Peter Hill-Wood

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Club announcement

Peter Hill-Wood

Peter Hill-Wood

It is with deep regret that we announce the death of former chairman Peter Hill-Wood, at the age of 82.

Born in Kensington, London on February 25, 1936, Peter was educated at Eton College, where he was a schoolmate and lifelong friend of former Arsenal director Sir Roger Gibbs, who sadly also passed away this year.

Peter served in the Coldstream Guards, attaining the rank of lieutenant and, after leaving the Guards, embarked on a highly successful career in the banking industry, rising to become vice-chairman of Hambros Bank and fulfilling a number of directorships within the industry.

Peter joined the Arsenal board in August 1962 and became chairman of Arsenal Football Club in June 1982, following the death of his father Denis. He remained in position until June 2013, when ill health dictated he stepped down.

During his time at the helm, the club enjoyed unparalleled success. Early in Peter’s tenure he presided over the appointment of George Graham as manager and a subsequent, trophy-laden spell that incorporated two league titles, the FA Cup, League Cup and European Cup Winners’ Cup.

That success was followed by the remarkable era of Arsène Wenger, appointed by Peter and the board of directors to some surprise from the footballing world in 1996.

Wenger went on to redefine the club and the game in this country, winning three Premier League titles and four FA Cups while Peter was chairman, including that most remarkable of achievements, the unbeaten season in 2003/04.

Peter, who was a key part of the formation of the Premier League in 1992, was immensely proud of our successes on the pitch but equally those off it, most notably the move from Highbury to Emirates. He was instrumental in facilitating our smooth relocation during what was perhaps the most transformative period in the club’s existence.

As chairman, Peter continued a family tradition dating back decades to when his grandfather, Sir Samuel Hill-Wood, had assumed the position. From a famous sporting family in Derbyshire, Sir Samuel had been chairman at Glossop North End and – like his four sons – played professional cricket for Derbyshire before relocating to London and becoming involved with Arsenal.

Chairman from 1927 until stepping down in 1936, having witnessed the club win their first ever major trophies – four league titles and two FA Cups – under Herbert Chapman and George Allison, Sir Samuel later returned to the position at the start of World War 2, guiding the club through turbulent times until his death in 1949.

After the chairmanship passed on to Sir Bracewell Smith for 12 years, Samuel’s son – Peter’s father – Denis, took the reins. Again, periods of great success occurred under the Hill-Wood watch as Denis and his board of directors oversaw our first European trophy, the European Fairs Cup, our first league and cup double and further success – notably in the FA Cup – later in his tenure.

As we celebrate the unique achievement of 100 consecutive years in the top flight this season, the Hill-Wood family were at the helm for the lion’s share of this special century, a testament to their tenacity and judgment in ensuring we have remained a significant force in English football for so long.

Peter and his family’s influence on the club cannot be overstated, but at this most difficult time for his family and friends, it is Peter the man who we remember with great fondness. Our thoughts are with his wife Sally and his children Sarah, Julian and Charles.

Quotes

‘He was a rare and special man in so many ways’

Peter Hill-Wood

A number of the Arsenal family, past and present, have paid tribute to former chairman Peter Hill-Wood, following his death at the age of 82.

Sir Chips Keswick: Arsenal chairman
The contribution Peter has made to this football club will never be forgotten. Peter was always a huge Arsenal fan and was chairman for 31 years, following his father Denis and grandfather Sir Samuel. His ambition was always to do what was right and best for Arsenal Football Club. He was a key figure in the formation of the Premier League and our move from Highbury to Emirates Stadium. Peter will be missed by us all. My thoughts are with his wife Sally and her family at this sad time.

Sir Chips Keswick and Peter Hill-Wood

Ken Friar: Arsenal executive director
Peter was a rare and special man in so many ways. He was intelligent, with an infectious humour that he shared with us all. He was an Arsenal man through and through, and much of what the club  stands for today is owed to Peter and the Hill-Wood family with whom I have had the honour of sharing my own life with since boyhood. He will be sadly missed by all of us that were privileged to know him. 

