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EDITORIAL : Massive Shame How Arsenal Fans Were Sold Down The River By Their Very Own Board.

Arsenal, Arsedevils

Arsenal fans have acquired a reputation, in some quarters, for being a collection of negative individuals, that think they have a legal right to success. Over recent seasons there have been walkouts, banners, empty seats and protests, to remove the owner and the previous manager, in scenes normally associated with struggling clubs.

It’s a relatively small section of fans that know as much about football as I know about the Kardashians and they are probably as bereft of reason as the pouting clan of tanned, designer wearing airheads.

Arsenal fans are currently angry at the Kroenke administration but what a shame they weren’t more vigilant and equally as outraged in 2007. We’ll get to that in a moment.

The sale of Arsenal is a tragic tale of Shakespearean proportions, dealing exclusively in deception and greed. Those involved acted in their own interest and all their words of reassurance and commitment were completely disingenuous.

The main character in this footballing soap opera is the absent owner, Stan Kroenke. The ambitious American, that appears to have no interest in a game where players aren’t dressed like stormtroopers or which isn’t governed by commercial breaks.

Rewind to 2004, the Arsenal side were at the pinnacle of their success, winning the premier league whilst remaining unbeaten and some said that they could rule the division for a decade.

It would take less than 18 months to see that side start to break up and over the next few seasons Arsenal’s ability to compete at the highest level had virtually disappeared.

Then there was the Emirates, a stadium build that was supposed to unlock the gates to the big time and reveal unlimited opportunities. In reality, it only served to strangle the club with debt and signalled the departure of some of Arsenal’s top talent.

So, what happened ? Someone has to be responsible.

Well, yes. There are quite a few but let’s start with someone who regularly dodges the bullets of responsibility for Kroenke’s involvement and the currrent predicament of Arsenal. David Dein. As much as I appreciate what the man achieved with Arsene Wenger, he is the man that sold Arsenal.

In 2007, David Dein was ousted for backing Stan Kroenke’s take over bid. A smited boardroom took its revenge and rid itself of one of the most influential figures in football, after an association that lasted 23 years.

Dein owned 14.6% of the shares and had he gone with his initial conviction, that invisible Stan was Arsenal’s saviour, Kroenke would have owned 25% of the club and Dein could have banked around £58 million but he didn’t.

Somehow, David Dein had an overnight revelation, agreed with his former employers and decided that Kroenke’s involvement was ill advised.

So, he reconsidered his options and sold his shares for £75 million to the Uzbek steel magnate, Alisher Usmanov, with an understanding that he would return to his perch in the Arsenal hierarchy once the club was bought outright.

Hypocrisy, greed and power are the labels one could apply to David Dein and all of them would be richly deserved.
His desire to return to Arsenal would never be realised as Usmanov got bored waiting for a seat on the board and having his money tied up in a club where he couldn’t even take a shit without bringing his own toilet paper and asking for permission.

The Arsenal board who sacked Dein for colluding with the American, eventually welcomed Kroenke with open arms, like a long lost son. It was like Narcissus looking in the mirror, kissing his own reflection and paying for the pleasure.

Once Kroenke had his feet under the table, it was just a case of biding his time until everyone’s resolve could be broken and in 2009, Peter Hill-Wood sold 100 shares to the one time villain of the Arsenal panto.

This happened after Hill-Wood said in 2007.

“Call me old-fashioned but we don’t need Kroenke’s money and we don’t want his sort. Our objective is to keep Arsenal English, albeit with a lot of foreign players. I don’t know for certain if Kroenke will mount a hostile takeover for our club but we shall resist it with all our might.”

He went on in almost Churchillian fashion.

“We are all being seduced that the Americans will ride into town with pots of cash for new players. It simply isn’t the case. They only see an opportunity to make money. They know absolutely nothing about our football and we don’t want these types involved.”

Well, how right he was, even though he sold out to temptation in the end, helping to make his prophecy a reality. He also went on record to deny that other members of the Arsenal board would sell to facilitate a takeover.

