The last AGM meeting at Arsenal in October 2011 was vocal, noisy and full of emotion. During the meeting Peter Hill-Wood received resignation demands but the chairman, who may be the last Hill-Wood that will be a member of the Arsenal board, had no such plans.
“I’m sorry to disappoint you but I have no intention of stepping down,”
He also stressed that Alisher Usmanov still wasn’t welcome to the board despite the fact that he owns nearly 30 percent of shares in the club. His statement made me realise how little (and also how much) things have changed at Arsenal since 2007 when he said this:
“Peter Hill-Wood has said he opposes the involvement in Arsenal of Alisher Usmanov, who now owns 21% of the club’s shares, because it is not sufficiently clear how the businessman amassed his multibillion-pound fortune in Uzbekistan and Russia.
“He’s certainly not an open book,” the Arsenal chairman said. “Business is murky in Uzbekistan, and that in itself is an argument against him being involved in Arsenal. I wouldn’t want him to be the owner of the club.”
“…Stan Kroenke is involved in sport and we have had constructive meetings with him,” Hill-Wood said. “We have never been in better shape financially and do not want anybody to buy the club, but if Kroenke wanted to buy it he would understand it and how to maintain the standards. We have not met Usmanov, so I may be speaking prematurely, but he seems a different kettle of fish …”
Strong words and plenty of fans were relieved that our chairman didn’t want to do business with such a shady figure as Usmanov. At the same time questions were raised about David Dein – how could he sell his shares and do business with a person with such an uncertain past? Peter Hill-Wood’s respect rose among the supporters but what few or perhaps none of the Arsenal supporters know is that Peter Hill-Wood himself is doing business in the murky former Soviet. And yes, there are a rich and powerful fish with an unclear past, just like Usmanov, involved.
When I was a young Gooner I had huge respect towards the man whose family had been members of the board since 1929, but quite quickly I understood that Peter Hill-Wood sometimes says and does things that make him look really stupid. Despite this I trusted his judgment as a chairman and that he always did what was best for Arsenal. When Stan Kroenke suddenly appeared I trusted Hill-Wood when he said:
…”Call me old-fashioned, but we don’t need his money and we don’t want his sort…”
“…’Americans are buying up chunks of the Premiership football clubs and not because of their love of football but because they see an opportunity to make money…”
The following year in 2008, Stan Kroenke was a member of the board. Firstly I couldn’t understand why Peter Hill-Wood had changed his mind that quickly but then I realized it wasn’t just about Stan Kroenke and Alisher Usmanov. It was also a personal battle between Peter Hill-Wood and David Dein. The former colleagues were now enemies and Hill-Wood didn’t hide his feelings for Dein in the media:
…”When was the last occasion he saw Dein? “The day I fired him.”
Was it Hill-Wood’s saddest day at Arsenal? “No. It was the saddest for Dein.”
Will he ever make his peace? “I will not get involved with him again – I will avoid it if I can help it.””…
In two months, between August and September 2007, billionaire Alisher Usmanov bought 23 percent of the shares in Arsenal and formed an alliance with Hill-Wood’s enemy Dein. It looked like just a matter of time before Dein was back in the board. When a shareholder has 50 percent plus one share or cooperates with other shareholders to get majority he/they got the power to decide the seats in the board. Hill-Wood knew he would be the first and last Hill-Wood to be kicked out of the Arsenal board if Usmanov bought the majority of the shares.
In October 2007 Hill-Wood announced that the board decided to make a “lockdown agreement” on shares – an agreement that later were extended. The board members, who had the majority of the shares, could only sell to “permitted persons” and had to give fellow board members first option until October 2012. The agreement, which had a terminate clause in October 2010, meant that only board member Kroenke, and not Usmanov, had access to the clubs biggest shareholders. Kroenke bought shares from Fizman and increased his shares before October 2010 to 29,9 percent, close to the 29,99 percent takeover-rule. In April 2011, Danny Fizman decided to sell the rest of his shares. Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith was loyal to the board she later criticized, and also sold her shares to Kroenke who now got the majority and decide who will have a seat in the board and which strategy the club will have the coming years. A good effort from a man who only four years before wasn’t interested in buying any shares at all in Arsenal:
”At this point (26 March 2007), there is no interest or intention from KSE in buying any shares or any pieces of Arsenal Football Club or any club in the English Premier League,” said Jurgen Mainka, senior director of communications and international business at the Colorado Rapids, in a statement.
