Better the Devil you know, than the owner you don’t.

By Terence McGovern


When I first thought of writing this article. it occurred to me that dozens of others would be doing the same and I decided to leave them to it. Days and weeks passed and not one scrap appeared on the subject matter. At that point I felt that it was, at least for the time being, no longer topical so I decided to wait. Recent events however have reinforced my opinions and I submitted it to Tony for consideration.

I want you all to cast your mind back before the election in the UK. Gordon Brown is on a loser and he knows it. He is willing to make any play that has the potential to paint him in a popular light so he turns his attention to football. I’m sure that he decided that as football is a national obsession in the UK and pretty much everybody has a team that they support on some level, suggesting a policy change that would appeal to the majority of them was a sure fire winner.

On many levels he was correct but it would appear that he failed to factor in how unpopular his government had become and so his proposal that this same government would implement a programme that would eventually leave 25% ownership of every football club in the hands of their supporters (presumably through the mechanisms of supporters trusts) at least for now, came to naught.

Now it was a blatantly populist move with absolutely no thought as to how it could ever be achieved, but it did at the time send a chill deep into my very soul.

Forget for now the mechanics of how this would come about.  I am more interested in the philosophical perspective of the idea……and how darkly dangerous it is.

On the face of it, it is fair to say that most fans would like the “idea” of being involved in the ownership of the club that they support. That being said, it is also fair to say that they wouldn’t want to have to pay for it otherwise they already would have.

The problem from my perspective is that the vast majority of fans aren’t very bright and in some cases they are thicker than two planks. One only has to see how easily that they are led up, down and around the garden path by the mainstream media especially in the last couple of days, to have that point confirmed.

Imagine if you will, the population of LeGrove, the guys that jeer our own players during matches and the people who thought it would be a good idea to leave messages on Cesc’s sister’s twitter calling him a c*** for wanting to leave, all having an input into how our club is run.

“This wouldn’t happen!” I hear you say. Wrong. Dead wrong. It was only last year at the shareholders meeting that Arsene Wenger had to put up with cheap shots at his players and the club’s policies which caused me to write my first article on this site calling for everybody to get behind the club and the team.

The problem with these types of meetings is that people tend to get an over-inflated sense of self and their own position. Just because owning 1 share allowed them to attend the meeting, they took a liberty off of the back of this to express their own minority view in an insulting and unconstructive manner.

Had I been Arsene Wenger at that meeting I would have offered to purchase his share on the spot given his unhappiness with the club. That would have shut him right up.

It is worth noting that the club has postponed the next similar meeting no doubt to avoid what is certain to be a more vicious repeat of last year’s events.

There will be a cretin sector of the supporters who will say that they have the right to express these views in whatever manner they choose because it is “their” club. To put it quite simply is is most certainly NOT their club. The club belongs to the major shareholders and not to a bunch of malcontented morons with no business acumen, no historical perspective and no common sense. Dear GOD! what would happen if this ilk of so-called fans had the influence behind them that a 25% stake would afford?

Now I know that there are many AST people who post comments here and for the most part they seem decent and reasonable supporters. It should be remembered however,that were the Supporters Trust to grow from its paltry few shares to a major shareholding stake, it would not be these reasonable well intentioned people who would be sitting at its head but rather the power-hungry, agenda-bearing, political self publicists that these organisations always draw as they gain momentum.

Give me an AST with 25% stake with Consolbob anyday because I know what I am getting but I think we all know that instead it will be somebody who will greedily consolidate their own position to make it almost impossible to shift them short of dynamite. You can bet it wouldn’t be somebody who had personally contributed heavily from their own funds to acquire the shares either. Members who did in fact own shares would find themselves watching others wield them for their own ends with little hope of change.

I am not specifically having a go at the AST here because generally speaking they are at best genuine supporters and at worst harmless in their current incarnation because they possess very little shareholding, but how benevolent would they be with a large shareholding?

