Michael Bailey: A Norwich City AGM – but not as we’ve known it
In his weekly column, Norwich City correspondent Michael Bailey colours in the AGM lines and looks forward to renewal in Swansea.
So often Norwich City’s annual general meeting has come with a sense of trepidation – and yet the 2018 vintage never felt likely to join them.
By the time the shareholders were arriving, there was never any doubt.
The sight of Delia Smith, Michael Wynn Jones and other board members greeting people was the first sight that something had changed around both the event and the club.
I’d almost become attached to the idea of City’s top brass being locked safely in a room deep in Carrow Road waiting for the guests to arrive, before they took their lengthening parade to the top table – generally in silence.
With ‘Together we are stronger’ emblazoned on the wall behind the expanded platform of 13 – including all board members, City’s new executive committee, the head coach plus Community Sports Foundation and academy representation – the ground rules were laid out.
Those rules on the finances had been previously released of course – with the addition of a forecast £5m hole in the overdraft come next summer: a sobering reminder of the work still to be done as City finally shake off the hangover from their Premier League binge.
And as ever, such evenings are never entirely plain sailing.
City’s participation in the rebel concerns over the EFL’s TV deal with Sky from next season was confirmed, while sporting director Stuart Webber summed up whether the Canaries were likely to make signings in January with a “probably not”.
Perhaps most pointed was the cuttingly honest answer from Webber about his future ambitions lying away from Norwich City – eventually. It’s an obvious statement, but few would find it in them to be so honest, in front of such an audience.
The shirt sponsorship of betting company Leo Vegas was also raised – proving strong, well-meaning values and financial realities don’t always sit side by side without friction.
Any warm, fuzzy feelings were massaged by the current Championship table and City’s proud spot at the top. At one point, you wondered if Daniel Farke would get asked a single question.
And then there was one that stood out – a gentleman who had spent so many years following the Canaries; one sincerely worried about financial fair play and the brazen flouting of the rules by clubs whose ultimate reward was vast success against minimal financial penalty.
The question was essentially on the threat of money ruining the integrity of a sport we all love so much – and it brought widespread applause. In many ways it wasn’t just a question, but a signal of how much backing, buy-in and pride City’s values and culture can foster through its fanbase.
The early business saw new chief operating officer Ben Kensell vow to pursue more non-matchday revenues “aggressively”, which maintained the room’s energy, while Tom Smith and Ed Balls were seamlessly reelected to the board.
But the biggest moments came not long after everyone had sat down – and they caught both the eye, and the imagination.
With the promise of delivering a vision, Wynn Jones declared he and his wife wanted the Canaries to be “the best club in the world”. A carefully chosen statement – one no City supporter would want to argue with. His vow that transparency would now be king – and apology for that not always being the case in the past – felt well detached from cynicism.
Stood beside her husband, Smith admitted for the first time in more than 20 years at the club, her dream was coming true – and over the previous 18 months, her role had changed hugely.
There was no sitting in silence, hiding from the microphone and possible recrimination; no fear. Just honesty and passion.
A video approaching seven minutes in length echoed the sentiments, as well as the club’s freshly redefined values. Even the most hardened of City cynic will have found the pictures stirring – given they tapped into the very essence of why each person was in that room in the first place.
The form may not continue. City’s bright flashes on the pitch could yet illustrate huge progress without delivering the ultimate Championship success.
And yet after an extraordinary annual general meeting, it feels the club is already in the process of a different, better and more long-term promotion.
• It was only ever a phoney war. At no point was the EFL going to forego an agreement with Sky Sports made in the name of all 72 clubs, when a handful at the top end were clearly unhappy.
That’s not to say the minority do not have a right to be annoyed. Clearly the way the EFL and Sky have handled some of the technological advances for this season has rubbed a few up the wrong way.
It also seems unnecessarily insecure – as the EFL often appears – to sign a TV deal for five years. In such a fast-evolving industry, the world is likely to look very different come 2024.
The EFL may well feel there is little more to be said or done. The deal is signed, there are no real options on the table for a rebellion and the rest is just angst.
But if there is one thing proven over years and across the game in numerous countries, it’s that arguments stick if they are not resolved. Those who feel aggrieved often have long memories.
It will come up again, when those involved feel the time is right, and the EFL may find an even bigger battle on their hands.
• No one leads the way forever, especially in football – hence why Swansea are no longer being held up in these parts as the model Norwich failed to follow.
That the Swans lost their way happens to all clubs at some point. The fact Norwich have so swiftly appeared to rediscover their own is the most consoling part here.
Games at the Liberty Stadium between the two cities in recent years have mostly been excellent; tomorrow could well follow suit.
Don’t be fooled by the fact City’s weekend hosts aren’t flying higher than eighth. After much change, they have clearly needed to adjust to their new surroundings – likewise, have everything they need to build on that come the new year, if they remain on the leaders’ coattails.
And they have an excellent manager too, in Graham Potter.
It all means City’s trip to Swansea is a tough as any they will face this term – Ipswich’s freak win there earlier in the season accepted – and an early test of the new dynamic the Canaries will have to deal with; especially as Championship leaders – for however long that lasts.
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