The Sunday Times reported this weekend that British broadcaster ITV was in talks with KSE about the sale of its 9.9 percent stake in Arsenal, worth an estimated $79 million. Mainka dismissed the speculation outright.
“There certainly is no substance to these stories and rumors in the media, which indeed started when we first announced our commercial relationship with Arsenal Football Club,” he said”…
Kroenke bought the shares from ITV ten days after the statement and since then we have heard several times from Peter Hill-Wood that the board wouldn’t allow a takeover. But in May 2011 Hill-Wood sent a recommendation to the shareholders to sell their shares to Kroenke. All the promises the last years were broken and forgotten. Hill-Wood’s position as chairman didn’t change despite Kroenke’s takeover. In fact, when he was criticized at the AGM meeting Kroenke – the only man who could fire him – defended Hill-Wood:
…”As Hill-Wood endeavoured to give an answer, Kroenke leaned over and seized the microphone. “Can I add something? We are all fans. Peter has our support. We are with you,” he said pointedly”…
If you read our annual reports the last years we have had huge profits after tax each year since 2007. When we won the FA Cup in 2005 we had less revenue, less profit and bigger net debt than today. As I haven’t found any official fees regarding transfers I can’t present profits from transfers but according to transferleague.com (which may not be exact but offers a good overview) we have received more money than we have spent since 2006. Between 1992 and 2006 we used to spend more than we received in transfers. The problem is that Arsenal sells players to get profit because we haven’t invested in the squad as we should the last years. We know that the most successful football clubs and clubs with big stars got the best commercial deals and also get more and more domestic and foreign supporters that spend money at the club. Commercial deals and fans don’t automatically generate success, but success often generates better commercial deals and more fans. And to get success you first need to invest, in this case in better footballers.
Arsenal doesn’t invest in stars, the strategy is to buy cheap and young, develop them and sell them to richer clubs. Dutch side Ajax is well-known to produce talents but look where they are as a club. They are struggling in the weak Dutch league and their brand is not as strong as it once was. Finishing third or fourth is not ‘attractive’, nor among companies or new fans. London is one of the biggest cities in the world but it’s much easier to get tickets to Arsenal now. The board blames the economic climate but it’s not the whole truth. There are two other top clubs in London and we have less and less supporters who are preparing to pay expensive tickets to see Arshavin or Chamakh’s lame efforts. The lack of ambition is destroying the brand.
The public consider United as winners, and Arsenal have a ‘loser’ label right now and it will be more difficult to convince companies and supporters to give money without get anything back. Spurs’ success and stars imply better commercial deals and more fans. There are no big difference between our revenue from commercial deals and Spurs commercial revenue and with their new stadium their revenues will increase. The coming years will be very crucial for Arsenal’s future. A tour to Asia or Africa generates some revenue but it will not solve any problem. The fans in Asia are amazing but the club also needs to do more to keep and increase the supporters they have in UK. The gate revenues from foreign fans at Emirates are very small and it’s the supporters in UK that help the club reach over £90 million in gate revenues each season.
When I highlight my fears about Arsenal’s future and Stan Kroenke some people tells me that if something was wrong with the club the board wouldn’t accept it. They also say that the current board has provided Arsene Wenger with funds in the past, before the stadium was built. They are wrong. When we last won a trophy 2005 our board was: Peter Hill-Wood, David Dein, Richard Carr (grandson of former Arsenal Chairman Sir Bracewell Smith), Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith, Danny Fizman, Ken Friar and Sir Roger Gibbs. Today, there are only two members left from the board that won titles and that’s the chairman Peter Hill-Wood and Ken Friar.
Board members that have left since the victory in the FA Cup 2005:
* Roger Gibbs was a non executive director from 1980 and retired in June 2006.
* David Dein, vice-chairman since 1983 leaves the club in April 2007 due to “irreconcilable differences” with the rest of the board (Hill-Wood admit he fired Dein).
* Keith Edelman, director from 2000 to May 2008.
* Richard Carr, director from 1981 to December 2008 left after alleged rows with Hill-Wood.
* Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith got her place in the board representing her former husband’s family who had been linked with the club in 70 years. Left after rows with Hill-Wood in December 2008. Le Grove (twitter) wrote during the AST (Arsenal Supporters’ Trust) meeting at February 20, 2012: “Nina booted from board for having a Starbucks with the Usmanov people.”
* Danny Fiszman past away in April 2011.
These members owned shares in Arsenal together with Granada (ITV) which owned 9,9 percent of the shares but wasn’t represented at the board.
Board members now (with Peter Hill-Wood and Ken Friar)
* Baron Harris of Peckham was appointed as a non-executive director in November 2005. Friend to Hill-Wood.
* Sir Chippendale Keswick was appointed as a non-executive director in November 2005. Long-time friend and former colleague to Hill-Wood at Hambros Bank (remember the name Hambro).
* Stan Kroenke becomes a non-executive director in September 2008, three months before Lady Nina and Richard Carr leaves the board.
* Ivan Gazidis is appointed as CEO in January 2009.
It’s about time all supporters understand that the board has changed totally since 2005 and business isn’t as usual. Three members and significant shareholders have left the board after rows with the chairman and Arsenal now has a majority owner who supports Hill-Wood. Lifelong servant Ken Friar strengthens the bonds with the past but those who think the 77-year-old director will raise his hand and say “Lets spend some f***ing money” have a wrong picture of Ken Friar. He has a nice company car, a salary-including bonuses at a staggering £677 000 and is very loyal to the other board members who gave him a bronze bust and named the North Bridge “The Ken Friar Bridge”. Why would he complain to his pals that they didn’t listen to Wenger’s fears in the media and at Arsenal.com that we needed to replace Cesc and Nasri last summer with same quality and money? Why would Peter Hill-Wood’s friends Peckham and Keswick complain to Hill-Wood? Why would Ivan Gazidis complain to the board that appointed him and gives him £1.6 million in salary and bonuses? And at last, why would Stan Kroenke complain that we don’t buy new players when his own shares have grown with an amazing speed since he bought shares at the price of £5 900 per share? Now the same share is worth over £15 500 and he has 41 574 shares! Today Kroenke is the only shareholder in the board he totally controls. Who really dares to question him regarding the clubs investment in the team? As we see above nearly all the board members from our successful years from the 1980’s to 2005, are gone.
We still have Arsene Wenger but we also know that he wasn’t the only force behind our success. Together with David Dein he formed one of the most successful partnerships off the pitch in modern British football. Look above and you see the four last of David’s seasons at Arsenal. One Premier League title, unbeaten in 49 games, two times FA-cup-winners, runner up in Champions League and runner up in Carling Cup (with youngsters). David has a football brain and wasn’t afraid of pushing the club forward and trying to improve the team. His main focus was the football and not the profit. He isn’t perfect – he wanted to move to Wembley instead of Emirates – but this was because of his desire of success on the pitch. He didn’t want the move to a new expensive stadium to affect our chances to win titles. David Dein loved the club and we can’t afford to have such an influential and intelligent football man outside the club anymore. When he left 2007 the ambition to be the best club in the country disappeared from the board and Arsenal FC became a company with more focus on profits.
When Hill-Wood stressed that business is murky in Uzbekistan and that in itself is an argument against Usmanov being involved in Arsenal I wonder if he thought about his own business in the Russian Far East with Pavel Maslovskiy, a man who certainly isn’t an open book (as Hill-Wood described Usmanov). From June, 2003, to May, 2011, Hill-Wood served as a non-executive director of Petropavlovsk PLC (formerly Peter Hambro Mining PLC) operating in the Amur Region, Russian Far East. Pavel Maslovskiy was one of the founders and also CEO in the company. John Helmer, a Moscow-based correspondent since 1989 specializing in the coverage of Russian business, wrote an article in 2010 where he compared Maslovskiy with the evil dwarf Rumpelstiltskin:
…”According to the US standard, when a public figure like Maslovsky promotes himself, his reputation, and his business record for selling shares to the public – no matter where – it is relevant for the share-buying public to know what has been published about him, especially in places where he is known best. What has been accused against him is relevant to be known, and therefore made public, even if the charges turn out to be untrue. Maslovsky’s silence, and the blanks in the prospectuses, should therefore be weighed against what the Russian media have been reporting over many years.