One only has to look at the insanity that occurs at Real Madrid and Barcelona every election year and indeed every season with managers being sacked who “only” win La Liga but not the Champion’s League. All to please the supporters by making popular political decisions which become more important than long term planning that ensures sustainability.

It is only the inequity of TV money distribution in Spain that perpetuates the hold of the these two clubs. Were they ever to have to rely on sound decision making for success on a level financial playing field they would be badly hampered to the point of dysfuntionality by their form of ownership. Would you like that bedlam year in and year out at Arsenal because I certainly wouldn’t.

Some will point to the examples in the Bundesliga where supporter ownership has a much higher profile with Bayern Munich as an example. Bayern’s debts like those of Madrid and Barca are there to make my point for me. Success that puts the future of any club at risk is no success at all. Portsmouth may treasure their FA Cup but they do so from the championship next year and may be doing so from league1 the following year, if indeed they survive at all.

Our club may have had half a decade of no trophies but in that time they have made vast stride in terms of infrastructure and financial clout. This has in turn raised our profile on a global scale. We have held fast in our league standing against a ridiculous level of financial doping from our competitors and it finally looks like they will be called to account by either administrators or UEFA leaving us in an almost unassailable pole position. This has all been carefully engineered and shepherded by both the board and the manager and those who criticise them for it are bereft of sense and reason.

Long may it last that they are also bereft of ownership.


Editorial whatnot: If you want to write for Untold Arsenal please drop an email to   Please note however we only publish articles that relate to our central pro-Wenger approach.  If you have differing views you are lucky – there’s loads of sites you can write for.


The Index of Indexes to Everything Positive and Nice (except Fifa and its bent world cup)

Woolwich Arsenal – now there is a club on the brink of disaster

The Book – not as useful as the Hitch hikers guide to the galaxy, but still, quite good for a read during the summer break.

17 Replies to “Better the Devil you know, than the owner you don’t.”

  1. This is very much a subject that has long deserved a contribution. Thanks for doing it and writing it so well. You are so right on many fronts and I can assure you that the same conversations have happened at the AST and the cry of ‘be careful what you wish for’ has been heard on more than one occasion when the topic of supporter ownership comes up. The long term strategies adopted by this Arsenal Board and by those that preceded it have been remarkably successful. No club ever has a team on the pitch which delevers the level of success that its most passionate fans think it deserves but the level of acumen that has been displayed so often in the Arsenal Boardroom I believe has been second to none. There have been mistakes, but far fewer than in any other club boardroom that you can name.
    The Clubs position to exploit the new regulations on finance and on squad composition are so outstanding that, if you didn’t know better, you would think that Arsene Wenger wrote the new rule book. It’s that sort of forward thinking (and maybe even behind closed doors influence) that large scale supporter ownership could never have. And it’s worth noting that they have not voted themselves a dividend in more years than most people can remember. Look for that phenomenon anywhere else in football and you’ll struggle to find it.
    It’s probably also worth noting that, if the AST gets into the position to buy shares, the first ones that will come its way are those currently in the hands of shareholders who want to sell but don’t want to do so to any of the current major shareholders. That’s how much they care about keeping the current model in place and it makes so much sense to do so.

  2. An interesting position which no doubt many will support.

    I think it important though to examine many examples to be sure of the outcome. Also to think carefully about mechanisms for using such a shareholding. None are preordained, nor are bad outcomes certain.

    I’m sorry, but not all Arsenal fans are thick. Nor are they all power-hungry. Nor are they the sorts who insult the family of players. Nor are they deluded by the Press.

    It’s absolutely clear that D. Dein was a fan. Some might say he acted out of self-interest during his tenure. I’m not one of them, but a case could be made. You could say the same of Fiszman. I don’t do that either. You could say that Wenger refuses to build a core of English players at the club due to his own temperament yet refuses to go home to France to do what he should do in France, namely build a squad with 10 Frenchmen and quite a few foreigners. And in England, that’s a position which could be made. That has nothing to do with Wenger’s performance as manager, his trophies won, his shareholder performance which is excellent etc etc etc. It’s a position which goes to the heart of what Arsenal is about. And if the fans of Arsenal now say it’s a French club, then fair does. But I don’t think that most of them do…….

