How do we measure club success? 10 ways measure Arsenal.

By Tony Attwood

A recent article in the Telegraph sought to evaluate the best run clubs in England.

I found that quite a challenging concept – and what made it all the more difficult to deal with was that the Telegraph produced tiny summaries of the clubs that were nominated for being among the “best run”, leaving the reader utterly unclear as to why and how it had reached its conclusions.

The result, because of this lack of transparency, was quite weird – indeed one was left wondering whether this was simply a quick fill in, as in the sports editor shouting, “For fuck’s sake will someone do me an article, there’s nothing new up here”, or whether it was a case of deliberately trying to avoid discussing the real issues.

What came across in these articles was a lack of detail and a constant short term perspective plus a total oblivion to the thought that if you are going to do a comparative study you first need to set out how things are to be measured.

So, rather interested in the idea, but pissed off by the way the Telegraph dealt with it, I drew up my own little list of what makes Arsenal a well-run club in my eyes.  It is in no particular order but it goes like this…

1.  Profitability.  Without that there is a problem which is either solved by going bust, or by bringing in a wealthy outsider.  I’ve no problem with wealthy outsiders per se, just as long as one is not dependent on them.  Which leads to…

2.  Not being dependent on one outsider.   My problem with Chelsea and Man C is that they are both completely dependent on wealthy outsiders.   Chelsea will use the Abramovich money to build their new stadium, which means they won’t go through what Arsenal went through when the building of the Emirates occurred.  Man City have developed their youth academy etc through outside money – Arsenal paid for theirs through selling Nic Anelka for £25m profit.  They were also gifted their ground by the state.

WHU are also getting their mega stadium for a peppercorn rent…   I respect clubs that do it all with their own money, in their own way.

3.  Taking care of the fans.  The Emirates Stadium was not built just to give us a good view and comfortable seats, nor so that more fans could actually see the games, but that was part of the deal.  So was the fact that League Cup matches have tickets at £10 each.

Of course I know the tickets are expensive, although not as expensive as the press endlessly suggest, with their wild unsubstantiated claims of “the most expensive in the world”, or even in the country, but that is a side effect of not having a sugar daddy who is going to pay for everything.

But taking care of the fans means listening and noting, which I can tell you from my own experience that is what Arsenal does.  I feel that through the personal response I get, through the way the club deals with AISA, RedAction etc, through the treatment and support given to the disabled, and so on.

4.  Success within the context of where the club is.   Fourth was never a trophy, but the Emirates Stadium is a trophy when compared with Highbury.  To start winning trophies again after paying for the stadium is what I call “success within the context”.   The context is the economic situation and where the club is.  Arsenal did it, stayed in the Champions League, and paid off the debts.  That was an absolute triumph.

5.  Willingness to work with young players.  I love the fact that some players come through the ranks, joining as schoolboys, or at 16 or 18.   Of course I welcome stars like Henry and Ozil when they are brought in, but there is something hugely enjoyable about seeing a player develop over time.

6.  Short and long term ambitions.   Think of the clubs that rose up, and then quickly fell back down.  Northampton Town, from fourth to first to fourth division.   Portsmouth, from FA Cup triumph to fourth division.   This history of football is full of this.

What the truly successful club does is combine success in the short, medium and long term, and this is what Henry Norris, Herbert Chapman and Mr Wenger all have done.   Each delivered more than could ever have been imagined – just look at what Mr Wenger did at Highbury, and how he delivered Champions League football year after year at the Emirates to help pay for the stadium, while bringing through players and constantly selling them on at a huge profit.

I feel quite certain that now, with the financial worries behind us, the club is not going hell for leather to win the Champions League or the Premier League, but is going after continuous growth, so that we don’t just rise up, and then slip away again. Which leads on to…

7.  Stability.   Stability comes out of all that has been mentioned above.  No matter what changes will happen at the club in the coming years, we will know it is still Arsenal, being run in the Arsenal way.