He said,

“The notion that Danny Fiszman is a seller is really farcical. He doesn’t need the money. Nina [Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith, another major shareholder] is also rock solid. She likes the involvement and the tradition that lies behind the club.”

Fiszman did sell his shares to Kroenke in 2009, 5,000 of them worth £8,500 each (£4,250,000) and Bracewell-Smith would eventually follow suit

Hill-Wood was perhaps the worst offender, his Family had connections with the club for a hundred years, his history was entwined with that of the club.

Yet it appeared, he had two versions of the truth, one for each of his faces because he announced a marketing partnership with Kroenke’s Colorado Rapids in February 07 and then realising that the fans might be twitchy by that type of love in, he came out fighting two months later by clumsily saying  “We don’t want his sort over here.”.

Undeterred, Kroenke continued to scoop up shares and in 2009 he managed to get a further 200 shares from the estate of Ernest Harrison for £3.6 million. Even dead people have their uses.

Kroenke also picked up another 200 shares from Hill-Wood, who you will remember was adamant that he would not sell his shares to the American under any circumstances, unless he could hardly close the boot of his car because it had so much money in it.

Perhaps the final straw was Kroenke’s acquisition of Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith’s shares. Her decision to sell her Arsenal part to the American created a domino effect among the remaining shareholders and if she felt bad about the situation, she could at least console herself that she had £116m in the bank.

She was viciously removed from the board for an apparent clash with the big cheese of Arsenal, not Peter Hill-Wood but Danny Fiszman, who had an amazing amount of control for such a small holding. Or could it be, as it was reported at the time, that LBS was considering selling to Kroenke’s rival, Alisher Usmanov and the only reason that she didn’t was so that she could take the most lucrative option once a bidding war took place.

Kroenke courted and convinced her, that his money and vision were good for both parties. She didn’t hesitate.

Later in 2018, she talked about her regret at selling to Kroenke and her dislike for the way he runs the club.
This came after she tried to sue Linklaters and the accountancy firm Deloitte for their advice which led to the decision to sell her Arsenal shares to Kroenke.

Yet, the real reason for that action and token remorse, could have something to do with the capital gains tax bill of £10m which she was presented with after the sale. Her relocation to Monaco to avoid further deductions, which cost £1.25m and her legal costs, which amounted to £400,000.

In a spectacular turn around in opinion Bracewell-Smith said,

“Football is a business of passion and SK has no passion for AFC. (Kroenke) shows he cares very little. Why he wanted to be part of AFC I do not know.”

Much too little, too late it would seem. She cost the club and the fans something far more precious with her decision to open the door to the American. Her loss just means two less sports cars, one less villa in a secluded location, a smaller bar bill at Ascot and the postponement of the yachts refit.

For the fans, some lost inherited shares from Family members or their only connection to the Arsenal. When Kroenke got rid of Usmanov, it allowed him to buy up those remaining shares of Arsenal, something he was legally entitled to do but it added to the dislike an mistrust of the American.

A spokesman for the Arsenal supporters trust said at the time

Many of these fans are AST members and hold their shares not for value as custodians who care for the future of the club. Kroenke’s actions will neuter their voice and involvement. It is in effect legalised theft to remove a brake on how Arsenal is managed. The AST is wholly against this takeover which marks a very sad day for Arsenal Football Club.”

On a more personal note, another Arsenal supporter Malcom Davis said,

“Myself and my brother have been shareholders for over 50 years. I had no intention that the shares should be sold in my lifetime. I left specific instructions in my will that the shares were not to be sold to Kronke. I feel disenfranchised, as if I am no longer part of this club. I have little enthusiasm for this club. Kroenke is only interested in making money, not in winning trophies. I am not interested in supporting a club with no ambition.”

Last season, Arsenal fans rightly aimed the rifle in the direction of Kroenke, the dark lord and former CEO of Arsenal, Ivan Gazidis and then manager, Arsene Wenger but none of them were responsible for the biggest sell out in the history of Arsenal.

We lost our footing, we lost our way and to a degree we lost an identity.

The Highbury Flyer
Anti Kroenke , anti Gazidis but always a gooner. Still wishes he could watch from the stands at the Highbury library.

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