Arsenal AGM 2011 report

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Arsenal’s AGM took place today. Hayley Wright was there for Arseblog News.

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If you were expecting open-mindedness, concessions, and illuminating answers from the Arsenal board in the wake of a relatively poor start to the league campaign then you would have been sorely disappointed. Upon entering the meeting hall we were categorically told to leave all food and drink behind – presumably because the PR machine thought it possible that a Garibaldi hurled in rage may seriously compromise the immaculate appearance of Stan Kroenke’s moustache – were it to make it that far.

Ivan Gazidis kicked things off with the usual overview of the club’s objectives, achievements and finances, taking care to reassure the shareholders that whilst monetary sustainability is integral to our success, competing for titles and being a force in Europe are the main ambitions to which the club aspires. If you were playing Arsenal board bingo at this point, you could have easily had a full house.

It was then the turn of the formerly “Silent” Stan Kroenke to take the mic and attempt some humour relating to the issue, as he claimed he had no idea why anyone had asked him to speak. He went on to briefly explain how he became involved with the club after considering similar opportunities with other teams in Europe and the EPL, whilst reaffirming his commitment to Arsenal and the team’s current direction under Arsène Wenger.

Unfortunately, the following Q&A session was somewhat marred by Chairman Peter Hill-Wood’s defensive, borderline indignant responses to perfectly reasonable questions coming from people who are arguably the most justified in issuing a grilling, and even more deserving of honest, uncensored answers. This was the first AGM in which only pre-submitted questions were sanctioned and Peter Hill-Wood exhibited a shameful lack of respect for the shareholders’ entitlement to answers, which were either avoided altogether or robotically recited from the piece of paper that he held in front of him. The atmosphere in the room turned tangibly sour, with various heckles and jeers from the audience prompting Kroenke to pipe up in an attempt to calm the rebels.

This made Wenger’s call for solidarity and support all the more galling for some, as his closing speech focussed on the need for everyone to be united behind the team. Endeavouring to give a fair assessment of last season’s performance, he pre-empted the questions that probably would have been asked of him had they been allowed, and his admission of the team’s shortcomings appeared to be welcomed by all in attendance.

Alas, due to the very guarded and almost disdainful nature of the meeting, there is very little of interest to report. However, below are a selection of bullet points that may help to elucidate what happened.

IVAN GAZIDIS

– Significant change at the club in terms of ownership. Stan Kroenke has vast experience in sport and isn’t new to Arsenal. He has a good understanding of the club and its values. He brings us security and stability. Danny Fiszman was confident in trusting Stan before his passing. The board share his confidence.

– Close season saw changes on the pitch. Nine new additions. Busiest ever transfer window. Continued investing in youth plus experienced players. Bound to be a period of adjustment with such extensive change. Started strongly in Europe and now regaining momentum in the league.

– Acknowledgement of ladies team who won the treble this season. Reassures that competing for titles and being a force in Europe are the main objectives. Fourteen consecutive CL appearances matched only by United and Real Madrid.

– Club has repaid all bank loans and all property paid off. Club’s remaining debt is fixed at affordable long term rates.

– Visit to Asia was a big step forward for the club. Asian fans have extraordinary passion, knowledge and commitment. There will be further presence in the region.

– New commercial partnerships with Carlsberg, Indesit, Betsson and Thomas Cook.

– Renewed partnership with Citroen.

– Nike and Emirates are still the main sponsors. Excellent relationship. Will continue to work closely with them.

– The new Arsenal Player is enhancing programming and is distributing all over the world. Big step in communicating with fans around the world. Arsenal members have free access. HD programming reaches 110 million households in 88 countries. Club to have over 10 million followers on Facebook.

– There has been more investment in the stadium – stories of fan tributes to Arsenal legends, fan flags all round stadium. December will see the unveiling of iconic additions to the Arsenalisation. Dramatic impact for 125 year anniversary.

– Improvements at the training ground. We’ve built a state of the art medical centre. Cutting edge of sports science and rehabilitation.

– Arsenal’s community work continues.  We define standards that others seek to emulate.

– Arsenal’s charity of the season is Save The Children.

– We have added to our staff who all care passionately about the club. Obsessed with seeing the club succeed.

– Kudos to our fans. I’m proud of our style of football, and proud of our manager –  he acts with responsibility and vision, always putting the club first. Not only proud of the club’s success, but how it achieves its success. Everything was built by extraordinary individuals. Vision, commitment and responsibility – qualities that are in short supply in the modern world, but more important than ever. Fizsman and Friar have been incredibly influential.

– Club is about far more than football. Unity, class, always moving forward.

STAN KROENKE

– Not sure why I’ve been asked to say things. People seem interested.

– Tribute to Fiszman.

– We had lots of opportunities to involve ourselves in lots of clubs around Europe and EPL. Became involved with Arsenal in a commercial undertaking. I became very interested in Arsenal.

– Arsenal has all the elements for success. Tremendous management at the top. Wonderful manager on the pitch who makes great decisions in regard to personnel. Tremendous following from the supporters. It was an easy decision to continue to get more involved. That’s how we ended up here today.

– We’re happy with the direction of the club and we’re here for the long term. Love London. Better get used to seeing us.

Q&A

Q: Ticket prices increasing, no silverware, big players leaving… is the sustainable model the most important thing?
Peter Hill-Wood: CL 14 years in a row, remains the focus. Sustainable model is the right way forward for the club. Future is in our own hands – providing funds to invest in the team.

Q: Will the club plug the gap in equity with new commercial deals? We need to remain competitive.
PHW: Not considering an injection of equity capital. Convinced it’s the right way forward for the club. We will we not match some of the vast sums of other clubs, but it does mean that we’re not reliant on any one individual. Confident we can keep and attract young quality players and compete at the highest level.

