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The anniversary files: how Rangers owned part of Arsenal – and then sold it

By Tony Attwood

16 May 1910

Following the collapse of Woolwich Arsenal’s attempts to launch a new share issue, and the widespread knowledge that the club was in such deep financial trouble that the League had demanded a meeting with them about next season, rumours began to circulate.

Was the club about to fold? Was there a white knight about to take over?  What was Henry Norris going to do?

Amidst all the stories there was one set of rumours that reverberate today – and that is that Tottenham and Chelsea and Rangers FC were all trying to buy all or part of Woolwich Arsenal FC.

In fact it came to nothing – except that Rangers did actually buy some shares – shares that they continued to hold until Alisher Usmanov bought them.

This sale of those shares bought in 1910 came to light when Scotland’s Daily Record ran the story that Mr Usmanov’s Red and White Holdings Ltd bought 16 shares at a total cost of £230,000 ($361,268) from Rangers owner Craig Whyte.  The shares cost Rangers £1 each.

That purchase took Red and White Holdings to 29.63% holding in Arsenal.  Stan Kroenke is of course the largest shareholder.  Mr Usmanov does not have a seat on the board but if he were to reach 30% share holding he would then be obliged to offer to buy all shares in the club at a price which would be considerably above the price Mr Kronke paid.
It is also reported (although this was news to me) that Premier League rules say Mr Usmanov would then also be made a director.
Following Mr Usmanov’s purchase another investor bought two Arsenal shares at £16,000 and £16,500 apiece – again these are the £1 shares in Woolwich Arsenal Football and Athletic Club that are being traded.
Such a trading gives Arsenal a value of £1.1 billion – 102 years after the club was preparing to go to the League to try and convince them that they had enough money to survive one more year in the Football League.  It is also 99 years after Arsenal were relegated after their worst season ever, ending with a crowd of around 3000.
Craig Whyte sold 16 Arsenal shares all told… but why did Rangers want to buy into Arsenal?  Tottenham and Chelsea were both trying to influence affairs at Woolwich Arsenal.  Chelsea were aware of Henry Norris’ ambitions for Arsenal to play at Craven Cottage and Tottenham were always active in the affairs of London teams.  But Rangers?

It is now believed Rangers got involved by buying two shares in ­Woolwich Arsenal after Arsenal’s manager, George Morrell, who had previously worked for the Ibrox club wrote to them with an appeal for help.

Then around 1930, Arsenal made a gift to Rangers of a further 14 shares in return for their support in 1910.

Mr Whyte has not been known during his time at Rangers as a sentimentalist, so it seems that when he found the share certificates lurking at the back of the cupboard he quickly sold them.

But then, according to the Daily Record Mr Whyte blocked a move for the cash to be paid into the Rangers bank account, demanding instead it stayed lodged in one of his own companies, Pritchard Stockbrokers in Bournemouth.

Pritchard’s assets were then frozen on the orders of the Financial Services Authority and Rangers’ ­administrators, Duff and Phelps, is reported to have been attempting to recover the missing money.  Indeed, as I am not 100% up to date with the strange events at Rangers it is possible they have already done so.

The share sale followed Mr Whyte selling off four years of Rangers season tickets in advance to Ticketus to fund the takeover – a move that even makes the purchase of Man U through using the club’s own money look reasonable.

Mr Whyte seemingly convinced Ticketus to give him £24.4million on the proviso that he would then buy Rangers.

So that’s the end of the Arsenal-Rangers connection, and until recently it looked like it could be the end of Rangers – but now there is a bid in to rescue the club – although the threat of a transfer embargo and further points deductions are still in place.

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The Updated Database of Arsenal Anniversaries

Woolwich Arsenal, the club that changed football.  Final call for sponsorsUpdated information here

When Arsenal and Fulham were within moments of merging into one club… full details in “Making the Arsenal”

Arsenal History Index

2 comments to The anniversary files: how Rangers owned part of Arsenal – and then sold it

  • nicky

    Tony,
    I seem to recall, pre-WW2, the introduction of the occasional friendly mid-week matches at Highbury. Invariably they were against Rangers. I wonder whether this was connected to their share holding.

  • richard b

    I remember going to pre-season friendlies against Rangers in the sixties. And very unpleasant they were too!

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