It’s been announced today that former Arsenal Chairman Peter Hill-Wood has died at the age of 82.
He was the third generation of his family to take the role of Arsenal Chairman, following father Denis and grandfather Samuel. PH-W stayed on as Chairman a little too long, as evidenced by his poor handling of AGMs since around 2010. Unfortunately his replacement as Chairman was more of the same from Sir Chips Keswick, but in earlier years PH-W was more forceful and dynamic, with a clear understanding of football and Arsenal’s place in it. This is an interview with him from the Arsenal programme in 1992, at the end of a relatively poor season for the Gunners. There were big changes going on in football, with the Taylor Report forcing the impending closure of terraces and the formation of the Premier League.
It was a dynamic time at Arsenal too. The previous year we’d been champions, one match away from an unbeaten season, and top for the second time in three years. We were England’s biggest club for a brief period between the dominant periods of Liverpool and Man Utd, but in 1991-92 we showed only flashes of that kind of form, while Leeds and Man U fought it out for the title. Off the field there were protests about Arsenal Bonds, an idea that was born from the need to spend money upgrading the stadium. This interview concentrates on that subject and the mood in football and outside.
PH-W comes over in this as seeing the bigger picture around football pretty well. He recognises the public and government perception of the game, and the lack of sympathy in official circles. There’s also evidence of ‘same old story’, though – referring to the Bond marketing he says, “With hindsight, we’ve been guilty of not getting the PR right.” Twenty years later Ivan Gazidis was still apologising for Arsenal’s PR errors.
PH-W talks about the need to increase commercial activities to ensure that ticket prices are pegged “at realistic levels”. Uh-huh. And of course manager George Graham will never be forced to sell our best players due to financial constraints, because “We want to be the best team in Europe.” Double uh-huh.
I’m always struck by the changing monetary values in these pieces from a couple of decades ago – £16.5 million for the new North Bank Stand is described as “monumental”, and at £1,100 or £1,500 a bond then was the same price as a season ticket now.
As for the football, the young Ray Parlour is singled out for praise by his Chairman, who assures us we have a squad full of top class players, a bad season is a temporary blip and another go at the European Cup would be terrific. What’s that saying about how the more things change the more they stay the same?
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