The Arsenal Supporters’ Trust have voiced concern over the future ownership of the club following the departure of a major shareholder.
The club’s chairman Peter Hill-Wood insists Arsenal will maintain their “philosophy” and “heritage”, despite Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith’s exit from the company board.
But Arsenal fans are now concerned with what Lady Bracewell-Smith, whose family have a long association with the club, chooses to do with her significant shareholding of just under 16%.
The AST feel her departure will inevitably spark more concern over the club’s future ownership and have urged her to act in the best interests of the fans.
A spokesman for the AST said: “The Arsenal Supporters’ Trust is disappointed to see the departure of the director with such a large shareholding from the board of Arsenal.
“Whilst Lady Nina was free to sell her shares under the terms of the lockdown agreement next April, this premature departure calls into question again the future ownership of the club.
“By signing the original lockdown in April 2007, Lady Nina has provided interim stability. We sincerely hope that in any future actions Lady Nina may take with her shares, that she acts in the interests of Arsenal supporters and remembers the importance of good custodianship.”
Arsenal are the last remaining member of the Premier League ’big four’ to be in British ownership, and the board all signed up to a lockdown agreement meaning the first option on any sale of shares must be given to existing board members until 2012, so as to stave off any potential hostile bid from outside.
However, Hill-Wood could offer no guarantees of where Lady Bracewell-Smith’s holding may eventually now end up.
American sports tycoon Stan Kroenke, who holds around a 12% stake in the Gunners’ parent company, accepted the offer to become a non-executive director on the Arsenal board in September as ties with his Kroenke Sports Enterprises group were strengthened, and he could be tempted to invest further.
However, Uzbekistan metals magnate Alisher Usmanov – who bought into Arsenal when he paid former vice-chairman David Dein around £75million for his 14.65% stake – is certainly one likely interested party as his Red & White Holdings company look to increase their holding, which currently stands around 24%.
If that were to reach 30%, then under financial legislation a formal takeover approach would have to be launched.
Hill-Wood hopes the Bracewell-Smith family will remain shareholders, but indicated current board members – who include director Daniel Fiszman, the largest stakeholder in the club with 24.11% – would be keen to “retain control” in their own hands.
“Lady Nina is no longer representing the club and therefore is released from the lockdown,” the chairman confirmed to the club’s official website, www.arsenal.com.
“However it was created to maintain stability in the club and those participants are committed to maintaining the ownership structure as it is.
“I don’t know for certain what she wants to do with her shares. I do know that the Bracewell-Smith family have been involved with the club for many, many years and are great supporters.
“I know that Lady Nina is an advocate of the policies we have been following to make the club self-sustaining and free from external injections of money. She has certainly been in favour of what we are doing.
“We hope that she would remain a shareholder, but she has not spoken to me about it lately.
“She is no longer in the lockdown so she is free to do what she wishes to do.”
Hill-Wood added: “A number of the board have indicated in the past that they are interested in buying more shares so the future stability of the club is secure.
“The board is very keen to retain control of the club to ensure that its values and traditions are upheld and live on for many years to come.”