I tried to remember what happened at the AGM last month, but my notes were incomplete. When I came to write them up they came out like this. The words may not all be exactly as it happened, but I know the gist is correct. You couldn’t make this stuff up.
The Arsenal Board have been accused of many crimes. Recently justice caught up with them, and they were brought in front of a panel of their peers.
Judge presiding: The Right Honourable Sir Samuel Hill-Wood (dec’d).
Prosecutor: Herbert Chapman (dec’d).
The Right Honourable Sir Samuel Hill-Wood (dec’d): Members of the jury, shareholders; you are here to listen to the evidence against the ‘Arsenal Board’, a motley collection of individuals who some would say are not fit to lace the boots of Eddie McGoldrick, whoever he is. It is up to you to judge these men fairly on the evidence to be presented. Bring in the accused.
A group of old men shuffle in, followed by a younger man, who is ironically the one with the least hair. They sit down.
The RHSSH-W(d): Sit down. Oh you are. Kroenke, shut up, you talk too much. Ha ha!
Herbert Chapman (dec’d): Sir, should we, err . . .
RHSSH-W: Oh, yes Chapman, get on with it. Good man.
HC: I call Ivan Gazidis to the stand.
The bald man stands.
HC: Mr Gazidis, you are accused of taking a salary of over £2 million, including a bonus fatter than Micky Quinn, despite doing nothing to earn it. How do you plead?
Ivan Gazidis: This is a very ambitious club. We have succeeded in moving stadiums when others have failed. We are in the last phase of the move now, which is the commercial growth.
HC: Why couldn’t the commercial growth happen alongside earlier phases?
IG: I believe FFP will be good for Arsenal. All clubs want FFP, you can see that Man City and Chelsea are reining in their spending. We have had to ask fans to be patient; that period is coming to an end.
HC: You’re not answering the question, Mr Gazidis. But in any case, when did you ask them to be patient? (He turns to the jury) Does anyone here remember being asked to be patient?
IG: This is a very ambitious club – the most ambitious I know. I don’t know what more people could expect of the commercial growth.
HC: Perhaps they expect to remain close to the competition, Mr Gazidis. Perhaps they expect you to increase the commercials by more than five pounds when Manchester Utd have doubled theirs.
IG: This is the most ambitious club I know.
RHSSH-W: Yes, I think we get it. Do let me know if you ever come up with any evidence for that statement, won’t you. Would anyone like to cross-examine Mr Gazidis?
Akhil (a poor and scruffy London street urchin), jumps up.
Akhil: You’re pricing out the common man! When there’s more cash coming in why can’t you freeze ticket prices?
IG: We take our responsibilities to our fans seriously. It’s not all about making money. The demand is there. This is a very ambitious club . . . inflation . . . not an easy journey . . . affordable debt . . . waiting list . . . balance . . . responsibility . . . ambition . . . attractive football . . . ambition . . . enviable Champions League record . . .
(Several minutes later) RHSSH-W jerks awake again.
RHSSH-W: Enough! Champions League record? More like a stuck record!
IG: May I just say that profit is not our target, our target is to have success on the pitch.
HC: Then why don’t you spend the vast sum that sits in the bank account paying you interest? I used to do it. It seemed to work in my day. Sign some good experienced players to mix in with the talented youngsters, and you increase your chances of winning.
No response from Gazidis. Darren (a businessman) stands.
Darren: Why can’t season ticket holders have heated seats in winter, why has it taken so long for chips to be sold on their own, and will Stan Kroenke confirm that he won’t take dividends out of Arsenal?
RHSSH-W: Mr Kroenke?
Stan Kroenke stands and starts to perform an elaborate mime that includes rubbing his hands together and blowing on them to represent the cold, pointing to his backside, peeling potatoes, frying chips and taking money from customers.
RHSSH-W: Mr Kroenke, you are required to speak.
Stan Kroenke: I’m sorry, I really don’t know why I’m here. Does anyone know what time the Rams game starts? Are we missing the build up? Is this Wembley?
HC: Mr Kroenke, do you intend to take money out of Arsenal Football Club? Money put in either directly or indirectly by fine people like those you see before you this morning?
SK: I am only sorry I didn’t invest in Arsenal earlier. (Lowers voice to stage whisper) Because the share price has doubled already.
HC: Will you take dividends?
SK: If you look at our record of owning sports clubs around the world you’ll see we never put debt on them.
HC: Will you take dividends?
SK: These kind of things are Board decisions. I have no power here.
HC: You own two thirds of the shares.
SK: Do I? I must say that surprises me.
SK: Normally I own everything I can see.
HC: (wearily) Will you take dividends?
SK: I have a great record of reinvestment.
IG leaps up.
IG: He does! He does your honour! He has a sound record of reinvestment! Ambition! Attractive football!
RHSSH-W: Unwilling as I am to let anyone off the hook, I fear this line of questioning is proving unproductive. Shall we move on?
Pedro (a dandy) rises.
Pedro: I demand that my season ticket to be moved to a more fashionable part of the stadium, with Peroni on tap. And secondly, do you think, Mr Gazidis, that the introduction of FFP will allow us to complete for the world’s best players on an equal basis with our rivals?
IG: I am very optimistic about FFP. All clubs want it, ALL of them. Especially us. The game will be stronger. WE will be stronger. Everything will be rosy and there will be rainbows over London Colney on a daily basis. I’m optimistic . . . ly sceptical. Or is it sceptically optimistic? Probably both. In summary, FFP is great and almost certain to work.
Silence. Everyone looks disbelieving.
RHSSH-W: Fortunately for you we cannot yet disprove your predictions of the future. We’ll move on.
Tim (an agitator) rises.
