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Tumultuous year set to prompt tough AGM questions for Norwich City directors

PUBLISHED: 07:00 23 November 2016 | UPDATED: 13:52 23 November 2016

Michael Wynn Jones and Delia Smith have dealt with difficult AGMs before. Photo: Archant

Michael Wynn Jones and Delia Smith have dealt with difficult AGMs before. Photo: Archant

Ahead of this evening’s Norwich City AGM, David Freezer looks back on a tough year for the Canaries.

What a difference a year makes.

Norwich City’s annual general meeting in November 2015 was a relaxed affair with talk of how City can attract the top talent needed to become established in the Premier League. Such talk is unlikely to be top of the agenda at the 2016 edition tonight.

Last year’s meeting saw Alan Bowkett and Michael Foulger re-elected as chairman and vice-chairman respectively and chief executive David McNally unveiled an illustration of the club’s “revised vision” with a football-shaped graphic. At the heart of that was the message “we are Premier League”.

At the time the Canaries had just narrowly lost 1-0 at reigning champions Chelsea and were 16th in the top flight, having won three and drawn three of their opening 12 fixtures.

Almost every question was met with an answer about the importance of retaining that status at English football’s top table, ahead of the huge new TV rights deal coming into play.

At one point, Bowkett turned to Neil and said with a smile: “All we need is for Alex to make us a regular Premier League club and then we’re home and dry!”

Fast forward 12 months and those hopes are lying in tatters.

Bowkett resigned just weeks after that AGM as City announced plans to “refresh the board of directors” and was replaced as chairman by former Labour MP Ed Balls before the turn of the year.

Further news followed when actor Stephen Fry stepped down from the board of directors – following questions from fans after missing a second AGM in a row due to his busy schedule – to take on a more suitable ambassador role.

In his place arrived Tom Smith, nephew of majority shareholders Delia Smith and Michael Wynn Jones. The former civil servant, joined the board and it has since been made clear that he is being lined up as the successor to Delia and Michael’s shares.

McNally was next to go, leaving in a blaze of controversy, after posting on Twitter that he had resigned after relegation was all but confirmed by a 1-0 home loss to Manchester United in May.

Following a couple of days of confusion his resignation as chief executive was confirmed and director of finance Steve Stone took on the CEO role.

On the pitch, Neil admitted he was “humbled” by the warm reception he received from Canaries fans after a 4-2 win over Watford in the final home game of the season before relegation and – with Wembley warmth from the previous season buying him time – set about plotting an immediate return.

To help in that endeavour, former City defender Tony Spearing had been appointed in April, finally filling the head of recruitment role that had been vacant for over a year.

That had been part of Neil and McNally’s work to try and establish a stronger scouting and recruitment system for the future but it seems City’s squad required too much of an overhaul.

Neil is now being heavily criticised for his part in the current season coming off the rails, with four consecutive league losses now threatening to see his team fall out of the top six this weekend, despite the strength of squad and finances made available by Premier League parachute payments.

Jez Moxey arrived from Wolves as McNally’s replacement just days before the Championship season started and heads into his first AGM with supporters looking for some leadership to be shown in the latest confusing chapter of City’s long and varied history.

Last year’s meeting finished on a light-hearted note as a fan moaned about it taking too long to buy a sausage roll at half-time in the Jarrold Stand.

Tonight the directors are unlikely to get such an easy ride – with so much riding on the months ahead.

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