Llambias lined up to be Newcastle chairman

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The Independent Online

A year to the day since Mike Ashley shocked British football by acquiring the Hall family shareholdings in Newcastle United, Ashley's first major appointment, chairman Chris Mort, will effectively begin clearing his desk at St James' Park this afternoon.

Mort, 42, was only on secondment from his job at the London law firm Freshfields and had been expected to depart earlier, but the recent recruitment of Derek Llambias as deputy chairman now leaves Newcastle with an obvious replacement and Mort is able to return to London. There has been no official confirmation from the club and Mort will remain there for another few weeks before handing over.

Llambias is known to Ashley through the exclusive Fifty London casino – where Ashley won £1.8m recently – and was around the table when Ashley met the manager Kevin Keegan in Mort's Fleet Street office a fortnight ago. Llambias is, therefore, already "in the loop" but like Mort is anticipated to be more low-key than the previous chairman Freddy Shepherd. Major decisions such as transfers will continue to be the remit of Keegan, Dennis Wise, Tony Jimenez and, ultimately, Ashley.

Prior to his appointment earlier this month, Llambias had a box at St James' and his proximity to Ashley could be seen when he accompanied the owner to Sir Bobby Robson's charity dinner at the club after the Keegan meeting in London. "We are very pleased to welcome Derek on to the board of Newcastle United," Mort said at the time. "Derek's experience in the hospitality industry will certainly complement the work already being done by the club to realise its full potential." The opinion that Newcastle are increasingly governed from London will not be easily contradicted by yesterday's developments even though Newcastle also recently appointed David Williamson as operations director. Williamson, a Scot, was brought in from Newcastle racecourse.

When Ashley took control from Shepherd last July it signalled the end of a tier of management that had been at St James' but that now appears to have been replenished.

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