LONDON: Tributes have been paid to former Manchester United director and British Swimming chairman Maurice Watkins, who has died at the age of 79.

Watkins spent 28 years as a director of United after he joined in 1984.

After leaving Old Trafford his other roles included Barnsley chairman, director of Lancashire CCC and interim chairman of the Rugby Football League.

Sir Alex Ferguson said: “He was unflappable, his legal experience was invaluable, he was a true gentleman.”

United said they were “deeply saddened” by his death.

He was influential in the appointment of Ferguson as United boss in 1986 and responsible for the deal to keep the Scot at the club after he had decided to quit in 2002.

During his tenure as a director, he also guided the club through the legal process surrounding Eric Cantona’s flying kick on a Crystal Palace supporter.

The head of sports law for Brabners solicitors in Manchester, Watkins had been diagnosed with prostate cancer.

He left United in 2012 and became chairman of British Swimming.

During that time, he oversaw a period of development which culminated in Team GB’s swimmers winning a record eight medals at the Tokyo Olympics this summer.

Jack Buckner, British Swimming chief executive, described him as a “wise steward of the sport”.

“Even in his last days his total focus was on Tokyo and the great events which unfolded there. Maurice – a piece of these medals belongs to you,” said Buckner.