You’ll never work alone
21 March 2010 | Updated: 22 March 2010 1:35 pm
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Some of them might try to convince you otherwise, but it is a rare thing for a lawyer to describe their job honestly as “a dream come true”.
However, that is exactly what Natalie Wignall claims.
And when you consider that her job is general counsel at Liverpool FC, it is hard not to believe her.
“I have to pinch myself when I come in to work every day,” says Wignall. “It’s just the best job in the world.”
A born and bred Scouser, she previously spent four years working for French defence communications group Thales before deciding to look for a job closer to home.
“And I found one right on my doorstep,” laughs Wignall, who lives a few minutes’ walk from Liverpool’s Melwood training ground.
The club, she claims, is “in everyone’s genes here”. Everton fans might disagree, but there is a genuine sense on the banks of the Mersey that, to borrow Barcelona’s famous catchphrase, Liverpool is more than just a club.
That puts some extra weight on Wignall’s shoulders. An in-house lawyer throughout her career, she is used to the normal work pressures that come with heading a legal team. But the extra scrutiny that comes with her latest role has taken some getting used to.
“It’s the extent to which everything you do is in the public eye,” she says when asked about the biggest differences. “It’s just not like any other business where you might win and lose big contracts but either way you get on with it. Here the performances on the pitch affect the business so much more.”
Those performances have not been the best this season, Wignall’s first at the club. Having been tipped for honours last summer, Liverpool have struggled to keep up with the pace at the top of the Premier League and suffered a shock early exit from the lucrative Champions League.
Throw in the ongoing battle over the ownership of the club, with American duo Tom Hicks and George Gillett thought to be on the verge of relinquishing control after three stormy years at the helm, and it is fair to say that Wignall’s has been a baptism of fire.
But like any die-hard fan she has retained her belief in her hometown heroes.
“The club’s got so much potential and needs to grow to become a company to match that potential,” she emphasises, tapping into a trend that has increasingly come to dictate modern football.
These days a club needs to be successful on the balance sheet as well as on the pitch. For Liverpool that means a few things. Among the issues on the agenda are the reduction of debts totalling more than £200m and a potential move to a new stadium.
Wignall is aware that one of her biggest tasks is to “improve the interface between the business and the football side”, an area where she admits there has been “some disconnect” in the past.
New CEO Christian Purslow and manager Rafa Benitez - “forever the gentleman”, in Wignall’s words - were both aware of this and were both keen to introduce an in-house legal function, something of a rarity in the Premier League even two years ago.
“It’s quite a unique role,” says Wignall. “You get so many different issues, so they wanted someone who could handle commercial, corporate and employment work.”
Discretion is also apparently a key part of Wignall’s new job. With both her husband and father dyed-in-the-wool Kopites, it is vital that she keeps transfer tittle-tattle to herself.
“I just tell them they were never interested in my work before, so they shouldn’t ask me about it now,” she jokes.
But even without the inside line on the latest gossip, the family still enjoys some fringe benefits from Wignall’s job.
“It’s been so full of memorable moments,” she relates. “We were sitting in the directors’ box next to [former player and manager King] Kenny Dalglish and we were like, ’how did we end up here?’”
With all the trouble at Anfield this season, it is heartwarming to see at least one person at Liverpool enjoying the ride.
Name: Natalie Wignall
Title: General counsel
Total number of employees:500
Total legal capability:One
Natalie Wignall’s CV
1991: LLB (Hons), John Moores University, Liverpool
1991-92: Bar Finals, Inns of Court School of Law, London
1992: Date of Call, Lincoln’s Inn, London
1993: Pupillage, Chambers of David Barnard, London
1993-94: Pupillage, GPT
1994-97: Legal adviser, GPT
1997-99: Senior legal adviser, GPT
1999-2001: Senior legal adviser (Europe, Middle East and Africa and services), Marconi Communications
2001-03: Executive vice-president, UK Legal, Marconi
2003-06: General counsel (Europe),Marconi
2007-09: Legal consultant, Thales Corporate Services
2009: Deputy general counsel, Vertex Data Science
2009-present: General counsel, Liverpool FC