Ken Friar with Peter Hill-Wood

Bob Wilson: former Arsenal goalkeeper
It’s so sad to hear that Peter has died. He was a real gentleman like his father Denis, who was chairman before him. The two of them loved our club and always tried to enhance the Arsenal name and what it means to our many thousands of loyal supporters.

Bob Wilson with Peter Hill-Wood

Arsène Wenger: former Arsenal manager
I am very sad to hear that Mr Peter Hill-Wood passed away. We all had a huge respect for the way he carried the values of Arsenal through the generations. He guided the club with vision, courage and intelligence. We will miss him deeply.

Arsene Wenger and Peter Hill-Wood

Interview

‘We won the title and I was floating on air’

Peter Hill-Wood

This interview with Peter Hill-Wood - conducted by Arsenal legend Alan Smith - first appeared in the Arsenal magazine in the 2002/03 season…

Old school - that’s the best way to describe Peter Hill-Wood, Arsenal chairman for the past 21 years.

It’s not just the fact he wears the kind of suits that only Old Etonians can, or his close association with Hambros Merchant Bank, that bastion of City tradition, where he practically spent his entire working life.

It’s also the way he chooses to fulfil his role as chairman at Highbury. Never too obtrusive, always in the background, quietly overseeing the club’s affairs with dignity and pride. There are previous few chairman these days of whom you can truly say that.

This is the man whose face appeared on University Challenge recently along with that of several other Premiership chairmen. Guess which one the students couldn't name? 

Yes, it was our very own Peter Hill-Wood - a long serving figurehead at a world famous club yet largely unknown by the public at large. Under a tartan rug, a gin and tonic at his side, watching with quiet satisfaction as Arsenal go about their business - that’s the image we used to have of him, which, in truth, isn’t all that from off the mark.

As players, we always knew something special was afoot if the chairman popped his head around the dressing room door. There he stood - brown pinstriped suit, lucky red socks poking out underneath, with the obligatory cigar in tow. ‘Afternoon, Mr Chairman’, we’d all chorus. ‘Good afternoon lads’, came the low, throaty reply.

His reason for the visit? One of two usually. We were either about to win something and he had come to wish us luck or we had actually done the deed and he wanted to add his congratulations. There was also another reason and this happened only once. He made the trip downstairs to bring us into line.

This occurred after the infamous Old Trafford brawl in 1990, following which several players and the manager, George Graham, were heavily fined and the club was docked two valuable points.

Mr Hill-Wood felt at this point that he had to steady the ship, to remind us of our responsibilities as Arsenal players. On that score, he is more familiar with the values and traditions of this wonderful club than anyone else. It’s in his blood, something he inherited, following on, as he has, from his father and grandfather.

“We came from the north, from Derbyshire,” he told me recently, in his favourite Italian restaurant. “My grandfather, Samuel, played cricket for Derbyshire [he once scored a record 10 runs off one ball against the MCC] and he played rugby league. His private secretary was a chap called Harold Stapley who played centre forward for Glossop in the early part of last century. Glossop played in the old Second Division before the Great War.”

When his grandfather’s business went belly up, prompting a move down south in 1919, that connection with football persuaded Samuel to get involved with Arsenal. “I think he just thought they were the best football team in the south.” An astute judge if ever there was one. Samuel Hill-Wood went on to become chairman.

After his death in 1948, Sir Robert Bracewell-Smith was instated. When Sir Robert died in 1962, Peter’s father, Denis (whose bust sits next to the trophy cabinet in East Stand), took hold of the reins. His son joined the board in the same year. Quite clearly, then, Peter has a seen a few changes in football over that time. What, I wondered, were the biggest ones?

“I think the game was more fun 30 or 40 years ago. I remember the days when Billy Wright, a wonderful chap, was manager of the club. Although we weren’t very successful, I can remember those days were great fun. And then the 71 ‘double’ period was also good fun.

