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Phil is a Managing Associate within our Business Group. He is commercial litigator and sports dispute resolution specialist with over 12 years' experience. Alongside his reputation as a commercial litigator Phil has for many years been an industry recognised specialist in resolving disputes within professional sports. He has represented clients such as professional leagues, governing bodies, professional athletes and managers, with a particular emphasis on football.

In the commercial litigation space Phil has specialist interests in professional negligence, defamation and contractual disputes.  Through court litigation and mediation Phil has helped recovered tens of millions of pounds for clients who have suffered negligence by surveyors and solicitors. He has acted on highly sensitive defamation matters often up against the national print media.

In the sports sector Phil has acted in FA Rule K Arbitrations, EFL and FA investigations and numerous other formal and informal out of court dispute resolution mechanisms commonly found in the sports sector. His advice has covered high profile and sensitive topics such as allegations of Club and manager misconduct, racial abuse, breaches of betting rules, disagreements with household name sponsors, player transfers, Financial Fair Play Rules and complications inflicted upon professional sport by COVID-19. Multiple of his cases have appeared in the national media and have had tens or hundreds of millions of pounds at stake.

Phil has a particular understanding of the mindset of sports regulators and stakeholders.  He always handles these matters with the discretion, confidence and sensitivity which they require.

He has advised and represented a full spectrum of participants and stakeholders in professional football.  He has represented and advised the Premier League, and multiple football Clubs within the Premier League, EFL and National League.  He has represented players and managers with a Champions League winning and Olympic Gold medals. He is also volunteer director of British Weightlifting and enjoys advising NGBs and participants in other sports such as MMA, professional cycling and motor racing.

Phil’s expertise is recognised by independent industry guides.  He is ranked as a sports law expert by the Chambers Guide and for sports law and commercial litigation (and other areas) in the Legal 500.

Experience

  • Acting for Leeds United and the Clubs previous Manager, Marcelo Bielsa, in a dispute with the EFL regarding allegations of spying on opposing Clubs’ training sessions. This case came to be known in the national media as “Spygate”.
  • Acting for Premier League, Championship and League 1 Clubs on issues relating to compliance with Financial Fair Play and Profit and Sustainability Rules, insolvency of rival Clubs and the application of the so called ‘football creditors’ rule.
  • Acting Leeds United and multiple of its players in a range of disciplinary proceedings before the EFL and the Football Association.
  • In his capacity as a non-executive director, advising British Weightlifting, the NGB for professional weightlifting in Britain on disciplinary matters, selection issues and general good governance. Compliance with International Weightlifting Federation Rules and the International Olympic Committee’s requirements are also key topics.
  • Acting for the Premier League and Professional Game Match Officials on a variety of legal issues. Examples include the application of the Owners and Directors Test, the exercise of discretion over Clubs in general and the legal status of professional football referees.
  • Advising multiple Clubs on issues created by the COVID-19 pandemic. The most urgent cases involved advising Clubs on consideration given by the UK government and football authorities to finishing the football 19/20 season prematurely and/or change the Rules on promotion and relegation.
  • As well as advising household names, Phil has enjoyed assisting Clubs and organisations further down the football pyramid. He has advised Clubs in League 2, the National League, local FAs and junior football leagues on a range of governance, FA/EFL Rules and disciplinary issues.
  • Acting against a regional firm of solicitors in an eight figure claim for professional negligence. A multimillion pound settlement was obtained at mediation shortly before trial.
  • Acting for the Solicitors Indemnity Fund (an insurance fund which used to insure all solicitors firms in England and Wales) prior to the professional indemnity market becoming privatised. Advising on numerous complex issues in relation to professional negligence such as limitation, causation, aggregation and limitation of liability.
  • Acting for a well known Yorkshire based entrepreneur in a defamation claim against the Sunday Times. The matter settled via an apology, a correction and damages payment.
  • Defending an eight figure claim by HMR&C for director’s misfeasance and VAT fraud. Phil was acting for a former director of a large national recruitment and payroll services company. The matter settled out of court for a modest six figure sum.
  • Acting for multiple World and European Champion MMA fighters and coaches in a dispute involving both national and international governing bodies.
  • Acting for a League 2 football Club to negotiate recovery for COVID-19 related losses under a business interruption insurance policy provided by Hiscox. This case involved the application of various aspects of the landmark Supreme Court decision on the scope of business interruption insurance policies in the context of COVID-19.
  • Acting for a premium hospitality and ticket resale provider in a dispute with the Rugby Football Union in relation to hospitality packages for England Internationals at Twickenham.

What people say

  • Phil was recommended to us when we had issues with a sports body. He was very clear, personable and knowledgeable about a range of issues. Phil always presented a variety of options and the potential effect - this enabled us to have an idea of costs and exactly which actions to take. We felt he cared about us as clients and was both realistic and reassuring throughout.

    Lisa Houghton-Smith (Muay Thai Double World Champion) and Richard Smith (European Champion and coach to 10 world champions). Bad Company Gym.
  • Having served as an active Non-Executive Director of British Weightlifting since July 2020, I have found Phil to be an integral part of the leadership team through his invaluable legal counsel on commercial and sports litigation and sports regulations. Phil prides himself on his attention to detail and his overall professionalism. At the same time, his ethics are beyond reproach.

    Matthew Curtain, Chief Executive Officer, British Weightlifting
  • Phil has helped us and Leeds United for several years, with issues large and small. He is really passionate about his work and this shines through in how he cares for our interests and his strategic guidance. Phil just gets what is needed for players and Clubs in the difficult world of football.

    Kalvin Phillips, Midfielder for Manchester City & England
  • I had the opportunity to work with Phil on a novel issue involving claims among professional sports teams. As an owner of one of the teams and a long-term litigator in the US, I really appreciated his ability to understand the goals, identify the issues, and work together to develop a successful plan that produced an excellent result for my company. While I hope to have no further sports litigation issues, if I do, Phil will be my first call.

    Rob Couhig, Chairman, Wycombe Wanderers Football Club

My insights

  • SPORTS BLOG: Is the European Super League still a possibility?

    In April 2021 we heard about the formation of the European Super League. Most sports fans will probably recall this being a pretty shocking and at times confusing story. For many though those emotions were fleeting because the ESL seemed to die a quick death. But has it really?