The Arsenal way: An AGM filled with commotion, controversy and chaos... and then nothing changes

The liviest AGM 'in 50 years' ultimately changed nothing

Miguel Delaney
Chief Football Writer
Thursday 26 October 2017 19:48
Comments
Wil Arsenal ever change?
Wil Arsenal ever change?

Really, there could be no episode so perfectly representative of the modern Arsenal. It was just a few minutes into the annual general meeting at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday afternoon, and the floor had to vote on the resolution to re-elect chairman Sir Chips Keswick to the board.

There was a lot of anger in the air, and some revolution. For the first time ever at an Arsenal AGM, the small shareholders voted down a resolution, before voting it down again, and forcing it to a poll vote.

The AGM as an event seemed almost unprepared for this, as reflected by the momentary chaos around the room, to go with the fact that they hadn’t initially put out enough chairs for all those present. Many who attended felt this was the busiest AGM in memory, and it felt busiest when the shareholders feverishly scribbled down their poll vote to make their dissent known.

And then nothing changed.

As ever. All that commotion, all that controversy, all that discussion - for the same results.

The 194 votes against Sir Chips Keswick from the floor were irrelevant next to the 60,487 in favour, that largely came from Stan Kroenke’s 67.05 per cent share ownership. Club secretary David Miles had warned the floor of the proxy vote before this - effectively asking did they really want to go through with this pantomime - just as he did again when it came to the resolution to re-elect as director Josh Kroenke, son of the majority shareholder. It didn’t matter then, either, nor did anything change when that was voted down too. The same result once more. The resolution was carried. Josh Kroenke was re-elected.

What really mattered to the custodian shareholders, though, was making their voice heard - and their heckles. Long-time supporter Richard Davis told The Independent that it was “the noisiest meeting in 50 years”.

The statement that will make the most noise from it still came from chief executive Ivan Gazidis, and is one huge reason for this anger, this chasm between club hierarchy and fanbase. The 53-year-old had been addressing a question on transfer policy, and talking about how media reports had inflamed so much of the discussion around the club in a conspicuously passive-aggressive manner, only to come up with a comment that fanned a few flames itself.

“Fortunately, there is one very accurate and objective way to assess how well and how consistently clubs perform in this area [transfers] over time,” Gazidis said. “This method is accurate enough to be the industry standard way to analyse the efficiency of spending of football clubs. It is very simply to compare team performance by a series of objective metrics, usually league position or points, against expenditure on transfers.

“No club has a perfect record every year under this scrutiny but Arsenal has probably been, of the big clubs certainly, the most consistently over-performing team over time.”

Arsenal's chief executive Ivan Gazidis will not be given seat on the board 

It is a statement that throws up so many angles of overarching debate, but was also underlined by another comment. On what was no doubt a tough enough day for Sir Chips Keswick, Gazidis decided to offer a strong show of public support, and pointed out what a devoted supporter of Arsenal the chairman is himself. The problem was Gazidis spent most of that show of support talking about Sir Chips Keswick’s vast experience working for multinational financial institutions.

The glory of the game, indeed.

These weren’t exactly words to disabuse people of the idea that the Arsenal hierarchy were more interested in figures than the game, that it was being run like a going concern more than a football club, that they were just out of touch with the fans.

Throughout all of this, the heckles were growing louder, as were the shouts that the pre-submitted questions weren’t actually getting answered.

All of this was summed up in one farcical exchange.

The issue of the make-up of the board had already come up, with Sir Chips Keswick saying that 30 per cent shareholder Alisher Usmanov “has not been offered a place on the board and that remains the position”, and then going on to argue that “the reality is we have a diverse modern organisation”.

There was then a caveat.

“That said, we acknowledge the need for regeneration of the board as we all get older.”

One shareholder later picked up on this, stating that she was going to ask the same question for the fifth year in a row, wondering whether the board would actually change.

Stan Kroenke did not speak during the AGM 

“‘We will look at it’ is not a good enough answer,” she elaborated, stating that she'd already heard that response four years in a row. She wasn't going to get it a fifth time, though. The answer she did get?

“Thank you for your statement, madam.”

And that was that on that. More heckles.

Even if it is true there are fundamental issues as regards how Arsenal are run, it is difficult not to think so much of this could have been avoided - and so much anger could have been quelled - with even slightly improved communication, from Sir Chips Keswick’s snootily dismissive demeanour to Kroenke’s refusal to speak at the AGM.

There was predictably a question about whether Kroenke has any real interest in Arsenal, and led to what was by then a predictable response from Sir Chips Keswick.

“Your assumption about Mr Kroenke is wrong and unfair” - cue more heckles - “He is in constant contact with me and the board.”

Does change actually happen at Arsenal? 

And so why wasn’t he addressing the shareholders?

“It’s not on the agenda… read the Daily Telegraph today and you’ll find out.”

Arsenal could really have done with an official who had the charismatic diplomacy of David Dein, and so it was left to the man Dein appointed - and the man who has so often been the cause of anger at these AGMs - to somewhat ironically offer the one impressive speech that placated people. Whatever about the argument that Arsene Wenger is out of touch with the modern game, he offered the human touch here, and one that was badly needed.

“The only thing I can say is I dedicate 99 per cent of my lifetime to try to make you happy,” Wenger began. “Looking at what happened today, it's not easy.

“I feel that a football club is about the past, the present, the future,” Wenger continued. “On what we see now in the evolution of the game, football is ahead of society. Society always follows the way of the game. And what is for sure, in our game, the weight of the past, the weight of the future has been kicked out of the game. The weight of the present has become heavier and the only one thing people want. The present.

“That means for me it is here and now. Win. It is acceptable but I always guided this club with one idea – a club is first about for me values that have been created by the past. When I look at photos of 1930s, 1950s, 1960s, they have not always won but there is pride, with some happiness in the mind of these people for the sense of belonging to this club. I think it is important and I have been guided all my life here by respecting these values and I serve this club with integrity, total commitment but as well I will never betray these people who have created these values. And we have to be proud of them. And never forget that our club is first of all that.”

The club also feels - for all Wenger’s fair protestations about the changing nature of the game - no closer to finishing first in the league, that repeated stated ambition.

That is what all of this comes down to, that was what felt somewhat overlooked in some of the statements beyond Wenger’s.

For all the talk about the concentration of wealth in the game, it shouldn't be overlooked that Arsenal are one of the few clubs in the world capable of being a "super-club". Instead, the general perception and feeling from the small shareholders is that an inertia has gripped the club.

That was something else that didn't change with this AGM.

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