May 12, 2021

Full transcript from Josh Kroenke’s appearance at Arsenal fans’ forum

21 min read

Arsenal director Josh Kroenke and chief executive Vinai Venkatesham attended a fans’ forum on Thursday where they were quizzed about the club’s involvement in the European Super League.

It was announced on Sunday that the Gunners were one of six Premier League sides who had signed up to the controversial breakaway tournament as one of the 12 founding members.

However, following intense backlash against the idea, Arsenal and the other five English clubs all withdrew from the competition on Tuesday.

Kroenke and Venkatesham then addressed supporters at the fans’ forum on Thursday and below is a full transcript of everything they had to say, courtesy of Football London.

Arsenal director Josh Kroenke
Arsenal director Josh Kroenke (Photo by David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

Venkatesham: “I just wanted to say first of all to all of you on this call and obviously to all Arsenal fans, I am really, really sorry for Arsenal’s part in what has been I know a hugely difficult, really disturbing week for football, and in particular our fans. I just wanted to be really clear how sorry I am for what has happened this week. I thought I would try and give you just a little bit of background to this sorry tale. None of this meant to excuse what happened at all or meant to water down the apology. But I wanted to talk a little bit about it and correct some of the things out there that aren’t correct.

“The first thing I want to talk about is despite the stories to the contrary, Arsenal were absolutely, 100 per cent categorically not the authors or drivers of this proposal. That doesn’t excuse what happened but we were not the authors of this proposal. As I said in the last Fans’ Forum, there are frequently Super League proposals out there that are developed by others, not by Arsenal. Our approach that we have said publicly and privately lots of times, is always to listen and to make sure we protect the best interests of Arsenal. In this situation, what was clear to us is the train was leaving the station. This project was about to be launched with some of the biggest clubs in Europe, and we needed to assess if this launch happened without us, and this tournament came to fruition without us, what that would mean for the club.

“Due to concerns of that becoming a reality and us being left behind, we made the decision to join. I’m not trying to justify it, absolutely 100 per cent and I’m not trying to say that’s OK but I’m trying to explain it. It became immediately apparent that we made a bad decision, but a terrible one. When you make a bad decision you don’t want to follow up with another one, so we immediately got out as quickly as we possibly can. Now we need to say sorry to lots of people. Our players, our staff, the authorities, other Premier League clubs and most importantly our fans. From a personal perspective this has been incredibly painful.

“I hope you know that I love this football club. I work every hour of every day to make us be the best we can be and to build the best relationship we can between the club and our fans. I hope I demonstrated that to you over many months and years and I certainly haven’t become a different person overnight. For me I found it really, really tough and my focus now is doing the same. Doing what we can to repair any damage that is done and moving forward to move the club forward. I certainly won’t be forgetting the mistakes that I made here and it’s made me even more determined to move the club forward.”

Arsenal's chief executive Vinai Venkatesham
Arsenal’s chief executive Vinai Venkatesham
(Image: REUTERS)

Kroenke: “I’m here today to talk and Vinai echoed many of the sentiments to the word. Leadership from my perspective, if any of you lead different organisations in your own lives, making unpopular decisions that you feel benefit larger groups over time is part of leadership. Leadership is also recognising when you are wrong. Quickly correcting your course of action, apologising for your actions and then educating yourself on how to lead better in the future. That’s what I’m here to do today. I’m here to explain and listen. As this project took shape in a very, very fast manner we asked ourselves two key questions.

“The first question we asked ourselves, what is worse – a Super League or a Super League without Arsenal? That was a very tough one for us to weigh, but basically the decision we made was a Super League without Arsenal was the worst of those answers. That’s what we acted upon. The second question was ‘what do the fans want?’. We tried to answer that question in many ways as possible. We are obviously bound by certain confidentiality aspects of the decision we were thinking about making. It was a much more complicated answer then we had time to contemplate. I think the global fan wants to see Arsenal vs Barcelona regularly, as much as possible. I think the European fan wants to see more big matches between top clubs because their domestic league is so predictable. I think from an English fans’ perspective, this is what was so educating to me over the last 24 or 48 hours, going back 36 hours now – sorry this has been kind of a blur of a week, I haven’t slept much.

