August 17 – Maurice Watkins, the man credited with bringing Sir Alex Ferguson to the club in 1986, and a legend in sports law and British sports administration, has died aged 79.
Watkins spent 28 years as a director of Manchester United. Not only was he crucial in appointing Ferguson, who went on to become the most successful manager in United’s history, but also convinced Ferguson to stay on as manager when he threatened to retire after the 2001-02 season.
That prompted fans to chant his nickname ‘Mo’ from the stands.
After Ferguson reversed his decision, he would go on to lead United to six more Premier League titles and one more Champions League crown before he eventually retired from management in 2013.
After leaving Old Trafford, Watkins’ other roles included Barnsley chairman and interim chairman of the Rugby Football League.
“He was unflappable, his legal experience was invaluable, he was a true gentleman,” said Ferguson.
A hugely respected sports lawyer, Watkins was renowned internationally for his diplomatic and professional skills.
He also oversaw a new era in British swimming as well as variously chairing British Basketball, the Greyhound Racing Board as well as the European Rugby League Federation. He was a board member of Lancashire cricket .
Paying further tribute, Ferguson told the Manchester Evening News : “Maurice was really supportive during my time as manager and great company.
“In my 26 years there were some rocky moments and he was always there with wise advice. He had great energy as well – involved in so many organisations. His legal experience was invaluable.”
In a statement, United said: “All at Manchester United are deeply saddened by the loss of our former director, Maurice Watkins, who served the club with such distinction for over a quarter of a century.”
Watkins was a wise counsel and practical negotiator in often hot-headed environments. Above all he was a friend and a fierce defender of sport.
“Maurice leaves a huge integrity gap in British sport,” said Insideworldfootball publisher Paul Nicholson who serves on the European Rugby League board which Watkins chaired. “He was always encouraging and supportive, and genuinely wanted to see everyone he worked with do well – personally and for the organisation. He had that ability to make people want to do more, while at the same time gently but firmly curbing excesses. There was very little beyond his understanding and even less that fooled him.”
Contact the writer of this story at email@example.com