Cockney rebel

West Ham United’s head of legal and company secretary Scott Duxbury has worked for a law firm, but views his in-house role as a promotion to the Premiership. Kathryn Hobbs reports

Scott Duxbury is West Ham United’s first and, at the moment, only in-house lawyer. His appointment in June signalled the Hammers’ desire to drive forward the commercial side of the club. As everyone knows, football is big business, and rather than blowing bubbles like in its famous signature tune, West Ham is looking to cash in on its Premiership caché.

West Ham is a curious club. Its history is chequered with legendary players such as Geoff Hurst, Bobby Moore and Paulo Di Canio, occasional cup triumphs and patchy league performances. Its reputation as an audacious passing side is indisputable, and without doubt the club has one of the most resilient names in English football.

Yet despite a devoted and ludicrously enthusiastic fan base, West Ham has never been one of the richest clubs. It lacks the resources of Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal or Chelsea, but according to Duxbury its on-field football and off-field commercial ambitions match those of its rivals with deeper pockets.

Duxbury is a graduate of the Maurice Watkins legal academy at Manchester firm James Chapman & Co. Just as Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard Jr and Joe Cole emerged from the West Ham United Academy, James Chapman is training up the next generation of sports lawyers. Duxbury has a great deal of respect for Watkins, who he regards as the best sports lawyer in the country.

Duxbury spent five years at James Chapman and has spent his entire legal career learning and honing his sports law skills under Watkins’ tutelage. “The knowledge Maurice can give you is second to none,” he states. Having moved to the capital to join West Ham, Duxbury revels in his in-house role. For him, the key difference between private and in-house practice is the scope of work on offer.

Duxbury argues that, although at James Chapman you might be able to boast that you worked on signing million-pound players, you would still not have been instrumental in the deal. “I acted on Ryan Giggs’s new contract,” he says. “I did the paperwork, but wasn’t involved in the negotiations. It was that role that I wanted to get my teeth into.”
That desired shift of emphasis was exactly what Duxbury got. When the club is looking at a potential new signing, Duxbury goes to meet him and discuss the terms of the deal. In his first six months at West Ham, Duxbury has already become something of a globetrotter, travelling to clubs throughout Europe.

This hands-on involvement in all elements of the club’s activities is the main selling point for Duxbury for an in-house role. His arrival, coinciding with that of commercial director Stuart Ryan from Nike, has given shape to West Ham’s aspirations. A fundamental part of Duxbury’s role as a member of the board is building the club’s brand.

But no matter how much Duxbury and his fellow board members push to grow the Hammers brand, he acknowledges that the success of the name is inseparable from the performance of the football team. “We need on-field success, which for West Ham is qualifying for Europe and a good league performance,” he says.

With on-field success comes money, sponsorship deals and increased support. From an off-field perspective, revenues generated from the various West Ham divisions feed back into the club’s coffers. “We’re here to build revenue for the team,” emphasises Duxbury.

Whereas Liverpool FC or Manchester United are brands with international followings, the West Ham name is known far and wide in East London. Granted, it is one of the five most followed clubs in the country, but its lack of conspicuous success on the football field means that it cannot capitalise on the ‘glory hound’ fan base.

For the moment, West Ham will concentrate on consolidating its local audience. Duxbury would not comment on the likelihood of the club joining the likes of Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United as listed companies. Venturing on to the stock market is a risky business for any company, but football clubs can fall prey to huge value disparities from one week to the next, depending on whether they win or lose a game.

One option for West Ham comes from introducing a range of financial services. Other clubs have capitalised on supporter loyalty by setting up insurance schemes or credit cards, and West Ham is in the process of completing a £36m programme of development, increasing capacity at the ground and broadening into leisure and hospitality with the construction of a West Ham hotel.

Duxbury was taken on as part of this general developmental theme. He has a mandate to grow the in-house function when necessary, and although unwilling to make predictions about its ultimate size, he says he is looking for people to join him.

As head of legal and company secretary, Duxbury has three core areas to concentrate on. The first encompasses sports rights, branding and sponsorship. “We have to deliver a product that people want to buy into and be a part of,” he says. In the club hierarchy, he also sits as head of human resources, preparing contracts and rules of conduct. Finally, Duxbury has to ensure compliance with FIFA regulations, which govern transfers and the behaviour of players in the pitch.

Despite the drive to expand the in-house function, Duxbury observes: “We’ll always have a need for external advisers.” His attitude towards outsourcing legal work is very much based upon relationships with individual practitioners. Perhaps ironically for someone keen to build a brand, Duxbury says: “I’ve never been a fan of instructing law firms for their names.”

He refers work to three firms – Herbert Smith, James Chapman and Tonbridge-based Warners. Warners partner Charles Warner handles the general day-to-day advice. Warner is a West Ham director and Duxbury likens his relationship with the club to those of Watkins and Manchester United or Peter McCormick and Leeds United. “Charles Warner is an excellent lawyer with a great knowledge of West Ham,” says Duxbury.

Alan Watts, a partner at Herbert Smith, is instructed on more complex corporate matters, while James Chapman partners Watkins and Roger Thompson are retained for some sports law-specific work.

Duxbury says it is the quality of a particular individual that determines where work goes. He added that should the nature of the work require it, he would not hesitate to instruct a lawyer that he does not work with habitually. On a cautionary note, he says that a number of firms have stretched the sports law parameters in order to lay claim to a capability in that area. “You have to be careful about knowing who a specialist is and what they can do,” he says.

For Duxbury, the move in-house has offered him opportunities that he believes are not encountered in private practice. “You really are at the cutting edge,” he states, arguing that many deals are considered and dismissed before a law firm ever gets to hear of them. In this regard, Duxbury is able to look at those legal issues that his counterparts in private practice have yet to encounter.

Six months into his tenure at West Ham, the new signing from Manchester has settled in well. No own goals as yet and he is poised to take the club forward. Who knows, he may even become a fan himself. At the moment his allegiance is to a different United, but he won’t reveal which one.
Scott Duxbury
Head of legal
West Ham United Football Club

Organisation West Ham United Football Club
Sector Football
Turnover for 2001 £38.068m (25th largest club in the world)
Employees 200 permanent and 700 match day staff
Legal capability One lawyer plus a legal executive
Head of legal Scott Duxbury
Reporting to Managing director Paul Aldridge
Main law firms Herbert Smith, James Chapman & Co and Warners