there are more questions than answers
Tottenham Hotspur plc AGM at White's Club 14.12.2001
The top table consisted of D. J. Pleat (so that's what he gets up to in his spare time !!), D. Buchler (Vice Chairman), Daniel Levy (Chairman), P. Viner (Finance controller designate) and Howard Stone (Director). On entry, Bill Nicholson received his regular standing ovation as he took his seat. Other famous faces in the audience included Alex Fynn (author of a number of books on Spurs) and John Ireland (former Finance Director).
The formal part of the meeting began with Daniel Levy reading out a statement outlining how pleased the Board were with the strides made since ENIC had taken over at Tottenham. He also found time to thank the fans for their support of the team during this time. He handed over to David Buchler, who started by winning over the majority of the audience in his disarming way with a faux pas that was as hammy as you could ask for - with what looked like a scripted "the meeting will be split into 2 or 3 halves ... oh, no, you can't have three halves can you ?". You expected him to say "Doh!" as the denouement.
A question on Resolution number 9 was asked, concerning the needed for the company to buy back shares and should this only be done if there was nothing better for them to spend their money on. Buchler said that there was no intention to carry out the actions under this resolution, but Howard Shore explained that it was there should the company need it to protect shareholders from market collapse or a similar occurrence (i.e. a Premiership club going bust and the football shares all plummeting). It was only likely to be used if the club's future was in jeopardy. Another question raised the matter of how the shares would affect shareholders holdings and Shore said that if it was to be used, it would mean that it would increase shareholders percentage of the club, as the club would be moving shares from the general circulation. The next question concerned dividends and asked if they were ever going to be paid again and did the company intend to drive up the share price. Mr. Levy said that there would be no dividend, but that if the club got into Europe, this could raise revenue, increase profit and thus increase the share price.
The votes on the resolutions took place and a ballot for the Resolution 10 (about ability to buy back shares), so while the votes were being counted there was an hour Q&A session on footballing matters.
First up was a safety matter, with a complaint about the coaches parked outside the East Stand on the Worcester Avenue, causing queuing to get out of the stand. Mr. Buchler said he had noted the matter and the Stadium Manager would look into it.
The Bosman transfer aspect of players contracts was raised and it was asked that if players with two years left on their deal would not sign a new contract, would the club sell them. Daniel Levy said that contracts were under constant review and that there was an acknowledgement of the implications of the Bosman effect. A little while after, shareholder and former player John Pratt said that players could not be forced into being sold, unless they wanted to. He said that players were within their rights to see out there contracts as Campbell had done and that it should not be forgotten that he was a very good player for Tottenham. Pratt also commented that Sol Campbell would not be the first Spurs fans to play for Arsenal. David Buchler said that the club's policy would be to try and extend the contract where possible.
Stadium development then took centre stage. Daniel Levy fielded this question by stating that there is planning permission for the East Stand to be developed, but before that happened, the club were seeking central government funding to improve the local infrastructure and talks had begun with the local Council. Without this, the club might have to consider moving out. Buchler carried on this theme, by saying that the ground was difficult to get to and from. The club had made clear to Haringey Council that their preference was to stay at White Hart Lane, but there would have to be help from the local authority's end for this to happen. Another query about the development of the West Stand got the same answer. Levy did say that at the moment there was no intention to sell the naming rights of the stadium. He also said in response to a question on media rights, that the advertising market was depressed now and it is not the right time to go into such a venture. Levy told the audience that values in such a deal would be low and that resources had been invested in the club website.
One long time supporter said that Spurs had upped the price of the stadium tour to such an extent that she could not now take her four grand-children and the loss of the 10% discount had affected how much they could spend in the shop. She said she should have put her money in a Building Society as she would have made some money from that, because she would never get rich off Spurs !! Buchler said that there would be a review of the discount and that some season ticket holder only offers would be announced in the New Year. He said that the discount had been removed because some people had been abusing it by buying at a discount (later implying that this was season ticket holders rather than members) and then selling the merchandise at a profit.
The subject of watching Spurs train at Chigwell was raised by one shareholder, as he felt that it was not part of the local community, with new fencing to stop people seeing in. He asked if it was possible for a public viewing area to be created. David Pleat fielded this one and said that after the West Ham incident involving Hartson and Berkovic, some clubs were reluctant to have fans or media in to watch training sessions. He said that George Graham was protective of his training sessions and while Hoddle was less so, he felt that too many people in at the time of the players practicing could produce security problems, so at this time there were no plans to change the policy. A follow-up asked about the acquisition of the adjacent rugby ground for the Academy and Mr. Levy replied that there was to be an announcement on that matter early in the New Year, as it was a top priority for the club's long term future.
