David Dein admits he is 'still not over' his hurtful exit from Arsenal
Even now, all these years later, David Dein still has The Unpleasant Dream. It is 5pm and he is sitting in his office. A man comes in and presents him with a sheet of paper. Sometimes it is a death warrant. Sometimes a death certificate. Either way, it signals the end.
The man is Peter Hill-Wood, the late Arsenal chairman. And the dream isn’t much of a fantasy really. It’s a sub-conscious recreation of a true event, from April 18, 2007, when Hill-Wood, Arsenal director Chips Keswick and an employment lawyer from Slaughter and May terminated Dein’s employment at his beloved club.
Dein is now sitting in his Mayfair home. He has revisited that day for his fascinating auto- biography Calling The Shots — extracts of which will be in the Mail on Sunday tomorrow — but it’s plain he’s not comfortable.
David Dein admitted that his hurtful departure from Arsenal over 15 years ago still haunts him
‘I’m a glass half-full person,’ he murmurs. ‘I want to be positive, I want to be the guy who puts a brick in the wall, who builds something. That was the worst I felt apart from when my mother, and my brother Arnold, died. I left with tears in my eyes.’
It isn’t the only time Dein equates leaving Arsenal to personal bereavement. A chapter in the book, detailing his time post-Arsenal is called Life After Death. He goes back to the Emirates Stadium now, uses his four club seats, gives away his 10 season tickets, but he’s still not over it.
He never received a satisfactory explanation for why 24 years ended so brutally, and when his best friend Arsene Wenger was later removed with similar coldness, it stirred the emotions up again. Dein has never talked about his own experience before, though. It still isn’t easy. It still feels raw, more than 15 years later.
‘Brutal, yes, that’s how I’d describe it,’ he says. ‘It was a combination of fear and jealousy. I was fairly high-profile and I think the rest of the board were upset that I was trying to source outside investment, talking to Stan Kroenke about my shares. They wanted to keep it a closed shop. But I could see where the game was going.
The former vice-chairman admitted that his exit still felt raw, describing the process as ‘brutal’
‘You look at football now — Chelsea, Manchester City, even Newcastle. We didn’t have the same muscle. We had wealthy people, but not billionaires. We didn’t have enough money to finance the new stadium and finance the team. We were trying to dance at two weddings.
‘Arsene and I would come out of board meetings feeling we’d been knocking our heads against a brick wall. We lost Ashley Cole over five grand a week. It was a very difficult time. There was a lot of friction because of the cost of the stadium and we had to ration the salaries. Arsene used every bit of skill in his body to find cheap players. A lot of managers wouldn’t have taken that.
‘He did it without qualms, he just got on with it, but the last year or so was uncomfortable for me. We had been a harmonious group and now there were factions. So yes, I stuck my neck out. You don’t get anything unless you stick your neck out. I was in commodities. You go long or you go short. You have to take a position.’
Dein acted as President of the G-14 group of European football clubs between 2006 and 2007
Dein’s position cost him dearly. He was the first at the club to entertain Kroenke, but his fellow directors thought he was blazing his own path. It is the small details that shock. After the meeting, he tried to call his wife Barbara only to discover his mobile phone had been cut off.
The ex-Gunners chief said: ‘It took a lot to get over it. It did feel like a death in the family.’
‘And it was my number,’ Dein explains. ‘The number I’d had since I was in business. It was petty, it was spiteful. To this day nobody has ever properly explained why it had to end this way. It took some doing for me to retell it really, because it was so painful. It was such a traumatic moment. I was in shock. It wasn’t so long before that we’d been Invincible. We’d just moved into our new stadium. We had so much going for us.
‘It took a lot to get over it. It did feel like a death in the family. Arsenal was part of my life since the age of 10; I’d helped deliver 18 trophies for them.
‘Arsene and I had such a wonderful working relationship. It was Lennon and McCartney, according to some. He bled for me, I bled for him. He is still my closest friend. Seeing that taken away was such a shame. It wasn’t in the best interests of the club. We spoke that night. He didn’t think he could stay. I persuaded him to stay.’