So Geoff thought it might be a nice idea to allow me to attend the AGM as his proxy. I didn’t really know what to expect and I wasn’t sure what to wear. I thought I’d best head up there in a suit, it’s better to look over dressed than under dressed. I re-checked the ticket, realised the thing started at 1130, not 1400 so got to work ironing my shirt. In the process, I jabbed it into my leg and gave myself a 3rd degree burn.
That’s pretty much the only reason I relayed that last bit to you. It hurt like hell. I’m going to have a scar there for the rest of my life now. At least I’ll be able to tell the kids; or countless ladies who ask, that I picked up that burn attending the last ever Arsenal FC AGM.
As I landed in Holloway Road, it struck me how much of a dump that place is outside of a football match. All the grubby little convenience shops that are about as convenient as a wet newspaper, the hoards of students walking past giving off the intense stench of febreeze and the kebab shops open early doors. I wandered over to the Emirates and headed into the Woolwich suite. I don’t know why, but I was surprised that the average age of the attendee’s was well over 60! I was also surprised by the amount of Lady shareholders present.
I took my seat next to a very distinguished looking man. He was respectable in my eyes until a young lady shuffled alongside to take the seat next to me and he quipped,
‘You can sit on my lap any day darling’
That comment made my day. 65+ and still chasing tail!
Arsenal were playing their greatest moments of the last ten years, combined with some flashy images of the new flats at highbury on loop. I was being indoctrinated… I could feel it.
Without much fanfare, the directors rolled onto the stage closely tailed by Arsene Wenger.
Peter Hill-Wood welcomed us and introduced the shareholders to Ivan Gazidis who received a round of applause.
Mr Hill-Wood may sound like a pompous idiot in the Daily Star, but as a master or ceremonies, he is actually rather likeable and a bit of a comedienne! He shared with us the news that Ken Friar was missing his first AGM in 900 years because he had undergone a hip operation and was recovering.
We got straight into the action and questions were levelled at Peter. I didn’t take a dictaphone and I’m pretty bad at taking notes, so I’ll give you a rough idea of what went down.
Q. Arsenal received £80million from Granada, £100million from commercial deals and considered a share issue. Are you considering any other ways of financing the club?
A. Nike were the only organisation to pay up front. The Emirates deal is structured over a lengthy contract. The Granada deal was very helpful for the move. We did seriously consider the share issue, but didn’t think this was the best way to sustain our future. We have had no more thoughts of raising finance.
Q. There has been a distinct lack of investment in players over the last couple of years (groan…), have the board a plan in place if we don’t make the champions league. After all, Man City, Spurs and Villa are all chasing a top 4 position down?
A. Firstly, I don’t really consider Spurs and Villa challengers (Applause). Secondly I’d disagree with the statement on investment. Arshavin and Vermaelen cost Arsenal about £40million.
Q. What are Arsenal going to do about their long-term sponsorship deals that no longer look that attractive?
A. Ivan and his team are scrutinising those deals at the moment. However, it is doubtful we’ll be able to renegotiate them. You can’t just walk away from long term deals. Rest assured though, we will get better agreements in the future.
Q. Arsenal have a net transfer spend of Nil over the last 5 years, when will real investment in players begin?
A. Your facts are wrong. We’ve spend £150million on players over the last 5 years and sold £90million.
Question time was over, all the directors were voted back in, Ivan took to the stand. I was expecting an American accent, but it was an offish posh accent instead. He spoke about his vision for the club. He stressed how much trouble he had signing Arshavin. He spoke of the 8 players he’s tied down to new deals and promised there will be more to come. He also spoke of the murals that were going up around the stadium and the new Highbury Shrine that is being unveiled on November the 4th.
He mentioned the £133million housing debt was down to £47million and that since that announcement further sales have happened. He told a group of us after the AGM that the £47milllion debt will be alleviated very shortly, then all the additional profit can be channelled back into the football club. So much for the preachers of doom on the housing front eh?
Ivan also shared his joy at having a world class executive team behind him. He constantly spoke about the clubs forward thinking and that we had to be outward looking. His vision is that the Premier league becomes the first international league and Arsenal need to be at it’s epicentre.
He finished by telling us that Arsenal were not about financial results, not about real estate, we’re about people and what we can achieve together.
He is proud that Arsenal are a club that have been built, not bought.
He then took some questions.
Q. Why have you only Arsenalised the lower concourse. I pay the highest prices in Europe to watch my team, yet I’m confronted by drab walls?
A. This is very good point. We’re not finished with the stadium by a long shot and we’re in consultation about how to address the rest of the ground, you haven’t been forgotten.
Q. A lady called Barbara stepped up and spoke about how great Arsenal had been with Charity and mentioned some cases where Arsenal had made the lives of some kids brilliant.
