|My Ever Changing Moods|
Annual General Meeting of Tottenham Hotspur
on Thursday 7th December 2000
This year’s Annual General Meeting of Tottenham Hotspur plc saw chairman Sir Alan Sugar in a strange mix of emotions. Coming just before Christmas he was obviously in the giving mood, but showed that he had lost none of his bite in dealing with troublesome questions from the shareholders present. On occasion, neither he nor some of the members of the gathering did themselves any favours with their conduct during the meeting. At times the essence of the playground surfaced.
As is customary, the meeting began with the Annual Report and questions were asked on it. The main bone of contention was the subject of the sales of David Ginola, Allan Nielsen and Espen Baardsen. At this stage, it was not whether or not they should have been sold, but the fact that their transfer fees were included in the accounts for this period of these financial records ending 31st July 2000. It was claimed that websites of the club and Aston Villa show that the registrations are shown as the 1st and 4th of August and therefore, the monies arising from those transfers should not be included in the accounts, which would then be seen as inherently false. AS replied that they were registered before the date the accounts closed, but the sales were the point in question here, not the registrations. The sale usually took place a while before the registration goes to Lancaster Gate he explained and told the audience that he did not drive the documents up to West London himself. A question from the floor was that without the resolution being passed, he would like to ask for it to be withdrawn, but was told that as a single shareholder he was not entitled to do this, but if he could get more than 10% of the shareholding together, he could ask for an extraordinary general meeting of the company. The matter raged on, with calls for Sugar’s resignation from the back of the hall, as he should have known about these facts. Joff Wild of Save Our Spurs asked how the report could be agreed by shareholders if they weren’t fully aware of the facts and another asked about the proxy votes who would not have been aware of this line of questioning. Sugar said he believed the facts to be true. When pressed as to why he didn’t know if the facts were true, Sir Alan moved on to the next question. It was later asked if the chairman spoke for each of the board members when he said they were happy with the accounts as presented and wanted each member to say they were happy with the accounts, but AS said that as a board they had agreed the accounts as audited by Deloitte Touche.
The sales were also mentioned when it was mooted that the players had been sold just before the end of the accounting period to make a small profit for the company, which may have been good business, but could the price have been maximised with prolonged negotiations which might have taken the sales past the crucial date. The chairman explained that the sales were done a long time before that date and it was the agreements that had to be arranged with clubs and agents drew out the actual time the deal is announced. There was also the matter of cash flow at the club and it was a piece of astute business to sell players surplus to the manager’s needs.
The subject of wages was raised, as they are an increasing element of the costs incurred by the club. Sugar explained that he was aware of that but you had to pay top wages to attract the top stars. However, he tried to strike a balance between wages and transfer fees, making sure that the right players were brought to White Hart Lane. He floated the fact that Ipswich and Leicester were both above Spurs in the Premier League at the moment, but clubs who have spent much more, like Middlesbrough, were struggling. He didn’t have the answer as to why.
With surplus funds available and no dividend being awarded, one shareholder asked if there was the prospect of a dividend in the future. Sir Al answered that the dividend came from the profit made and there was no profit made. The cost of sending dividends to the small shareholders would be very considerable – about £5 per shareholder – and therefore, a dividend would not be paid unless there was a substantial profit.
The substantial shareholding of Hodram plc was raised and it was revealed that this was the brother of the owner of EasyJet and the shares had been in a number of other companies, but hey had been consolidated to give him a 5% share. While the gentleman was a Spurs fan through and through, he did not indicate that he wanted to be on the board or wish to put more money into the company.
The increase in money owed to creditors and in interest payments was posed and he was answered that it was consistent with the volume of business and that money to creditors rose because of the rising cost of players. A follow-up queried whether there would be a further increase in borrowings to cover the loss of Sol Campbell in the summer, which elicited the response that the club are investigating the financing of the club, because they can no longer blindly throw money at it. Debt being an indicator of poor health in the club, external sources of finance were being looked at and it was hoped that around £24 million (if Spurs reproduced the same finishing position this season) from the new TV deal would be forthcoming. However, every club would be receiving more money, so that would push transfer fees up proportionately. This prompted a question on the subject of equity partners being sought and Alan Sugar said that many clubs had gone with the fashionable trends (i.e. Media companies) looking for quick cash without consideration of what they were selling. If TH plc were to do so, they would not want to undersell the shareholding to one of these companies. Another income stream is the catering at the ground as the Christopher & Letherby contract runs out in the summer after 20 years and Deloitte and Touche were being asked to prepare tender documents to companies who are interested in providing the service, which As hoped would improve quality and also the amount of money coming to the club.
One shareholder mentioned that there was inadequate content in the annual report on football with about 15 ½ lines and Alan Sugar agreed that this would be looked at, although auditors didn’t like things in the Annual Report which may give false predictions of how the club or a competitor might perform.
