‘Norwich City will easily cope without Jez Moxey’ says former football secretary
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Former football secretary John Litster provides some insight into the workings of a chief executive at a football club - and why Norwich City fans shouldn't worry about the departure of Jez Moxey.
The headlines screamed of a crisis at Carrow Road. 'Norwich City in chaos as chief Moxey walks out.' 'Sign of depth of unrest at top.' 'The last thing they needed right now is for their chief executive to quit.'
Nonsense! The chairman of the food manufacturers where I started my working life was fond of saying: 'There's nothing wrong with the company that more sales won't solve.' Several decades later, and a couple of spells in charge of football clubs, have confirmed the wisdom of a variation of that sentiment. There's nothing wrong with any football club that more goals won't solve, and that is not the job of the chief executive.
Norwich City will easily cope without Jez Moxey. It is a large organisation, with departmental heads who will continue to operate effectively and now that the transfer window has closed, Alex Neil will hopefully inspire the present squad of players towards promotion. No chief executive would ever kick a ball in anger towards that end.
Rather than damage the club, this latest change may actually strengthen it. One hopes that those in real control reflect on an appointment that was clearly a mistake, and think long and hard about the kind of chief executive that this very distinctive football club needs.
Picking someone who has been recently jettisoned by another – arguably lesser – club is perhaps a mistake worth not repeating. The less successful reaches of football are littered with such appointments, and they rarely end well. One of Moxey's predecessors was paid off at Carrow Road and was almost immediately re-employed to run Scottish League football. Judging by the non-existent challenge to the Old Firm, the international team, and the usual early exists from European competition, that doesn't seem to be going too well.
The ideal candidate would be someone not only steeped in football, but also in life in this part of the world. Much is made of Norwich being a 'family club', with commensurate values, and that is true. It has a large and loyal fan-base, a very large proportion attending in family groups – to a far greater degree than any other League club in Britain in my experience.
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The fans' loyalty cannot be taken for granted, however, and they need to be communicated with empathetically, regularly, and honestly. That needs a personal touch, and it has to be genuine and unpatronising. On the other hand, the chief executive has also to match the ambition of the supporters, who have watched clubs such as Southampton, Swansea City, Bournemouth, Stoke City and Leicester City, to name just five, thrive in the Premier League on similar, or smaller, fan-bases than Norwich. It looks likely that Burnley may also be added to that list.
The chief executive is, of course, the link between the club's owners and directors, and its employees and supporters. That is not a one-way process. The best football managers (general - and team) I have worked alongside have been men who were stronger personalities than their employers and who injected the drive and ambition that they lacked. They also provided a knowledge and feel for the sport that was lacking in the boardroom.
That can be an elusive quality. Over fifty years immersed in football, as a fan and an executive, I have never worked out who are the most important people at a football club. Is it the fans, or is it the players? Probably both, but at different times and in very different ways. At decision time, you won't find the answer in a text book.
Other than that, the only other thing the chief executive needs to do is make sure that the departmental heads beneath him – the most important being the team manager - are doing their jobs well, and indeed provide them with the resources and opportunities to grow and excel.
These desirable qualities are not even essential for success to follow on the field of play, although in the long-term with they make that easier to attain. I have worked at a club where success was achieved almost in spite of its ownership (I wouldn't dignify it with the word leadership) in the boardroom. It was all about the players, and the manager.
The lurid headlines reminded me of those in my local paper some years ago. 'Crisis at the [football] Park' screamed the front page, following a board-room coup and the abrupt departure of the Managing Director and Chairman. Ten months later the club won its one-and-only major trophy and qualified for Europe. Better people came in, kept the manager and players in place, and never came close to kicking a football. After all, there's nothing wrong with any football club that more goals won't solve.
• John Litster is the administrator of the Norwich Society, and was general manager and club secretary at St Johnstone football club from 1989 to 1993