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Does Arsenal have owners who care about the club? And if not, why do they so dislike our last great benefactor?

By Tony Attwood

A comment on Untold yesterday got me thinking.  It was the one about having “owners who care”, and the problem with Arsenal being that we don’t.

Of course as soon as one looks at a statement like that it opens a can of worms because “caring” is difficult to define.  The current ownership of Stan Kronke and his family is I think fairly similar to the ownership of Tottenham under  Joe Lewis – a person in another country looking on from afar, not pumping more money into the club.

I am not sure it is a simple open and shut case, because simply caring about something doesn’t mean one actually has the knowledge or ability to make things better, and if Kronke’s caring was manifest by doing what Massimo Cellino did to Leeds (before he sold half his shares in the club to Andrea Radrizzani at the start of this year) maybe that is not what we want.   Cellino, for all I know, might care deeply about Leeds but his behaviour has been bonkers, and it is only of late that things (and I speak here obviously very much from the outside) seem to have been pulled back together after ceaseless turmoil.

So I started looking for an owner who I thought might be a perfect example of someone who cares, and particularly I tried to think of an owner at Arsenal who most certainly did care about the club in the way that most fans do.

As I am sure you know, Arsenal was initially owned by the people who set the club up, and was run by a committee.   That committee then found it had within its midst a group of people who wanted to do things very differently and they tried to destroy Arsenal from within in 1892, but (fortunately for all of us) were overthrown due to the dedication and indeed sacrifice and risk taking of the rest of the committee.  (The whole story is in the book “Woolwich Arsenal, the club that changed football” which is on Kindle and paperback – see the home page).

That whole structure went wrong in 1910 when the club was effectively broke, a new share offering was put on sale, and it flopped, leaving the club finally in the hands of two men.

That’s how it has been since then – Samuel Hill-Wood and Sir Bracewell Smith owning the club as a family business, until Peter Hill-Wood sold his shares to David Dein, who sold them to Danny Fiszman; after which Granada Holdings and Lansdowne Partners got hold of them.  Kronke then started buying up the shares, and we got to where we are today.

So, did any of these people “care” about the club in the sense that we non-shareholding people who pay out for season tickets “care”?

The more I pondered the more I reached some rather unexpected conclusions.

The first was that the after the days of the early benefactors of the club – particularly George Lawrance and George Leavey without whom the club would never have survived – there was one gigantic benefactor: Henry Norris.

You might recall that these days, when clubs go bust, the club pays the “football creditors” but not the regular creditors – from the part time programme sellers to the company that prints the programme, from Revenue and Customs to the firm that is contracted to cut the grass.  What Henry Norris did when Arsenal floundered in 1910 was pay everyone in full – including paying out on some debts that mysteriously were not even listed in the accounts of the club when he took it over.

Then he offered the club back to the local people at £1 a share, and agreed to keep funding the club for another year at Plumstead to get it back on its feet.  Then when the locals both failed to buy shares and failed to turn up at games in large numbers, he kept the club going in Plumstead for two more years until finally taking on a lease and personally guaranteeing it, on the ground that became known as Highbury.    And as if that were not enough he next arranged the financing of the building of the ground.

Now it is possible that you will have heard the stories propagated by Tottenham Hotspur fans and amplified by Arsenal’s own board of directors, that Lt Col Sir Henry Norris (as he had become – he received his knighthood for services to his country during the first world war) that Norris the fixed the election of Arsenal to the first division in 1919 with criminal backhanders etc.   The Arsenal History Society investigated this allegation in more detail than anyone has ever done before, going through all the records of the time, including all the newspaper reports, and found that this is completely untrue and was in fact a smear story put out by Tottenham, who had vigorously opposed Arsenal’s move to Highbury from Woolwich in 1913.

Which raises a question – why would Arsenal propagate a completely false story about the promotion.  Indeed if you have a copy of Arsenal The Official Biography by Steve Stammers you’ll find Tottenham’s version of events in 1919 again reported there without any supportive evidence, with absolutely no reference to contemporary reports of what happened – reports which tell a totally different story.

The Official Biography published in 2008 also continues its hatchet job on Norris by taking its account of the next six years after 1919 from the autobiography of Leslie Knighton, the first manager at Highbury, a report which has been shown through clear evidence to be packed solid with self-serving excuses and downright lies, all of which aim to make Norris seem like a crook and Knighton a brilliant manager held back by the evil self-serving Norris.  Norris, the man who rescued Arsenal from liquidation, paid the debts, guaranteed the lease on Highbury, arranged for its construction and then brought Herbert Chapman to Arsenal after he finally kicked Knighton out.  (There is a series of articles exposing Knighton’s perfidious behaviour in detail on the AHS website).

So, back to the theme.  Who in the upper echelons of Arsenal has cared about Arsenal?  I’d say, probably not the board and owners since Henry Norris.  Indeed they still continue with the story that Norris was forced out of the club because he lost a libel case against the Daily Mail, but in fact it was because he was engaged in a legal dispute with a director of Fulham (of whom Norris was a director until 1919) and the League insisted both men resign as directors since it was not allowable for directors to sue each other.

