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The strange history of the Arsenal Debenture Bonds, and how they operate today

By Ian Brookes

Towards the back end of the 1990/91 season Arsenal  announced the launch of a new Debenture Bond scheme. The idea of the scheme was to assist in the funding of the development of the North Bank following the Taylor Report post Hillsborough.

The Bonds were known as “A” and “B”. An A bond entitled the holder to purchase a season ticket in the upper tier of the new North bank at a cost of £1,500. The B bond was for the lower tier and would cost £1,100.

Arsenal’s plan was to create £16m through the sale of the Bond and only bond holders would be allowed to buy season tickets in the new North Bank. I’m not sure how many were sold but have a feeling it was around the 3,000 mark, probably generating around £4m.

The scheme of course caused some unrest among Arsenal fans and much talk about sit-ins and protests which I have to say that I never actually saw but cannot guarantee that they didn’t take place. During this time other teams were launching similar schemes as a way to generate cash to help with development costs. Many supporters had had season tickets in the North Bank for a number of years and felt let down by the club that they would not be able o continue to renew their season ticket in the North bank once the new stand was completed.

To counter this Arsenal were talking about building a long lasting loyalty between the club and the fans, which touched a nerve as many fans reacted saying that loyalty is turning up on cold Tuesday night in November when the team is not playing or doing well, as they had done so for the last 20 – 30 years.

West Ham also launched its Bond Scheme in 1991 asking supporters to purchase bonds in three price bands – £500, £750 and £950 – in their case the club stated that ownership would give the right to buy a match day ticket or season ticket for a designated seat for a period of 150 years.

Furious supporters disrupted two home matches against Everton and Arsenal by conducting pitch invasions in protest at the scheme. A combination of poor sales – only 808 fans took up bonds – and anger among supporters forced West Ham to back track and announce that the purchase of a bond would no longer be required to buy a season ticket. Interestingly, the 808 bond holders were given priority to choose their seats at the Olympic Stadium.

Aside from the ability to jump the queue on the season ticket waiting list, there were a number of other benefits to the Arsenal scheme.

  • Season ticket prices would only increase in line with inflation for a 10 year period
  • There was an exclusive restaurant and bar area in the North Bank for Bond holders.
  • There was an initial £50 voucher to be used in the club shop
  • Your name was included on your seat alongside the seat number
  • Guaranteed ticket for any Arsenal Cup Final
  • Tickets for matches in the 92/93 season when the capacity would be reduced to 29,000

My father purchased three A bonds (one for himself, myself and my brother) and the three of us sat proudly together when the North bank opened in August of 1993. Some will recall that this was a home game against Coventry City that we somehow managed to lose 3-0.

Not long after the launch the value of the Bonds dropped quite dramatically and there were rumours (which I did check at the time) that by 1994 the resell value of the Bonds had reduced by around 50%.

But by the late 90s things were very different. The team under Arsene was transformed, we were selling out every week (Highbury’s capacity was 38,000) and the easy way to get an Arsenal season ticket was to purchase a Debenture Bond. Due to poor health and my father not being able to attend as many games as we used too we decided to sell our A bonds at the end of the 1999 season and by this time the value had risen to £5,500.

Now just to clarify when I say value, the Bonds are bought and sold on a matched service. So if I wanted to sell I could say I want any amount for the Bond. If there is an offer that meets the value I want to sell for, then there is a match and the sale takes place.

I have recently enquired about the value of the debenture bonds and these are on a matched sale basis. The last matched sale saw an A bond sell at £1,200 and a B bond sell at £1,600 making the B bond more valuable. However this can change quite quickly dependent on how quickly someone has a desire to buy or sell.

One of the key benefits of the Bond when launched was the fact that season tickets would only increase in line with inflation. At the time I don’t think that this was a real positive reason to purchase.  However if we go back to when Arsenal signed Sol Campbell back in 2001 the season ticket prices for non bond holders increased by over 40%. The reason given at the time by David Dein was that, that was the cost of attracting the best players.

Last week I completed the process of repurchasing an A Bond and paid £1,250 for it. The reason is that when I gave up my season ticket 5 years ago I was dropped from Gold to Red as an Arsenal member. This made it very difficult for me to get tickets for the matches I want to attend. Furthermore as I take my two children now and want to sit with them in the family enclosure by the time I can apply for tickets all the seats have usually sold.

The Bond effectively moves me from Red to Silver allowing me to buy tickets 2 months in advance (exactly at the same moment I can buy the tickets for my children who are Junior Gunners) meaning I should now be able to get tickets for all of the games i want to attend. For me £1,250 is worth it, although I have to say it took me some time to convince my wife that this was the case!

Debenture Bonds are being sold on a matched service by Capita Asset Services, if you are interested in buying or selling the number to call is 020 3170 0234.

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9 comments to The strange history of the Arsenal Debenture Bonds, and how they operate today

  • colario

    To think there are ‘fans’ who want to take us back to the days of 19 000, when you could get reasonably good seat just by showing up at the stadium!

  • GoingGoingGooner

    Aah the days of the North Bank Mural.

  • insideright

    19000 was a good crowd on a wet Tuesday night in the mid ’70’s when we were battling relegation. I know, I was there!

  • Andy Mack

    It does show how much the game has changed money-wise when the club go to that effort trying to raise £4m but now the newer supporters feel it’s fine to throw an extra £5m above his valuation at a player to secure his signature (whether buying the player or renewing a player contract)…
    That £5m is now acquired by the club from various TV/commercial income (indirectly from supporters) and also directly from supporters via gate money and shirt sales etc, but the supporters live are so far removed from numbers involved now that they have problems associating it with actual money rather than a pure numbers game acted out in a board game…
    £1m in £50 notes is very big pile of cash…

  • porter

    I was told by the club that should you give up your season ticket as a gold member and sell your bond you would revert to a silver member. I will try to check again.

  • Nitram

    insideright

    “19000 was a good crowd on a wet Tuesday night in the mid ’70’s when we were battling relegation. I know, I was there!”

    Me too. Early seventies through to 1990 I followed the lads all over the place, often to watch utter garbage.

    I wonder if this satisfies young nickys (from the other thread) requirements to qualify us as ‘real’ fans ?

  • Andy Mack

    Nitram, I could well have stood next to you many times… although more so in the early 80s when I went to the majority of away games.
    Great times and awful times (much more of the latter than the former).

  • Menace

    I was also there on the North bank. Late 60s to mid 70s & then occasionally as I was working abroad. That didn’t stop me following & supporting Arsenal. It is in the DNA as Cesc claimed Barca was.

  • Coyg

    i remember the sit in (or stand-in) protest after the norwich evening game in 1992. was 14 at the time, we marched down avenell road from the clock end to the north bank after the game and enjoyed a good back n forth of we’re the clock end/we’re the north bank for a while under the roof! amazing that we were able to just walk back in to the ground like that after the game! think we would get a bit more resistance from security nowadays. i remember that there was an anti-bond scheme chant, but cant remember what it was. think we beat sheff wed 7-1 a few days later and there was some pretty exciting football played during the remaining games of the season which may have distracted some of our fickle minds from the protests a bit!

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