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Nina Bracewell-Smith Leaves the Arsenal Board, Swirling Up a Storm of Confusion

Mad happenings at Arsenal: Nina Bracewell-Smith, the club’s third-largest stakeholder and a member of the board of directors, has either resigned from the board or been removed from it, depending on whom you ask. It’s hard to get straight information at this point, but everyone seems to agree that her departure was precipitated by a major blowup with other board members and chairman Peter Hill-Wood, over one or all of the following:

(1) Her preferred candidate for the position of chief executive being overlooked in favor of Ivan Gazidis;

(2) Her being left out of Arsenal’s commercial endeavors in India, despite the fact that she was born there;

(3) Her generally being moved aside in the club’s power structure in recent years, despite the fact that her family has been linked to the club since the era of her husband’s grandfather, the earnestly named hotel mogul Sir Bracewell Smith.

The Telegraph‘s account is the most thorough of the sketchy reports on this so far, and touches on all three subjects. Bracewell-Smith’s brother-in-law, Richard Carr, followed her halfway out the door, stepping down from the board of the holding company but agreeing to stay on the board of the football club and continue his work with youth development.

This is big news for Arsenal, not only because of the family’s long history with the club, but also because Nina Bracewell-Smith was part of the “lockdown agreement” under which Arsenal’s largest stakeholders made a pact not to sell their shares, thus thwarting Uzbek billionaire Alisher Usmanov’s attempt to take over the club.

With Bracewell-Smith (I’m supposed to be calling her “Lady Nina,” as she’s technically the Egret of Pombley or something, but I didn’t watch every minute of John Adams in order to curtsy to marchionesses) off the Arsenal board, she’s out of the lockdown agreement, meaning her 15.9% share of the club is for sale if she wants it to be. The other board members are betting either that she’ll decline to sell to Usmanov or that Usmanov, in this economy which is like BILLIONAIRE, ON YOUR KNEES, won’t be able to buy. Here’s Peter Hill-Wood, whom it’s killing me not to call “Peter Wood-Hogg or whatever,” on the situation:

I don’t know for certain what she wants to do with her shares. I do know that the Bracewell-Smith family have been involved with the Club for many, many years and are great supporters.

I know that Lady Nina is an advocate of the policies we have been following to make the Club self-sustaining and free from external injections of money. She has certainly been in favour of what we are doing.

We hope that she would remain a shareholder but she has not spoken to me about it lately. She is no longer in the lockdown so she is free to do what she wishes to do.

If Usmanov, who’s currently sitting on a 24.9% stake in the club, were to come into the Bracewell-Smith portion, he’d be legally obliged to make an offer for the rest of the shares, as he’d cross the 30% threshold that triggers what for drama’s sake I’m going to call a full-throttle takeover attempt. But there’s some speculation that he might be able to get the requirement waived, on the grounds that rich people should be able to do whatever they want at all times without being constrained by the rules.

This is obviously a volatile and developing story, and I’ll be following it as it progresses. If you find this kind of boardroom theater tiresome, I’d ask you to take into account the fact that we’re combining ancient family sagas, solemn pacts, English noblewomen, marauding Uzbek oligarchs, American parvenus, betrayal, wild risks, and football in one short space. I want to be clear about this. This is awesome.

In the meantime, read Wikipedia on the family history of the Bracewell-Smiths and their involvement with Arsenal. I’m sure there are soccer teams that weren’t fought over during lesser medieval religious wars, but the bourgeois-aristocratic legacy of some football clubs is a weird book waiting to happen:

Born Nina Kakkar in New Delhi, she is the daughter of an Indian diplomat. In 1996 she married Sir Charles Bracewell-Smith, the fourth baronet (of Keighley in the County of Yorkshire); he is the son of the former Arsenal director Sir George Bracewell-Smith, (second Baronet) who was on the Arsenal board of directors from May 1953 to September 1976. Sir George was in turn the son of the former Arsenal chairman Sir Bracewell Smith, who sat as chairman from 1948 to 1962.

Lady Bracewell-Smith’s share in Arsenal comes from the estate of Sir Bracewell Smith, which was split among his grandchildren, Sir Charles Bracewell-Smith, Clive Carr (Life-President), Richard Carr (still a director) and Sarah Carr, now Lady Phipps-Bagge. Sir Charles Bracewell-Smith transferred ownership of his shares to his wife, Lady Bracewell-Smith, and she was made a non-executive director of Arsenal in 2005; her appointment increased the members on Arsenal’s Board of Directors to ten.

You think beef has ever been consumed in the domiciles of the Bracewell-Smiths? The dinner party chapter at the beginning of Our Mutual Friend just fainted.

UPDATE: Vital Arsenal has a few more details, and suggests that the Bracewell-Smith recusal has less significance now that Stan Kroenke is among the “friendly” shareholders on the Arsenal board.


Nina Bracewell-Smith Leaves the Arsenal Board, Swirling Up a Storm of Confusion

by Brian Phillips · December 17, 2008

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