Date: 18th December 2008 at 12:45am
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In the goldfish bowl world in which major clubs like Arsenal operate snippets of information that would normally pass unnoticed are quickly seized on with many attaching differing views as to their significance.

As the Arsenal PR department issued a very brief statement on Wednesday afternoon advising of some boardroom changes coinciding with the appointment of Ivan Gazidis as Managing Director they must have become aware almost instantly that it invited more questions. The original brief statement was swiftly followed with a more detailed comment from chairman Peter Hill-Wood.

The changes, apart from the election of Gazidis to the board of both Arsenal Holdings plc and Arsenal Football Club, involves Richard Carr, a grandson of former chairman Bracewell-Smith leaving the board of the Holding company but remaining a director of AFC. The significant change is that major shareholder Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith, holder of 15.9% of the shares, leaves the board of both companies. The question invited by the first brief statement was how does this effect the lock-down agreement restricting the sale of shares along with other board members which Lady Nina was party to? The unasked question was quickly answered by Peter Hill-Wood in his subsequent statement.

“Lady Nina is no longer representing the Club and therefore is released from the lockdown. However it was created to maintain stability in the Club and those participants are committed to maintaining the ownership structure as it is” he said.

This would seem to put her shares in play but what significance does it really have? The answer is probably less now than had these changes been made before Kroenke joined the board. Prior to his appointment the board along with Lady Nina made up 45.45% of the total shareholding. With her no longer on the board, together with Kroenke`s 12.2% shareholding, the board now represents 41.75%. Along with other ‘friendly` shareholders, for example Richard Carr`s (himself a 4.6% shareholder) half sister Lady Sarah Phipps Bagge , yet another member of the Bracewell-Smith dynasty, who holds 2%, the board should still be strong enough to hold control over key decisions. There are also something like 18% of shares held by small investors thought generally to be sympathetic to the concept of multiple ownership.

Whether Lady Nina will now look to sell her shares or not is unclear but it must be a possibility given the changes made. However, the fact that she was willing to co-operate with the existing board in a lock down suggests she is supportive of their long term aims. A thought also echoed by PH-W.

“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.”

No one can say for sure but a best guess would be that a process for shareholder succession is underway and a path carefully plotted with the other major shareholders which doesn`t include ceding control to Russian billionaires.

Hill-Wood also alluded to this objective in his statement on the club website saying “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.”

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