“For the English fan they want to see more big matches, but as one Chelsea supporter wrote on a sign I saw online the other day – you still want your cold nights in Stoke. To me that sent a strong message that the EPL, football in the UK as a whole and the fan sentiment in England. We got it wrong and that’s why we’re here today apologising and to discuss with you. That doesn’t mean a lot of our concerns and frustrations weren’t addressed or we don’t still have those concerns. None of our intentions as part of this project were to harm the Premier League or English football in any way. Really, most of our frustrations resided in larger conversations about European football as a whole.

“You’ve heard us talk primarily about the stability of the football pyramid and that is generally what we were trying to accomplish when we were part of these conversations in recent weeks. We can talk about FFP enforcement, we can talk about are we doing enough at European level to combat racism. But for the stability of the football pyramid and talking about grassroots programmes, that we are all for, we want to make sure we’re maximising those revenues and those opportunities to stabilise the footballing pyramid. Did we go about it in the incorrect manner this time? Absolutely. But we still think those issues reside.

“I can use, from a personal example, the match in Baku. I met some amazing people, I enjoyed my trip very much, aside from the 90 minutes of the match. It was a beautiful city and I had a great trip, but from the travel logistics to the ticket allocation, to the general environment of the stadium I wondered if you’re having a European final between two London giants, if it was truly being maximised to its potential for the greater benefit of the football pyramid as a whole. We haven’t really got to this and there are certain things about politics in Europe like myself in America will never understand. We couldn’t even bring one of our starting XI to the most important matches of the season that year, which was incredibly frustrating from a club perspective.

“From a transparency of governance, we feel those issues still reside and we want to continue to work on those. We understand there are emotions involved, we want to hear those emotions, I want to understand those emotions and that’s why I’m here today to listen. From myself, my father and KSE, we apologise for the angst that we caused everyone and the situation that we put ourselves in. I apologise and I’m here to listen to you guys.”

An Arsenal fan stands with his anti-European Super League banner outside the Emirates
An Arsenal fan stands with his anti-European Super League banner outside the Emirates
(Image: TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)

AV: “I can assure you Josh, it’s not just you that hasn’t slept. A lot of us haven’t slept for about five days, trying to do our day job around trying to fight this. You asked yourself two questions, ‘is it worse to have an ESL with Arsenal in or not’ and ‘what do fans want’?. That’s an interesting question to me because I don’t think I’ve been asked, I don’t think anybody else here has been asked. You talk about leadership, about making decisions for the club. Leadership is also listening to your ‘customers’. I’m going to use that terminology because that’s what I feel I am to you, a customer. You’ve never once listened to us so I rebuff that massively. I’ve got three questions, but my first question is around the actual Super League. Do you believe that tournaments without sporting merit are actually a good thing?”

Kroenke: “I believe in sporting merit, yes.”

AV: “So why did you sign up to a Super League that potentially wasn’t about sporting merit and kills the domestic game?”

Kroenke: “I go back to my original answer the first question that we asked ourselves was a Super League or a Super League without Arsenal.”

AV: “Are Arsenal still contracted to the Super League? Arsenal would have incurred costs here. Will KSE be paying for them and not Arsenal Football Club?”

Kroenke: “Absolutely. And to the second part of your question I would actually refer to Vinai for where we are in the legal process because it’s a complicated answer.”

Venkatesham: “On the contract situation I need to be careful with what I say because of the legal stuff. Effectively we are leaving, we are just working through the process of what that means contractually. We are just working through the legal formalities of what that means.”

AV: “Are you giving us assurance that this will never happen again?”

Kroenke: “As that proposal was constructed, yes.”

AV: “If you’re really sorry will you actually bother to engage with fans more? Considering that’s one of your key questions and you’ve never done it, are you actually going to commit to engaging with fans more? And would you ever consider reps at boardroom level? This club needs fans at boardroom level to represent. You got this wrong this week. It was a disgrace, the way you did it, it was cowardly, you launched it and did not even justify it. I don’t think you still have justified it personally. It’s clear that you don’t know enough about our game. You don’t know enough about our club. Our club is built on traditions, on values, and class. We’ve talked about that a lot.”

Kroenke: “If you’re expecting to see me more, absolutely. Let’s start on this call right now. From a board perspective, we as a club came together and made the decision as a board. That’s why we put out the statement as we did, apologising immediately and if you’re hoping to interact with me on a more meaningful basis going forward, you have my word that’s absolutely the case.”

