‘Something they’ve never had’ – Newcastle owners make ‘smart move’ as Nick De Marco reacts


John Devine won’t have far to go. Having worked in the shadow of St James’ Park for years, Newcastle United’s new general counsel will soon have an office in the actual stadium itself.

Devine had been settled as a partner at commercial law firm Muckle, where he has been based for more than 11 years on Gallowgate, but this new role is made for the lifelong Newcastle supporter – who is one of the most well-respected figures in his field.

Indeed, Nick De Marco, told ChronicleLive that Devine has a ‘very good reputation and excellent experience’ as a sports lawyer. De Marco, who previously represented Newcastle, even went as far as to say Devine’s appointment ‘looks like another very smart move by the club’.

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It is a recurring theme when you speak to those who have worked closely with Devine, too. Steve McNicol, who was the managing partner at Muckle, said there is ‘nobody else in the North East that does what he does’ while Jess Swindells, who was a partner at Muckle, added that Devine is someone who can ‘really get under the skin of the club’.

“John will give Newcastle something they’ve never had before by the sounds of things,” Swindells told ChronicleLive. “That technical ability to really just streamline what they have, improve efficiencies and save some costs without a shadow of a doubt.

“It’s his network of contacts as well. He’s very well-connected across the country on the sports side and his network will undoubtedly bring things to the club that they don’t have.”

So what will Devine do? Well, Newcastle are in the process of building a ‘high calibre, robust legal department’ tasked with overseeing the club’s commercial operations, including sponsorship deals, as well as player transfers, intellectual property matters, corporate governance and compliance issues at a time when the club are trying to boost revenues.

Devine, who has worked closely with Newcastle for many years, was a natural fit as a figure who possesses a huge amount of experience in commercial contract preparation and negotiation, the commercial exploitation of image rights, sponsorship and endorsement contracts, and broadcasting and licensing.



Anthony Coultas and John Devine
Anthony Coultas and John Devine

Devine has worked in the field for 25 years and Anthony Coultas, who was a commercial solicitor at Muckle, said his ‘unassuming’ former colleague is simply the ‘preeminent sports lawyer in the UK’.

“In terms of the purely legal side of the job, such as legal document drafting and the negotiating process, he will be absolutely flying but there is more to his role just based on what he is like as a person and what he can bring to the table,” Coultas told ChronicleLive.

“I assume that’s what the club has sought out when appointing John: ‘Yes, we need a qualified solicitor who can advise on these types of things and make sure we’re protected from a legal perspective but we also want someone who understands the world we’re in, the game we’re in, the industry we’re in and can manage all of that, as well as being a brilliant lawyer.’

“He knows the game from top to bottom. It’s not just that he’s worked with professional clubs. He’s worked with pretty much everyone you could think of in football in the UK.”

Devine’s advice to various teams and athletes has obviously been confidential, but there have been a number of projects that have been publicised, which give a flavour of the varied work he has done as head of both the sports business and charity groups at Muckle.

Whether it is advising Newcastle United Foundation on land acquisition for the NUCASTLE site and helping to secure a £2m grant from the Football Foundation; guiding Brentford’s Community Sports Trust on a move into new facilities; playing a key role in parkour officially being recognised as a sport in the UK; or even assisting Robbie Elliott in setting up his foundation, clearly, no two days have been the same.

For Stephen Green, who was an associate solicitor at Muckle, Devine will be a ‘really good fit’ for Newcastle and the French speaker will be able to ‘use his contacts to make the whole process a lot smoother’.

“When they start looking at investment, sponsorship, international arrangements, John will be ideal,” Green told ChronicleLive.

“He’s suited to that as well as dealing with the players and the wider team because he’s got a lot of experience of dealing with players and their agents and representatives. That will be invaluable for the club going forward because he gets it from the other side.”

Such is Devine’s standing, the lawyer was even appointed to the board of trustees at Chelsea’s Foundation and was one of six individuals who were handed stewardship of the club last March. Incidentally, fellow trustee Sir Hugh Robertson told ChronicleLive that Devine is ‘a first-class lawyer’ who has Newcastle United ‘running through his veins’.



John Devine
John Devine

When it comes to Devine’s work with the foundation, Liz Coley, a former Muckle colleague, said what was ‘quite different about him to many sports lawyers out there was a genuine interest in the game of football at all levels’.

“You only have to look at the work he has done with the foundations, the charitable arms, of clubs across the country,” Coley told ChronicleLive. “He’s so well-regarded in that respect, which shows he’s just not focused on the high-profile stuff, the big signings.

“His interest goes throughout all of the game to looking at facilities and looking at how these foundations and charitable trusts are structured and making sure they’re working well, which has obviously led to his involvement more in Chelsea in the last little while. He’s got the whole bigger picture of the game – it’s not just the Premier League side of things.”

An example of this was when Devine helped Wallsend Boys Club secure funds they were entitled to from Fraser Forster’s move from Newcastle to Celtic in 2012 and again when the goalkeeper moved from Celtic to Southampton in 2014. Under FIFA regulations, when a player makes an international transfer, 5% of every transfer fee between clubs is set aside by the buying club to be distributed among the clubs with which the players were registered between the seasons of their 12th and 23rd birthdays.

Yet, according to club chairman Steve Dale, ‘it was not something that would have come on our radar’ until Devine highlighted it.

“It’s his capability to look at issues through a different prism to most people,” Dale told ChronicleLive. “He can see it from several different angles so when you’re trying to solve one route, he’s also flagging up issues with another situation and tends to have a solution for that one as well.”

You can perhaps see why Dale quipped that he hopes Newcastle will ‘occasionally allow John to still be accessible’ as he prepares to take up his new role. This is a ‘dream job’ in so many ways for Devine and no one knows that better than mentor Allan Henderson. It was Henderson who recruited Devine for Watson Burton when he started out way back in 1997 and the pair attended Newcastle’s FA Cup semi-final win against Spurs together a couple of years later.

“One of my clients hired one of those stretch limos,” Henderson told ChronicleLive. “I rang John on the Saturday and said, ‘I’ve got a spare seat for the match and in this stretch limo if you fancy it?’

“He was a trainee solicitor at the time and he absolutely loved that. He said to me for a number of years afterwards, ‘It was the best day of my life.'”

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