A lone voice spoke up against the Norwich City heirarchy at the recent agm. Opposing the re-election of Delia Smith and Michael Foulger to the board, shareholder Robin Wilson said he had absolutely no confidence in their abilities and suggested they step down. Needless to say, their reinstallation was approved by an almost unanimous vote and the moment had gone.
Such acts are seen as heresy by those in Smith and Wynn Jones’ inner sanctum and those on the terraces for whom they can do no wrong. Just like those who refused to stay for the lap of honour in 2006 or waive their rebate after the club crashed into League One three years later, those who don’t sing from the official hymn sheet are made to feel lesser supporters.
The majority shareholders are now hideously out of touch with modern football, but they are no doubt told by those who have their ear in expensive restaurants and the directors’ lounge to sod the begrudgers. Those who want a change of ownership just don’t know how lucky they are to have owners like them and would see the club flogged off to some unscrupulous foreign investor who has never so much flown over Norwich. Fans of so many other clubs with would give their eye teeth to have British owners with such passion and commitment. So the argument goes.
Smith and Wynn Jones insist they remain our best bet because they have an ethos other potential owners don’t. “We have owners who believe in the club as a community football club,” chairman Ed Balls told the agm. “They’ve been here a long time because they love Norwich City and have done some great things for the club.”
Oddly, given the sharp downturn in City’s financial position, the shareholders didn’t raise the question of possible future investment, but the chairman did. Although the club had not been proactively seeking investment, “if there are people who believe in this football club and want to invest in Norwich City, our door is open,” he said.
This represents a volte-face from the position set out by Smith and Wynn Jones in the infelicitous interview they gave to Times sports writer Henry Winter in November 2016. In it, Smith said. “The supporters will be very disappointed to hear that. But no way will we sell. We don’t even listen to any enquiries.” Not content to stop there, she added: “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.”
And thereine lies the problem. Even if there is someone out there who is prepared to pour their millions into the club, they are unlikely to want to do that without acquiring any shares or having a significant say in the boardroom. Yet it is clear for all to see that the current owners are going nowhere any time soon and when they are ready to stand aside, it will be to the one person who can be relied upon to run the club their way.
So, in effect, we have a stalemate. The current owners are done with investing; in fact last year the club repaid the £1,529,000 they were owed in outstanding loans and a further £460,000 to Michael Foulger. But the likelihood of the club attracting a wealthy investor under the current set-up remains slim to non-existent.
The Times interview was an own-goal of mammoth proportions, alienating many fans. Its timing, just before an agm, was especially poor and the comments made in it ill-judged. Much of the piece involved Smith bemoaning how badly fans in general were now treated and calling on the government to cure football’s ills. “I’d love to see supporters worshipped and respected because otherwise it’s going to end up on television,” she said. Just weeks later, tickets to see Norwich take on Southampton’s second-string in the FA Cup third round went on sale priced £25 for adults and caused a furore. An apology was given, along with free travel for the replay and then chief executive Jez Moxey, who was blamed for the fiasco, was shown the door soon after. However, the damage was done.
Finally, if you’re all about running Norwich as a “community football club”, why mark your 20th anniversary by giving an interview to a national newspaper which operates an online paywall? Why not give a rare interview to the media which actually serves the local community or – if they are not be trusted – set out your stall about the future direction of the club in the matchday programme or on the website?
Last summer, Ipswich wrote to all other Championship clubs offering to cap the price of tickets for adult visiting fans at Portman Road at £25 if Town fans were charged the same for the reciprocal fixture. Clubs not taking up the invitation would have to pay the standard price. Twelve clubs reportedly agreed to the arrangement, but Norwich was not among them, leaving Smith wide open to accusations of hypocrisy. Charity, after all, begins at home.
The number of empty seats and sombre atmosphere at Carrow Road of late has been alarming. Seven home games without a win before the 3-1 turnaround against Sheffield Wednesday last night and some dire football has led to some staying away and others leaving early. Last season some decided not to renew their season tickets and other are muttering about doing likewise this January. If prices have to go up to cover the gaping hole in our finances, some won’t be standing or sitting next season.
Charlton Athletic was once City’s role model and unless something gives, we could end up following it in a way the board never intended.