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Worlds apart

This is a story from the SD archive – the FSF and SD merged to become the FSA in 2019.

Two football club AGMs were held on Thursday 23rd October which brought into sharp focus the difference in governance styles predominant at the top of the game against those further down the football pyramid.

The Arsenal AGM was held at the Woolwich Suite at the Emirates Stadium and was attended by all serving board members and around 200 minor shareholders. The Lewes AGM was held in the rather more humble surroundings of the Rook Inn, the club’s bar, and was also attended by all current serving board members. And there the similarity ends.

Whilst the Arsenal version descended into chaos, acrimony and sustained booing from the floor, the Lewes meeting was an altogether more sedate affair with pertinent questions asked of the board about the club’s finances and the continuing reliance on director’s donations, the effects of the club’s Equality FC project and the revenues generated from a previous initiative – the installation of a 3G pitch for community use near to the club’s ground.

With the majority shareholder at Arsenal, Stan Kroenke,once again choosing not to address the meeting, tensions in the room understandably rose particularly when the chairman, Sir Chips Keswick, refused to answer a question from the floor about changing the make up of the board and then closing the meeting before any further questions could be asked. To add to the air of discontent, he also told the audience to read the interview with Kroenke in that day’s Daily Telegraph if they wanted to know about the American’s vision for the club.

The fractious tone of the occasion had earlier been set by the minority shareholders forcing a poll vote on the reappointment as directors of Keswick and Stan Kroenke’s son, Josh. With the second largest shareholder, Alisher Usmanov, also voting in favour of their reappointment, there was never any doubt about the result, but it was obvious that the actions of the minority shareholders indicate a deep dissatisfaction with the way the club is governed. This fact has been consistently highlighted by the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust – who encouraged shareholders to vote against the appointments – on numerous occasions over the past few years.

Ultimately, the two events exemplify the differences between being a shareholder of a club worth over £1 bn and being an”owner” of a small community club. Whilst the board of Lewes FC would never admit to having a perfect model – and some fans do remain critical of the workings – there is clearly greater satisfaction amongst fans when their voices are heard and their questions answered when contrasted with the feelings of fans at clubs like Arsenal whose views appear to be treated with contempt.

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