Thus the board has perpetuated, and allowed to be perpetuated, myths about Arsenal which have written out of history the men who really were the benefactors of the club.

As for today, certainly Stan Kronke and his family are not benefactors.  Indeed through their actions the excellent and highly praised FanShare scheme which allowed fans to buy shares in the club has had to be wound up, because Kronke would not release any shares to keep it going.

So does Arsenal have owners who care about the club?  Yes because the owner has a huge fortune invested in Arsenal.  But does he care in the way that you and I care about the club?  No.

Would Mr Usmanov be a better owner?  Like Mr Kronke he lives outside the UK (he is in Switzerland – at least that is where I last saw him listed as a tax payer) and although he has made noises about big transfer funds, who is to say what would come to pass?

And I say that because transfer money alone is not enough, as we have seen with Manchester City and Manchester United.  If it were, those two clubs with Chelsea would win every match except the six games between each other.  As with the league in Spain everything would be irrelevant except for the games between the top three (or often in Spain, the top two).

But money isn’t everything.  We also need guile and ability from the manager, and as the endless changes of managers among Premier League clubs shows, just changing managers is again not always helpful.  Ask Manchester City and Manchester United fans.

Benefactors can transform clubs: Sir Henry Norris is a perfect example.  But when they go… what next?  If in doubt, ask Blackburn fans.  Brilliant managers can transform clubs.  If in doubt ask Nottingham Forest fans.   And then afterwards?  Curiously, one of those two ancient clubs, one a league winner under a generous benefactor, one a league winner under a brilliant manager, is likely to go down to the third tier of football next weekend.

Maybe we should still be careful what we wish for.  And most certainly we shouldn’t believe what we read in the papers.  Or official histories.

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12 comments to Does Arsenal have owners who care about the club? And if not, why do they so dislike our last great benefactor?

  • Josif

    Stan Kroenke (or as I call him The Neville Chamberlain among the football club owners) has done nothing to stop Mike Riley’s henchmen from massacring Arsenal season after season. In the last four years that have been usually touted as a “post-austerity years” (due to much increased net spending), we have seen Riley’s henchmen taking away the league title from us in 2013-14 (Czechoslovakia), our title challenge being killed off and star players Koscielny and Özil injured by the opponents before The New Year in 2014-15 (Poland), the title given to Leicester City with a non-stop refereeing in favour of so-called Cinderella of Premier League in 2015-16 (Belgium, Holland, France and all other countries invaded in 1940) and, finally, we have seen Arsenal bombed out of the Champions League zone in 2016-17 (Battle for Britain).

    What’s the point of the owner who is, apparently, giving non-disputable support to the manager if that support can be summed up as: “Mr Wenger, you can continue doing your work at Arsenal as long as you want regardless of the number of trophies won and in order to compete with the richest and most powerful European club that are usually aided by the referees like Busacca abroad and Dean in England, you can use limited transfer funds, limited wage structure and your magnificent brain.”

    That doesn’t stop with Kroenke. What’s the point of the club president who makes confusing statements giving WOBs ammunition for their attacks (I can quote three stupid statements from Mr Keswick if you want starting with the most recent one that fans’ opinion about Arsene Wenger’s future would be considered)?

    Or, Ivan Gazidis making promises about Arsenal being capable of competing with the likes of Bayern München completely ignoring the context in which both clubs exist?

    Maybe Stan Kroenke is a good man. I don’t know. I just know that all it takes for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

  • Pat

    The essence of the situation is as Tony says – Kroenke cares about Arsenal to the extent that he has a huge fortune invested in the club – no more, no less. Josif’s imagined quote from Kroenke rings all too true.

    On another point, it would be worth looking more closely at the betting industry in the light of Arsene Wenger’s recent uncompromising statement on its baleful influence.

  • Mike T

    Clever little side step regarding Granda Media for their shareholding was created by way of increased equity and not by them purchasing already issued shares.In effect they put close to £100 million into Arsenal.
    The second of their share purchase saw they pay around 6 times the then value of the shares
    https://www.theguardian.com/media/2000/sep/07/football.citynews

  • Hunter13

    “Woolwich Arsenal, the club that changed football”

    this is our club’s biggest problem. this notion that arsenal was ever a big club..let alone one that CHANGES football.

    dont know about you all but ajax changed football..the brasilians did..ac milan did in 89-90…maybe the catalans lately

    seems people cant realise that arsenal was rather small and insignificant in comparison to the actual big players of world football and that the owners saw the first wenger decade as what it was…an unprecedented unexpected complete fantasy ‘pinch me is this a dream’ era in which they chose to CASH IN definitely for the now and possibly for the future.

    up to a point all acceptable and understandable. football clubs are businesses first of all. you hit a peak. you expand. normal stuff.

    since then weve been chasing the next peak….in this chase the fans did not accept:

    – hey we were small and all of a sudden wenger brings revolution and to keep that up you either need to spend or build form within.
    – can you spend like the others? no
    – can you build? yes you will try but no guarantees

    automatically the fan here needs to accept that even the first crop could get burnt from pressure or expectations or injuries or heads turned. it might be the case for the second as well. will you wait? can you wait? do you have the stomach for it?

