Accountability Part 2: Arsenal Belongs To All Of Us

Part One of this piece was posted a couple of days ago here.

Then we had the Q&A with Ivan Gazidis (part one and a half) where we learnt not very much at all, other than Ivan continues to believe, or at least claim, that everything will be fine, or that if it isn’t it will be no fault of anyone at the club because they’re doing a bang-up job (transfer window problems were minimal, contracts are pretty good, very little wage inefficiency, etc). Looking back on it, Ivan got a very easy ride this year. Most of the difficult questions have been asked many times before, and the people who asked them have largely given up because the answers remain the same. So it was mostly questions that Ivan has rehearsed answers for that he can trot out as required. He is a master of public speaking and would make a fantastic politician.

So what was the point? In one way, very little, because we learnt very little. In another way, it is useful for Ivan and other employees to mingle with hoi polloi and get a sense of what real supporters feel. Does Stan do that? PH-W? Arsène? They’re all insulated in their own way from the real world of the Arsenal fan, so at least Ivan is making an effort.

To bring you up to speed on history, the AST instigated this CEO/supporter Q&A with Keith Edelman when he was in charge. Edelman had agreed to a second annual event with AST members when he suddenly left, and Ken Friar stepped in at short notice. When Ivan arrived he was persuaded that it would be a good idea to continue, and he got a couple of good grillings in the first two years. This year though, someone decided that other supporter groups should also be represented and the format should be changed to give Ivan a chance to prepare answers to questions. It’s easy for the club to justify this on the grounds that they want to engage with all supporters, and Ivan wants to give the fullest answers possible so it helps to know the questions, but that’s what I’d call a politician’s defence. Because it’s also more convenient for the club to marginalise small shareholders and therefore also reduce the influence of the AST by including others in this event (not that I have anything against other supporter groups, but it’s a fact that this was instigated by the AST for its own members), and it helps reduce the chance of antagonism if the supposedly tricky subjects are tackled in Ivan’s way rather than leaving it to chance with audience members jumping up and giving their views.

After all, who can forget the horror of someone at the shareholders’ Q&A with Arsène daring to question him on the subject of buying a past-it Man Utd defender? Unbelievable. The cheek of it. And so there aren’t any shareholders Q&A sessions anymore and supporters don’t see Arsène face to face from one AGM to the next. Instead we have ever more sanitised sessions which are inclusive for all, and everyone loves everyone and no one can be offended. Especially not the manager, because he doesn’t have to answer to anyone.

See how I’ve effortlessly segued back onto my main subject of the importance of accountability? See also how I use the words ‘small shareholders’ and ‘supporters’ almost interchangeably? That’s because the small shareholders who are left pretty much are all also supporters. They’re not interested in getting dividends, they’re not interested in the value of their one or two shares going up; no, they’re interested in Arsenal being successful and well run, without people at the top being out of touch and siphoning off profits. The small shareholders are much bigger fans than the big shareholders, and deserve a say. And that includes all the 2,000-odd who have joined the AST’s Fanshare scheme in the last two years precisely because they have an emotional attachment to Arsenal. The FSA judge Fanshare as a financial investment (which is why it can’t be offered outside the UK, sorry overseas fans), but for those paying into it it’s not being done as a financial investment.

I’m sure everyone in Fanshare would happily buy new shares if the club would issue them, so that the money went directly to the club rather than to an existing shareholder, but the club are refusing to play ball – despite Ivan reiterating his (apparently) wholehearted support for Fanshare at the Q&A.

Accountability. That’s the biggest reason for having small shareholders, and the biggest reason for having the AST. Accountability is needed in any business, especially football. Everything else flows from the business being run well and being run for the benefit of supporters.

I don’t understand people who say, “I’m not interested in what happens off the pitch, I just support the team.” How blind can you be? The point of having a business behind the team is to make the money that is needed to build and pay for the team. The team does not exist in isolation. Therefore it makes sense to have the best business you can behind the team, making the most money and acting in the most professional way. But there’s a caveat here: football clubs exist only because they have fans. The ‘product’ is intangible. What you get from football is emotion and then memories. Sure you can buy as much merchandise as you want, but that is also in a sense entirely worthless without the emotion and memories.

