To understand the appointment of Ed Balls as chairman of Norwich City, we need to start by going back 90 years or so to when a child of five watched her father die of pneumonia. The family could not afford to get him the treatment which might have saved his life.
The child was Etty Lewis, now Etty Smith — Delia’s mother: a Carrow Road regular, a simply dreadful loser and a lady whose vigorous spirit explains a lot of the drive that is evident in Delia’s career and character. Not surprisingly, the way Etty’s father died was a determining influence on her and she has been a fervent advocate of the National Health Service since its formation in 1948.
In her turn, Delia became a life-long supporter of the Labour party at least partly because of the story of the grandfather she never knew and the beliefs of the mother she adores.
Your politics may be different. That’s OK. It is a free country, thanks to Etty’s generation. But those City fans who responded to the appointment of our new chairman with knee-jerk, narrow-minded, potty-mouthed intolerance should find the wit and courtesy to accept that some of us have our reasons for never being able to vote Conservative.
Delia turned down Tony Blair’s offer of becoming a Dame but includes several current and former Labour politicians among an eclectic collection of friends. She got to know and like Ed Balls and his wife Yvette Cooper after learning about Ed’s genuine passion for Norwich City.
OK, that’s how they became friends. Now I need to explain how the Norwich City board works.
Delia and her husband, Michael Wynn Jones, effectively appoint the other directors. The appointments have to be confirmed by a majority of shareholders … but Delia and Michael own a majority of the shares, so they decide who sits around the table with them to discuss the big decisions, such as appointing a chief executive, picking a manager, setting the budget and so on.
Of course, Delia and Michael could make all those decisions unilaterally. But they don’t. Once they have appointed someone to the board, he or she has a full say and decisions are decided by a simple majority. Then, once a decision has been made, the entire board are expected to back it and not disclose any dissent. It’s a version of the principle of collective Cabinet responsibility with which Balls will be familiar from his time in Government.
The chairman leads and moderates those discussions and can set their tone and, to some extent, the tone of the club.
So, under Roger Munby, a Fellow of the Institute of Marketing, the club was outward-looking. He talked and listened to us “ordinary” fans at every opportunity. On his watch the new Jarrold Stand was built and Delia and Michael’s instinct that the “match day experience” for supporters should be as good as possible found an ally.
Alan Bowkett, a captain of industry, tapped into his experience as chair of big companies to negotiate with the banks and keep City in business. With him in the chair, City became more business-orientated, so as to free up funds for players — although much of the impetus and all the detailed work for that came from chief executive David McNally. And, whoever is chairman, McNally has the undiminished confidence of Delia and Michael and will continue to oversee the day-to-day operation of the club, including its transfer dealings.
We all owe Bowkett gratitude for the success of those critical negotiations over debts that were unsustainable when he arrived in the board room.
There was one occasion, though, when I thought chairman Bowkett didn’t toe the party line of collective responsibility: when he did not turn up for the away fans’ party in 2014. Norwich had just lost at home to West Brom. There were five games left, four of them extraordinarily difficult, and relegation looked certain. Yet manager Chris Hughton, his coaches and all the players fulfilled their commitment to attend a “party” after the match in the Top of the Terrace that was decidedly funereal. Delia and Michael went along too. So did all the other directors who had been at the match — except chairman Bowkett. I assumed (and wrote for this website) that he had not been at the game, but learned later that he witnessed the defeat but had then stomped off home in a fury.
We were all hurting too, Alan. You should have been there — if for no other reason than to support Delia and Michael.
So now our club has got Balls — and I expect the new chairman to “front up”, to be bullish in explaining policy to us fans and to be our pugnacious champion in meetings with the Premier League and others. He is formidably bright and disarmingly charming in person — but didn’t earn his reputation as a political bruiser by ducking a fight.
I’ve spotted him in the cheap seats at away games a few times over the years and bumped into him at a couple of home games. On the most recent occasion he grabbed my hand with two of his and enthused about Tales From The City. So he is obviously a man of great discernment!
He particularly liked Grant Holt’s chapter, he said, before adding: “The one by Gunny was a tough read”. I am relieved to report that he did not mean it was badly written, but that the story of how a club legend was brought down by the vicissitudes of management had been emotive.
Ed Balls is a proper Norwich City fan. He has held high office in this country. He stands his ground to defend something in which he believes. And, like the rest of the board, he has a fight on his hands right now, to help Alex Neil keep our club in the Premier League.
We can carp and moan, or we can help by being, literally, supporters.