Tom Watt: Being forced to sell my shares to Stan Kroenke changed my relationship with Arsenal


Tom Watt is an actor, writer, film-maker and broadcaster.

He ghosted David Beckham’s autobiography and wrote the official history of Wembley Stadium, presented the Football Outposts television documentary series for BT Sport and has produced films for organisations as varied as the Premier League in England, Houston Dynamo in MLS and SC Gabala in Azerbaijan. He’s been an Arsenal supporter for over 50 years.

In a series of interviews with Prost, Tom gives his views about a range of issues.

In part 1, Tom discussed the thorny issues of racism in football, in the sports media and the views of Raheem Sterling who voiced his concerns that fan racism is encouraged by racist articles in the media.

Prost International: Talking of Arsenal, some the magic appears to of worn off with Unai Emery. To a large extent, it was the fans who got Wenger sacked, so my first question is, have Arsenal fans become a little bit too expectant with what their team might produce?

Tom Watt: I think that’s a fair thing to say. You know it’s strange because you talk about one club and actually a lot of the things that I think have happened at Arsenal have actually happened to clubs up and down the Premier League.

What we’re watching now, this Premier League,  it’s basically a global league that’s owned by people all over the world rather than by English people and whose future in terms of revenues and markets probably lies outside our shores.

I think you do get the feeling that people go along to watch Arsenal and they go along to watch Arsenal win they don’t go to support the club and if they don’t get what they paid for then they get very unhappy. I’ve been around too long to sort of buy into that so I’m not sure it’s fair to say that the fans got Wenger sacked, I don’t think that actually that’s the case. I think that Arsene Wenger was obviously an absolute giant in the history of the football club indeed a giant in the history of English football but I think that the relationship that he had with the club was the problem and that’s a two-way thing.

I think that Arsene was so completely in charge of everything and I think that even he perhaps missed having someone at the football club who could look him in the eye and have a proper conversation with him about football. There are a lot of capable people at Arsenal but there wasn’t perhaps someone who could look him in the eye and say no to him or to question him or maybe make him think twice about something. I think that where the club had got to and kind of the indifference around the stadium, what got him sacked, I know your question means all the people who were criticising Wenger, actually what got him sacked was the fact that the Emirates was only three-quarters full last year.

 “I was a small Arsenal shareholder and I must admit being forced to sell my shares to Stan Kroenke did rather bring me up short and it’s changed my relationship with the football club.”

Prost International: Just to play Devil’s advocate those fans who didn’t occupy a quarter of the stadium were the ones who got him sacked maybe not by verbal criticism but by physical?

Tom Watt: Exactly, exactly and it’s that kind of you know as long as the stadium’s full, owners, managers will get away with murder. You just look at what goes on at Newcastle. You tell me that wouldn’t have happened if St James’ Park wasn’t full every week you know Newcastle wouldn’t be in the situation they’re in. In part their tragedy is that so many people care so much and they turn up week in week out.

It’s when it starts damaging you in the pocket that people actually particularly nowadays is when people act.

Anyway, things change we move on

Arsene moved on and I’m sure when people have the benefit of perspective then he will be remembered in the way he deserves to be. He left behind a pretty strong infrastructure really and a lot of good players and I think Unai Emery has kind of come in and picked it up and is doing his best.

There are obviously issues you don’t go from a team that’s not competing finishing however many it was 20 or 30 points behind the winners, you don’t suddenly go and become a team that’s competing against clubs in the shape of Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham that have been four or five years in the making. You don’t come and in four or five months create a team and a culture and a way of playing to kind of compete on a level playing field with that, these things take time. It’s strange really over the summer I was a small Arsenal shareholder and I must admit being forced to sell my shares to Stan Kroenke did rather bring me up short and it’s changed my relationship with the football club.

Prost International: That’s actually a very interesting point at the end there obviously coming from the USA we’re well aware of Kroenke and he’s made Colorado Rapids one of the worse run clubs in the league over here. Maybe I could follow up on that could you further elaborate on how your relationship changed after being forced to sell those shares?

Tom Watt: Look, Arsenal football club has in the 100 years or more, 125 years or more of it’s existence people have made money by selling shares down the line and I made money by selling shares but it was money I would rather not have made as ridiculous as that sounds. But over the piece nobody has ever taken a penny out of Arsenal football club and nobody’s ever put a penny in.

That model’s gone now, so you’ve got a guy that’s acquired the club by outing debt onto the club so when I pay for my season ticket or when I buy a programme or when I buy a drink or whatever I’m not just paying into my club but I’m actually servicing debt so there’s that whole Manchester united situation. That’s one though I look at what the Glazers’ have done at United and look at that whole business model and I now obviously look at Arsenal and I think well it’s the same kind of business model basically.

Prost International: Is it a franchise as opposed to a club scenario?

Probably more important than that, I remember doing some work for Houston Dynamo in MLS and I had some very interesting conversations both with staff and players and supporters talking about the difference and it is something very different in culture just culturally very different.

Explaining the difference between a franchise and a club and trying to explain that I had fifty years of watching Arsenal and what I watched and what I supported was the club. It wasn’t the team, it wasn’t the franchise, it was the club and this sense of belonging and this sense of it being something I was a part of.

Obviously, I’m not part of Stan Kroenke’s enterprises, am I? So I look at Manchester City winning the League last year, for example, and I see the celebrations going on inside the stadium. I see the celebrations going on on the pitch and I think ‘that’s really strange that’ because, yeah, Pep Guardiola has done a bit, the players have done a bit, the supporters have done a bit but really this is a triumph for the owners. It’s a triumph for Sheikh Mansour, it’s a triumph of diplomacy and exercise of soft power on the part of Sheikh Mansour on his family and circle and indeed his country.

So it’s weird. I don’t quite get it. To be honest, I think you would find by speaking to supporters of a lot of different clubs and in one way or another, particularly the slightly older generation, would feel that they have become disenfranchised. The interesting thing at the moment is I think we’re in a situation where a lot of supporters of a number of individual clubs are talking about that in relation to their own clubs.

What people haven’t perhaps twigged yet is that it’s all of us. We’re all a bit disenfranchised, it’s a strange thing. So, I feel I have a slightly different relationship with Arsenal and football generally, or Premier League football certainly.

Also See: Tom Watt: Raheem Sterling was right on racism

We will have more from Tom Watt soon including his efforts to rehabilitate offenders, the joy of non-league football and football in Sarajevo.

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