8. History.  I love the fact that we are a club that has a long cherished and honourable history with multiple achievements to its name, including so many firsts and they can hardly be counted.  I love the fact that the club has been innovators over the years – and I expect them still to be.  I love the fact that we have been in the top division since 1919.  I even love the fact that fans of some other teams try to knock Arsenal’s history with wild stories of corruption and underhand dealings, and can’t be arsed even to check the most basic facts.  The fact that those make believe tales exist shows how desperate other clubs are to find some way to knock Arsenal.  They wouldn’t bother if we were not that successful.

9. Treating older players or those who have not measured up to the requirements, with decency and respect.  We don’t kick players out; as a club Arsenal tries to look after them, nurture them and help them when times are bad.   All we have ever heard about Diaby is criticism of Arsenal – I can’t remember any reporter writing about the honour that Arsenal has shown in supporting him.  This is why players love to come to Arsenal.  They will be well treated.

This goes right the way back to the days of Sir Henry Norris, who, for example, very publicly took up the case of Tom Whittaker, the Arsenal player whose career was ended playing for the FA, and who was offered the most derisory of sums in “compensation”.   Norris was so utterly outraged he wrote a damning critique of the FA and published it in the club programme.   Now that’s what I call standing up for your staff.

10.  Openness.  The club doesn’t give away its internal secrets, and sometimes I wish it would be a little more open, but by and large if you want to engage the club in serious discussion you can.

When I started to put forward my ideas to the club about improvements and developments, they didn’t know who I was, Untold was just another tiny blog, and the Arsenal History Society brand new, but they listened politely, and over the years the conversation has grown.   I doubt that this happens in many other clubs.

I haven’t finished with this because I would like to compare the thoughts of why I value Arsenal with the comments the Telegraph made about clubs that it sees as doing well.   But I will leave that for my next piece.

Anniversary of the day

  • 4 August 1971: Arsenal 6 Benfica 1.  The ref then reported Benfica for the behaviour of the entire team after he was attacked by several Benfica players.


31 Replies to “How do we measure club success? 10 ways measure Arsenal.”

  1. Tony

    I assume we didn’t come out too well in this ‘evaluation’ by the Telegraph?

  2. Who cares what Telegraph thinks about us? Can we afford the disgusting distraction? We could better spend that time counting sheep and sleeping off.

  3. Some great points. Guess it comes in with point number 3 but I would add the clubs sterling work in the community. I know this applies to a lot of clubs, but it is an area in which Arsenal do a great job.
    Great point about how the club treat players, it is no accident so many ex players feel a life long connection.

  4. I’m all for balance. We want success but not to the detriment of overall stability and existence. We want our players to love the club as we do but not so much that they don’t feel the competition for positions. We want to treat older players well but leave the door open for younger ones, too. We want class but not sanctimony. In short we want greatness without arrogance.

  5. Having an underground station named exclusively for you. What better measure of success!

  6. Jambug

    We came second, behind Southampton

  7. I don’t see how having an owner building new facilities with his own money can be considered ‘club dependence’. The reality at Chelsea is that Abramovich expanding that stadium is money out of his pocket today, but he’d recoup every bit of that investment in the facility if he ever decides to sell.

    Spending big on players and increasing the wage bill to unsustainable levels is problematic, but making investments in facilities and infrastructure certainly aren’t. Is it really more ethical for Arsenal to suffer for nearly a decade in order for Stan Kroenke to make hundreds of millions more when he eventually sells the club than it is for Abramovich to make that investment for other sources, knowing full well that he’ll recoup every penny if he sells? Personally, I’d prefer the owner spending his own money on long term assets which he owns, as opposed to one that puts his ‘business’ at a competitive disadvantage to ensure a windfall for himself down the road.

  8. Looking at what threads are active, something off topic but relevant seems to best go here. And yet, I want to preface it.

    I have a friend who is a ManU supporter. And it bothered the heck out of me that ManU supporters actually thought they should be given the trophy before the season even started.