It’s nice hearing that our club has a role in the community. Peter Hill-Wood was quick to point out that the board shouldn’t take credit for this, the Arsenal communities office should as they put in a lot of hard work.
Q. What are you doing for overseas fans from a digital perspective? We want more Arsenal!
A. We’re working on a digital strategy, but sadly our hands are tied due to current agreements. We’re working on supplying non-televised away games to international fans.
Ivan sat down, and we handed over to birthday boy Wenger.
A little video of his best bits was shown. Arsene told us his favourite goal was the Thierry masterpiece against Liverpool at Highbury on our way to becoming invincible. His favourite game? Real Madrid in the quarters a few years ago.
Arsene took the mic and told everyone that it had been a tough year, but he was thankful for the support he had received and the loyalty. He told us that he loved Arsenal because there was something special about the club. In his early days he told how managers of lowly teams would talk about doing things the Arsenal way and he felt he could continue that. He loves team games and that’s why he’s not keen on spending out lashings of money.
When you listen to Arsene speak, you are drawn into his ideology, he captivates you and has a canny knack of whipping up excitement.
He spoke about two trends that he can see in football:
1) Big clubs are investing heavily through foreign ownership. Bottomless wallets are spending for success and many are failing. He pointed out that Arsenal, ManU and Madrid are the only teams that have sustained Champions League Qualification over the last 13 years and this was a sign of good management (Madrid, good management… or good spenders! Who cares… Arsene was on a roll!).
2) The EU are looking to regulate the amount of money pumped into clubs. Arsenal are aware of this so have put in place a business model that will allow a handsome flow of money to support the club organically.
There was a lot of talk about belief, values and strength. There was a lot of talk about luring 17 years olds to the club to teach them the value of team sport and to teach them to love the club.
His face lit up when he spoke about his vision of a football fan,
‘ I want people to wake up on a Saturday and be excited about what they are about to witness. I want people to walk away from the ground and be amazed at what they have seen’
This, of course, is not at the expense of winning.
‘I know the importance of winning, believe me’
He went on,
‘I am not saying this to please you, but this year we will do it. I believe in this team and they will deliver’
So there you have it, Wenger believes in this team, but he really believes in them… like totally.
There were some further questions and at this point it all got a little silly. One man told Wenger he looked very young and he was basically amazing, another man asked sheepishly about the goalkeeping situation. How could we compete with 4 keepers who were less than impressive? Wenger retorted by saying that football has never made a goal keepers game easier, there is always something additonal to criticise about a keeper. However, he is comfortable with what he has… but he did do that sheepish look, when he is hiding something.
Another man asked about why we conceded so many goals. Arsene said he’d like it if they didn’t and he was working on it. Then PHW asked the crowd if anyone had any other questions, my hand shot up… he handed the last question to a woman with red hair, she stepped up to the mic and made a statement how she thought it was great how Song and Eboue had dealt with fan criticism, then sat down.
Lady, if you’re reading… that wasn’t a question, that was a statement.
What a time-wasting applause seeker.
I wasn’t deterred though, I was going to have my moment in the sun… so I strolled over to the desk and approached Ivan… I was close to Kroenke, but he was answering most of his questions with a polite ‘Speak to Amanda’. So after waiting for ten minutes, listening to Ivan answer many pointless questions about taxi ranks outside the ground, whether he liked Eastenders… I asked mine,
Pedro: You did a good creating an atmosphere for the Man United game earlier in the season, are there any plans for the club to address the lack of atmosphere in the ground going forward?
Ivan: Pedro, right? Of Le Grove? Great site, I love what you guys do. Well, I can’t take much credit for that game, but we do have consultations going on. We’re reseaching what time fans get into the ground and we’re working out alsorts of bell curves to find out the best way to makes ure the atmosphere is electric upon entrance. I mean first things first, what’s up with the yellow quadrant? I mean who can identify with that? We’re going to look into Arsenalising that so people can connect with the ground.
AST FANBOY: Oh, I don’t know if you know, but Arsenal Action make a lot of noise.
Pedro: Well, not really… Ivan, what about singing sections?
Random tan man: WHAT ABOUT A BAND!
Ivan: This is something we’ve been looking at, but many problems come with it. How do you get acceptance among the fans? How do you displace someone who quite likes where they sit?
Pedro: Thanks Ivan, remember to tune into Le Grove tomorrow morning for your daily dose of everything Arsenal.
So, that was my day out and probably the last ever AGM. Next year we’ll be under new ownership and things will be looking very different. It was a thoroughly good day out and I thought it was fantastic that Arsenal allowed off the cuff question to be asked after the last open mic session.
So West Ham away next… one of the most important games in my Essex Calender!
Sorry for the long post, I hope I’ve done it justice! See you in the comments!