Two worlds collide at Arsenal AGM
I can't quite work Arsenal out.
I was at the club's AGM and to be honest, from the outside looking in, it's a bit like watching two worlds collide. Leave aside the football for the moment, and consider Arsenal, the institution.
With board members past and present like Sir Chips Keswick, Lord Harris of Peckham and Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith, there was a distinctly old public-school feel to proceedings, with chairman Peter Hill-Wood running the show a bit like the headmaster on speech day who forgot to put on his glasses.
He began proceedings with a somewhat under-rehearsed opening address and proceeded to lose his place in the running order (several times), generating much unintentional mirth from the floor.
In closing, apologising for the late running, he invited us to try the coffee and, "rather nice looking cakes" or to make a trip to the pub to "have a drink of beer". Perhaps, but looking around, I reckon at least two-thirds of the shareholders are tapas and pinot gris types.
I fear he might be missing the zeitgeist. All of this old-schoolery, of course, took place in somewhat incongruous surroundings: with such a cast list, you'd expect to be inside the panelled hall of some gothic pile, not the super-modern glass and concrete edifice that is the Emirates Stadium.
It's not until Ivan Gazidis got to his feet that we saw the new order. He's a man whose style fits his workplace, but he's smart enough to make sure he chimes with the past. He's really tuned in to Arsenal-ness, Arsenality, or whatever the collective mind-set should be called.
Arsenal moved from Highbury to the newly-built Emirates Stadium in 2006
With four young, eager recruits, he's forging ahead with a modernisation programme, and there's a good chance he'll take the St Trinian's staffroom along with him. He speaks fluently of the Arsenal way of doing things, finding and nurturing young talent, and retaining it, not shipping it in by the busload on a Bosman.
It's this philosophy of course, which by his own admission, has kept manager Arsene Wenger loyal to the club for 13-and-a-half years. There was a lot of talk about brand, growth and strategy, but also of the club's values, rather than its value. Gazidis summed up the current Arsenal thinking thus: "Success that is built is more rewarding than success that is bought."
I was half expecting a spontaneous chant of "Are you watching Man City" from the floor. What we did get, eventually, was the elephant-in-the-sitting-room question: "What are the intentions of Mr Stan Kroenke?" The major shareholder, who's put himself in pole position for a takeover was at the top table, but didn't answer.
However, I doubt he'll be content with Peter Hill-Wood's explanation that he's "very happy to be a long-term shareholder" before adding he couldn't say any more with the Stock Exchange takeover panel looming and the club's lawyers getting twitchy.
He did offer the insight that the club wasn't, "looking for a new custodian", and I don't think he was talking about goalkeeper Manuel Almunia's job being secure. It might have to contemplate one soon however, and that's the great unknown.
I just wonder how much longer this blend of the old Corinthian values and modern thinking is going to survive.