So the ‘business’ of the club needs to make money, but not at the expense of alienating its fans and supporters. It needs a sense of fair play and decency, so that supporters are treated as part of the club, not just consumers. Football clubs should be making a lot more from commercial activities than from ticket sales, and it’s laziness that prevents it: for successful clubs the captive market is there, so the captive market gets exploited with higher and higher ticket prices.

People who are ‘only interested in what happens on the pitch’ are also quite often the ones who overreact to a single defeat instead of looking at the bigger picture and longer term.

I also don’t understand people who say, “What right have you (as an individual or the AST or anything else) to tell the professionals how to run the business? Leave them alone, they know best.” That kind of statement is naïve beyond belief. ‘Professionals’ run every football club, and yet football clubs go bankrupt or into administration quite often. The economic crisis we’re all enduring was caused largely by the stupidity of professional investment bankers and professionals like Fred Goodwin who didn’t understand what was going on. The professionals at Arsenal presided over the transfer window debacle last year; they also paid £3m for advice on selling their shares to Stan Kroenke, which was demonstrably not in the best interests of the company or all shareholders; they changed the total number of shares Stan owns according to recently because it took them about eight months to do some paperwork that should have taken two weeks. Is Peter Hill-Wood’s performance at recent AGMs professional? I haven’t even started on all the decisions about ticket prices, where away fans are seated in the stadium, what the kit looks like, how badly some contracts and negotiations are handled, etc etc. And people really think there’s no need for accountability? Unbelievable.

For people who say “Stop concentrating on finances, concentrate on the team” – one is the flipside of the other! No finances, no team.

For people who say “Who cares about shares, what about the fans?” – the person with the shares decides what happens to the fans! How much they pay, what they can do, whether they have a team worth watching.

For people who say “So what if there’s a single owner, I want some trophies” – that ownership model is a one way street. Now there is a majority owner we’re already on a slippery slope. I would welcome Usmanov to the Board for several reasons: I don’t want Arsenal to be Stan’s toy or money-making machine; I want him to be challenged and forced to do things for the benefit of supporters. And I want to see what Usmanov is going to bring to the party. But saying you want Usmanov to take over 100% of our club because we haven’t won a trophy for seven years is ridiculously short-termist. It will be very hard to change back from a single owner to plural ownership. Not impossible; stranger things have happened and nothing lasts forever, but it will be a dark day for me if one person owns all of Arsenal.

One final point about the AST: people who aren’t members accuse it of all sorts of things, from being too cosy with the club and not criticising, to constantly being negative, seeing trouble where there isn’t any and causing problems. It all depends what your personal views are. No organisation can please everyone all the time. But if you’re on Twitter or look at Arsenal blogs, there are a number of writers who have a lot of followers and are very popular. The reason they’re popular is usually because they talk a fair amount of sense, and their views coincide with what most people consider to be reasonable and balanced. Now look at who your favourites are and then how many of those popular tweeters and bloggers are members of the AST.

Twitter: @AngryOfN5


23 thoughts on “Accountability Part 2: Arsenal Belongs To All Of Us

  1. You really are angry aren’t you? I wish you were in charge of Arsenal. Imagine how really great that would be as we won every trophy every year.

  2. Nice post and a good read. I thought it was a total joke that the IG questions had to be submitted before and screened for content. As they were all the answers were rehearsed and just the same old spin as ever, we want assurances that for once we may actually be able to sustain a challenge for the league or CL and the only way we’ll do this is with a bit more investment in top quality for the team, not more Silvetre’s or squillaci’s.

  3. your dreaming if you think you have a say in a huge company like arsenal 50 p c of arsenal supporters would not mind if the the rus bil taking over and buying another team every year

      • I’m with Phil. I welcome AU to the board but I disagree with 1 person ownership. I don’t think 50% of supporters want one owner and those that do are poorly informed in my opinion and would change their minds if they had all the facts.