AV: “We’ve said no to a European Super League many times. A rep at boardroom level would have told you that.”

Kroenke is the owner of Kroenke Sports & Entertainment - the holding company of Arsenal
Stan Kroenke is the owner of Kroenke Sports & Entertainment – the holding company of Arsenal
(Image: Getty Images)

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JC: “In 2019 you said that we should ‘be excited’. What should we be excited about? The Super League?”

Kroenke: “No.”

JC: “Can you elaborate on those comments then?”

Kroenke: “Be excited for the future of Arsenal Football Club.”

JC: “At the minute I feel ashamed to be part of Arsenal Football Club because of what’s gone on.”

Kroenke: “I understand that sentiment.”

JC: “Does KSE have long-term investment plans for Arsenal apart from the Super League?”

Kroenke: “Absolutely.”

ZW: “I’m ashamed to be an Arsenal fan. I couldn’t sleep because I was so upset that a club I care about so much would do something like this. When will your father speak to us or Arsenal fans? He’s the majority shareholder, he runs the club, why has he never spoken to an Arsenal fan? Secondly, can you guarantee that Arsenal will never play their home matches away from Islington? And thirdly, why should we believe a single word that you’ve told us today. I can hear from the tone of your voice that you’re not really interested in being here, or that’s certainly the impression you’re giving. When can we expect to speak to you or your father next?”

Kroenke: “I would say that if you’re hearing from me you’re hearing from my father. I’ve always said that for years now. When I speak or he speaks you’re usually hearing from both of us. I might not be my father but that’s why I’m here today. As far as the tone of my voice, I’m doing my best to try and convey the feelings that are in my heart. From a trust perspective I’m not asking you to trust me. All of our trust was shredded this week, I fully understand that. That’s why I’m trying to rebuild some sort of relationship with the supporters, starting with yourselves.”

ZW: “Can you guarantee we will never play home matches away from London while you and KSE own Arsenal?”

Kroenke: “I can guarantee that.”

Arsenal fans hold up a banner against Arsenal's majority owner Stan Kroenke during the English Premier League football match between Arsenal and Everton at the Emirates Stadium in London on May 21, 2017.
Arsenal fans have protested against Stan Kroenke’s ownership in the past
(Image: Getty Images)

M: “Do you still consider yourselves fit and proper owners and custodians of our club? Are KSE fully aware that the vast majority of the fanbase believe that you’re not fit to the owners of our football club? Do you believe that this damage is repairable or will KSE be looking to sell their shares in Arsenal?”

Kroenke: “I still believe we’re fit to carry on in our positions as custodians of Arsenal. We were put in a very difficult position by forces outside of the club. To go back to those original questions that we got wrong, those were the questions we asked ourselves and that’s why I’m here to try and piece everything back together over time. I’m not asking for your trust immediately. We have the same plans for summer as we had a few weeks ago, and I’m so excited about those. I might be met with distrust and skepticism but over time I hope to re-establish a relationship with our supporter groups and show them we’re capable of leading the club forward.”

BG: “You keep saying that ‘we hear you fans’. You didn’t speak to us in the first place about this. We will be lobbying government to get fan representation at boardroom level. What is your view on that? Who has made this ridiculous decision? Was it you, your father or Lord Harris, or the board?”

Kroenke: “It was the board. As a club we made the decision, we kept asking ourselves very difficult questions. The two main ones which I’ve gone over repeatedly. It was a group decision. We wanted everyone’s opinion to see what everybody thought. I want to interact more in a more meaningful way whether that’s at board level or in a Fans’ Forum. This has been an education unto itself of the power of football fans across the world and the power of Arsenal fans, which is spectacular to see honestly.”

BB: “What are your feelings on fan groups or a representative of the fans being at board level?”

Kroenke: “Hm, it’s a very tough one. I think there’s pros and there’s cons. In the wake of everything that’s transpired in the last few days we’re going to be asking ourselves many questions, including the one you just asked me. So while I’m not giving you a yes or no answer, it’s definitely something that’s up for discussion.”