Whilst Sugar answered most questions patiently without the abrasive style he has employed in the past, he did skim over a question about his disrespect towards shareholders asking questions and being cut short, mainly by instructing the microphone operator to move on from that particular man.
The next resolution was about
re-electing the Finance Director – John Sedgwick.
A shareholder said that he should not be re-elected as the
club’s most valuable asset was being allowed to walk out for nothing
in the summer. The chairman
answered that he did not think it was that easy and did the questioner
think the Finance Director had any say about what Sol would do.
He said that Sol was a very shrewd young man and has come out
with his stock phrases about staying/leaving and would not move from
that position, leaving the club nothing to go an and whatever they have
to offer him, he would not sit down and discuss.
The shareholder said that they should offer him what he wants and
at this stage Sugar asked him if he could take some time out of his day
to come into the club, be given the club chequebook and sit down to
persuade Sol to stay at Tottenham.
The challenge was accepted and Sugar said when Sol leaves in the
summer, the person could come back next year and explain to the meeting
The other resolutions were voted through; mainly by the weight of proxy votes and then the informal Q & A session on other matters was opened. (Questions have been grouped in vague categories to keep them in subject areas)
SUGAR AND THE STATE OF THE CLUB
The first matter asked was whether he would like to be remembered as the man who ruined the club when he had left or died ? Sugar said he had tried to do his best, but all he could do was provide finance for the manager and place his trust in people at the club. He had heard what fans were singing about him at the Birmingham City match and there was a limit to what he could take. Anyone who can look after the club better than him was welcome to take over. He said that his family no longer want to attend and hear the things said about him as they know he is trying his best until someone replaces him.
Another asked for him to name the day when he would be leaving and what his price is for going. Sugar went into a discussion about it not being about his price as all that would do is to put money into his own pocket and then the person buying him out would have to find more to fund things for the club. He said basically that Mark Jacob (who asked the question) wanted someone else. He said if he could find someone who was a) passionate about Spurs and a life long supporter, b) someone who would bring in more players and trophies and c) who can be a custodian to the club and not take it down the pan, then he would meet with them and talk about selling his stake. AS said a number of people could form a committee to bring interested parties forward, but he wanted genuine people not “a bunch of monkeys” as potential buyers. That moved on to a point about David Sullivan and the reply said that the idea was to bring money into the club by issuing more shares to fund about £70 million that GG reckons he needs to bring title to Spurs. The problem would be that anyone buying out Sugar would have to satisfy Lloyd’s, the club’s bankers and then raise finance to fund transfers, ground improvement, etc. The matter had nothing to do with the price that he was asking, but the fact that he didn’t want the club going from the frying pan to the fire. When asked if he would apologise to those he called Morons if he didn’t like being abused himself, Sugar replied that he was applying that to the hooligans who follow the club and would do so again. He did not mean it as a broad brush swipe at all Spurs fans.
The line continued with a shareholder saying that in the 10 years Spurs had been poor, despite good support and would there be ground improvements or a new ground; if not, will he sell out. Sugar said that he supposed this question was hinting that the period coincided with his tenure and that really there had been no glory years since Bill Nicholson was in charge. The East stand was due to be rebuilt to include another 8,000 seats at a cost of £15 million and another £10 million would go to funding the building of the Spurs Academy. He would rather develop the youth than buy a Carlos Kickabal who had no affiliation with the club. The next member of the audience said would it be a foreign player or a better ground or both, like Chelsea ? Sugar said Chelsea are in debt to the tune of £70 million and that Spurs have spent £100 million net on players and stadium development, which was not an inconsiderable amount. The ground capacity came up again with a query about a possible move to the Picketts Lock Athletics Stadium. Sugar said that rebuilding costs in London were horrendous as the new Arsenal ground had been priced at £60 million, but was now around £120 million and the increase in price of the rebuilding of Wembley had shown. He didn’t believe the finance for Picketts Lock development was in place yet and thought that as it was in another London borough, there could be other problems.
The media company matter raised it’s head again and it was asked if any approaches had been made. The chair said that there had been moderate approaches, but he was not willing to undersell the “family shop” like Leeds - £13 million for 30% of all revenues of their TV rights, which was the same amount Spurs could get for shirt sponsorship. Granada’s deal with Liverpool had brought in two lots of £25 million (although not sure for what in return) and £25 million for their broadband (internet) rights for life. Sugar said that if the company had confidence in certain revenue streams, they would shy away from media companies, but if they were offered a good deal, they would sell a small amount of shares. He said that £50 million is not a lot of money now, so even though they were talking to 3-4 companies, they would inform shareholders when anything came of it.
