‘Ashley owes me £14m’

Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley.
Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley.

The boss of Shirebrook-based Sports Direct vomited into a fireplace after a management meeting which was “effectively a pub lock-in”, a finance expert embroiled in a dispute with the businessman said.

Investment banker Jeffrey Blue told London’s High Court, Mike Ashley, owner and chief executive of the sportswear retailer, would also nap under tables at boring meetings.

Mr Blue is sueing Mr Ashley after claiming he did not stick to a commercial agreement, something Mr Ashley disputes.

At the High Court this week, Mr Justice Sir George Leggatt heard the dispute related to an alleged conversation in a London pub in 2013.

Mr Blue says Mr Ashley, also owner of Newcastle United FC, made a promise during a meeting in the pub.

He says Mr Ashley promised to pay him £15 million if he used his expertise to increase Sports Direct’s share price to £8 per share, but says Mr Ashley paid only £1m.

Mr Ashley’s lawyers say Mr Blue’s claim is an “opportunistic try on”.

In a written witness statement, Mr Blue said he had been a frequent visitor to Sports Direct’s head office in Shirebrook.

He said he attended several senior management meetings at the Green Dragon pub in Alfreton, adding: “These meetings were like no other senior management meeting I had ever attended.

“It was effectively a ‘pub lock-in’ with alcohol continuing to be served well beyond closing hours and fish and chips or kebabs provided throughout the evening.

“On one such evening, in front of his senior management team, Mr Ashley challenged a young Polish analyst in my team, Pawel Pawlowski, to a drinking competition.

“Mr Ashley and Pawel would drink pints of lager, with vodka ‘chasers’ between each pint, and the first to leave the bar area for whatever reason was declared the loser.

“After about 12 pints and chasers Pawel apologised and had to excuse himself.

“Mr Ashley then vomited into the fireplace in the centre of the bar, to applause from his team.”

Mr Blue also told of Sports Direct management meetings in Worksop’s Lion Hotel.

He said: “Meetings typically commenced in the bar area at about 8pm, with Mr Ashley drinking at the bar while in discussions with various members of the Sports Direct senior management team.

“Mr Ashley would frequently end up taking important Sports Direct-related business decisions throughout the evening”.

Mr Blue said he first met Mr Ashley when working for investment bank Merrill Lynch in 2006.

David Cavender QC, who leads Mr Ashley’s legal team, told Mr Justice Leggatt Mr Blue’s claim was an “opportunistic try on” and “remarkable”.

In a written outline of Mr Ashley’s case, he said: “The claim appears to have been issued on the basis the threat of negative press alone would compel Mr Ashley to settle.”

The hearing continues.