    secondly come all the other issues which are on backscene level but fundamental for any front you wish to put up. We know and can see for years the refs dont play arsenal fairly. what is the club doing about that? do we expect players to be supermen and beat the refs too? in that case we need stronger profile of players. do we have the balls as a football club to expose pgmol or f.a or sky? or do we shut up and tow the line and let wenger take all the blame?

    fans dont know how to act big..board does not know how to act big..

    the only figure in arsenal the last 20 years that knows/understands football and its financial impications is Wenger. our greatest asset and the only thing i can agree with usmanov is that we have used his best years for a miserable austerity task for which the rest of owners/board were happy to watch him run it prudently but without facing to the reality that at some stage they will need ot back him aggressively either in transfers or with media/refs

  • Mandy Dodd

    Can only agree with comments suggesting more…a lot more… should be done about the refereeing this team get. Maybe they didnt want to make a noise , rock the boat, and risk a top four place….well guess what!!!
    As for Kroenke, he is an investor, but probably not a fan in the way that…most…who come on here are. Iguess he signed up to a deal where he didnt have to put his own money into the club infrastructure/players, anyone who doesnt like that should blame the previous board for setting up such a deal, not the man who took it .
    Also, the prev board, and manager trumpeted self sustainability, Kroenke is certainly appearing to go alone with that.
    Would i chose Stan as the ultimate owner…no I wouldnt, I am related to citizens of St Loius for starters. I also happen to think some of the board have put too much on Wengers plate, whether the manager was willing or not
    But i think what many of the critics are saying, Stan doesnt care enough to rid us of wenger…or so it is reported.

  • Mandy Dodd

    ^Kroenke is certainly appearing to go along with that

  • Josif

    Mandy

    I think Arsene is a perfect shield for Kroenke. Kroenke knows that if he lets Arsene go, he will lose the only top manager in the world who is ready to work and make results (2 FA Cups and 2 Community Shields since the purchase of Ozil as a sign of the end of austerity) under Kroenke’s financial terms. Let Arsene go and all hell breaks will loose – suddenly the perfect scape goat is gone and unhappy fans won’t see a new manager as a common denominator as they see Arsene now but the man who sits on piles of cash diseinterested in results on the pitch which is the only thing most of football fans care about.

  • Norman14

    I’m coming to the conclusion that there is too much going on in different areas, to be able to come to a concise solution.
    This is because, some things are football related, some are corporate related, some are administrative related and some (maybe all), are supporter related. Once we have worked out which pegs fit which holes, maybe we could get a grasp of what is actually happening.

    As long as the owners, the board, the CEO, the manager say nothing, then we don’t know what is happening.

    Finally, as much as the Owner probably cares about the “club” due to his investment, I’m willing to venture that he cares bugger all about us supporters.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Any wise investor would look to increase his investment in well planned stages . While some fiscial leeway would be considered for certain ‘ corrections’ and unforseen or unpredictable dips and losses, he would never dump his hard earned money on whims or on shows of popularity.
    Stan has bought the club for millions , given the board the licence to run it prudently on his behalf. That his investment has increased in value is testament that it IS being done right.
    As in any buissness , anyone who is unhappy always have the choice
    of spending their money elsewhere.
    Even if it is your hometown club. Others are willing to appreciate what is on offer.
    I for one would jump at the chance of a season ticket . Or invest in the club in some way.
    One day it may come to pass, especially as the kids complete the studies and I can ease up in my practice.
    Having invested wisely in my kids ,with my time and advice , I have two doctors on the way . The other will probably be headhunted by some multinational firm.
    Hope to share wine with you hard core Untolders very soon.
    Cheers !

  • Notoverthehill

    Tony, you are wrong on why the Arsenal Fanshare closed down>

    Read the full story on the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust site.

    Arsenal Overseas confirmed that the continuation of subsidizing the Fanshare, was at an end.

    With both KSE(UK) and Red and White Holdings, buying up any available shares, the Arsenal Fanshare was never a feasible option. The timing of the launching of Fanshare, after the David Dein sale to R&W, was ill-conceived.

    The actions of the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust, since, have soured relations with the Arsenal Board of Directors.

    Mr. Kroenke, bought a vineyard in California. The stock in store was ALL destroyed, not being good enough to market.

    Mr. Kroenke, has bought a big ranch in Texas, obviously a man with taste!

  • Equalizer

    Danny Fizman whom you mentioned at one time owned a 33% stake in the club cared passionately for the club from both a business and sporting perspective. Having supported the club as a kid, it was his investment in 91/92 that enabled the recruitment of players like Bergkamp and Platt, and the Emirates Stadium was his brainchild. Just before he passed away he sanctioned the sale of his 25% to Kronke, no doubt in the belief that the club would be in good hands. Alas.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    While heaping praise on the efforts of those who came before , let us not forget Dein Jr , who helped swell our kitty by moving out some undesirables and ungrateful players .
    He must have done it all with the goodness of his heart .