Tim: This situation has become intolerable! The Board has lost touch! Stan out! Ivan out! Everyone out! Follow me on twitter!
RHSSH-W: Do you have a question?
Tim: Yes, I address my question to Mr Kroenke. Since your abrupt takeover of Arsenal, when you effectively stole Arsenal from the fans and supporters, you have refused to meet with any fans, something you promised to do.
IG: I’ve met with you many times.
Tim: Mr Kroenke said he would meet with fan groups. He hasn’t.
IG: But I have. That’s the same isn’t it?
SK: I have met with fan groups. I’ve met you several times, Tom.
Tim: Tim. We met before you took over, not since. Who else have you met?
SK: Well, the er . . . A . . . something. Definitely begins with A. Am I close?
IG: Look, let’s not bicker about who met who. The point is we’ve all met everyone at some point, and we’re all working together to make a profit – successful club, I mean.
Shout from the floor: “Are you working with Usmanov?”
Peter Hill-Wood: Who?
RHSSH-W: Ah, my grandson is awake! Perhaps we should question him. When I was in charge of this great club, ably built up by Mr Chapman here, we were certainly ambitious. We made this the biggest club in the world. Others who were jealous of our success called us ‘the Bank of England club’, but we were still a club rooted in our community. We welcomed our loyal supporters as shareholders. It can be done you know. Football has not changed that much. What do the Board think of the supporters now? Have you forgotten where this club came from?
RHSSH-W: Peter, what have you got to say for yourself?
PH-W: Well I think we’re all doing a jolly fine job.
RHSSH-W: A fine job? You sold all the shares I left your father, and they have ended up with a man who doesn’t want to watch Arsenal matches and a man who isn’t welcome here! What sort of way is that to handle your legacy? I left our family as custodians of the club and you have sold its soul!
PH-W: But the supporters are such plebs, surely you don’t expect me to pay them any attention?
RHSSH-W: Peter I really think it’s time you toddled off and left the talking to the those of us who have decided to move with the times. Any more questions from the floor?
Nigel, a city gent, stands.
Nigel: I would like to congratulate the Board on their marvellous work with the finances and the squad in recent seasons. But I can’t, because I’d rather tell the truth. And the truth is you won’t spend to make this once great club great again, and you sell all our best players to strengthen our domestic and international rivals while lining your own pockets. How do I to explain to my son why Robin van Persie, last season’s captain, now plays for Manchester United?
IG: He was sold for footballing reasons! I swear! Doesn’t it demonstrate ambition to think that we can win the League without any stars? Doing it our way! The Arsenal way! You simply cannot get any more ambitious than thinking you can win everything without any good players, think about it!
RHSSH-W: Enough of this tosh. I think we should hear from Mr Chapman’s illustrious successor, Mr Wenger.
HC: Mr Wenger, is it you or is it the rest of these men sitting beside you who refuse to spend the money in the bank?
Arsène Wenger: I do not like to talk about finance, I would rather talk only about the team.
HC: Then let us do that. You won many trophies in your first seven seasons at Arsenal. It is now seven years since you won any trophy, and you have twice as many to aim for as in my day. What do you say to the charge that you are now presiding over an Arsenal team that is in worse shape than the one you inherited?
AW: I think we are in a difficult position, but we have a lot of good players and I am confident we can make a strong challenge for trophies.
HC: Let us hope so, for the sake of this club. Why are so many players injured all the time?
AW: Are they? I do not think so. Diaby is almost fit, Rosicky is almost fit. Wilshere is fully fit. Maybe not fully match fit, he is a little tired. I think at least two of our goalkeepers are able to train.
HC: Is it true you have had a falling out with your assistant, Mr Bould? The rumour is that there was a training ground fight because you would not listen to his suggestions for improvement.
AW: I know nothing of this. If anything has happened I can only say it is like the time that Paul Ince allegedly backed into my Citroen – I did not see the Incey-dent.
Wenger claps his hands then stamps his foot on the floor and extends his arms in a ‘ta-DA!’ exclamation.
HC: I do not think this is the time for humour, Mr Wenger. The club is in a serious state. The team is in danger of sliding into mid-table with Liverpool. What do you think of the Board’s performance in all this?
AW: The Board do their job and I do mine. That is all there is to say.
PH-W stands up.
PH-W: Look this is all jolly interesting, but I promised an associate from the Daily Star that I would meet him for lunch and a chat about what a terrible bunch of miscreants and commoners the people who attend these meetings are these days . . .
The Right Honourable Sir Samuel Hill-Wood (dec’d) literally explodes with indignation, showering the Board members and the front three rows with body parts.
Tim, still an agitator, leaps up.
Tim: This is all rubbish! Bank accounts don’t win titles! Honour your pledges! Spend some money! Sack everyone!
A hail of leaflets and seat cushions are aimed at the Board. Boos ring out.
PH-W (running for the door): Thank you all for taking an interest! We’ve all had a wonderful time!
Pedro uses his embossed cigarette lighter to set fire to the curtains. The blaze quickly takes hold as more cushions and then chairs are hurled towards the front of the room. All the Board members start to back towards the door at the rear of the room, fending off missiles as they go. Someone picks up the bust of Dennis Bergkamp and holds it up to throw it. Ivan sees this and points.
IG: Look! Dennis! Dennis will save you!
For a moment everyone looks at the likeness of the great Dutchman held aloft and the hail of missiles stops. The Board and manager take the opportunity to get through the door and slam it behind them. Everyone looks round, realises they’re gone and the fire is now taking a strong hold. People rush out of the burning stadium to see a helicopter with an American flag painted on it taking off from the roof. Ivan dangles from a rope beneath it.
Everyone goes home and comes back on Saturday as usual.
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