A high profile lawyer at London based Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Chris Mort worked as an adviser for Mike Ashley on his takeover of Newcastle United in the summer of 2007. After completion of the takeover, Chris Mort was appointed chairman of the club on 24 July 2007.
Contradictory to later claims to the opposite, Chris Mort confirmed that normal due diligence had taken place for the takeover, and that Mike Ashley knew exactly what he was getting into (10 August 2007):
“We did the typical due diligence one would do on a public takeover. There is no sense that anyone has tried to mislead us.”
Source: The Independent
Despite not having any previous experience in football, Chris Mort took to his position as Newcastle chairman remarkably well, quickly gaining the respect and trust from the majority of fans by encouraging open communication with fans and media, and by being very approachable for fans to voice their concerns and opinions. Chris Mort explained that this was a conscious decision in order to build a connection with the club’s fan base (November 2007):
“We’ve made a conscious effort to go out and meet people. That’s partly to promote the club, but also to hear what they have to say, making this a club that they feel a part of. I spend a lot of time walking around the city, just to get the place under my skin.”
Source: The Times
Chris Mort’s first major decision in his capacity as club chairman was to sack Sam Allardyce in January 2008, just 8 months after he had been appointed Newcastle manager by the previous ownership of Sir John Hall and Freddy Shepherd. Results had been disappointing and the fans never really took to Allardyce’s brand of football, so it was felt a change was in order.
In a shock move, Allardyce’s replacement was confirmed to be club legend Kevin Keegan. Chris Mort expressed his pleasure at this development as follows (16 January 2008):
“We didn’t think we’d be able to get Kevin back to the club but he’s the right man and we’re absolutely delighted.”
A few months later, the first reports started to emerge that not all was well between the club’s new manager and its owner, Mike Ashley. Keegan had publicly expressed his dismay at the fact that the top four of the Premier League appeared to be a closed shop due to the gap in finances available to them compared to other clubs like Newcastle United, but Mike Ashley would have none of it, and ordered Keegan to London for crisis talks. Chris Mort however appeared to side with Keegan (May 2008):
“I thought Kevin’s comments were quite sensible. I am not sure what people’s expectations are, but I don’t think most Newcastle fans would be greatly surprised by what he had to say.
“There are those who are naturally optimistic, but it does no harm to come out with some realism and say that if we get fifth we will have done well. He’s right.”
Source: The Chronicle
Perhaps disappointed by these internal politics in the early summer of 2008, Chris Mort quit as Newcastle United chairman on 17 June 2008, returning to his employer Freshfields and his role being taken over by managing director Derek Llambias. Mort’s parting message was (17 June 2008):
“With high-quality individuals recruited for each of the key management roles at the club, and the club heading in the right direction following the strategic review, the time feels right for me to return to Freshfields.”