    I’d like you to take a careful look at how successful AFC Wimbledon was in being 100% fan-owned and starting again from scratch and getting a lot of promotions in its first decade of existence. The club is clear about what it represents and what it wants to do.

    You don’t need to elect Presidents if you don’t want to. Fans could say: we, the shareholders, will hire Spencer Stuart or the like to carry out Searches on our behalf to hire a suitable Board. Who will answer to the shareholders, who will nominate an NED to sit on the Board. So long as the NED job description shows clearly what is necessary, you’d only get someone suitable.

    The article is, in my opinion, partisan and treats a lot of people with disdain. For a club which built a new stadium with 9000-odd seats for those of sufficient wealth that being thick is likely a minority position, that is somewhat ironic.

    I don’t think any discussions about fan ownership suggested that Arsenal was badly run. Nor do I think that Barcelona is perfectly run. But I don’t think that you can say that MUFC, LFC, Newcastle in the past, Crystal Palace, Portsmouth et al et al et al are shining examples of Ltd company Boards managing English clubs in a prudent, healthy way, are they?

    So it might be helpful if the discussion were centred on what safeguards fan ownership should include, rather than a generalised trashing of the concept.

    Mightn’t it?

  3. Nice piece. I find that in life, the majority of people are not deep thinkers. It is a bit difficult but it is something I believe Tony can search out and cite or quote; many of the people asking for Wenger’s head now because of the Cesc issue were the very same people who blamed him for selling of Patrick V so that Cesc may get his chance! “Oh, the stubborn idiot left his midfield to a seventeen year old, etc”, can anyone remember this please? Such people should simply be ignored. I am certain that very soon, Wenger will be vindicated. Just watch out, these same people will start praise-singing!

  4. While I would never agree with the premise of “the devil you know”, the thought of Kevin Whitcher on the club’s board is scary enough to get me agreeing with you that some supporters, truly should not be let near the board.

    I am one of the minority of fans who love the present board and sees their sense of custodianship unmatched in England and maybe all the major leagues.

    I think they have done a fantastic job, even though someone should put an electrode up PHW’s arse to jolt him every time he starts talking.

    And they are for the most parts gooners like you and I, much as many like to dismiss this fact.

  5. Lanz

    I don’t know who you’re referring to, but some I talk to (who are quite pro Wenger) merely point out that Arsenal’s lack of trophies started when big Patrick left.

    That’s historical fact, not a judgement.

    Few would also argue that, in 2005/6, Cesc’s first season as head honcho as it were, that he blitzed his master in the Champions League, took on Zidane and didn’t lose and generally played a rather big part in getting us to the final. So I don’t think it was ‘Cesc isn’t good enough’ that was the reason for a drop off…….more likely finding Bergkamp’s shoes hard to fill.

    I continue to remain of the opinion that the only way Arsenal should embrace more pluralistic ownership is a gradual approach. In fact, I thought that a 20 year transition might be the sensible timeframe to get to a position of 25 – 30%.

    You’ll note I’m not demanding it. Stating a position of the way I would push it if that were the way to go.

    Because there are a lot of issues and skill sets to be brought on board if it were to be a successful thing to do. And that usually takes time.