In this photo illustration, the UK football teams that are part of the European Super League (Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal and Tottenham
Arsenal were one of six Premier League clubs to sign up to the European Super League
(Image: Getty Images)

B: “One quick way you could build trust with fans is to show the meeting notes from these things. Josh, I keep saying to myself if I had the opportunity to run Arsenal Football Club, there are millions of people in the world who would look at you like a hero. Why don’t you get involved with us and make this club great again? You have got an opportunity that noone else has. You need to do something for us. There’s going to be 20,000 fans outside the stadium tomorrow, which is all down to a terrible decision for financial gain. What about the 360 other clubs in the English league? Is that the Arsenal way? We leave them behind? I’m disgusted.”

Kroenke: “All I can say is you have my word. You’re going to be seeing a lot of me as you have hopefully the last few years more and more over in London with the club. To the point I made earlier, I know the trust has been shredded but you’re going to be seeing my try to rebuild that both now and in the future. Hopefully whether that’s in many years time or sitting in person having a pint, I prefer my interactions to be in person. I made a point about my conversations being delayed because of the pandemic and that’s definitely because I do have a preference of meeting people in person. You will be seeing me more, I look forward to interacting with you guys and attempting to rebuild that trust.”

DW: “Some of the fans also appreciate your effort to help the club. We understand the financial difficulties that we’ve been going through during the pandemic. We are very concerned about the values and traditions that our club represent. What is the punishment going to be for leaving the ESL and who is going to cover it?”

Kroenke: “Anything related to the ESL will be handled outside the club, with KSE. We’ve done our best to be true to our values as long as we’ve been involved with the club. From the self sustaining model to the different values that the club represents all throughout our history. This has been one inflection point where obviously these values were not upheld. We’re not trying to say that we were. This was a unique moment in time that was very difficult for a lot of reasons. We’re going to be about those values both now and moving forward. This was a moment in time that was very difficult and we did obviously not honour those traditions.”

Manchester United fans display a banner outside Old Trafford in protest against the European Super League
Manchester United fans display a banner outside Old Trafford in protest against the European Super League
(Image: Anthony Devlin/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

PH: “You say the trust has been broken. But I don’t believe that’s true, because as fans of Arsenal we’ve never trusted you. I know that’s very offensive but that’s the reality that you need to learn. It’s really important that you engage with fans much, much more if you want to gain our trust. Right now people are asking what would it take for you to sell the club? That’s the reality that I want you to consider really hard. I would like to ask you what will you do to engage more with fans?”

Kroenke: “What will I do to engage more with fans? Well, starting with interactions such as this on Microsoft Teams. When I’m in there in person we’re going to be sitting down in a boardroom as we did over in Highbury several years ago. There’s going to be many more interactions like this. It’s not going to be a surprise. It’s going to be a scheduled appearance by myself with dialogue back and forth between the likes of us.”

PH: “From our perspective we’ve never had a conversation with you and that’s so easy. There’s so many people here who would love to help you make Arsenal a fantastic club. Just engage with us, take our invitation.”

Kroenke: “Absolutely, I accept. And to your point about trust I am well aware that we’ve never really had trust, and what teeny bit we had taking forward I know that’s been shredded as well. That’s why I continually say I’m here to try and build that bridge, if there ever was a plank or no planks on the bridge of trust, I’m here to start to try and build that trust.”

PH: “I promise you the guys here are willing to meet with you on a weekly basis to let you know what we want as fans. We want to help you if you want to engage with us, that’s the challenge.”

Kroenke: “Thank you, Peter.”

Anti-European Super League posters hang outside Anfield stadium
Anti-European Super League posters hang outside Anfield stadium
(Image: PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

SG: “As you’ve had the opportunity to reflect over the last few days, could you tell what was missing from the decision making process of the board to end up in this situation? When the next offer comes along what will you do differently?”

Kroenke: “The answer to your first question is obviously we misjudged a lot of things. We rushed into a decision because of time constraints. I think the first thing we would do differently is to consult a lot more people with regards to certain confidentiality aspects, including supporter groups. We know how everyone feels about the proposal as it was constructed, so if anything like that come across our desks in the future it wouldn’t be something that we’d entertain.”

JS: “The media is talking about the £8m penalty fine for the Super League. Are KSE going to pay this? And are we looking forward to take anybody from the 55 redundancies back?”

Kroenke: “To the first part of your question regarding the financial aspect, as I’ve stated on the call previously KSE is covering all outside costs related to the Super League. The club is not incurring anything. From a redundancy perspective we made some very difficult decisions as part of the pandemic, to make sure the club is running as efficiently as possibly. They were not fun or popular decisions to make, internally or externally but they were ones we felt we had to make at that time.”

