The Arsenal Supporters’ Trust was set up in 2003. Its purpose was and, as stated on its website, still is to encourage the ownership of Arsenal shares by fans and to promote the involvement of fans in the running of the club. Not every football fan will be interested in such geeky issues, but I certainly think the objectives are good and laudable.
And yet, in the last few weeks, the AST has been quoted publicly on topics relating to the manager’s contract and on the signing of players. Its comments have been critical of the Wenger-Gazidis-Kroenke regime, strikingly so in the otherwise joyous aftermath of the Özil signing, when the AST bemoaned that Arsenal had left money in the pot and complained that the transfer budget needed to be better managed.
In the last couple of years, the AST has become more and more visible in the media in relation to such football issues. But what have they got to do with the original purpose for which the AST was established, share ownership and the involvement of fans in the running of the club? On what basis does the AST’s leadership feel it can weigh into debates in the media around the football aspects of the club?
Looking at the first seven or eight years of the AST’s existence, it provided an excellent forum for Arsenal fans on ownership and governance issues, including to provide authoritative and insightful commentaries on the club’s finances, to provide objective views on the stadium project and to act as a voice in the ownership controversies involving Fiszman, Kroenke, Dein, Usmanov, Bracewell-Smith, Hill-Wood and ITV plc. It acquired three Arsenal shares itself, one of which was donated by the club, enabling AST members to become owners of a stake in the club we all adore.
The AST acquired a respectable position in the Arsenal community, in part due to the club according it respect from the outset, with regular meetings with Edelman, Gazidis, even Kroenke. The AST built up credibility because it expressed objective, fair views on the state of the club’s finances (a sensitive topic in the years since the new stadium project was taken on), and campaigned for the unsexy objective of getting fans on the club’s board of directors and getting shares into the hands of fans.
So why is it talking on footballing issues, such as transfer budgets and the manager now?
And with what mandate does it express views on such topics?
There are numerous fans’ organisations that exist to provide different flavours of views on such issues: there is the Arsenal Independent Supporters’ Association; there is REDaction; there is the Black Scarf Movement; there may still be (I’m not sure) still the Arsenal Supporters’ Club. And then there are the many, many Arsenal websites, fanzines, bloggers and tweeters. (We seem to have more fans determined to write about the club than any other.) So there’s no particular need that the AST fulfils by taking it upon itself to express views on football aspects.
There’s no problem with individuals expressing views, we’re all football fans, which almost inevitably brings with it the holding of opinions about all sorts of things. Each member of the AST, including its board members, has the perfect right to express views on which player should be bought, sold, picked or dropped, and whether the manager should be sacked or kept on. But the AST’s purpose is specific, and it was not established to express views other than on ownership and fan involvement in the club. And at a time when a fundamental division has built up amongst many Arsenal fans, the AST has been skating on thin ice for those of its members, and Arsenal fans generally, who don’t agree with the line taken in its media comments
This is a classic case of mission creep. It seems to me that those running the AST got bored with limiting themselves to topics relating to ownership and fan involvement. They like talking to the press, and now want to talk, and more importantly, be quoted, on topics relating to the game of football itself, not just those geeky topics the AST was set up for. What can be more fun than real football journalists taking you seriously, when you express a view about the acquisition of players? It’s almost like your opinion is equal to that of the manager. The trouble is, to get that quote into The Times or The Standard, it needs to be said on behalf of that respected organisation, the AST; after all, without that, it’s just so much wind.
I signed up as a lifetime member of the AST some years ago. My involvement has been pretty passive, but I was happy to see the AST playing its role on finances, ownership and governance at Arsenal. This week, I exchanged emails with Steve Cooper, the AST’s Secretary, outlining my complaints and asking how the AST could justify its public position given the purpose for which the AST exists. To be fair to Steve and the board that runs the AST, I received considered responses to my complaints. But the content of those responses were unsatisfactory: the AST board feels it can comment publicly on anything relating to Arsenal because it owns shares in the club. That is its justification for taking a public position on football issues. They say that they were merely commenting on how Arsenal runs its finances.
But that really is asking AST members and Arsenal fans to suspend logic: how can the AST talk to the media, wanting to be quoted, about Wenger’s contract or how Wenger goes about signing players, without that being the expression of views on football matters? It can’t, and the AST should at least be honest about what it is doing, not all football fans are idiots. No wonder there are increasing signs of anger with the arrogance of the AST, such as the fine article that appeared this week on the Arsenal page of Vital Football (http://www.arsenal.vitalfootball.co.uk/article.asp?a=537096).
I concluded my discussion with Steve Cooper by submitting my resignation as a member. I do not want to be associated with an organisation that increasingly exists as a platform for promoting the opinions of the small cabal that runs it, an organisation that seems to have forgotten why it was set up in the first place.
Written by 26May89