Richard scores as a top sports lawyer

SPORTS lawyer Richard Cramer represents sports stars, clubs, managers and sponsors in a burgeoning industry.

Founder and partner of leading-edge sports and media law firm FrontRow Legal, Cramer also offers expert analysis on football finance, takeovers, image rights, reputation management and transfer issues for Sky, BBC and regional TV/radio channels.

An accredited lawyer with the Football Association, former Fulham chairman Mohamed Al Fayed invited Cramer to Harrods after hearing his views on the transfer window for BBC News 24 in 2002.

"It was a great confidence booster and we got on well dealing with matters relating to Fulham manager Jean Tigana," he said.

"Any type of work with a Premiership club is high profile with the numbers involved."

Al Fayed is one of many clients to thank this astute lawyer with a passion from sport.

Part of a close family, Richard and sister Debbie enjoyed a traditional upbringing in Leeds with parents Shirley and Leonard Cramer.

"I've always had strong Jewish roots and am proud of my heritage," he said. "Seder nights and Rosh Hashana were - and still are - great family times."

But tragedy struck when Richard's mother died in a car accident in 1992.

"I've come to terms with it and it's only the last few years dad's outlook on life is better," he said.

"I still feel great sadness for my daughters, Dalya and Sherri, and nieces Gabrielle and Francesca, as their grandmother would have doted on them. Mum was a real ladies-girlie person. She'd have loved going shopping and chatting with the girls about jewellery, fashion and boys."

Sport dominated Richard's formative years.

"My grandfather, Ruff Cramer, was a well-known bookmaker, as was dad," he said. "Grand National Day was always a big day in the Cramer household and holds fond memories."

Don Revie's Leeds United was likewise a massive passion.

"Ruff's best friend was Herbert Warner up the road as was Revie," he said. "Herbert and Revie were inseparable so we got the inside track on the goings-on at Elland Road."

Networking is a forte Richard has inherited from his grandfather.

"Ruff was charismatic, a big charity worker and huge networker," he said. "Ruff was brilliant at selling tables, packages and organising events.

"Leeds were one of the first clubs to introduce testimonials and Ruff was involved with those for Jack Charlton, Billy Bremner, Norman Hunter and Paul Reaney." And when his grandson fractured a cheekbone at school before Leeds faced Bayern Munich in the European Cup final (1975), a surprise visitor cheered him up.

"Hunter was my boyhood hero and came to see me," said Richard. "But I still joke with mates who came around that we hardly saw him as mum and dad whisked him off for a cup of tea."

Richard played for Jewish football teams in his teens and "Bites Yer Legs" Hunter briefly came into his life.

"I was the slowest right back in history," he joked. "I always tried but one Sunday even I was surprised when the coach named me at right and left back.

"My nickname has always been Archie and he thought there were two Cramers in the squad as Richard was left back and Archie right back. We soon put him right.

"We needed a new boss and Norman had finished at Barnsley so expressed an interest. But he was not impressed by our attitude to training if it rained or snowed."

Graduating in law at Leeds Polytechnic, Richard passed his law society finals prior to completing split articles at Levi's and Teeman Levine.

"Ronnie was a top sports lawyer," he said. "It was interesting work as Ronnie was involved in transfer deals for British players to Italy such as Ray Wilkins, Trevor Francis, Graham Souness and Joe Jordan."

Under Colin Fraser at Fox Hayes, Richard became "streetwise" and setting up a practice with Patrick Kelly, a case involving Rugby League side Keighley Cougars at the onset of Super League enhanced his career.

"Keighley were perennial underachievers but reinvented themselves under Phil Larder, who was an outstanding coach", he recalled.

"Cougar-mania had arrived but clubs that were arch-rivals were set to merge and Keighley was excluded. It was high drama, directors felt paralysed and fans were screaming."

Taking control, Cramer was central to legal proceedings with Australian Rugby League officials and the Rugby Football League.

Super League kicked off without Keighley, who received compensation, but Cramer's efforts saw him represent the Aussies at the 1995 World Cup followed by star clubs and players.

And joining McCormack's as a partner, he was involved in many high-profile cases including the Michael Duberry-Lee Bowyer-Jonathan Woodgate trial that hit national headlines.

Cramer was also main adviser to the Premier League on a Professional Football Association strike case.

"It was the most difficult, high- pressure case I've been involved in, but it was successfully negotiated by the PFA getting a cut of TV money," he recalled.

Setting up Cramers in 2002 to serve his clients, a merger with Howard Cohen and Co 18 months ago followed .

"When you do heavyweight commercial work and represent sports clients you need structure behind you," he noted. "I'd taken Cramers as far as I could."

Recruiting top sports lawyer Clive Lawrence, FrontRow Legal ensued and it has quickly built a growing reputation.

Professional sport is a tricky world and Cramer has his views.

Regarding football finances, he was in demand with the media on Leeds United's administration and the Sheffield United/West Ham arbitration.

"Seeing Leeds collapse in a catastrophic way was one of the scariest things," he noted.

"Peter Ridsdale received criticism, but was able to access funds you will not be able to access again. It was an era of easy money, but the business model was based on finishing in the Champions League.

"You should budget for a worst-case scenario of finishing last and getting knocked out of domestic cups early as that is the only certainty. If you do well then you exceed financial expectations, but too many clubs have massively overspent and it is a very fragile business model."

Cramer, recognised by the Legal 500 guide as a top professional, added: "Football is going through a major transition. In five years there will not be the typical 92 league clubs and we are not far away from a club going to the wall."

In terms of image rights, he said: "It has been a good way for players to earn additional monies on a tax advantageous system but it's peaked. The big tension is HMRC, as they don't like the preferred football creditor status."

Reputation management is a major sporting issue.

"Individuals and clubs are exposed to attacks on their reputations," he said.

"Newspapers want to sell stories and in recent months they have targeted John Higgins, Wayne Rooney, John Terry, Ashley Cole and Colin Montgomery to name a few.

"We've advised clients who have been defamed on websites."

A recent case involved a Rugby League coach attacked on a phone-in show. Cramer forced the BBC to apologise and pay damages after the Beeb failed to screen texts that went to the heart of his credibility.

In terms of transfers, he commented: "Top Premier League clubs employ in-house legal teams as financial risks are huge with transactions."

Salary caps are also a hot topic.

"Top clubs wonder why they have to be told how to spend money if they have wealthy benefactors," he commented.

"It's almost inevitable stringent salary cap rules will drive away entrepreneurs, especially in football. They inject big money to have the best chance of playing Champions League football."

Away from sport, Richard is a former British Israel Chamber of Commerce president and passionate about the Variety Club which he will represent at the London Marathon in 2011.

"Helping charities has been a big part of my life since childhood," he said.

© 2010 Jewish Telegraph