    I suppose part of this is the saying, “there is only one United”. I don’t know, if a person cataloged all the sports stories in football about “United” doing something, is it a foregone conclusion that it is Manchester United they are talking about?

    There are a few teams named Arsenal in the world. As near as I can tell, if you say “The Arsenal”, there is no confusion. It is Arsenal of north London nee Woolwich (I hope I am using nee properly). There is only one, it uniquely identifies a team across the entire globe. And I think Arsenal should re-incorporate that.

    But what do I know?

  9. The daily Wail has a sports article that is half about Arsenal, and half about track and field as near as I can tell. Why do websites do this?

    In any event, some medja person who is supposed to be competent is commenting on the Community Shield, and has some good arguments about why the little moaner is wrong. It’s longish for many newspaper articles, so why the need to co-mingle it with track and field?

    Looking through the entire article, it co-mingles many things. Nowhere in the article does it talk about reasons for Arsenal having an injury problem, even though it does bring up Jack Wilshere later on.

    That idiot from ManU provided the perfect example last season, break Wilshere’s ankle, and not even have a foul given. What better example do these medja idiots need? The officials are NOT unbiased. Dorks! And the writer is a dork too.

  10. off topic, Have you seen the ‘photo-bomb” thing. Fans reaction when they see the players, priceless.

  11. While I would agree, Tony, with most of what you say about the qualities which make Arsenal FC the great club it is, I would question paragraph 9 about the treatment of past players.
    Eddie Hapgood, the longserving club (and England) captain, fell on hard times post WW2 and asked for financial help. A testimonial match would have been easy to arrange. The club sent him a cheque for £30.
    On the other hand though, more recently, no club could have treated Diaby with greater care and sympathy.
    I believe Untold has lately reported that the club still refuses to adhere to the London Living Wage for its employees. 😉

  12. Dear Tony
    Must disagree with you on a few points raised here. 1st and foremost, a club only reason for existence is its fans. As fans we are fully entitled to expect that everything within the club is geared towards success on the field both in the short term as well as the long term.

    When the board decided to sacrifice short term success to protect the long term future by the Emirates move, I think the fans supported it. The competitive landscape was changed during the Emirates years by the emergence of ManShitty and Chelski, we the fans supported it. MOST fans understood that 2014 was the year when the benefits of the Emirates move would kick in and we supported it.

    But now that we have crossed those hurdles, the fans are justified to expect sustained EPL and European challenges and everything else is only a means to an end. I feel that most of the fans supported Wenger in the barren years because they understand context. However going forward they may not be as understanding if on field success is not forthcoming.

    The values with which the Board runs AFC like sustainability, fairness, transparency are what attracts us further to the club. However when the club is owned by an individual (Kroenke or any other person) these values cannot be guaranteed to last. We can only hope that the Board will be reasonably independent and invested enough to make sure that the club is successful.

    Also at a personal level, I wished we had a better commercial team to support the team in terms of generating more revenue to make us more competitive. Our commercial revenue of 80M for FY15 pales when compared to 70M that ManUre make from Kit sponsorship alone

    Victoria Concordia Crescit

  13. SteveO – Kronke does not own Arsenal. He has shares in the club just as many others except he is majority share holder. The success of Arsenal is for all shareholders.

    The club to the West is owned (financed by unknown funds) by a close friend of a mass murdering dictator. There is no comparison.

  14. @menance I hate it when arsenal fans decide to put politics into an Arsenal discussion, By the way who is this mass murdering dictator. Aren’t all your leaders in Europe mass murdering dictators (just saying I’m an african the perspective is very different, NATO ring any bells.)

  15. AJ_GoofyGooner

    “However going forward they may not be as understanding if on field success is not forthcoming.”

    So I take it that in your infinite wisdom you have decided that 2 FA Cups (and 2 CS) do not count as ‘Success on the field’ ?

  16. I have run across 12 predictions for the EPL season, most rank all 20, a few don’t. After I finished compiling this, the BBC has published an article where 29 different people rank the top 4.