  6. Rhys I didn’t state that all Arsenal supporters are thick but events over the course of the last few days indicate that a certain vocal sector are. These negative reactives are the types of people that should never EVER have any say in how a football club is run.
    If you could assure me of a mechanism that would disenfranchise that sector from any form of supporter involvement in the running of the club then I would be far more receptive to the idea but you can’t.
    I notice that you would appear to want more English players within the team given that you fitted it in there although having little or no bearing on the central theme of the discussion. I myself am of the considered opinion that most english players are far too problematic off the field and Wenger is once bitten twice shy in this regard.
    Bentley threw tantrums and was allowed to leave. Pennant’s behavior off the field was such that they couldn’t wait to get rid of him. One only has to look in the tabloids to see the negative publicity that gravitates to England’s internationals when almost nothing appears in relation to the foreign contingents of the bigger clubs.
    Arsenal doesn’t need that kind of grief or scrutiny. However I digress.
    Let us se how Wimbledon AFC is run when the pressures of being a premiership team bear down eh. It is true that my article is partisan in the sense that it specifically focuses on Arsenal. You give examples of clubs where the respective boards have been to different degrees,ess than shining examples of success but you should probably distinguish between the PLC’s and those which are Private limited concern and also the privately owned ones.

    It is worth noting that many of our supporters have complete disregard for Arsenal’s financial and infrastructural achievemnets because of our lack of recent trophies. Perhaps we should introduce them to the MUFC supporters who have so many trophies that they had to build an extention to their trophy room yet are suffering the financial aftermath that came with those glories.
    I believe that our board and our manager took the long term view that although our new stadium would make it very difficult to win trophies for a while, the payoff would be greater in the long run with financial dominance resulting as it consistantly has, with on the field success. Their careful prudence is on the verge of ushering in a new era, where it is Arsenal who have the financial muscle whilst the others decline or are hogtied by UEFA.
    Had our supporters a casting vote on the situation over the last 10 years, our financial situation would be nowhere as good and our future would be nowhere as bright.
    That pretty much makes my point for me.

  7. Excellent article and I agree, major shareholding by fans has more cons than pros. Look at Notts County, they ‘gave’ their shares to some shady consortium, probably because they were promised success beyond their wildest dreams. Where was the custodianship and long term strategic thinking? A lot of supporters only think short-term, buy now, success at any cost etc. Where does that leave the future?

  8. @ Ole Gunner –

    haha Agree 100% about PHW. He means well, but he’s frequently a walking PR train wreck. I can just see Gazidis slapping his forehead when PHW utters something new.

  9. An excellent read, well written and a good topic. Write more often, Terence 🙂

  10. An article that gives us something to think about.
    In general I wouldn’t mind if some fans would be shareholders. I think I can have enough examples of people on this site who I would give them the shares and I would sleep well at night. But to think about some fans (on other sites mostly) and how they just look at what they can win in the next 5 minutes at all cost I would be terrified to leave The Arsenal in their hands.

  11. One only has to look at Mike Ashley to see what a supporter who should have some general cop on to see that supporters are not the right path for a football team.

    However everyone should take a long hard look at the green bay packers in the NFL if you want to see a team owned by the supporters been run perfectly for decades I am not talking 25% I am talking the whole club its the best fan experience ( and has been voted that 5 years in a row now :)in any sport in the USA thats lambeau field, well worth looking at their model of sustainability etc and how they run and conduct themselves reminds me of arsenal in a lot of ways.

  12. I think more than who owns or runs a club, the more important aspect is a transparent mechanism for setting goals and analyzing the outcomes.

    If we think about businesses and their boards, not each one can always target to be no 1 in sales or profits. But they do have realistic targets and repercussions or rewards based on the results. I agree that even these systems are not perfect but they are fairly objective.

    I think football needs a similar dose of reality. To an extent fans have it. For instance, Tinies’ supporters don’t want their manager sacked because they didn’t win silverware. Indeed they want him rewarded for a champions league qualification. For them it is progress.

    I think Arsenal have been promising trophies for a long time without coming close to delivering it except the 07-08 League and the 06 Champions League. I can appreciate the other achievements of the board and the manager but some others cannot. It is a case of expectation mismatch and extremely poor communication and PR.

