Arsenal shareholders show discontent at AGM, against Keswick re-election

LONDON -- Arsenal's smaller shareholders showed an unprecedented level of discontent with the club's board of directors by voting against the re-election of chairman Sir Chips Keswick and board member Josh Kroenke.

Both were still re-elected thanks to the backing of majority shareholder Stan Kroenke -- Josh's father -- and minority owner Alisher Usmanov but only after the smaller shareholders forced two separate paper poll votes by voting against the resolutions with a show of hands.

The meeting then grew increasingly fractious toward the end, with Keswick loudly booed as he refused to entertain more questions from the floor.

Keswick had dismissed two queries from individual shareholders by calling them "statements" rather than questions, drawing an irate response from the crowd.

He answered a third question about why Kroenke did not speak at the meeting by saying it was "not on the agenda" and then added that shareholders should "read the Daily Telegraph today and you'll find out" what the American's vision is for the club. Kroenke gave an interview to the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mirror ahead of the meeting but remained quiet throughout the annual general meeting.

Keswick then declared that the meeting was closed despite more shareholders waiting in line to ask questions, drawing a slow handclap from the crowd.

Kroenke holds a 67 percent stake in the club, meaning he can single-handedly override any protest votes as resolutions only need a simple majority. Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov holds a 30 percent stake but was not present at the meeting. However, despite being at odds with Kroenke and the board, he backed both Keswick and Josh Kroenke with his proxy votes.

While the remaining individual shareholders control less than three percent of all votes, their mini-revolt was a symbolic victory for those who feel frustrated with a perceived lack of progress at the club.

Key fan group Arsenal Supporters' Trust (AST) had issued a call for all shareholders to vote against the resolutions, arguing that the board needs more diversity and truly "independent" directors.

AST spokesman Tim Payton said it was the first time ever that shareholders had forced a poll vote by voting down the board's proposal at an annual general meeting.

The decision also caused around a 30-minute break in the meeting as the votes were cast and counted. Arsenal later announced that shares amounting to 194 votes had opposed Keswick's re-election, with 213 against Kroenke. That's about 0.3 percent of the more than 60,000 total shares.

However, club secretary David Miles announced the result before the full number of votes against were counted, saying: "It is evident the resolution will carry."

Miles said the total vote tally would be announced later.

The heated atmosphere at the meeting made it clear that there is still simmering anger stemming from the club's failure to qualify for the Champions League last season and the decision to hand manager Arsene Wenger a new two-year contract in May.

While Wenger was greeted with a loud ovation after standing up to deliver a heart-felt speech, there were several angry shouts from the crowd in response to comments made by Keswick and CEO Ivan Gazidis when answering questions that had been sent in prior to the meeting.

When Keswick defended majority shareholder Kroenke from criticism that he doesn't care about the club being successful -- saying "the assumption is wrong and unfair" -- one man yelled out: "Why doesn't he say something?"

Gazidis was also heckled when he defended Arsenal's results in recent years by insisting that they are "the most consistently over-performing team over time" when comparing results to transfer spending. He added that "on an objective basis we perform very well and have over a long period of time."

That was greeted by another shout: "Losing to Bayern Munich 10-2 is successful?"

Wenger acknowledged the discontent when he opened his speech by saying: "I spend 99 percent of my time trying to make you happy. Looking at what happened today, it's not easy."

However, Wenger did not want to discuss the mood among shareholders at his news conference ahead of the Swansea game on Saturday.

"Look, you want everybody to support the club. I believe it's difficult for me to come out on that. I think all of us have the same target [which] is to make Arsenal successful and that's basically what I have to say," Wenger said. "Everybody has their own judgement. I am concerned about the prematch press conference for Swansea, not so much to assess the quality of the AGM."