SPURS, YOUTH AND THE FUTURE
“Will we ever catch up with Man U ?” was a major talking point raised by one shareholder. AS said that the champions had accumulated a squad of very good players achieved with the foresight of their manager. All clubs were in the same boat trying to match them, but clubs like Ipswich Town have set up 23 Academies all over East Anglia to get youngsters in and then feed them through into the first team. He said it was the way forward to grow your own, but they must be ready to face the pressures imposed by ambitious fans when they are called on and the current crop of young talent at the club would have Tottenham right through them if you cut their arm off. It was asked where that leaves Spurs. Sugar said he was more content to rely on younger prospects than to keep shelling out big money on foreign imports that have no attachment to the club and end up like Chelsea’s team-sheet that looks like a wine list !! A gent involved in the local youth football scene raised the lack of proactive moves in the local area. Apparently, Charlton Athletic had created an academy in White Hart Lane with the help of a local organiser, which had taken 300 youngsters into their system. The man who set it up phoned Spurs and was told to wait for a call from the club, which never came. At this stage, the Director of Football got quite agitated. He claimed that the club had never been so vigorous and had never been as successful at all Academy levels. The reserve team are younger than previously and Spurs had one player (just as many as Man U or Liverpool) in the England Under-16. He said that Tottenham were moving into other clubs territories now (West Ham and Arsenal), but admitted the club can still get better at this level and always need to try harder. Another point about the Academy was put forward in how does it fit in with Spurs Lodge at Chigwell. The club were looking for land nearby Spurs Lodge to build the Academy and were allocating £10 million to the project. With the EU transfer system under review, Spurs don’t want to bring players through the Academy only for Manchester United to pinch them, because Tottenham wanted the players not the money other clubs would pay for them. Another shareholder asked why he had come to the club in the first place and why Spurs had had 7 managers in that time. AS replied that if he felt that they had spent £100 million irresponsibly, then the board were to blame. He claimed he would have loved to have known about the BSkyB deal when he got involved as this would have made him a Mystic Meg type character and because of this link up other media companies believe Spurs are going to jump into bed with Sky whatever they offer, which was not true. He said he would take the blame if that made the questioner happy.
Joff Wild (SOS) asked why Spurs
had failed to qualify for Europe more than once in the ten years Sugar
had been in charge and how they had failed to finish inside the top six
in that time too. The
chairman replied that the club was not afraid to pay the big transfer
fees required to bring top players to the club and that the fans should
not believe all they read in the newspapers.
After the World Cup, a deal was made for one of the best players
on show to come to Tottenham with his club, but the player did not want
to come. AS went on that a
lot of the information about being offered Zola and Bergkamp has not
come out and he said that he asked Gerry Francis if he wanted either of
them and he said no. The
clubs auditors say that Tottenham are the fourth highest spenders in the
Premier League and that they are up there with the top wage payers.
Sugar pointed out that on another occasion, he was meeting Ole
Gunnar Solskjaer’s agent in the West Stand after a match when fans
were at the main gates baying for his blood.
The manager’s decision on who comes to the club is final and
although Mr. Pleat may have some input in advising GG, it is his
decision whether to pay any heed to that advice.
Another question about why Zenden, Hasselbaink and Ehiogu were
not at the club arose. AS
said that GG had not said to him that he wanted these players.
He was interested in Ugo in the autumn, but by then he had left
Villa. When the centre half was offered as part of the Ginola deal
in the summer, the manager was not keen to take him.
Someone stated that it was the style of play that was at fault and the top table answered that the manager played to the strengths of the players that he had accumulated. It was realised that it is not the style played in the Glory days, but that was something to aspire to.
THE LEEDS BRAWL
The brawl at Leeds that earned Spurs a fine for not controlling their players was raised and how does the club deal with things like that. The club have internal procedures, but feel that the FA cannot ask that they control their players on the field of play. An appeal has been heard without a satisfactory outcome for the club, so they will go for an arbitration ruling, which was something the FA have outlawed now, but Spurs got in before that happened !! Spurs fail to see how they can deal with player’s tempers and propose that it is they who should be punished and not the club. At the original hearing, Leeds put up no defence and the panel hearing the case contained a FA member from Oldham Athletic, a club that wants to strike a youth deal with Leeds United. While there was no implication that any unfairness took place, Sugar felt that arbitration was a better way to go.