    Chelsea 1.5 0.5
    Arsenal 2.5 0.5
    ManC 3 1
    ManU 3.5 0.5
    Liverpool 5 0
    Spuds 6 0
    Southampton 8 1
    Swansea 9 2
    Everton 9 2
    Stoke 9 2
    CPal 10 1
    WHam 11 1
    New 13 0
    WBrom 15 1
    AVilla 16 1
    Sunderland 16 1
    Norwich 18 1
    Watford 18 1
    Bournemouth 18 2
    Leicester 19 1

    First number is median finish, second is median absolute deviation.

    The BBC data has almost every person choosing only from Chelsea, Arsenal, ManC and ManU in the top 4, the one exception being one person who had Liverpool in 4th at the expense of ManC. The data I seen also had a single source choosing Liverpool for 4th.

    Few of these predictions have Arsenal finishing 1st. Chelsea is still the most popular target to finish first. Most sets of predictions seem to have have either or both of the Manchester clubs finishing above Arsenal, but when you combine everything (into at most 12 predictions), you end up seeing Arsenal having a slight advantage over the two Manchester teams.

    A couple of surprises: Liverpool and Tottenham are almost universally expected to finish 5,6. Another surprise, is almost universally Newcastle is expected to finish 13. Actually I will say this Newcastle prediction is the most surprising. Nearly everyone who estimated a finish for Newcastle, chose 13th as the position they would finish in, and when all the expected finishes were ranked, this expected ranking of 13th was 13th. It is a tremendous coincidence.

    The largest variance is associated with the top of which teams are going to finish outside of the top 6 (or so). My interpretation of this, is that the 3-5 teams just outside of the top 6 are more or less the same, and it is random chance that determines their final ranking.

    Some on Untold have mentioned a desire to make supporting football more civilised. The BBC has a story about a German court that gave two Bayern Munich fans an ultimatum: either go to the official 1860 Munich fan store and purchase new uniforms to replace the ones they ripped off a supporter in attacking him, or spend 15 months in jail. They decided to go to the store.

    And if you have an idea as to why the Newcastle variance is so small, please speak up.

  17. @swing – do what your name suggests but politics not involved. Which part of you is more African than me?

    Please have more respect for those that educate you.

  18. @Gord – the new coach at Newcastle is not flavour of the month with the media.

  19. Menace

    Something like, nobody thinks they will be relegated, but nobody likes them, so they choose the unlucky 13 for a finish position?

  20. @SteveO. Just to add on the Chelsea point, Abramovich has already sunk so much money into the club that it wouldn’t matter what facilities he builds. His investment is already far beyond anything he could possibly hope to get for the club.

    TO put it into perspective, the most recent estimate of the value of the whole club is around £850 million, which is around £100-150 million (at least) less than he has invested over the years.

  21. Rufusstan

    Is that so?

    I knew he had invested fortunes but you are inferring an investment of a Billon quid. Not saying I don’t believe you. In fact, I thought it was edging in that direction but I could never find any figures.

    Can you point me in the direction of some statistics.

    NB Always helps to counter the ‘that’s bo!!ocks’ brigade.

  22. Jambug, those numbers probably came from Swiss Ramble – the best site for footie financials.

  23. “2. Not being dependent on one outsider. My problem with Chelsea and Man C is that they are both completely dependent on wealthy outsiders.”

    Don’t you mean shareholder or owner instead of outsider? Outsider is an unnecessarily loaded, emotive word.

    It’s more than likely that, historically, most English football clubs have been owned by one individual – or one individual has had majority control. Arsenal with Kroenke are an example of the latter, so we are as dependent on his good sense as any other club is on its owner/majority shareholder.

    Most Budesliga clubs have a far better, and more sustainable, model of ownership than PL clubs. Only Swansea with 4(?) shareholders and 20% of the club owned by a supporters trust come close.

    In short, Arsenal have nothing to crow about re ownership by one individual/one majority shareholder. However, we are fortunate that that majority shareholder has more business sense than many an example from the past.