    The media is anti-arsenal and always try to find ways of being negative about the club. Why don’t we have a counter for that. Surely, we can have a good PR team that can counter the negative stories and present the club point of view better. Why do we expect the fans to understand everything for themselves? Some do it, probably most people on this site do it, but is it really fair for us to expect that the general public can do it when all their friends are making fun of them on the same topic and the media is hell bent on brainwashing them?

    Arsenal should have hired a strong PR team the moment we decided we have to move to Emirates and tough decisions will have to be made.

    I guess i’m digressing a bit as this could be an article in itself so i won’t stretch it further.

    The way I see it, at present there is no safe mechanism for introducing supporter ownership and unless we can create safeguards I’ll agree with the author. However, A debate on other successful or failed models and viable or proposed mechanisms is most welcome.

  13. I don’t think that you will get any arguments there Desi regarding PR. We have some very top people at the club but whoever is in charge of communications regularly drops the ball, presuming of course that they have some discretion in the matter.
    It is possible that the long traditions of going about their own business quietly has evolved into ignoring the mainstream media which whilst having a definite position of higher moral authority, can be counter-productive. I believe tha the media are aware of this which is why they target Arsenal with Carte Blanche.
    Excellent point.

  14. Hi Tony

    I was hoping you could do a piece on wilshere or Ramsey replacing Fabregas, and although Cesc is a worldclass player whether he was part of the problem with defending and would Arsenal be better off without him. After your piece on the invincibles it got me thinking is Cesc the reason our play has slowed down so much because we dont get behind teams like the invincible used to Too many square passes and backwardpasses

    I would be really greatful if you could raise these issues because I think with Vermalean, gallas, sagna,and clichy we had a pretty good defense and always had a brilliant attack I just don’t understand how we concede so many goals,The invincibles always scored plenty of goals but didnt concede as many as this team

  15. Hi TM, Tony, and all at Untold Arsenal, my first post here. As a regular “ghost” reader of this site, i’d like to just re-affirm the efforts of Tony and all regular contributors – what a breath of fresh air on the internet this site is, this is what being a “supporter” (rather than just a “fan” i suppose) is all about.

    Just read this at Soccernet, and immediately came to this site to see if anyone’s picked it up – “La Liga in debt to the tune of 3.53 bn Euros”:

    P.s. just ignore all the statements in the media (including the “mainstream” media) assuming Cesc’s departure – (1) they always have to sell their news, (2) they HAVE to headline any piece of sensational news if everyone else does it, cos they will lose all credibility in the event the news turns out to be true, and they did not report it. Simple cost benefit analysis from the media’s point of view – a simple retraction (if at all) as compared to having the repution of being the last to know!

  16. Some interesting arguments but you miss a key point. We should not be comparing the current board with a supporter owned model. We need to consider the more likely scenario of a Kroenke or Usmanov ownership (and possible Glazer/Hicks/Gillette) scenario compared to supporters owned.
    It seems unlikely for a number of reasons that the current board will continue long term (many are already cashing in their positions) and we really have no guarantees that Kroenke will not run Arsenal like his very profitable US franchises (efficient, profitable and with only the occasional success).

  17. Jbh Only one large shareholder is currently looking to sell and she is no longer a member of the board. So and admittedly it is only so far, she has no takers from the existing big players.
    Given that she has engaged a rather expensive merchant bank to broker the shares abroad rather than just cut a deal locally, it would seem that she isnt expecting any of them to make an offer either.
    Kroenke has a reputation for stability and prudence so is hardly the type to do a debt-hatchet job on the club as has been done at Liverpool and Man utd. Usmanov is a serious financial player who doesn’t need to borrow to purchase but has repeatedly stated that he is more interested in working in partnership with others even in the face of being frozen out by the rather cosy relationship between the others.

    Nobody can predict for certain where it is all going but it is currently working very smoothly with all parties appearing to take a custodian-like approach.
    Either way I’d rather a dictator with a plan rather than the peasants fighting for who gets the master bedroom after invading the palace.

    Damn there is that disdain again….oh well.

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