Arsenal majority owner Stan Kroenke defended the English soccer team’s chairman after a shareholder called for Peter Hill-Wood to step down.
Kroenke’s first official engagement with shareholders since acquiring a controlling stake in April ended with manager Arsene Wenger saying the club wouldn’t be successful if investors, fans, and management aren’t united. Earlier one of the team’s small shareholders drew applause when he called for Hill-Wood to resign and make way for former Gunners vice-chairman David Dein.
Today’s annual meeting came as Arsenal tries to recover from its worst start to a season in more than half a century after selling captain Cesc Fabregas and midfielder Samir Nasri. Supporters have complained about higher ticket prices and a trophy drought stretching back to 2005. Kroenke promised progress.
“We are going to a certain place,” said Kroenke, rising from his seat at the club’s annual general meeting and taking the microphone from Hill-Wood. “Peter has our support. We are with you. We are fans too.”
Hill-Wood has been on the board since 1962, and took over as chairman in 1982 after the death of his father. He told the shareholder he didn’t plan to leave.
“I’m sorry to disappoint you but I have no intention of stepping down,” the 75-year-old Hill-Wood said.
Dein left the club in 2007 declaring he had “irrevocable differences” with other members of the board, who opposed his courting of foreign investors like Kroenke and Alisher Usmanov, the metals magnate who’s challenged Kroenke for the team’s ownership.
Dein sold his 15 percent stake in Arsenal to Usmanov for about 75 million pounds ($121 million) and the Russian has since built up his holdings close to 30 percent.
Dein recruited Wenger to the club 15 years ago. The two men are neighbors in north London and talk regularly. Wenger led the club to two F.A. Cup and league championship doubles while Dein was on the board.
Dein was the club’s lead negotiator in transfer talks. Some fans say they’d like him back because of the club’s struggle to recruit top targets and failure to retain first-team players, including Fabregas and Nasri.
“I think the era of somebody like Hill-Wood is coming to an end,” shareholder David Gunns said in an interview after the meeting at the Emirates Stadium. “I think they long for somebody with a little more global knowhow like David Dein.”
Kroenke, a Denver-based businessman, spoke for three minutes before Hill-Wood took questions from the floor. Kroenke, who also owns the St. Louis Rams of the National Football League and basketball’s Denver Nuggets, said he and his family “are here for the long term.”
Hill-Wood said the board won’t consider selling an equity stake to raise money to compete with Manchester City and Chelsea, who rely on lavish spending from billionaire owners to challenge for titles. Two years ago the board rejected an offer of a rights offer from Usmanov.
Arsenal won’t “match vast sums being spent by other clubs,” the chairman said.
Arsenal’s bad start included an 8-2 defeat at Manchester United. The two teams were the main challengers for the Premier League title before Russian Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea in 2003 and spent millions to add players. Fans have booed the team off the field this season regularly and Wenger acknowledged there was a mood of “fear, even discontent” among supporters.
“I would personally like to turn around the skepticism surrounding this club at the moment,” he said. “To stay at the top, top level we have to be united.”
The team has the highest season-ticket prices of any in the U.K. Wenger said he understood supporters’ frustration about costs but said the income was needed to “allow us to keep our players.”
John McCree, 65, described the meeting as the most fractious in the 25 years he’s owned shares in the team.
“It’s the first time I’ve heard this meeting get so vocal and noisy,” he said in an interview at the Emirates Stadium. “There was a bit of heckling too.”
Arsenal is 7th in Premier League, 12 points behind leader Man City after losing four of the first nine games of the season. The Gunners, who play Chelsea in a league match in two days, are top of their four-team Champions League group, with the next game Nov. 1.