“We play better football now than we’ve ever done but football is now a very serious business. Money helps in a lot of ways but it’s also a root cause of a lot of troubles. In the old days, people didn't play for money because there wasn’t any.”

That’s not quite the case now, of course. Football has become a billion-pound industry, forging all sorts of changes at boardroom level. “We have executive directors, we have commercial managers, finance people. I try to oversee everything and hopefully help appoint the right people in the right jobs.”

During monthly board meetings the talk rarely turns to football as it used to, even though Arsène Wenger is present. There is a new stadium to build, commercial matters to discuss - that’s what resonates around the old oak-panelled boardroom rather than enquiries surrounding matters on the pitch.

The club has had to move with the times, embrace modernity, and at the same time try to retain Arsenal’s tradition values. “I remember my father being absolutely horrified at the thought of having perimeter advertising. It was a case of ‘over my dead body’, says the chairman.

“We resisted change but now you can’t afford to do that, which is one of the reasons we’re planning to move to a new stadium. Much as we all love Highbury, we cannot sustain a world-class team with a capacity of 38,000.”

And here lies controversy. Mr Hill-Wood has been on the receiving end of a fair amount of criticism from supporters, upset at the move away from their traditional home. “People have questioned the decision to move on, but I’ve been going to Arsenal a lot longer than most. The good thing is that the new stadium is only approximately 500 metres away from where we are now and it will be better served by public transport.”

It was time to talk football, the stuff that has been played out below him in a variety of ways for the post 50-odd years. Of all of those great players to grace the red and white, which ones does he admire the most? 

“When you’re very young you can be impressed more easily, as opposed to getting older and becoming more cynical. Jimmy Logie, I thought, was fantastic. Alex Forbes and Archie Macauley in midfield. Later, George Eastham was a great player, Liam Brady, Frank McLintock. We’ve had some marvellous players in my time but to pick your top 20 is very hard.”

OK, that’s the players done, but what about the games? Which ones really stood out? “When we won the title at Liverpool in 1989, that was an unbelievable occasion. It was so unlikely, to actually win 2-0 at Anfield on that night. I couldn’t believe it. I was sort of unconscious for two days. I remember walking around the garden simply floating on air. That’s got to be one of the great matches.

“Beating Manchester United last year [in 2002 at Old Trafford] was very uplifting as well,” he continues, smiling with obvious understatement. That momentous victory was borne, of course, from the great work undertaken by Arsène Wenger. The Frenchman, now, is universally recognised as one of football’s greatest thinkers; one of the cleverest men to ever turn his hand to management. Yet it was ‘Arsène who?’ when Arsenal made the bold step to recruit from abroad.

“Every time you appoint a manager it is a gamble but, oddly enough, I don’t believe that Arsène Wenger was a major gamble. He had already been very successful, he was extremely easy to deal with and had very clear ideas of what he wanted to do. “A bigger gamble we’ve taken is moving to a new stadium.”

The end of the Hill-Wood dynasty is now almost in sight with none of Peter’s three children likely to follow in his footsteps. Rabid Arsenal fans the lot of them, but it is no longer so straightforward to do what their dad did.

There will be a feeling of great sadness when that moment arrives. After all, 83 years in the family is a very long time. As I say, the man is pure old school, as well as a gentleman. An integral part of Arsenal's proud history.

Interview

Peter Hill-Wood, down the decades

Peter Hill-Wood

This article first appeared in the Arsenal magazine in 2005, written by Andy Exley.

When Arsenal host their first fixture at Emirates Stadium in the summer of 2006, it will be exactly 80 years since Sir Samuel Hill-Wood first became chairman of the Gunners.

The Hill-Wood family had moved down from Derbyshire (where they had run former First Division club Glossop North End) in 1919 and immediately became involved in the Gunners (‘because they were the best football team in the south’, according to Peter Hill-Wood).