Venkatesham: “On the redundancy stuff we’ve obviously spoken about those at Fans’ Forums before. Horrendously difficult decisions to make made because of the extreme impact the pandemic has had on our football club, to make our club more sustainable for the future. Those are decisions we can’t go back and change. I can’t give you the number but for your information that article about the club spending £8m on equity stakes, that number is absolutely miles out in terms of too high.”

Anti-European Super League posters hang outside Anfield stadium
Anti-European Super League posters hang outside Anfield stadium
(Image: TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)

JW: “I’m from Gay Gooners. Arsenal leads the way in equality and inclusion across the game. I’ve had many difficult conversations this week across the game from all different levels. Our position as a focal point as leaders in the fan movement has been put at risk through the ESL decision. How will the club ensure they repair their relationship with other clubs? But also ensure their fan clubs have their respect restored?”

Venkatesham: “In terms of relationships with other clubs I think that’s a really good and important point. I think I said we made a terrible decision to do this that we need to make some good decisions after. The first was getting out of this as quickly as possible and the second is demonstrating to people how sorry we are about the decision we made. I’ve been in touch now with every single one of the clubs who were not part of this proposal to offer an absolute unreserved apology from Arsenal to their club for what we’ve done. I’ve explained what happened, why we did it, that we’re hugely regretful and we had discussed how we would best work together going forward. Those relationships are obviously different at each one of the clubs but we’re obviously working hard to rebuild each one and ensure that Arsenal’s good name and good reputation gets restored to where it should be.”

FK: “Josh, you mentioned about class and tradition, and cited self sustaining model. Clearly the self sustaining model isn’t working. When are you going to admit that it isn’t working and when are you going to start investing substantial funds into Arsenal Football Club? If you don’t want to, when do you want to sell.”

Kroenke: “I think that question is a very interesting one. We’re always willing to provide resources for Arsenal Football Club, as we have supported the club the last several years. I think the question you’re asking also resides in a much larger question about football. If you’re always going to be recruiting the next person to pump tens and hundreds of millions into a club that is not a sustainable operation across Europe anywhere. For us, I think we’re not afraid to be aggressive at different points in time. Hopefully you’ve noticed over the last few transfer windows we have been more aggressive. That was part of the discussion we had internally amongst the six clubs in the UK and in Europe. The model that is currently out there is not sustainable over the long-term, and that should very much worry supporters. While the answer to your question ‘who is the next wealthy person who can come in and just funnel money into the club’ and I don’t think that’s the right answer for Arsenal Football Club or football as a whole.”

FK: “If somebody doesn’t come in and do that we’re just going to fall lower and lower down the pyramid. That’s not what we want. We want to be great again.”

Kroenke: “100 per cent correct. That’s what we want as well. That’s simply not a sustainable model for global football. That’s why I go back to some of my comments about governance. Whether it’s about FFP enforcement or things of that nature we need transparency at certain levels of governance otherwise the game is not going to be at a good place in the future.”

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FK: “What is your exit strategy and when do you want to sell?”

Kroenke: “I’m not willing to answer that question because we have no intention of selling.”

Venkatesham: “Just to build on that point, my personal view is that if the football model based on trying to find as many people as we can out there who are going to pump money into football clubs and they’re not going to be able to stand on their feet, I think the industry is in real trouble. Because if you don’t have a healthy top of the pyramid – that’s the challenge we have that moment. Not Arsenal I should say, have their backs to the wall. If those clubs fail then they can’t pay the money they owe to the other clubs and those clubs fail, then the whole pyramid collapses. I will say for the record KSE have refinanced our stadium debt to effectively £200m, we’re going to lose well over £100million this year and it’s KSE standing behind that. Whatever we do in this transfer window it’s KSE standing behind that.”

Kroenke: “I just want to say I do appreciate that question. Because it’s such a complicated answer that leads to some of the true issues we have gripes with. Back to the governance in European football. I look forward to interacting with you and the other supporters groups going forward because I do love this club. I know it’s been a crazy week at a lot of levels and we have not represented us or yourselves in a positive manner, both internally and externally. But you’re going to be seeing a lot more of myself, we’re going to be interacting a lot more. It’s on myself and the rest of the board to push this club forward and we’re going to be listening to you guys a lot. So thank you for the question.”

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