Global expansion was the next topic to be broached, with the question of worldwide links with foreign clubs and expanding into new markets (as successfully done by Man U). Mr. Buchler said that the club had stood still in this respect for the last decade, while others had moved forward. The club were aware of the large global support for the team and there were intentions to exploit the common links of the clubs in the ENIC stable. David Pleat expanded on this by saying that the Slavia Prague club is an interesting one, because they have many talented players and he believes that it one of the best leagues on the continent. However, he said that the players have to have played 75% of their country's internationals to get a work permit and by the time they have they do not come cheap. They have quality players on low wages and it must be hoped that if the Czech republic becomes an EEC member within the next two years, then Spurs might be able to gain from a link up with them. The Director of Football added that there were two or three young players from the Slavia club at Tottenham at the moment, training with the club.
The matter of raising revenue was questioned when it was not possible to buy tickets on the Internet website and that the phone system was not that good to order them either. Daniel Levy responded by telling the assembled shareholders that a revolutionary system of buying you ticket on the Internet would be launched in early 2002 - so good that you will even be able to pick your seat and see the virtual view of the pitch from it !! The club were keen to expand their fan base overseas and were planning a tour of the Far East, although this was at a very early stage. Tottenham were also looking for a link with a sporting "brand" in the US similar to Man U's link with the New York Yankees. However, since September 11th, this has not been a good time to try and push this angle.
The next question raised the point that no personal equity had been put into the club by ENIC and did they intend to do so ? Levy replied that ENIC was only a 30% shareholder of the club and if the whole of the shareholders were asked to invest in the club, then ENIC would. He did say that at this time the club did not need that investment. Buchler continued on the same line by saying that prior to this summer, the club had spent £50 million and had not got a good return on that investment in players, therefore, the new board would invest, but do it smarter and with an eye to the long term. The shareholder asked how Spurs would stay in touch with the big five without new money from outside the company, which elicited the answer that there must be a balance in development. In the 1990's Buchler said he had met the man the Midland Bank had appointed to wind up the club and that was not a situation that would arise again.
A three pronged question came next. With Glenn Hoddle training the side in preparation for tomorrow's match against Fulham, could the AGM be arranged in future to accommodate the manager's attendance, which the board said they would consider, although it was not always possible for him to be there. Secondly, would David Pleat still be bringing in the younger players to the club, to which the DoF replied that Tottenham would still be aggressive in picking up these players from clubs who might need to sell and that it was important to be aware of which players in the lower leagues were potentially transfer targets. The third limb was about sufficient funds being available for transfers and Buchler said that Hoddle could be asked that question as a Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Trust Q&A session was planned with Glenn Hoddle in the first quarter of 2002 (which was news to the Trust members there !!). Pleat said the manager identifies the needs of the first team and requests the purchase of players who might fit in. Robbie Fowler was mentioned from the floor and that he went for pennies, so why weren't Tottenham in for him. Pleat said that he was of the opinion that it was a lot of pennies involved and that much money could only be judged as well spent when Fowler had been at Leeds United for a few years. He raised the point of how many good players had Liverpool sold who went on to do well elsewhere. This brought shouts of Matteo, Aldridge and Clemence from the floor.
The next couple of questions concerned the depth of the squad with one person wanting a 20-30 goal a season striker bought in the next couple of weeks, while another could not se where the quality behind the first team was. Pleat said that Hoddle feels that the squad he has at the moment ids a very good one and not only are they very good players, but they are all really good people. Should the need arise to fill any gap that Glenn perceives, he will do so. A later shareholder said that if the questioner needed convincing of the quality coming through they should attend the Under-17 and Under-19 matches at Spurs Lodge on Saturday mornings, which David Pleat thanked him for.
Should Spurs qualify for the UEFA Cup and one of the other ENIC clubs also got through, would they be able to co-exist in the same competition under UEFA rules was the next question. Daniel Levy said that they would be able to play in the same competition under the current conditions.
Next came a further question on the removal of the discount and Buchler said that the season ticket holders had not been left out as there would be special offers exclusively for them that amounted to savings of more than 10% and the season ticket holders would find these very good deals. Following on from that there was a question from the same shareholder about the removal of the cup tie vouchers from the season tickets this season, which Mr. Buchler had previously described as "free", when in fact they were paid for (and a refund provided should they not be used). He replied that there had been no increase in season ticket price, but two cup vouchers had been removed. To most in the audience, this amounted to an increase of two match tickets worth !!
With the poll counted and announced in favour of the resolution, the meeting was called to a close and the "entertainment" was over. Some members of the audience said they would not return next year as it had not been as much fun as when Sugar chaired the meetings, while others felt that there had not been much change in the amount of information imparted - just that it had been done in a much smoother fashion than previously.
For me, I left with more questions than answers and although the club appears to be going in the right direction, you feel that sometimes, you would like a straight answer to some pertinent questions ... but I won't hold my breath !!
MARCO VAN HIP
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