David Dein was in the London Evening Standard last week, and again today, as he has applied for and received planning permission to pull down a house he’s bought in Mayfair and build a new one on the site. He intends building a two-storey basement underneath the new house with ‘a swimming pool, gym and staff quarters’. They repeated the story today after the discovery that the frontage includes the entrance to a tunnel that one of his immediate neighbours uses to get to his underground parking. This allowed the Standard to compare the property to The Batcave! Strewth. I will spare you a scan of that one, but here’s the detail from last week:
Anyway, Dein does not seem concerned with disturbing the peace and quiet of all his new neighbours, who will not be compensated for the noise and inconvenience of the long building project going on under their noses, and indeed under their houses.
The Deins won’t be inconvenienced of course, as they currently live well out of earshot about 15 miles due north of Mayfair, in Totteridge.
There are several things I don’t like about this story. While I’m all for building on brownfield sites and improving standards in general, I never like it when rich people buy houses and knock them down to build new ones if it causes grief for everyone else in the neighbourhood. It seems rather selfish, especially when it causes the owner no inconvenience whatsoever because they carry on living somewhere else. If they don’t like the house they’ve bought, why did they buy it? Maybe they should have bought a different one rather than subject their neighbours to a couple of years of building works. Naturally the Deins were not available for comment on the subject of annoying their neighbours, though they were pictured on a night out the very evening before the story was printed, so were clearly able to comment if they so wished. Evening Standard employees need to multi-task and ask questions while they’re taking photographs.
All that aside, Dein has paid £7.75m for this house (they said £9m last week, but have revised that downwards now), and is now going to pay several more million to rebuild it. Where has he got all this money? Yes that’s right – he sold his Arsenal shares to Alisher Usmanov.
Here’s a quick potted history of David Dein’s fortune, gleaned from various internet sources, most of which seem to get bits of the story wrong:
Dein made his money in sugar trading, and by 1983 was wealthy enough to splash out £290,250 on 16.6% of Arsenal – a total of I believe about 1,200 shares at the time. These shares were authorised but unissued, he didn’t buy them from another shareholder. There has been an eight-for-one split since then, so there are a lot more shares in circulation now. The price Dein paid valued Arsenal at about £1.8m – yes, the whole club could be bought for less than three months wages for Mesut Ozil!
In 1991 Dein bought most of Peter Hill-Wood’s shares, taking his holding to 42%. However, his trading company hit trouble, being owed millions of pounds it couldn’t recover, and Dein was soon forced to cover potential losses by selling 10,000 shares to Danny Fiszman.
He sold further blocks of shares, all I think to Fiszman, during the 1990s, leaving him back down at around a 14.5% holding. Meanwhile his trading company was eventually wound up in 1997 after protracted failed legal action to recover monies owed – debts exceeded assets by £11m when things collapsed in 1992.
All this time of course, the value of Arsenal was climbing. By the time Dein was booted off the Board in 2007 after falling out with Fiszman, one Arsenal share was worth over £8,000 and he still had 9,072 of them. Eventually he sold this remaining stake to Red & White Holdings for a sum widely reported as £75m, which would be £8,267 per share.
This, if I am not mistaken, is much more than he paid. How much resentment should I feel about this? I don’t mind some people being richer than others, within reason, but he’s made all this money from Arsenal while fans pay more and more to watch their team. His whole wealth now, the sole reason he can knock down and rebuild Mayfair houses to include staff quarters, is profit from Arsenal. Meanwhile a lot of people have been priced out completely from watching live football and many others can’t or don’t go as often as they used to and certainly struggle to take their children along very often.
On one hand David Dein has been rewarded for his vision and entrepreneurship and only ever taken reasonable salary amounts out of Arsenal, but on the other he’s never put any money back in – even when he’s made a fortune from his involvement.
Equally, he can be praised for bringing Arsène Wenger to Arsenal and having a hand in making his early years successful, not to mention his part behind the scenes in George Graham’s successful reign. Conversely he wanted to move Arsenal to Wembley and introduced both the current major shareholders to the club, leading to the ownership mess we now have, with fans and small shareholders being squeezed out.
You might be of the mind that it’s worth bringing David Dein back to Arsenal because of the effect he had on Wenger. We’ve won nothing since Dein left, after all. You could present a good case for the vast majority of Dein’s activities to be mainly for the advancement of David Dein rather than of Arsenal, but even if you don’t care about that there’s a big question over whether the Wenger/Dein partnership would work now as it did a decade ago, given the changed landscape of football. In any case so far this season Wenger doesn’t seem to need his help. This could be by luck or judgement depending on your viewpoint, given that only a congenital liar would pretend the summer transfer window actually went as planned.
Whether Dein should or shouldn’t be brought back isn’t really the point here, though. The point is he has only enriched himself through all this activity.
We laughed at Jack Walker for buying the Premier League title for Blackburn, but he poured in millions because he just wanted his local club to be successful. Abramovich and Mansour have done similar, but entirely for their own glory, and fans are peripheral to them – if anything they’re a way of getting a bit of money back. Meanwhile the Glazers take money out of Man Utd – indeed their sole purpose in buying the club was to make money from it. Where does Dein sit in all this? Financially somewhere between the oilies paying in and the Glazers taking out, but of course it’s not that simple because of his football role. None of the others was or is active on the football side, while Dein relished it and made himself busy both within the club and at a wider level with the FA, Premier League and G14.
It just seems to me, in my simplistic view of the world, that if someone who professes to love Arsenal and be a lifelong fan owes their entire fortune to Arsenal, that maybe he should use part of it for the benefit of the club or other fans in some way, rather than just use it for further self-aggrandisement and annoying the residents of West London. Call me old fashioned.
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