Samuel Hill-Wood’s tenure as chairman was followed – after a spell with Sir Robert Bracewell Smith at the helm – by his son Denis in 1962 and after two decades service, the baton was passed to his son Peter, who is now in his 23rd season at the helm. We spoke to the current chairman recently to reminisce about the decades he’s been attending Highbury and look forward to the short move to our new home, Emirates Stadium.

Peter Hill-Wood

“My first season was back in 1948,” says the chairman, who celebrated his 69th birthday recently. “It was shortly after the war when I came with my grandfather who was the chairman at the time, in those days we would have lunch in the West End then make our way to the ground. Things were different then, the Board of Directors didn’t entertain as happens now. The family would eat in the West End and set off at 2.15 and get to Highbury 2.45. Although in the winter games started earlier as we didn’t have floodlights.

“There weren’t so many motor cars back then of course. Our taxi would park in Conewood Street and we’d all go to the game, including the cab driver who had a season ticket. There was no car parking space within the ground at the time, but we didn’t need it as there were so few cars around, people came on the bus or on the tube.”

Following the war, the Gunners didn’t take long to get into their trophy-winning stride: “We were a very good team at that time,” confirms the chairman, “we won the league in 1948 and the Cup two years later. In those early days, we averaged over 50,000 and the capacity when I started going would have been just under 70,000, though in the ‘30s we had over 73,000 here at Highbury for a match against Sunderland.

“Football was always talked about at home and I always knew I’d be coming to Highbury one day but when you are young you can’t help but be in awe of the place, it just seems so big.” One of the beauties of Highbury, and certainly one of the reasons it is cherished by Arsenal supporters and the footballing fraternity as a whole, is the strong sense of history that pervades the stadium, particularly the famous East Stand with its legendary marble halls entrance. And for the chairman, in one way quite literally, nothing has changed.

“Well I sat in exactly the same seat for the first time I went to Highbury as I do now – we haven’t moved!” He laughs, before explaining that there have been some changes in the old East Stand. “The boardroom has been extended,” he says, “we did that in the summer of 1990, but we retained all the wood panelling. We moved the managing director’s office across which has basically swapped with the men’s bathroom. And of course the next room down from the boardroom on this side was the gym for many years before it became the laundry and now it has become the press office. Obviously both the gym and laundry facilities are now at the training centre.

“As for the rest of the stadium, when I first came, the North Bank was just uncovered terracing, as was the South Stand, but the atmosphere was pretty good. The support was different though of course, everyone came in cloth caps and paid 1d 6s to get in. They were very keen football fans but not quite as demonstrative as you see today.

“We had a very good run towards the end of the 1950s,” continues the chairman, “and through into the 1960s. We had an evening match against Leeds in the mid-60s at the end of the season, when we had nothing to play for and there were just over 4,000 people in Highbury, which was pretty soulless as you can imagine.

“It really makes you realise that although our supporters are very loyal, you don’t want to see your team getting beaten more often than not. It also reminds you of what a miraculous job Arsène Wenger has done – long may it continue.”

Arsene Wenger

The chairman mentions less successful times in the 1960s, but the worry for many clubs in subsequent decades came not from performances on the pitch, but unruly behaviour off it as football hooliganism reared its ugly head, with many London grounds resembling battle fields in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

Thankfully, Highbury has always been a relatively safe place to watch football, as the chairman explains: “I think the crowds here have always been pretty good in that respect and I believe that can be put down to two things. Firstly I genuinely think Arsenal fans are a pretty good bunch of people and secondly the stewarding at Highbury has always been excellent.

“We used to have what were called ‘honorary stewards’ – we had them here for as long as I can remember and after they were phased out a younger group have carried on the good work. There were always stewards around the pitch and I think we were pioneers in that respect. The honorary stewards weren’t paid but we gave them a lavish dinner once a year at the Park Lane Hotel, which they enjoyed.”

