A look at Brabners' sports law practice and the work of department head Maurice Watkins
Maurice Watkins CBE is a senior partner and head of Brabners' much-vaunted sports law team, yet these are not the main reasons why Watkins' name often rings a bell. He's better known for his 28-year stint as a director of Manchester United FC – a role he stepped away from in 2012 to become the chairman of League One Tykes Barnsley FC. The Red Devils' chief executive at the time, David Gill, gave Watkins a warm send-off: “Maurice has been a source of calm, measured advice,” he said, “and someone who always has the genuine interests of the club at heart.”
During Watkins' time at the club, United's 'philosophical' and combustible French striker Eric Cantona launched his infamous 1995 'kung fu' kick assault into the Crystal Palace FC crowd. Cantona had been subject to abuse from Palace fan Matthew Simmons following the Gallic star's dismissal for kicking out at player Richard Shaw. Watkins was there to pick up the pieces in the aftermath of all the hoopla, helping Cantona successfully appeal a two-week prison sentence for assault (he instead served 120 hours of community service).
Upon learning of his reduced punishment, Cantona delivered a gnomic response – “When seagulls follow the trawler it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea” – before brusquely leaving the press conference. Of these utterances Watkins remarked to the journalists present: “It was an obscure thing to say. He just does not want to stay here and meet you and answer questions because he has had enough... I think he has been under tremendous strain.”
Beyond getting Frenchmen out of hot water, Maurice's legal expertise has seen him involved in numerous high-value football transfers at home and overseas. He advised the South African Premier League on the sale of its broadcasting and sponsorship rights, and regularly advises the Association of European Professional Football Leagues on constitutional matters. In recent years, Watkins has represented clubs and players before FIFA, UEFA, FA, Premier League and FAW (Football Association of Wales) disciplinary bodies, as well as the Court of Arbitration for Sport and international and league compensation tribunals.
However, Watkins is not solely focused on the beautiful game; he previously donned the director's armband for the Rugby Football League Board and today acts in that position for the Lancashire County Cricket Club and the British Association for Sport & Law. In addition, he's currently chairman of British Swimming, the Greyhound Board of Great Britain and the Rugby League European Federation.
He also engages with some high-profile work off the pitch, representing former BBC broadcaster Stuart Hall during his 2013 trial for indecent assault, at which Hall admitted to indecently assaulting 13 girls.