Sign of the times or does Delia Smith need to instigate a change at the top at Norwich City?
PUBLISHED: 11:16 08 December 2017 | UPDATED: 15:33 08 December 2017
There’s a danger of the old premature knee-jerk reaction here, given there is no proof that Norwich City’s current travails will continue – but nor is there proof they will end either.
Issues on the pitch are well documented, increasingly accompanied, as always at these times, by that niggling feeling that the club could be in better ownership. It happens whenever the going gets rough, but, as the recent AGM proved, there are few who are willing to stand up and voice their opposition. One man – Robin Wilson - challenged their authority.
He said: “They have made so many of the same mistakes over the last few years, on what basis do they feel they should be re-elected, as I have absolutely no confidence in their ability and they should be here to stand down.”
A few surprised gasps followed, but his was a lone voice.
Ownership has been one of the sport’s most contentious issues of recent years, ever since proper big money began to find its way into the game, attracting oligarchs, steel magnates and a few charlatans to boot.
Norwich City wasn’t immune but, unlike many who sold/sold out, depending on your point of view, Delia Smith (who once described herself as a poor millionaire) and husband Michael Wynn Jones refused to sell, concerned the club would fall into unscrupulous hands. A noble view.
Every time the matter raised its head, the response seemed to be that they wouldn’t let their beloved club fall into the hands of fire-breathing investors who might bring it to its knees. We swallowed it, without actually looking around and seeing that many clubs (check out Bournemouth) which have been taken over have actually done quite nicely thank you. And even some who didn’t fare quite as well are still doing better than Norwich City on the football pitch. Which is where it matters.
The overtures of Peter Cullum in 2008 were resisted. Cullum – at that time ranked in the top 40 of Britain’s rich list – offered £20m in return for becoming the majority shareholder. It didn’t happen.
Malaysian entrepreneur Tony Fernandes was courted, but was content to accept some wooing over a free lunch and then put his money into Queens Park Rangers instead.
Were they unsuitable, or was Delia simply not interested in selling? What were the owners afraid of? Would someone buy the club, knock down Carrow Road and build a shopping centre? And if they did, so what? Maybe fans would get a nice, warm new stadium, which is more easily accessible and more comfortable than Carrow Road.
The message was clear in a now infamous interview in The Times a year ago.
“The supporters will be very disappointed to hear that. But no way will we sell. We don’t even listen to any enquiries,” she said. “Our nephew, Tom, is now a board director. He’s 35. He’s a very good board director. He’s a very passionate Norwich City supporter and he will be the recipient of our shares.”
Doesn’t sound like much is going to change on the top floor. What supporters want is not the earth: they want value for money, which means a team that entertains them. They’ll accept the downtimes as long as there are some in the other direction as well. What they are currently struggling to accept is the lack of entertainment on offer, the lack of goals, the lack of points.
To remedy that, you need money: and at the moment, it’s in short supply. Why? Because the club has been unable to appoint staff who can bring success. Poor managerial appointments, failure to act decisively, poor signings and, in the case of the last chief executive in the club’s employ, a terrible recruitment decision of a man who was clearly not singing from the same hymn sheet.
Trying to right the wrongs has cost millions which would have been more wisely spent on good footballers.
Instead, City have lost good players, many of whom could see the writing on the wall: in have come too many on huge salaries for little return, others who need time to adjust to Championship football.
And time is something football no longer trades in.
City need a firefighter right now as the final parachute payment fast approaches: instead, they have a slow burning plan which isn’t catching light.
The owners are absolutely right when they say the club cannot be in the hands of any Tom, Dick or Harry. No one doubts the owners’ passion and commitment. No one doubts their integrity either. That doesn’t mean that a change would not improve the lot of the club and the people who support it.