Following the Hillsborough disaster, it was all-change for every professional football club, as terracing was outlawed in the Taylor Report, changing the complexion of Highbury forever. “We were obviously given no option following the Taylor Report, the terracing had to go,” says Mr Hill-Wood. “People thought the atmosphere would go and there were many people who believed all-seater stadiums weren’t necessarily the answer, but it’s done now.

“I’m not convinced there was a need to completely do away with terracing. Seating in old grounds brings its own problems, you only have to look at areas of Highbury now. In the lower tier, if we get a corner, when one person stands up then the person behind them has to do the same and a ripple effect means a lot of people are standing up a lot of the time and it’s the same at many grounds. Before, when everyone stood up there wasn’t this problem and we never really had any problems on the terracing here.”

Nevertheless, both the North Bank and the Clock End (South Stand) had to be redeveloped. Hospitality boxes were added at the South Stand and, famously, a mural of supporters stood in place while the new North Bank was being built.

Highbury Mural

“Luckily with the redevelopment of the North and the South Stand we didn’t have to go into debt because the Hospitality Boxes financed the building,” says the chairman. “I don’t think anyone had seen a mural before. But there have been a lot of firsts at Highbury, undersoil heating, floodlights, televised games etc. “The decisions we made in respect of the North and South stands were big ones, but you have to remember that it was a brave decision to build the current East and West Stands in the 1930s. After building those stands we ran into the war of course. We didn’t have any matches and therefore no money so the club was deeply in debt throughout the Second World War.

“It’s nice that we aren’t knocking down those two stands down when we leave. The East and West Stands were definitely ahead of their time and they will really add to the development. Nothing much has changed other than the make-up of the offices. The dressing rooms for example are exactly the same as when they were built in the ‘30s.”

The chairman alludes to our impending departure from Highbury and after an association with the club that has spanned all but six years of Highbury’s existence, you would expect this representative of the Hill-Wood family to be viewing our relocation with a heavy heart. Not a bit of it.

“If we were being nostalgic, we’d stay here, but if you are being realistic you know that we have to go,” he says pragmatically. “Gates of 38,000 aren’t enough to sustain us.

“So to retain the best players and compete with the likes of Chelsea and Man United we have to have more income. Therefore, in the real world, we need a stadium that holds 60,000 people, you have to forget the nostalgia and sentimentality.

“As a board we deliberated long and hard about what we should do,” reveals the chairman. “At one point we decided we would stay and then we realised that we couldn’t really add to the seats here. And also a lot of the facilities at Highbury aren’t adequate for the modern day, hospitality for example, we’re very much hand to mouth here.”

Emirates Stadium construction

From his central position in the directors’ box, Mr Hill-Wood can see the tower cranes from the new site looming large over the West Stand, a reminder of the advanced stage of the Emirates Stadium development. And despite initial scepticism, the chairman can’t wait to start a new chapter in the Arsenal story.

“I really didn’t think we’d raise the money to be perfectly honest,” he muses, “but we have, it’s all in place and now we can just look forward.

“I’ve forgotten my allegiances to Highbury and I’m only looking forward to moving to Emirates Stadium which will be magnificent, absolutely awe-inspiring.

“I think there will be some reminders of Highbury,” says Mr Hill-Wood, who will certainly be joined at the new stadium by the bust of his father which currently sits on the Directors’ Landing, “but it will look very different, there will be a lot of glass for example but I’m sure it will be very smart.

“When we run out for the first game there of course I’ll be thinking of my father and grandfather and I’m sure they would be proud of what we’ve done, moving into the 21st century having made a brave decision.”

And before we play the first game at the new stadium there will of course have been a final fixture at Highbury and many a lump in Gunners fans’ throats.

“I still get a buzz when I walk through the front door at Highbury, there is just such a tremendous atmosphere to the place,” says Mr Hill-Wood. “The final match will be a very emotional day, for everyone. Each fan has their own emotional memories. I was almost born here and have been coming nearly 60 years and I’ll miss the place, but I’m not going to cry about it.”

Highbury