I’ve had the privilege of being able to make the last 4 or so AGM’s as a proxy to Geoff. As he’s said on many occasions before, he’ll hold onto that share until the bitter end. Most Gooners now who own one don’t care so much about the money, it’s about the fact they own a piece of the club. It’s something special. It’s doubtful it’ll last that long, but as long as Usmanov doesn’t lose interest, we’ve still got a few more years left of events like yesterday left in the tank.
I call AGM’s ‘events’. That’s a bit a stretched truth right there. They’re not so much events. They’re more like Arsenal pop concerts. With really crap manufactured stars who dance to a CD they’ve practiced dance moves against relentlessly to ensure a smooth delivery. Yesterday, I, along with many others contemplated whether it was worth taking two hours out of a working day to witness a bore fest of cult like ‘sustainable business model’ chanting.
Heading in was amusing, I walked past Highbury House where Stan was being transported by car through to the main stadium. Plenty of body guards just in case… Man up Stan, we’re angry, not militant.
Well, it started off pretty badly. Ivan Gazidis warmed us up by celebrating the women’s success in the football and tugging on the heart strings about the success of Pat Rice. Which was fine, it felt a bit like coming home to a girlfriend who’d cheated on you and the first thing she does is remind you about last summers amazing trip to the zoo. He then went on to talk about ambition, ambition and ambition. Like he’d been tipped off that the fans had a gripe about this issue.
Then the pre-submitted questions were thrown out onto the floor. The first one was around ticket pricing and whether we’d consider freezing them moving forward. Ivan steamed into a long winded answer around how much the club respected affordability and that we’ve only put prices up once. He also mentioned the Capital One Cup policy of cheap tickets and how that would remain. So no real answer there… but let me tell you, he had a lot of words to say despite not coming to a satisfactory conclusion.
The next guy who headed up to the mic set the tone, he insisted the club had lost its way because of its sole focus on profits. He argued the shareholders should not vote the directors back into the club. He recieved a rapturous applause for his bold stance! It was a shame his question was pretty poor, he asked if we’d sold Robin to comply with FFP. The answer was a short, sharp NO.
I then stepped up and challenge the clubs ambition. I said Ivan’s version of ambition and the fans conflicted. Most fans I said, wanted the club to reinvest funds accrued from selling our best players and the side project property, back into the playing squad until it was capable of challenging for elite honours. I asked whether the money was really available to manager, if not, what were the club planning to do with the cash?
His answer was again unsatisfactory, he said it was a bad strategy to invest all your cash in players. He then went on to say the transfer window wasn’t like a supermarket, to which people began to groan. He did however say that Wenger does have substantial funds to reinvest in the playing side. Something he said at the top of the AGM show.
The next question was put to Stan about whether or not he was planning to take funds out of the club in the form of dividend payment. The owner took charge of this question in rather awkward fashion. He bumbled around his answer without really saying much. In fact, he managed to squeeze in that he wished he’d been involved in the project earlier. He asked the fans to look at his record of ownership. Speaking to a few journalists close to the matter later, they seemed pretty sure he’s not interested in taking money out, but he doesn’t want to go on record as saying something different for legal reasons.
Ivan went on to answer questions about commercial deals. He thinks we’re in a great position to take advantage of the ground work the Comms team has put in since their arrival. He thinks that will give us a platform to compete with the best in the world on spending. We’ve heard this before eh? He also banged on about FFP and how clubs are literally begging FIFA to get them involved as 23 clubs across Europe are insolvent. He even took time out to remind people that could be us if we didn’t watch it… forgetting that we have £70mill in the bank.
Things really heated up on the issue of Fanshare. Stan was asked whether he’d meet the fans. He said he already does. Tim Payton took the mic and stated that in fact he had not met with any supporters groups since he’d taken over despite signing a legal mandate promising to. Stan said he was surprised to have this accusation leveled at him as he had met with groups. The crowd shouted ‘who Stan, name them!’, Stan had no recollection. All the supporters groups were in the room.
Not as awkward as Arsene taking to the stage. He looked pretty dejected. He apologised to the fans for losing the game the night previous and said he was uncomfortable about speaking. The key points about his speech were basically that he was shocked the fans weren’t over the moon he landed 3rd place last year. He then went on to share an anecdote about how a player was more interested in gaining a Champions League spot for his team over a Europa place. Then he went in for the killer move… his priorities go…
2) Champions League
3) 4th place
I can’t disagree with his sentiment there. I don’t like to hear it, but simple fact is, if you’re not in the Champions League, you’re no where. Players like the money and the glamour associated with the biggest competition. I think most argument amongst fans is around the reasons we totally dismiss both the cups year after year. Why can’t a cup win be a spring board for greater things? I think what it basically comes down to with Arsenal is this…
We’re in top 4 obscurity. It’s a good place to be if you’re the teams below us. Not so good if you’re an Arsenal fan looking up. We have a squad that will make that top 4 every year. But we have commitments that mean we can’t go for the cups because the club don’t invest in the squad. Then because we don’t invest, we can never challenge for the elite trophies. So we end up in this position where we’re just in the game for the money and the balance sheet laughs.
Pretty sad going.
After Wenger left the podium, the questions started firing again.
Gazidis was challenged on his wages. PHW said it was based on how well the club was doing. Rewarding a CEO based on his performance of selling his major assets whilst underperforming on the pitch seems a pretty pointless excercise, but who am I to argue?
The board were challenged to answer questions as to why our best players wanted to leave… to which they had no answer.
It all got a bit out of control towards the end, PHW was disgraceful in his approach to shareholders. His snotty remarks when people were voting against the board were so unbelievably unprofessional I’m surprise he wasn’t sacked there and then. He finished the afternoon saying something like…
‘Thanks for coming, nice to know you’re all so interested in our affairs’
What a line. If ever you wondered whether the board had an ounce of interest in the fans, there it was.
So all in all, a raucous affair. What have we learned? Well, nothing is going to change. Stan couldn’t have looked anymore disinterested than he did yesterday. Ivan seems set on keeping the status quo. Wenger seems set on keeping to his flawed strategy of scaring away all our best players every summer and PHW looks likely to continue in his role as Chairman.
It’s all about the next great hope. The hope that increased commercial revenue pushes the club into behaving like an elite European club. One things for sure, if we want to sit amongst the Madrid’s, United’s and the Barca’s, we have to shake this culture of ‘4th is an achievement’. Sure it’s an achievement if you don’t have world class ambition. It’s an achievement if its the extent of your dreams. It’s a failure and a cause for concern if you want to make your mark on footballing history.
No one ever remembers who came second… so why would Wenger think anyone would celebrate 4th or 3rd?
Anyway, a disappointing day for many reasons, but at least it’s all out there on the table for everyone to see.
Check out the @LeGrove Twitter timeline for the action and the learnings from the event.
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