As the years pass, the Arsenal corporatism increases and you do sense that AGM’s become more of a chore than the civic ritual it deserves to be.
100 Fanshare slots were allotted to the people who had invested in buying up a tiny fraction of the club, the remaining 600 shareholders (down from 2000 in the summer) mostly took up their seats in a packed hall. Arsenal fans care about the way their club is run, it’s almost a uniquely Gooner thing, partly to do, I imagine with the manager and the club obsessing over finances over the past 10 years.
Before the white wash began, Myles Palmer sat next to me, one of my favourite Gooner sites over the years so it was good to have a chat with him.
The event kicked off with an embarrassingly under par Hill-wood bumbling his way into the introduction. I don’t mean to pick holes in a supporter of 70 plus years, but my gosh, has his involvement as the lead speaker has gone beyond a joke now.
He said Stan was due to speak, the crowd laughed/grumbled.
Ivan stepped up and gave his usual slick impassioned speech about the class of the club, how amazing the finances were (all we have is the ‘affordable‘ stadium debt now).
He said big investment had been made in the Arsenal website to help push the brand globally, apparently 110 million people across 80 countries now access Arsenal Player, couple that with 10 million highly engaged Facebook fans and you can see that the platform is there to kick on commercially.
They announced the much-needed medical centre (we’ve been invited to take a look around by the way) and how world-class it is and he also spoke about raising £600k for Centre point which helped them rebuild a property in Soho.
He also gave a massive shout out the Friar and Fiszman and said he was in awe of their achievements. He finished by saying a football club is about more than football. He’s right, it’s about community and giving something back as well.
Stan took to the mic… He’d flown in that morning and opened up by saying…
‘Hi there, it’s great to be here!’
He said they looked at clubs Europe wide but we interested him because we had a tremendous management team, a great manager and tremendous support.
He said he was in it for the long-term and that his family liked London. For me the speech was poorly put together and smacked of, ‘oh sh*t, you want me to say a few words’.
He kind of irked the room when he said, ‘I don’t know why people are so interested in what I have to say.’
Well Stan, we’ve seen plenty of clubs crumble under a sea of failed promises from failed investors. What you have to say is of utmost importance for fans keen to see us progress from the last 6 years of austerity. Last thing we want is a leveraged debt situation which would effectively put us back to square one.
The submitted questions were a bit of a laugh. Things started to get heated at this point. Well thought out questions were given short, non-committal answers read out from a script by a man the fans really have lost patience with.
The jist of the questions in a few lines is the club will stick to self-sustaining, they won’t take an equity injection, Ivan met all his targets which is why he was bonused, Tom Fox and his bonus scheme are private, no answer on price reductions if we miss out on champions league this year.
Someone actually called for PHW to stand down, then someone said we should bring back Dein! A touch clichéd by now, but it was clear, people weren’t happy looking at a board of old boys only interested in keeping the status quo. PHW wasn’t voted in unanimously, nor was Ken Friar. The Chairman actually forgot to vote in Stan Kroenke which was typical.
Red & White were also kept out of the loop, Hill-wood citing the vast banking experience on the board, just the sort of background you want to be bragging about now! There was plenty of heckling from the audience and plenty of jeering, which was very unusual for an AGM. Before Wenger took over, Peter unveiled a bust of Ken Friar which looked great and it was well deserved. I thought you usually had to be dead before you got one of those? Regardless, most of us were still in shock it wasn’t Eboue under the cover, maybe next year?
Wenger took to the mic to a standing ovation. He looked humbled by why he’d heard and like all good orators, he reacted accordingly. He took a moment to dig the media for twisting his words before beginning his impassioned plea for fan backing.
He went on to say he knows he is privileged, he hoped the club was on the right track and he defended the values of the club and praised our class ambition and bravery.
I do think Arsenal use this whole class thing to cover up failings.
‘Oh we ballsed up, but jeez, give me a break, it was self sustaining’
Imagine doing that at your work place?
‘Boss, that mistake was mine, but I did make it wearing a bow tie, a classy mistake eh?’
You can do self-sustaining and spend money. No one is asking for the club to plunder the overdraft. We’re asking for the cash to be spent where it’s desperately needed.
Anyway, he continued.
He urged the fans to be united as this was key to us competing. He said we’d been magnificent recently something I’ve reported on. The stadium may be 5000 short a game, but if those are the jolly come lately brigade (the fans given a ticket after the development bypassing the queue), we’re now left with the true supporters, which is making for a much livelier atmosphere.
He said last year was his toughest, he said he felt to blame for asking to players to win it all. Not sure why you should feel guilty about that.
Barcelona is the clubs greatest victory, I’m not sure about that. There are plenty of games I’ve preferred, like Old Trafford away when we won the League.
He said we lacked petrol to get over the line and having Cesc and Robin out for so many games was detrimental. Yes it was, but not having sufficient quality in reserve was the bigger issue.
He also took time out to praise himself on the keeper front, forgetting it took 2 years, him telling us Almunia was world-class and the fact Chezzer was 3rd choice. It’s all by the by, but that was a ridiculous ordeal.
He said he was involved in the decision to put up ticket prices, which was very odd.
Still, the overriding theme of togetherness shone through. I agree, say what you want outside the pitch, but 12th man in the ground has to be all of us if we’re to take a 4th position trophy this year. I do wish we were celebrating a great year from Arsene rather than a great speech… we need action on the pitch, not in the AGM hall.
I had a chat with the some of the commercial team after. That tour of Asia combined with Park Chu-young has reaped rewards already. Asian memberships of Arsenal player stand at 350,000 and apparently a recent Asian web chat with Arteta, Mertesacker and Yossi brought in a staggering 2.5mill viewers. Tourist packages to the ground are also selling much faster as well, like it or loathe it, if the home support won’t by them, the foreign apparently will.
We’ve also got a new state of the art interactive stadium your which has been designed by the guys who did Alcatraz and the Taj Mahal. Apparently we used to have a 100k limit on capacity. Barcelona tour 1.2mill a year. Now capacity has been lifted so the world is our lobster.
Overall a bit of a disappointing afternoon, but I guess it was to be expected. No open floor questions and no chance for the fans to get some real answers. I’d be very surprised if PHW is brought back to fulfill that role again next year, he’s so far past his sell by date he’s almost damaging our reputation.
Anyway, onwards and upwards, it’s Chelsea tomorrow and that my friends, is a massive, massive game! I’ll give you the preview tomorrow morning and a bit of insight that might float yer boat.
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Have a great day and let us know your thoughts in the comments section!