Not a club in chaos, but one where the flaws have been identified, acknowledged and addressedSun 12 Mar 17 by Mick Dennis
Let’s start with the facts, not least because too many folk have rushed to glib condemnations without any.
The Norwich City board had a meeting scheduled for Friday. Yet again, they would be discussing Alex Neil’s continued employment.
So, on Wednesday — the day after a dismal draw at struggling Bristol City — Tom Smith, the newest and, at 36, youngest board member, went to the Colney training complex to ask Neil for a debrief about the Ashton Gate game.
If that match was going to be picked over by the directors, it was important to know what the manager’s detailed plan had been, what he sought to achieve by changes during the match, and if there was anything else to report about the events and circumstances.
Later on Wednesday, and also the following day, other directors spoke privately to players and Colney staff to gauge the mood and the attitude to the manager — something the Norwich board do regularly.
On Friday, local media representatives mustered at Colney for the regular pre-match press conferences. By then, there had been a sea-change in the directors’ position on Neil. But there was still a possibility that when they thrashed out the issues, a majority might want to keep him in post, for the short, medium or perhaps even long-term.
So what were they supposed to do? Ring Neil and say, “Don’t hold the press conferences because we’re discussing your job later”?
In the event, Neil gave a bullish performance for broadcasters and reporters, threatening a mass disposal of players.
But some of the proposals for the summer sort-out were a bone of contention for the board. None of the details was sufficient to prompt a sacking, but when Neil belligerently maintained that those details were not up for discussion, he added another pebble to the landslide of evidence against him.
That evidence included the obvious unhappiness of many supporters, probably the majority of them.
Yet I would hope that, by now, the Supporters Trust (of which I am a member) understand that their intervention was grievously ill-considered.
On Wednesday, Trust chairman Robin Sainty announced on Twitter, “Just for information @canariestrust have emailed the club requesting a justification statement if AN is to continue in post.”
Twenty-four hours later, Robin was so outraged that the board hadn’t dropped everything to reply to him that he Tweeted: “By way of an update to@canariestrust request yesterday we have no response whatsoever from the Club. We’ll let you know if that changes.”
Of course Robin couldn’t have known what the directors were busy doing, but think it all through. How could any board of any football club conduct a public discussion about the contract of any employee?
Whatever their plans, any response at all by the board to that first Tweet would have caused a feeding frenzy of reporting. Was it the dreaded vote of confidence? Or was the manager operating with the sword of Damocles dangling above him?
And Robin’s second Tweet made it clear that there was no possibility of a discreet conversation.
Robin is a friend of mine and was supported in his actions by a Trust committee member who has been my pal since we played football together at the dawn of time, Stewart Lewis of this parish. Guys, I’m going to assume you acted with such a precipitous lack of judgement because you care so much about our great club, and not because you saw an opportunity to grandstand.
But why do some of our fans always think the worst of our board? I can answer that one. There are two reasons.
The first is about human nature. We want someone to blame when Norwich aren’t able to win as many games as we think we “should” — because if there’s an easily identifiable scapegoat, we can convince ourselves that the problems can be easily solved. Sadly, football, like life, is more complicated than that.
The other reason is that, like every other board, ours goes about its business without giving a running commentary. So some folk think the directors are doing nothing. They could not be more wrong.
Let me tell you about the unreported role one director, Stephan Phillips, played in the departure of chief executive Jez Moxey. Phillips won’t thank me for writing about him, because the former Archant MD goes about his Norwich City duties quietly, without the wish or need for self-aggrandisement.
But, alarmed by something he had been told, Phillips spoke in strict secrecy to some senior club staff. He reported back to Delia Smith. She then spoke to other trusted club employees. Those discussions led to the conclusion that Moxey didn’t “get” Norwich and that led, in turn, to his departure.
Delia’s role in that episode should be instructive to anyone who is such an abysmal judge of character as to think she is doesn’t care any more.
Doesn’t care? Does anyone with a functioning brain think she enjoys sucking up a 5-1 defeat and then having to exchange platitudes with representatives of the club that has just stuffed us?
She has never been able to settle for mediocrity. Her career was built on demanding that the minutiae of everything she was involved in were as good as was possible, and she is still driven by the same ceaseless and restless passion to get things right.
So, Moxey’s exit was not a symptom of a club in chaos from top to bottom, as some were in a rash rush to believe. It has been the catalyst for a reboot.
After 20 years as majority shareholders, Delia and Michael are among the most experienced in the country at running a football club. And they are determined to “give us our Norwich back” — to ensure that once again it is a club rooted in its community, is a good employer and achieves as much on the pitch as is possible.
You probably all know there has been a review of the way the club is structured. I don’t know the details of planned changes, but it is logical to assume two things.
Firstly, the plans must include a revamp of the football part of the business, and so, secondly, that will be completed before anyone takes over first team duties.
So don’t expect a hurried managerial appointment and ignore all reports that Alan Pardew is a shoo-in. Rumours about him began doing the rounds a fortnight ago. But at that stage the board planned to give Alex Neil longer to convince them he could reconstruct the playing squad and make it competitive next season.
The Pardew rumours were simply untrue when they began and are still tosh.
I wouldn’t expect a new CEO soon either — if at all. Football is over-fond of hierarchical systems, and I know that Delia and Michael want to empower the good people already at the club. So I believe there will be a new role created to co-ordinate the work of the senior managers, but there might not be a despotic CEO overseeing both the football part of the business and the business part of the business.
The structural review was an admission that things had gone wrong. But identifying, acknowledging and addressing flaws is not itself a flaw. It is a rare strength.
Ours is not a club in chaos or a failing club. We own our own ground and it’s in good nick. We are one of only 21 clubs with a category one academy. We have an under-23 team bristling with outstanding prospects and successful teams further down the youth system. We have the innovative arrangement with Langley School. Famously, we are debt-free and, importantly, we have a depth of support that other clubs, especially the nearest one, gawk at with bitter envy.
All that’s happened is that we’ve had a miserable season — the sort of season most relegated clubs endure. What happened in 2014-15 was the anomaly, not the norm.
Of course I am familiar with, and weary of, the accusation that I’m some sort of patsy for the board. But I haven’t spoken to Delia before writing this column. None of the directors I have mentioned told me about the actions I have reported. This has not been written at anyone’s request. It comes from my heart.
I believe that our board do not deserve barmy chants when our battling ten-men concede a goal to a team scrapping for survival. And I think our board deserve better than the constant but unthinking assumption that they’re useless. God forbid that we ever find out what an incompetent or uncaring board really looks like.