is key. And that is timing. They said they wouldn't expedite it. They said I would go to the back of the queue. I was always behind Newcastle in the arbitration, according to the Premier League.
"So I had to look at it. Am I going to sit out of a job, refusing work, feathering a case that's not going to get heard until after the club one?
"I alerted the club they can get the disclosure they need by taking an anti-competition case.
"This wasn't a case of the club looking at our case and taking it on because they thought I would lose - this is the club taking on the case because they know they can make it even stronger.
"The club has been able to add so much fact to NCSL's case. They've made it so powerful.
What are the key differences between the NCSL case and the one now progressing with the club?
"I was going to fast-track my case, the club is not. They're going for the full case. And I'm led to believe there is nothing in the courts to slow this down anyway.
"I wouldn't have done that. I needed the costs to be capped and I wanted the speed the case would bring.
"This feels even more like armageddon. Money doesn't come into it now."
Why an anti-competition case?
"Competition law is about restricting the entry of companies, the restricting of competition deliberately, taking unfair advantages, the grouping together with people you are competing with to stop others competing."
What is this anti-competition case likely to uncover?
"Putting it in layman's terms - a competition case does not recognise confidentiality. On a competition case you can go much further than most.
"If you say I want to see every document from all the six, the Premier League and others with the word 'Newcastle takeover' in, you can get them, whether it be off Facebook, Whats App, Instagram, email, phone, laptop, texts, handwritten notebooks. You don't have a choice - it is massively illegal, contempt of court, if you don't.
"All the Premier League can ask for is Newcastle United's communications and correspondence. I don't think that will be a problem because all they were trying to do was sell a football club, Ashley selling his own business."
Why did you get involved in fighting this case?
"I've had a great life. I've done things I never dreamed of when I was younger. And because I have done everything I wanted to do, I would rather spend 20 years watching Newcastle taking the world on and competing again, then wanting to live for years saying 'you bottled it'.
"My background is competition law.
"When I first heard Amanda Staveley say our takeover had been rejected on the grounds of other big clubs not wanting Newcastle involved, I immediately felt it was anti-competitive. And my thought was to help. Go fix it and win this.
"So I wrote to Richard Masters. In that letter I laid out how he should know about collusion, about collective lobbying.
"I didn't get a reply so I felt I had to go to the club. They were the most important - it was their asset to sell.
"If I'd been unable to get anyone at the club I would have binned off the whole idea.
"But once I did get their word I had to find out if there was a willing buyer - because without that, you are fighting for nothing.
"I then sought legal advice, going to the best anti-competition minds I know - lawyers, QCs and ultimately the best anti-competition QC I know in Robert O'Donoghue.
"I took legal advice and started up the action."
You've been a victim of trolling, had death threats and more. Has it ever made you stop and think, is this all worth it?
"I have seen a small group go against me. You can definitely say they were organised.
"I've had vicious communications online. I've had death threats.
"I'm not frightened of anyone but you have to make those around you, your friends and family aware they could be at risk. And that is tough.
"I've caught people on the CCTV taking photos of my property. I've had a serious blackmail attempt. Someone wanting to extort money. It checked out all the way to a Bitcoin account, then the trail runs dry.
"I've been accused of being all of these things I am not. Anyone who knows me, knows that - but who really wants this kind of thing in your life?
"I went from committing all of my time in the first lockdown to charity work, to getting death threats in the second one.
"It is fortunate spending a shed load of money, upsetting the people you love, losing friends, not working, turning down jobs for something that will never give you any money? Is that lucky? I certainly don't feel lucky.
"But I know Newcastle fans were wronged. And I want to see that put right."
What does the future hold for NCSL and Keith Patterson?
"For us the financial risk is over. I now don't have to worry about legal bills.
"The Premier League has made plenty of threats to us but they can close us down if they like. It would be a bad look for them reputationally but wouldn't make any difference.
"We have some legal things to tie up but the case, with the club on board, has just been multiplied and is now in the area of the billionaires.
"We'll still work on this until it's done and support anybody who wants this takeover. I'll still continue to dig for information and pass it on to the club for the case.
"I've come this far and I have to see it through. Win, lose or draw, I have to see the end result."