Q: Season ticket prices continue to rise while CEO bonuses – such as that of Tom Fox – remain. Will they be stopped as the club is stagnating?
PHW: Renumeration committee set targets for Gazidis. He’s passed them. Don’t want to go into details about Tom Fox’s bonus. Commercial opportunities are extremely good. Five new commercial partnerships this year. Fruits of those labours will come through in the next year.

Q: How will you continue to act in the best interests of the club with Kroenke coming in?
PHW: Legal duty as directors to act in best interests of club and shareholders. Will do so and continue to do so.

– At this point PHW thanks Ken Friar for his contribution to the club. Bust of Friar to be placed in entrance of Emirates. Unveiled. Applause.

Q: Season ticket prices increase. Replaced two world class players, with two who clearly aren’t. Will board reduce ticket prices if we fail to qualify for CL?
PHW: We will not accept second best. We never have. Will strive to maintain the performances that we have in the last 14 years. I think Arsène is getting it right again. During close season we brought in nine players. We will continue to strengthen the squad as Arsène thinks best.

Q: Man City and Spurs have got stronger in the past two years, whereas we are weaker. Not sure if we’ll quality for the CL next year. PHW should stand down. Bring back David Dein as chairman – the man who got Arsène. You are so out of touch with this club. He is the man who can bring trophies back to this club.
PHW: I have no intention of standing down. This is the decision from my board colleagues also. I regard it as an honour and privilege to be chairman of this club. I am also a fan. I want us to be successful. We have the best man for the job in Arsène. Stan and Ivan can take the club forward off the field.
Kroenke:  “We’re all fans. Peter has our support. We’re with you. We’re fans too.”
[Heckling from the crowd]

Q: Fanshare Scheme just over a year old. Great success. Over 2,000 supporters own a bit of the club. Want to play a part in club’s future. As result of takeover, it’s harder for scheme to buy more shares. Will board reiterate support for concept of Fanshare? Review how it can provide support to the scheme?
PHW: Fanshare scheme is highly valued by its members. Complexity recognised with new shareholder environment. Will further consider the matter in due course.

Q: Why are you refusing to allow Red and White Holdings (Usmanov) onto the board?
PHW: We’re all comfortable with the constitution of the board. We care deeply about the long term success of Arsenal. We all bring expertise to the board.
Heckles of “Answer the question.”

Q: Arsenal infrastructure in terms of personnel has changed little. Suffered since David Dein left. Too much centralised control. Wenger has to carry a huge burden. Who gives assistance to Wenger? How can he delegate like Fergie?
PHW: Infrastructure has changed significantly. We ensure that all parts of the club operate in an effective way. Wenger works closely with Gazidis and board. Manager given all the support he wants and needs to take the team forward.

Q: Positive perspective. Same number of points for equivalent fixtures last season bar one. Can the board and team travel in one aircraft to away matches? Cost consideration seems fairly irrelevant to you.
PHW: Board and players travel separately sometimes but not always.

Q: How many season ticket holders did not renew? What’s the length of the waiting list?
PHW: I don’t want to disclose the actual figures. We can assure you that it’s relatively small and tens of thousands of people are on the waiting list. Loyal supporters.

ARSÈNE WENGER

– The media don’t always reflect what I say, so I’m happy to speak to you.

– Grateful for the confidence in me for such a long time – 15 years – applause.

– This is a special club. I knew always that I would be loyal and committed to this club. I’m not always right. But I knew it was privilege to be here because I’m free to work the way I want.

– I hope in many years people will look at this period and think we put the club on the right track and defended the right values.

– We want to do things with class, be ambitious and brave. I believe that this club has always been brave in its decisions. Courage is a quality that I admire.

– I can see a lot of fear and discontent amongst you. I can understand that. We live in a world where people have high resources. We must compete by being intelligent. We have been more consistent than anybody else in the world for the last 15 years. To stay at the top we must be united. Doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t be criticised. To the outside we must be united. It’s the only way to survive at the top. If you’re not united, you have no chance.

– We are self-sufficient but we lost world class players. Don’t judge the players we bought too quickly. We had a very difficult start, under tremendous pressure. Last season was the most difficult to accept with its end result. Sometimes I thought it was completely my fault because I convinced the players we could win all four competitions. We had a very good season performance wise despite finishing very badly.

– Overall performance last year was much better than what happened at the end. We played 27 games in Nov, Dec. Jan…. we paid for it in March and April. Lacked the petrol to get over the line. Also, not lucky with the injuries we had last year but still managed to qualify for CL.

– Emergence of world class players like Wilshere was positive. He has shown straight away at international level how good he is. I was also under pressure to buy goalkeepers. I kept faith in the ones that we had, and now we have sorted the problem out. We have top level, world class keepers. Potential of our team is great.

– I’m much more positive than other people. Team has fantastic attitude and spirit. Frankly don’t know where we’ll finish at the end of the season, but we’re ready for the fight. Not many people are behind us at the moment. Let’s stand behind this team.

– People have been skeptical at The Emirates. If you don’t get behind the team we have no chance. This team has the right attitude and the right spirit. During the last two home games the fans were behind the team, which was very different compared to the end of last season. We can be successful if we stand behind team.

– We will fight and can still look back on this season with pride. I think we can still quality for the CL.

– Ticket pricing was discussed a lot. To accommodate players’ wages we had to do it.  I understand that you feel punished.

– Number of skepticis surrounding the club is too high. Trust us. This team has quality. This team will fight and if you support us we have every chance to succeed.

Follow Hayley Wright on Twitter and catch her video blogs on her YouTube channel

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