Arsenal’s Chairmen – Part 4: Dynasties

by Andy Kelly and Mark Andrews
(@Gooner_AK) (@RoyalArsenalMRA)

Post World War Two – A tale of two families

The vacant position of Arsenal chairman was filled by a man who was as famous as his predecessors. Sir Bracewell Smith had joined Arsenal’s board in July 1938 having recently purchased a considerable slice of the club. Smith had made his name in politics and as an hotelier. He had been conservative MP for Dulwich (1932-1945), mayor of Holborn council (1931-1932) and Lord Mayor of London (1946). He also owned the Park Lane Hotel, The Ritz and the Café Royal.

Sir Bracewell’s tenure saw the club continue with its success, winning the FA Cup and the Football League in his early days. But he also had to steer the club through some dark periods. Following the league title in 1953 the club struggled to match the success of the previous two decades. Money was made available but the players bought in by Whittaker, Crayston and Swindon could not gel.

In 1949 and 1953 two new directors were appointed to Arsenal’s board that would see the continuation of two dynasties that would become synonymous with Arsenal Football Club. Denis Hill-Wood inherited is late father’s shares and was elected to the board in 1949 whilst Bracewell’s son George (known by all as Guy) joined the board in 1953.

By the end of 1961 Smith was 77 years old and his health had started to deteriorate. In October he stepped down as chairman and was elected life president, a position he retained until his death in 1966. He was the only Smith to hold the position of chairman at Arsenal but his family remain involved with the club to the present day. His son, Guy. was a director until his death in 1976. Bracewell’s shares filtered down to his grandchildren. Clive and Richard Carr became directors in 1981. Clive stepped down in 2001 and became Honorary Vice-President until 2009. Richard stepped down from the board of Arsenal Holdings in 2009 but remains on the board of Arsenal Football Club. Guy’s two sons, Guy and Charles, never held board positions but were significant shareholders. They both hyphenated their names in the early 1970s to become Bracewell-Smiths. Charles’ wife, Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith, was invited on to the board in April 2005 but was ousted during a power struggle in December 2008. In March 2012 she was invited back to become Honorary Vice-President.

Returning to 1961, Arsenal’s new chairman was Denis Hill-Wood. As previously mentioned, Denis had played first class cricket. He also played a reserve team friendly for Arsenal in 1930, scoring two goals. One of his first tasks was to sack George Swindin and replace him with Billy Wright. This was an attempt to drag Arsenal back into contention, especially as he backed Wright with the signing of Joe Baker. Four years later he had to sack Wright and then gambled when he appointed Bertie Mee as manager, a gamble that paid off. Denis remained Arsenal chairman for more than 20 years until his death in May 1982. He was a very popular man, always good for a quote and a respected leader.

The Hill-Woods retained the chairmanship when Denis’ son Peter was appointed to the position shortly after his father’s death. Peter was a banker with Hambros Bank and had joined the Arsenal board in 1962. He sanctioned a number of big money signings during his first season in charge – Woodcock, Chapman and Petrovic – and continued the following season with the high profile capture of Charlie Nicholas, and Tommy Caton. However, manager Terry Neill was unable to get these new players to perform and Hill-Wood had to perform a similar act as his father had done two decades perviously and sack the manager. About this time, the board agreed to sell approximately 1100 unissued shares to David Dein. For the next 14 years Hill-Wood remained chairman but it was acknowledged that Dein was the driving force behind the club until Dein was forced off the board. By this time, Hill-Wood held only a small number of shares and his position was seen as that of a figurehead with others pulling the strings in the background. He became known for making some awful gaffs that alienated him from the Arsenal fans. Following a heart attack in 2012 he retired from the board in June 2013, severing a family connection with Arsenal that had lasted more than 90 years. Peter Hill-Wood is the longest serving Arsenal chairman (31 years) and director (51 years), two records that will remain unbroken for a very long time.

After much speculation amongst fans about who should replace Peter Hill-Wood, the club decide to appoint from within. Sir Chips Keswick was announced as the new Arsenal chairman on 14 June 2013. A board member since 2005, at 73 Keswick is the oldest man to be elected chairman of Arsenal. A full profile of Sir Chips is available on the Arsenal website.

The books…

5 Replies to “Arsenal’s Chairmen – Part 4: Dynasties”

  1. I think the time has arrived when a new Board is necessary in order to cope with the stresses and strains of modern business
    (which is what Arsenal FC is, now).
    A mixture of old and young members, IMO, simply doesn’t work. I’ve seen too many Boards and Committees poorly led because of some members set in their ways, whilst others desperate to modernise the governance as soon as possible.
    It is of paramount importance that older members are converted into examining today’s club problems on a national and international basis, rather than the more parochial basis of their forebears.
    A young Board will make mistakes but these should be kept to a minimum if the experienced permanent staff behind the scene are doing their job properly.

  2. Nicky,

    What are you talking about? the Arsenal board has a younger aggregate age than those hipsters the Rolling Stones!

  3. @Andrew,
    The Board’s average age of nearly 67 is far too old these days.
    The only rolling stones I’m aware of are those the AAA crawl out from, every now and again, to spout anti-Arsenal propaganda.

  4. They were on telly recently, though when I turned it on I thought it was a repeat of the Walking Dead.

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