    The issue with Chelsea and Man City has nothing to do with the fact that they’re owned by one individual. The main issue is that their financial doping resulted in major inflationary pressure on transfer fees and player wages – quite probably the single major reason for the introduction of FFP.

    Beyond that, the type of ownership at those clubs is very different.

    Abramovitch is a businessman. He was prepared to spend a billion quid to sit at the top table, and he’s reaped the rewards in terms of silverware. Lots of silverware. My view is that he’s closed the purse strings – which is the main reason the Spending One is so surly. My view is also that he’ll use bank loans to fund the new stadium – another reason to close the purse strings.

    Sheikh Mansour is not a businessman. He’s a junior member of the royal family of an autocratic monarchy, so in reality Man City is state-owned, like PSG. If UEFA/the FA had any sense they’d outlaw states from club ownership. Fat chance of the British government doing that – not when it allowed sensitive industries such as Utilities to be bought up by foreign states.

    So Man City is a vanity project – and that model of ownership does not bode well for the future. Chelsea looks set to stay at the top table, and it wouldn’t surprise me if other London clubs tried to join them. Tottenham, West Ham and even Brentford spring to mind as long term candidates.

  24. Robert

    I’ve seen ‘Swiss Ramble’ mentioned on here a many times but always had the impression it was not particularly reliable. The impression I got, rightly or wrongly, was that it was not purely based on statistical data but relied on the authors inclinations, intuition, opinions and such like.

    I have seen his/its take on Arsenals finances contested on here as inaccurate.

    That invokes 2 questions:

    1) IS Swiss Rambler widely considered accurate?

    2) Is there other, more reliable sources of football Clubs financial situations?


  25. Robert

    “Arsenal with Kroenke are an example of the latter, so we are as dependent on his good sense as any other club is on its owner/majority shareholder.”

    –Being reliant on somebodies ‘good sense’, as important as that is, is surely vastly different to being reliant on there Money?

    “In short, Arsenal have nothing to crow about re ownership by one individual/one majority shareholder. However, we are fortunate that that majority shareholder has more business sense than many an example from the past.”

    –Is it good fortune or good judgement that we have someone with ‘more business sense than many’ at the helm? I would suggest good judgement. I think you are being very disingenuous to suggest the present incumbent is there simply due to ‘good fortune’.

    So it seems to me we do in fact have something to ‘crow’ about.

    “The issue with Chelsea and Man City has nothing to do with the fact that they’re owned by one individual. The main issue is that their financial doping resulted in major inflationary pressure on transfer fees and player wages – quite probably the single major reason for the introduction of FFP.

    –In deed that is the issue, and I totally agree that that is what was initially behind FFP. Basically it was viewed that just printing money Ad Infinitum was fundamentally ‘Unfair'(the clue is in the name) as well as being very risky in the long term, in a similar way that Quantitative easing is dangerous in the real World. It just creates a totally unsustainable financial landscape.

    I must say I think the FFP goal posts have, and are still, being constantly moved to accommodate the current transgressors, to a greater and greater degree, as well as the more understandable reason of not wanting to discourage further investment, which I agree with incidentally. It is just it has to have checks, as simply doing what City and Chelsea (amongst others across Europe) have done is, in my opinion, unacceptable.

    Basically it makes you unbeatable without your Club having to do anything correctly, other than acquiring themselves a very wealthy owner. Now THAT is ‘hardly something to crow about’ !

  26. Jambug, Swiss Ramble provides the most detailed analysis of published financial statements that I’ve come across. His commentaries on those finstats are sensible. That’s my view as a lapsed beancounter. *g*

    The blurb on his site says he was blogger of the year in 2011 and 2013 – Football Supporters Federation. There are also complimentary quotes from the BBC and the Guardian. So yes, I’d suggest he’s widely considered accurate.

    Re your (2), I don’t know of any other sources that provide as much detail.

    Judging by his blogroll, I think he’s an Arsenal supporter.

    financialfairplay has good articles on that more specialised subject.

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