PLAYERS, TRANSFERS AND CONTRACTS
Talk returned to Sol and Sugar said “never say never” and Pleat said he would not bet against Sol being at Tottenham next season. Twenty months ago there was a £20 million bid for Campbell, which the club turned down as they saw him as the mainstay of the club and if he had been cashed in on, the fans would not have been happy; so it was a no win situation now that he might go for free. However, one thing he did confirm was that Sol loved Spurs and was a London boy who is close to his family and might not want to move away. The club will offer him whatever he wants to stay and although they signed two players in the summer to show ambition, they will continue to try and do so. The chairman went on to explain that Arsenal had made £15 million on sales in the last two years with very little going out of the club; mainly a result of Wenger arriving at the right time and plucking the fruits of the French development scheme. He questioned how successful he would be next year if Jean Tigana took Fulham into the Premiership, as he is more highly regarded in his own country than the Arsenal boss. Someone asked about the negative perception of the club and how players may not wish to renew their contracts, to which the response was that Stephen Carr was always going to get a new contract and there was pressure applied through the media by his agent. Fans believe what they read and the figures quoted in these stories are usually totally wrong. AS said he would like to shoot all agents !! This then moved onto a question about paying Sullivan £25,000 a week when we had Baardsen anyway. Pleat fielded this one by saying that when he was in charge he had Espen in the side and GG put Walker in to motivate him to keep his place. Espen was frustrated as he needed first team football to preserve his international place and that was why he wanted to move on.
The EU transfer system question led on from this and one person said they used to enjoy coming to watch Spurs play. Sugar said the choice of the players was down to the manager and the EU matter had made it more difficult to move players on. However, he felt that Spurs were not a selling club, as there had been little other clubs wanted !! Another point raised on this issue was that Leeds had spent £18 million on Rio Ferdinand, would Spurs wait for the matter to be resolved before spending again. It was felt by the board that clubs spending now were taking a gamble as the players might be able to walk away for nothing in the worst case scenario. It is trying to put right football contracts which the EU see as illegal under EU law at present, but there was supposed to be an answer by now and the club are thinking of going ahead with purchases of players they want because they can’t wait forever for a result to the matter.
A direct question was put about Carl Cort’s assertion that he did not come to Tottenham because they were only interested in a foreign striker and that David Pleat had said that previous managers had brought mediocre players to the club and now the quality of the squad had to be improved. How was that to be achieved ? Pleat answered that you had to identify talent and then mould it into the team, which did not necessarily mean always signing big stars. There is a need to introduce youngsters, but the manager’s decision is final and GG has cut away a lot of the deadwood that was there when he arrived. The players who were signed in the summer had not yet hit their best form, but it would be hoped that it will come soon and if not, then the manager would have to see what he wanted to do about it.
A question about the manner of Ginola’s disposal was asked. It was said that it was done with disrespect as he didn’t want to leave the club, loved playing for Spurs and that he knows the facts as he had spoken to Ginola himself, to which Sugar commented “Even worse” !! He said the player always holds the trump cards and would only leave if they wanted to and that the manager makes recommendations when he thinks an offer for a player should be accepted. When it was put forward that David only found out he would not be playing in the pre-season friendly at Birmingham by autographing a team sheet, Pleat answered that although he was away at the time, he remembered GG asking David if he wanted to travel even though he would not play and Ginola said he wanted to go. He trained on the pitch with the players who had not taken a full part in the match afterwards, as it was customary to do so.
One elderly member of the
attendance said that GG signed Ben Thatcher for £5 million in the
summer and described him as learning his trade.
The gent said when he did that he got 50p a week !!
He also raised the point that Graham had said we are aiming for
sixth place – why not the top ? Sugar
said that the manager was talking honestly and not giving false hope for
Ticket availability for away
games came up again and the Man U match the previous week was the
subject. As for the Chelsea
game earlier this season, Sugar said that Chelsea are not a very
friendly club as they require away clubs to pay for tickets even if they
don’t sell them. This
meant that the ones that were sold had been bought by Chelsea
infiltrators and caused a lot of distress to Spurs fans at the game.
If they had taken the full allocation and put them on general
sale, London Mancs would have bought them and been in amongst the Spurs
fans. The shareholder
followed up and wanted to know why it appeared that the tickets were not
offered to Spurs fans other than Members and Sugar said do you want an
answer, to which the questioner shouted “Not from you !”
Ron Henry’s loyalty to the
club was asked to be recognised, as after playing since 1954 and being a
member of the Double side, he still helped out with the youngsters at
the club. The questioner
said he would like the bard to note the great service given by the man.
A couple of shareholders got up at the end to say that with the youngsters, Spurs fans had got their Tottenham back and another said that for three generations in his family, Spurs had failed to win the Championship, could he see it in his lifetime please ?? I think that is what we all want.
And so, another year, another
round of allegation and excuse. The
club hold the trump card in that they know the facts that the fans and
shareholders don’t. Sugar
holds the trump card in that he has the biggest block of shares and the
board are with him, so he can’t be outvoted even though he made the
point that simple maths show that his 40% can be overturned.
At the moment, that is as likely as Spurs winning the League.
MARCO VAN HIP
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