      • One couldn’t get two majority owners such as we have that are poles apart and there is no point in repeating what kroenke’s vision is and what usmanov is saying when he isn’t actually in a position to do anything.

  4. Phil,

    Did Ivan actually tell us anything that we didn’t already know ?

    I feel there is too much emphasis by the club that the FFP will benefit us.

    I like this blog and IMO one can draw a definite line between the younger and older contributers by their comments.

    There is no quick fix going to happen at the club.

    I look forward to read Wenger’s autobiography one day as I think he shields the BoD 24/7 and for that reason alone he will never be sacked.AW has a vision to eventually make way to someone with everything in place to take over. Not sure if it is that simple.

    Apologies I posted this on your last post,didn’t know a new post was up.

  5. To me the Club has lost direction and vision. When Arsene came in he revolutionised football in England with his vision for how the game should be played, buying the best and upcoming foreign players for a fraction of the cost of British equivalents and turning them into Champions. You all know the story.

    Then Abromovic came along and we couldn’t compete financially so the focus changed selling our best players whilst we could still get some money for them and to bringing through a team of gifted youngsters that worked for each other and have a long term commitment to the club – I refer to this as “Project Fabregas”. Then Fabregas, Clichy and Nasri leave and that project blows up in Wenger’s face with him failing to convert his vision into trophies. Worse we have the embarrassment of the shopping trolly dash at the end of teh transfer windown last summer and the recruitment of a group of players who are largely not up to Arsenal standard. I get the FFP thing but I really don’t see where the on field vision is these days. Now who should be held accountable for that?

    • I think the funding of the Stadium move together with the break up of The Invisibles coincided and on reflection AW let some players leave to early with this rather over complicated over thirty rule..
      Fabregas as a 17 year old had the luxury of being mentored by The invisible group of players and that was a lot to expect him to be the leader and motivate the team.In fact motivation is something that appears quite often this last season or should I say lack of motivation.So often a match started and we seemed to crawl out of the box,so perhaps the blame is with both players and the manager.
      A good and organised defence is the essence of any good team and there is no doubt in my mind that Wenger only believes in attack minded players and
      how often do we see a player before we buy him as an exciting player only to be played totally out of position when he arrives and his natural attributes are held back to fit into the system.
      We basically don’t have the quality of player of 6/7 years ago and with this squad more and more teams know exactly how to play against us.To conceded 49 goals this season tells us a lot.
      We can all play football manager but IMO we really have had the best of Wenger and though we can’t compete with City and Chelsea in monetary terms some of our recent signings are pretty below par players..
      We got lucky this season after a terrible start and RVP contributed 27 points with goals and assists.Can he do it again next year if he in fact stays ? A big
      ask in my opinion.We still finished 19 points behind City and like all teams we had long injuries but the bottom line is that our squad depth compared to the other so called top clubs is pretty weak.

  6. Funnily enough, I’d only quibble with your last paragraph. x amount of followers doesn’t necessarily equate to popularity, nor agreement with their viewpoints. I follow some Twitter users to get a balanced view of AFC – I don’t follow all who agree with me, either – so I can understand as many viewpoints as possible. My following is not an endorsement.

    In general, I thought the Q&A was useful for understanding a bit more where the board are taking us – all eggs in the FFP basket was revealing, for example.

    Good post – and I enjoy the work you do in The Gooner.


    • Thanks for the comments Mike.
      I’d say number of followers is an indication of the sense a blogger or tweeter talks, but no doubt there are exceptions. I think you can get to a certain level by being controversial, but people eventually get fed up if you’re not adding value.
      Re the Q&A, the usefulness depends on your level of knowledge going in, I suppose, and I’m lucky enough, if that’s the right expression, to have heard most of what Ivan said before, albeit some bits were emphasised more than previously.

      • What about all the loons that follow Le Grove?

        Love your blogs Phil however I think we as supporters are a tad deluded in thinking that holding ~5% of the club shares has any effect on what goes on? I was a member of the AST until last season but I didn’t renew as i saw no point. Arsenal are in all intents and purposes beholden to a majority shareholder who can do anything he seems fit (whether we see him fit or not).

