The takeover of Arsenal by the American billionaire Stan Kroenke has led to an avalanche of sentimental tosh. We are to believe that the club’s whiter than white image will be tarnished beyond repair.
Yet the first thing to be said is that Kroenke at the very least has saved the Gunners from the clutches of Alisher Usmanov. The Uzbek entrepreneur who not long ago was sentenced to six years in a Russian gaol, and had charges of sexual assault brought against him, though these were dropped.
There is no denying that, under the aegis of the Hill Woods, which began back in the 1920s, the Gunners were run by a patrician board with high moral values. The current chairman, Peter Hill Wood, is the enduring scion of that dynasty, but for many years now, having sold the bulk of his shares to David Dein – whose return from profitable “exile” would surely benefit the club – he has been largely a figurehead. In parenthesis, it may be recalled that when Kroenke first wanted to buy into the club, Hill Wood dismissed him as not the sort of person who was wanted!
Meanwhile, Usmanov still has 29% of the club shares, though he seems most unlikely to make a counter bid. Yet Arsenal have hardly, over the generations, been a club whiter than white. The true architect of their success was surely the now forgotten Sir Henry Norris, the millionaire property dealer and MP who brought them across the Thames from Plumstead to Highbury in 1913, and by hook or by crook wangled them back into the First Division after the First World War, when, on the closure of official football, in 1915 they were no better than a Second Division club, fifth in that table. To the lasting fury of their local rivals Spurs, who expected to remain in the top division, since it was being enlarged by two more teams the Gunners were allowed to leapfrog them.
Later, of course, the domineering but innovative Norris, in 1925, brought Herbert Chapman to Highbury and he would transform the team via the third back game into a major force. Yet Norris was constantly at odds with the FA, who would eventually ban him from the game for various supposed offences. When he took them to court, it proved disastrous, above all in the case of the celebrated club motor coach. Perhaps Norris by that time had been down on his luck, since it transpired in court that he had sold that coach for £300, big money then, endorsed the cheque with Herbert Chapman’s name, and put the money in his wife’s account! He was forced to concede the case.
Long afterwards, after the Second World War, the chairman was the millionaire hotel owner Bracewell Smith. He undoubtedly was of huge help to the club in straightening out their finances, but unloved by the players. Notably, he got rid of Jimmy Logie, the little Scottish inside right who for years was the unrivalled inspiration of the attack, hugely admired by his team mates. This because, Logie as Arsenal skipper versus Spartak Moscow had refused to shake hands with the Russian referee Latychev who had denied Arsenal a plain penalty. So Bracewell Smith churlishly refused to shake hands with Logie at the clubs Christmas party and in no time Logie was on his way. To a sad poverty. No saint, perhaps, but he surely deserved better from the club.
Jack Kelsey, an outstanding keeper for the Gunners and a fervent admirer of Logie, once told me that Bracewell Smith had adopted the habit of coming down to the dressing room to give the players advice. “Silly little things, like pass to a man.” And now, Kroenke, who seems ready to support Arsene Wenger at a time when Wenger does seem rather to have lost his way.