“Thank you for your interest in our affairs” was the closing statement from ex-Arsenal chairman Peter Hill-Wood at the 2012 Annual General Meeting. The former Eton College pupil avoided a question on whether the Gunners would consider making changes to an ageing, all-male board. Fast forward five years and not much has changed in that regard.
The same shareholder posed the same question to another old Etonian in Sir Chips Keswick during Thursday's AGM and wasn’t even given the courtesy of a direct answer until heckles from the crowd saw the question asked again.
“Will you look at the make-up of the board and stop saying ‘we’ll look at it’ every year?” asked a clearly frustrated shareholder. Arsenal’s bumbling chairman was at the centre of a PR disaster at Emirates Stadium as 240 shareholders and a large media presence witnessed 77-year-old Keswick evade tricky questions before ending the meeting with a reference to Stan Kroenke not speaking at the AGM and instead airing his views in the press.
“Read the Daily Telegraph and you’ll find out [what Kroenke thinks],” remarked Keswick, as boos rang out across the floor.
When Hill-Wood’s re-election as chairman was voted against by a large number of shareholders in 2012, he called them the “same lot”, referring to those who had also voted against the re-election of other directors.
A similar sentiment was felt on Thursday just minutes after Arsene Wenger spoke about the values of Arsenal Football Club that he holds dear to his heart. Keswick made a mockery of Wenger’s words by telling shareholders (many of whom are life-long supporters) to “write in if you have a problem”.
There is a long-standing problem on Arsenal’s ageing, all-white board that has been documented over the years. The traditionalist approach of having Old Etonians on the board may have been accepted 50 years ago but, in 2017, it is evident that new ideas, better public speakers and a figurehead who fans can relate to are all needed if the Gunners want to move to the next level.
Chief executive Ivan Gazidis produced a speech which was broken up with a slick video about the positive initiatives Arsenal are involved in. It featured a graphic detailing £424m revenues while talking about new signings and holding on to Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, even though both will be out of contract at the end of the season.
"The decisions [to keep] Alexis and Mesut Ozil are certainly not decisions that fit the narrative that we put money first. We have taken that approach to give the club the best possible chance to compete."
Furthermore, the north London giants are doing some magnificent work off the pitch - in terms of investment in youth, the community and coaching schemes - which certainly shouldn’t be overlooked.
However, it was Wenger’s words which really rung true with those in the room. The sincere comments provided an inkling of the frustration that the Frenchman has felt at times, particularly over the past 18 months.
“The only thing I can say is I dedicate 99 per cent of my lifetime to try to make you happy. Looking at what happened today, it's not easy,” said Wenger.
“I feel that a football club is about the past, the present, the future. On what we see now in the evolution of the game, football is ahead of society. Society always follows the way of the game. And what is for sure, in our game, the weight of the past, the weight of the future has been kicked out of the game.
“The weight of the present has become heavier and the only one thing people want. The present. That means for me it is here and now. Win. It is acceptable but I always guided this club with one idea – a club is first about for me values that have been created by the past."
As the meeting came to a close, Wenger and Gazidis stayed to talk with waiting shareholders and supporters as Kroenke, Keswick and co all left the room. It seemed apt that the long-serving Frenchman was there to save face for a chairman so disconnected from the fanbase and an owner who didn’t say a word throughout the two hours.
Change has been asked for by Arsenal supporters for a long time now but they appear even further from getting it with their American billionaire owner at the helm.