“The point of these reported claims is that Maslovsky advertised in the fareast of Russia for shareholders to subscribe their funds to enable the development of the Pokrovsky goldmine. Those shareholders believed him, and handed over their money. But subsequently they did not receive dividends, and they then lost their stakes when Tokur Zoloto was ordered into bankruptcy by the Amur courts. Somehow, however, the Pokrovsky mine was sold by Maslovsky into the partnership he formed offshore with Peter Hambro. Maslovsky gained; the original shareholders of Tokur Zoloto lost. Did the shareholders really believe Rumpelstiltskin had the secret of weaving straw into gold? Were they liable for their naivety? Did Rumpy take care not to reveal his name this time around? The answer to those questions ought to be up to Maslovsky to answer. Because he refuses to acknowledge that the Tokur Zoloto bankruptcy occurred”…
Peter Hill-Wood, once vice-chairman of Hambros Bank, is friends with Peter Hambro who founded Peter Hambro Mining with Pavel Maslovskiy. Hill-Wood decided to buy shares and became a member of the board 2003. But why did Hill-Wood invest in gold mining if he doesn’t like murky businesses?
…”The turf wars are not over. The governor of a remote gold-rich province was shot dead on a Moscow street a year ago (2002). Russian media said he was killed because he was trying to crack down on illegal gold trade. A manager of Norilsk Nickel, Russia’s biggest gold company, was killed in April (2003).”…
In the same year as Hill-Wood joined the board, Peter Hambro Mining founded Aricom, an iron ore mining company. One of Aricom’s rivals was Metalloinvest, Russia’s largest iron-ore producer, where Usmanov is a big shareholder. How has that interfered on Hill-Wood’s unwillingness to let Usmanov be a part of the board? As a member of Audit Committee, Nomination Committee, Health, Safety & Environmental Committee and Risk Committee and appointed Senior Independent Director in Petropavlovsk PLC during the years Hill-Wood certainly cooperated with the CEO Pavel Maslovskiy. In December 2011 Maslovskiy resigned and became Senator of Amur region and Member of the Federation Council of Russia (the Upper House of the Russian Parliament). But the powerful Senator Maslovskiy still secured influence in Petropavlovsk PLC as Honorary President and is able to advise the current CEO Sergei Ermolenko (right hand to Maslovskiy when he was CEO) and attend in board meetings – despite his current position as Senator in the region where the company is active.
It doesn’t make any sense. What’s the difference from having a chairman in a murky business and an owner like Usmanov, which in this case was a rival to Aricom, in a murky business? It seems odd that he is willing to do business in a murky gold market with a Russian with unclear past but hasn’t allowed Alisher Usmanov to get into the board and help Arsenal with his contacts and knowledge as he isn’t an open book. Hypocrisy, and you can’t stop and wonder how this decision has affected Arsenal. As we understand Usmanov’s business in the former Soviet Union isn’t the real problem. The problem is he isn’t Hill-Wood’s friend. As Hill-Wood fired David Dein and had rows with two other members it was better for him that Usmanov wasn’t involved in the board, but his job as a chairman is to make decisions what’s best for Arsenal and not him personally. The lockdown agreement helped Kroenke but did it help Arsenal? How much did the chairman interfere in the takeover to secure his post as chairman? Now it’s too late as Kroenke have the majority and select the board but can we really trust that Hill-Wood and the board makes decisions what’s best for the team? The board lack members who understand football and how the club will get success on the pitch. In which criteria besides being friend of the chairman have the members been appointed? As usual there are a lot of questions concerning the Arsenal board.
“I wouldn’t want him to be the owner of the club.”
Well Peter, it’s not your club even if you seem to think that. When I look back at the board members who have left after rows with you and especially the stupid decision to fire David Dein (the man who brought Arsene Wenger and success), our transition from a club who won trophies with world-class-players to this average squad, and the state we are in now on and off the pitch with a silent majority owner that doesn’t care to visit the club in several months or care to invest time and money in Arsenal other than in his shares, I cant stop thinking about what you have done and how you have used the club as your own toy the last five years. You, Peter Denis Hill-Wood, warned us from Alisher Usmanov, but the biggest threat never was him or David Dein. The biggest threat was greed. Your greed, Mr. Hill-Wood.
EKA – Swedish Arsenal Supporter