“Stan Kroenke has just bought the love of my life for £731 million pounds. Forgive me for not being too upbeat about it.”
I wrote that quote three years ago when Kroenke purchased 67% of the club. I bring it up now because it was announced last week that the widely lauded Arsenal Fanshare scheme is to be wound down because the club won’t release any more shares. The reaction was predictably negative, that it was another example of how fans were being ostracised from their own club. But is it? Because there’s a very important question that needs to be posited here;
He owns the Emirates Stadium. He owns every seat, every advertising hoarding, every blade of grass, every goalpost, every corner-flag, every lawnmower, every line-painter, every piece of machinery, every hot-dog, every glass of wine, every big screen, every Gunnersaurus, EVERYTHING.
He owns the car parks outside the ground. He owns the Armoury. He owns the big Arsenal sign outside the ground. He owns the team coaches. He owns the training ground. He owns all the pitches and all the equipment at the training ground. He owns the canteen there. Any cheque used to buy something for Arsenal Football Club might as well have his name on the bottom of it because he owns the club.
Now, all of that may be a little uncomfortable to read for some folks, as it’s just reduced the football club that they love into a spreadsheet. So allow me to ask the question again; how much of Arsenal does Stan Kroenke actually own? Because my answer would be “Not one iota.” Think about it. What makes up Arsenal Football Club in your mind? Is it the tangible assets that belong to the club, i.e the stadium, the training ground etc? Not for me.
When I think of Arsenal, the first things that come to mind are the names of players that played for us. Names that have graced our club for over 125 years. Names that have provided memories that have been passed down from generation to generation. Names that have thrilled crowds from places are far away from London to Laos, from Fulham to the Philippines, from Newcastle to New York.
When I think of Arsenal, I think of moments in time. I think about getting an ass-kicking in secondary school every time I wore an Arsenal jersey. I think about singing songs in the local bar in 2004 after Vieira danced through the Leicester midfield to sew up an unbeaten season. I think about coming out of the toilets in that same pub laughing as folks tried to trick me into thinking Jens Lehmann had been sent off early in the 2006 Champions League final, only to realise in horror that they weren’t joking.
When I think of Arsenal, I think of the people whom I’ve met in my life solely because we were both Arsenal fans. I think of all those like-minded souls that I’ve met when at a game or drinking outside at the ground afterwards, or even those I’ve just accidentally bumped into during the day, and acknowledging that they too have seen the sense in supporting the greatest team that the world has ever seen.
That, to me, is what makes up Arsenal Football Club, and no piece of paper that says different will convince me otherwise. When we’re at the Emirates watching a game, Kroenke may own the stadium that we walked into and the seats that we sit on, but he’ll never own the players in front of us, and he’ll certainly never own the experiences that we gain from watching those players play.
As admirable an ideal is of “owning” even a smidgen of the thing that we love, the Fanshare scheme was always doomed to failure, because as long as one person is determined to maximise his own investment in the club, they will make sure that all steps are taken to prevent that same investment from diminishing in value, even if that means upsetting fans.
So don’t mourn the loss of the Fanshare scheme. In theory, it’s a great way of helping fans gain more power over how their clubs are run, but in practise, all it gave you was an A4 sheet with your name on it and an opportunity to go to a meeting where your question may or may not be answered in an ultimately patronising way. Nobody owns the Arsenal that you love so much, and nobody will ever be able to sell what you got from them.