I was going to go into some detail about the goings on at today’s Arsenal AGM, but as I was pondering the performance of the various Arsenal Board members who took an active part, something struck me: the problem with Stan Kroenke is he doesn’t get what it means to be a football fan.
Stan buys clubs like you and used to by CDs or LPs (remember them?). He’s interested in them. He may even become briefly infatuated with them. Some will always mean something, but soon there’s another one to take his interest. He owns them, so in a real sense they belong to him, but in an alternative and equally real sense, all clubs belong to their fans.
Danny Fiszman got this, which is partly why he helped the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust set up Fanshare. He knew supporters should be involved. Fiszman could see the writing on the wall, though, and had to choose someone to own Arsenal when he was gone. Rightly or wrongly, he chose Kroenke.
David Dein gets it too. Both he and Fiszman bought into Arsenal because they were long-term fans. They got lucky in buying in as football started booming and they both made fortunes from it, but that doesn’t change their understanding of the principle.
Arsène Wenger certainly gets what it means to be a fan, because he has been involved in football at all levels for his whole life. He has a slightly different perspective to the rest of us, though, because he has the responsibility for winning. Whether he’s still the right man for Arsenal is a debate for another day.
I think Ivan Gazidis gets it. He knows what fans feel, but he’s a paid employee and there’s not an awful lot he can do about appeasing us. He has to feed us whatever line Stan wants to feed us, and he has to back Arsène Wenger 100 per cent at all times, no matter how much he may disagree with either of them. That’s his job.
Peter Hill-Wood, unlike Dein and Fiszman, did not buy into Arsenal, and nor is he a Johnny-Come-Lately like Gazidis. He was given Arsenal by his father, who got it from his father. Peter Hill-Wood probably believes in the divine right of kings, and that the upper classes were born to rule and the plebs were born to serve. I wrote a parody of PH-W a couple of years ago. It’s really not that far from the truth, and it seems to get nearer all the time. PH-W is an anachronism now. He’s an old man who lives in the past and has largely been shielded from the real world of ordinary people for his whole life. I don’t have ill will towards him, I just wish he’d realise it would be best if he stepped down as Chairman of Arsenal now, and let someone else get on with it.
PH-W definitely does not get what it really means to be a fan, a supporter of a football club who spends a lot of time and a lot of income going to see his team. I’ve no doubt PH-W has feelings for Arsenal, but he doesn’t think that the rest of us belong to Arsenal, nor Arsenal to us. He doesn’t see why we want any influence, or why he needs to be accountable. He’s doing what’s best isn’t he? Why should you be bothered with the detail. In fact, how dare you even question your superiors, you impertinent little man. PH-W was born to this; it’s his right to lead, so he automatically knows what he’s doing is the best way. Or so he thinks, but time has caught him up. If he was ever a dynamic thinker he certainly isn’t any more.
Stan Kroenke, as I said at the top, doesn’t get it either, but not in quite the same way as PH-W. Stan Kroenke thinks that we want to go along and watch a sports team for a couple of hours of entertainment, and then go home and forget about it till next week. He doesn’t see why anyone needs to live and breathe it, because he doesn’t. He also thinks – because quite a number of fans have told him – that we want some trophies. But he thinks if we had some trophies, that should make us so happy that nothing else would matter. That’s why he admires the Glazers: he can’t understand why no Man Utd fan likes the Glazers, because Man Utd are successful, aren’t they? They win trophies. Isn’t that what you guys always say you want?
This is the crux of what he doesn’t get: we want OUR club to be run for us. We may not think about it rationally most of the time or be able to explain why we react in a certain way, but that’s what we want. We’re supporters, not spectators.
There are some who say, ‘I’m only interested in what happens on the pitch, finances bore me.’ Each to his own. Some people watch TOWIE and admire Big Brother contestants. This is because some people don’t do an awful lot of thinking, full stop, so they’re not going to think much about why finances are important in football, or why we need some supporters to be shareholders, or why we need meetings like today’s where we can openly challenge those who run OUR club, and why we should all be engaged in OUR club and not shut out from it. Perhaps some people don’t get that the Board are there to serve us – whether we’re shareholders or not – and not the other way round. In legal terms the Board are supposed to serve the will of the shareholders, so they do what they legally have to and let the small shareholders in once a year. Dein and Fiszman, whatever their faults, also knew that the Board are supposed to serve all fans, because all true fans own a little piece of the club. Not with a piece of paper or an electronic entry to say they do, but just because they do. It’s in their heart, to a greater or lesser degree. It’s a part of them.
Maybe one day someone will say something to Stan Kroenke and he’ll stand still and think, and the penny will drop. Maybe. I’m not holding my breath.