        It’s effectively Abramnovic without the billions.

        Unless we as supporters buy the club out then apart from ill timed statements (AST this season and their vote of no confidence in the team) and ridiculous ”protests” (The idiotic bin bag non-event), what effect do we have?

        I’m not saying that we should all toe the party line but i think true supporter power has passed. The AST, however noble the ideal, has missed the boat with fanshare by quite some seasons. Arsenal is Kroneke’s until he decides to sell i fear.
        The only thing that could change is if Arsenal implode in the way Liverpool have in recent seasons and end up a top ten team rather than ‘just a top four’ team. If that happens then we’ll know the pain of the 80’s, something the younger generations of supporters have never experienced.

        The problem is that it would be a disaster for the club with a potential 10 year way back to the top. Would we all change our 3/4 mediocrity for 20 years without the title? Would we fuck.

        All in all it’s not a great feeling to lose players and be frustratingly close to actually competing (with the right investment!) however, i just think we are all staring over the fence at the rich kids who have moved in and bought a swimming pool and some other flashy toys.

        It’s jealousy mixed up with a large dose of self pity; No-one has a right to win anything though. Just because we are a big club doesn’t mean we deserve to be champions.

        The summer is still a head of us, nothing has been won or lost. We should stop wishing our lives away see what the pre-season brings.

        Anyway, I’m waffling off the point. I think companies the world maintain the illusion of inclusiveness, in reality it’s a very steep climb to the actual decision makers. We don’t have shareholders left to make a difference i fear.

      • Ha, I knew someone would mention Le Grove! I don’t agree with him all the time but I know him and he’s a good bloke.
        I think your view is rather fatalistic. Personally I think that if enough fans work together then we can make a difference, even if we only own a very small part of the club.
        I’m not sure what the ‘vote of no confidence in the team’ was, you’ll have to explain that one.

  7. I know this is off subject but what did you think of our Pole in Goal last night.Not the first time he has been reckless or made the wrong decision,yet for one so young he never gets fazed.Still think he should have an older mentor and there were and still are a number of experienced keepers available at knock down prices.

    Then there is Arshavin.Not sure if I was happy or sad to see how he ran the show for the Russians and he lasted 90 minutes, looked leaner and fitter.Is he coming back ?

    • AA definitely looked leaner and fitter. The Pole in the Goal got bored and started making stupid decisions, in my opinion. I agree, get soemone experienced to mentor him.

  8. I may have got this wrong (or dreamed it in some weird food poisoning nightmare) but didn’t the AST release a statement post the AC Milan first leg that said they were not happy with the direction of the club, the investment profile and didn’t think the purchases were up to Arsenal standard? I thought it was a weird timing as the transfer window was shut, plus it wouldn’t help the team etc.

    Hopefully I haven’t just made this all up in my old age! 😉
    I suppose I am fatalistic,i just don’t like to see us supporters at each others throats.

    Kroneke hasn’t really done anything wrong has he? I wouldn’t say he’s done much right either but that’s mainly because he hasn’t done anything public. I wonder if Danny Fizmann was still alive and still majority shareholder would we up in arms about everything? Perception is where the battles are won and lost aren’t they?

    Usmanov can talk the good talk but he can do that in the knowledge that he won’t have to put any of those statements into practice. Much like the party in opposition.

    Dein is perceived to be a visionary and the charisma that allowed us to sign players. He;s the reason why we aren’t winning stuff. Thing is, he never wanted to move from Highbury and he first introduced the very man we all seem to despise and his son is actively helping players move on.

    Would we have won more with him still there? I don’t know. Without him we have still got to 2 League Cup Final’s and The Champions League Final. I’m not sure what him being there would have done to alter those results?

    I want investment as we are always those ‘two-three’ players away from having the squad to win things. I just think we aren’t going to get the amount we perceive we need?

    The papers want mega stars, if i’m honest i want two players of Arteta’s quality, a sports psychologist and a change of defensive tactics. If fan power can achieve that then i’ll be all up for it.

    Anyway, enjoy your weekend i need to stop waffling on here haha

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