Week to remember points to a bright future for Norwich City

Delia Smith and Michael Wynn Jones celebrate victory over Arsenal with shadow chancellor and City fan Ed Balls. Picture: Paul Chesterton / Focus Images Delia Smith and Michael Wynn Jones celebrate victory over Arsenal with shadow chancellor and City fan Ed Balls. Picture: Paul Chesterton / Focus Images

Friday, October 26, 2012
12:35 PM

What a week to be a Norwich City fan. First our internationals came back injury free. In fact, if you are one of those fans who likes players to be kept fresh for club, not country, news that Simeon Jackson and Sébastien Bassong’s countries had crashed out of their respective qualifying tournaments made matters even better.

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Then there was the Arsenal victory, arguably one of the results of recent years, up there with the games that got us promoted for two seasons in a row and the best bits of last season.

And not just a win, but a great performance as well, and hopefully one which eased a few fears among the doubters out there.

And many would have taken much joy from Ipswich Town’s fall to the bottom of the Championship on Tuesday evening.

But just as important as those three points was the 2011-12 accounts announcement a few hours earlier – the results of which highlight just how far we have come. The headline figures were nothing short of staggering; revenue up to £74.3m, highest ever after-tax profit of £13.5m, external debt reduced to £11.3m and set to evaporate by the next financial year, and gate receipts up to £11.3m.

And this wasn’t simply a case of the media being fed the best bits, with the truth hidden away.

I’ve trawled through the figures myself and there is no smoking gun.

Was it any wonder that Carrow Road was basked in such a beautiful evening sky during Saturday’s game? It feels like the sun has been shining down on the club from the moment the international week began.

For two people in particular the last few days must be a source of great pride and satisfaction – namely majority shareholders Delia Smith and Michael Wynn Jones. And could it be that after 16 years on the board at the club, 15 of them as joint majority shareholders, they are finally on the cusp of fulfilling their Norwich City ambitions?

When the husband and wife team went from being celebrity fans to full-on board members all those years ago amid a fanfare of cooking-related cliches, the club was in decline. In a little over two years it had gone from being Bayern Munich-beating top tier heavyweights, to Division One also-rans.

What’s more the Robert Chase era had seen us become a feeder club to the big boys and in their very first interview the pair spoke of how the club was losing £1m a year and was £7m in debt.

But, speaking to the Evening News in 1996, Delia told of her plans to help get the team back into the Premier League.

She added: “I am interested in a football club like this being more to the community than just a Saturday afternoon out.

“I would like to see a wonderful restaurant with a six-week waiting list, maybe a health club or a wine bar where the community can come in.”

A year later her husband outlined his own plans, saying: “Essentially the club is losing £1m a year, the way to make that up is by selling players, and the board has been adamant in stating that it will avoid that if humanly possible.

“The only alternative is therefore for the club to generate more revenue, and I don’t just mean people coming through the gates.

“Football has to become much more of an experience for people both in catering, marketing and merchandising so that Norwich City is a good place to go on a Saturday – in a sense almost regardless of what happens on the pitch.”

At times some have accused the pair of being more concerned with off-the-field activities than on – but to be fair they have repeatedly stated their intentions to make Norwich a settled top tier club once more. But at various points over the years they must have felt as far away as is possible from achieving those aims.

The team spent years in the second tier, only able to rise above it for one, largely miserable, season under Nigel Worthington.

At one point the club sank £23m into debt and was rumoured to have been within 24 hours of going under.

And to make matters worse a series of bad managerial appointments eventually saw the Canaries sink to their lowest level for 50 years.

Fans turned on the majority shareholders and many wanted them out. For a long period it looked like they would depart, as soon as a takeover deal could be agreed.

But instead of walking away they stuck to the task in hand, sinking millions of their own money into the club and refusing to quit.

We all know by now our fortunes began to change.

So much so that many of their ambitions have now been realised;

Norwich is now a profit-making club.

Attendances have increased beyond even the levels of the European year.

We’re in a seemingly settled sponsorship deal with a major firm.

We bring in more income through off-the-field developments.

We can no longer be classed as a selling club.

But that still leaves two major ambitions, both of which could now be achieved by a successful conclusion to the remainder of the season:

Clear the external debt.

Make Norwich an established, self-sustaining Premier League side.

If we can tick off the last two it will be interesting to see what is next for our majority shareholders. Will they see it as a good time to take a back seat again while they are ahead?

I hope not because there’s still so much for this club to achieve.

And what of those fans who wanted the pair to quit? Will they think it was worth the pain to get the gain?

I hope so, because whatever lies in store for Norwich City for the remainder of the season and years to come we should all be grateful for the time, efforts and money put in by Delia and Michael.

• I’m not saying Chris Hughton and his players read this column but ... two weeks ago I listed several key areas Norwich needed to improve upon, many of which were achieved in the fantastic game against Arsenal. We played with a tried and tested formation, the players truly believed they could win, they got in their faces and didn’t stand off and we saw more attacking intent from the wingers and full-backs. Super stuff.

• While we are enjoying a week of pure and utter positivity at Carrow Road I just want to praise some of the community work being done by the club at the moment. In the last few weeks alone we have reported in the Evening News of visits to schools and children’s groups by Javier Garrido, Sébastien Bassong and Andrew Surman. I’m not sure if this has anything to do with the new manager, but I’m sure this type of thing is happening more often than under his predecessor.

• Anyone who regularly attends football matches couldn’t have been surprised by the attack by a Leeds fan on Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper Chris Kirkland last Friday. The scale of anger and vitriol, even at Carrow Road, which sometimes spews out of the fans in the stands is a subject I have spoken about several times before and while it’s a cliche, this really was an attack waiting to happen. I’m glad the courts dealt with it in a serious manner – it’s the only way to stop this from happening again.

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