Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A sad day in the history of Arsenal Football Club

A few tweets from Robert Peston, the BBC's business editor, summed up my misgivings about the events which have occurred in the past 48 hours:

I am in shock over Kroenke taking 62% of Arsenal. Heart not head. Doesn't feel in keeping with Gooner traditions, tho am not sure why.

What may be lost at Arsenal with Kroenke takeover is our distinctiveness & proud sense of independence. Now we're just like the rest. Sad.

It's hard to sum up the mood amongst gooners at the moment, and I don't claim to be any such barometer - but I felt that it might be worth adding my 'two cents', as it were, to the argument.

Firstly, I don't believe that any football club, let alone ours, should be privately owned by any one individual. Clubs should be representatives and servants of wider communities, and should be owned by their fans. These fans, as far as I'm concerned, can come from anywhere in the world. I've watched Arsenal play in bars which are thousands of miles away from Islington, and seen people there who care just as much about the club as local ST holders. Football should be, above all, about passion, a sense of belonging, and tradition - and fans are the best people to ensure these things are maintained at the forefront of a club's vision.

When I buy a match ticket, or a replica shirt, I want to know that my money is going towards the running and growth of a club, not towards, fundamentally, the enrichment of an already fantastically rich individual. Under private ownership, clubs are simply machines to serve the economic interests of their owners. That's not why football clubs came into existence, and it's not why they should exist today.

Secondly, whilst Kroenke has stated in his offer doc that "The offer will not be funded by way of any debt finance … for which the payment of interest on, repayment of or security for any liability [contingent or otherwise] will depend on the business of Arsenal", this doesn't necessarily mean that we are going to avoid a situation whereby the fans effectively pay for Kroenke's purchase of the club.

As Matt Scott in the Guardian put it:

"The Guardian asked Kroenke's adviser how Kroenke had financed the acquisition and if it had involved any form of borrowing against his other assets. Kroenke declined to respond. When asked whether the director-shareholders had applied a restrictive covenant preventing dividends being drawn from the club, Arsenal responded that since it was not detailed in the offer document no such covenant exists. That opens the door to the possibility that, in a less direct way than Glazer, he may in future use the club's funds to service leverage he has taken on to fund the buyout."

If Kroenke wants to win over the Arsenal fans, he clearly needs to be much more open about how he is going to finance the purchase of the club, and what his intentions are for its future management. And, personally, I want to hear from the man himself, not just Gazidis. Arsenal fans pay thousands of pounds in ticket prices, and have a right to hear directly from the club's upper management about how the club is being run.

Of course, Kroenke has managed his sports clubs very successfully and prudently in the US. But US sports teams are subject to much greater degrees of regulation that English football. The NFL, for example, is effectively run as a closed monopoly, with strict spending caps, by the 'franchise' owners. Running the St Louis Rams is a very different proposition to running an Premier League team, and I'm not sure it should be cited as evidence in Kroenke's favour.

To sum up - a takeover by Kroenke is preferable to one by Usmanov. But this weekend's movements saw the beginning of the end of Arsenal as a club which had fans as substantial shareholders. It really has come to something when I hope that Usmanov does keep his shares, in order that the multitude of small fan shareholders are not forced to sell their stock to Kroenke.

It does not have to be this way. In Germany, 51% of all clubs must be owned by their fans. It seems that the Germans have not forgotten why football clubs came into existence. Hopefully, one day the UK will also remember that football is not just about money.

As a post-script, I'd also just like to express my gratitude towards Danny Fiszman, in the hope that all Arsenal fans recognise the work undertaken by this man, the last true 'custodian' of the club. If Danny trusts Kroenke enough to sell his shares to him, then I will given Kroenke the benefit of the doubt in the short-term. But, given the other recent takeovers of Premier League clubs, I think it would be short-sighted to be anything but extremely cautious of what may occur in the future.