AGM Report - Not the usual combative affair

Last updated : 08 October 2004 By Paul Fanning

One of them, of course, was big and shiny and covered in red and white ribbons and took pride of place behind the board, adding a distinctly benign aura to proceedings.

Also restricting the more obstreperous elements among the shareholders was the fact that, rather than asking questions from the floor, delegates were asked to write their questions down beforehand. And, while this was apparently done at the behest of the Arsenal Supporters' Trust to ensure a broad cross-section of questions, one couldn't help but feel that this cannot have been an entirely unwelcome development as far as the board were concerned.

The most immediate cause for the general feeling of satisfaction among the board and shareholders, however, was the announcement on Tuesday that the new stadium at Ashburton Grove will be called The Emirates Stadium and that Emirates will also become our shirt sponsors for the next eight years. £90 million tends to stifle an awful lot of complaints.

The DVD presentation helped of course, drawing one of the three spontaneous rounds of applause of the afternoon (the other two being for Mr Wenger). Virtual reality images of the new stadium interspersed with clips of some of our best goals of last season combined to entrance delegates and lull them further into docility. One of the biggest laughs, however, came when Peter Hill-Wood forgot to refer to the new ground as 'The Emirates Stadium', a gaffe he was very quick to correct.

This is not to suggest that the AGM was just a love-in. Some tough questions were asked and, in general, answered to the satisfaction of most of those present. The thorniest subject of the afternoon was obviously that of season tickets and the way in which they are likely to be allocated when we finally move into the new stadium. Managing Director Keith Edelman tried to set minds at rest on this subject, assuring us that Season Ticket holders will have first choice of seats of equivalent value in the new stadium and giving a commitment that the board will try to ensure that no price increase accompanies the move to the new stadium. We shall see.

Apparently members will receive a document from the club very soon which clearly outlines the way in which season ticket holders will be prioritised when the move finally comes. And, while some premium priced seats will have to be paid for four years in advance, this is certainly not the case for most people. Finally, an assurance was given that those holding higher-priced tickets will not be given priority when it comes to ticket allocation for games such as Cup Finals, etc.

Of course, there was a full presentation on the finances of the club. Time, space and ignorance of the finer points of finance prevent me from giving a definitive account of our position in these matters, but suffice to say we owe an awful lot of money and will continue to do so for a considerable length of time. However, the debt appears to be well financed and does not appear to be giving Mr Edelman too many sleepless nights. One interesting fact to emerge from Mr Edelman's presentation is that the base case of the bank from whom we are borrowing the larger part of the money for the new stadium is predicated on the idea that we will not be able to fill The Emirates Stadium and, should we prove that we are able to do so, the interest rate on the loan will be considerably reduced.

All you multi-millionaires out there will doubtless be glad to hear that there are still some executive boxes available at The Emirates Stadium, although 120 have been sold so far and existing boxholders have priority in this respect. It was with no little glee that Mr Edelman pointed out that the most expensive boxes were among the first to be sold, despite press reports that Arsenal were having difficulty selling them due to their cost.

Director Danny Fiszman was given the plum job of presenting the DVD relating to the new stadium. He also went through the progress on the site. Interesting as this was, I think most of us could have done without seeing the shiny new waste recycling plant we have built for Islington Borough Council at a cost of £60 million. Somehow I failed to fill with pride about this.

More interesting was the progress on the site, which was obvious to anyone who took the trouble to walk the few hundred yards from Highbury to see just how far the building has got. Apparently, there is still one legal challenge to the project outstanding. The Queensland Road area at the south of the site is facing a challenge to the Compulsory Purchase Order, but this is now the only legal obstacle that still exists and the board are confident of defeating the challenge.

Other issues were dealt with by Peter Hill-Wood, whose facade of bumbling, genial bonhomie ensured that matters were dealt with efficiently and with considerable good humour. The mask slipped once or twice however, most notably when he jumped with both feet on a question which queried the morality of dealing with Emirates, given questions of human rights, etc. The question was accompanied by a smattering of applause by some delegates and Mr Hill-Wood clearly felt that this was something that had to be dealt with conclusively. He said: "I don't believe that Dubai has a bad human rights record. These are honourable, worthy people and we have no moral position on this." A question relating to whether Arsenal's Israeli youth school will be affected by the Emirates deal was dismissed in a similarly peremptory fashion.

Also addressed was the issue of whether the new stadium will be non-smoking. The news that it will was greeted with no small degree of disappointment by a section of the delegates. It was also revealed that, as part of the deal with Emirates, Arsenal will receive bonus payments should we win trophies during the period. The exact nature of such payments was not revealed however.

Mr Wenger was only called upon to speak once, with a question related to - you guessed it - our shortage of adequate central defensive cover. He started by defending the performances of Pascal Cygan and also suggested that the elusive Phillipe Senderos also offered us another central defensive option should he be required. He did concede, however, that he had been trying to improve our defensive options in the summer and had failed. He gave an assurance that these efforts would be resumed in the January transfer window. Whether this means that the Trabelsi deal will be revived come January remains to be seen.

Ultimately, the fact that our team are Champions on a record-breaking unbeaten run, that our new ground is shooting up at a dizzying speed and that we have just secured the biggest sponsorship deal in the history of English football rather "shot the fox" of any shareholders who had been intent on making the board uncomfortable yesterday. However, a few reverses and no doubt next year's AGM will represent a return to form.