In what’s been something of a train wreck of a season, many will look back and try to pinpoint the moment where it all went wrong.
Meekly surrendering a winning position at Newcastle, perhaps? Capitulating at Rotherham when there was a real chance of moving back into the play-off places with a series of what looked like winnable fixtures to come?
For me, it came off the pitch, on an evening in the Gunn Club back in November when City held their latest AGM.
There have been some moments at past AGMs which might be described as seminal, not least of which was the massive show of hands against Barry Lockwood’s re-election as a director towards the back end of Robert Chase’s reign as chairman.
Lockwood, a quiet, unassuming businessman from west Norfolk was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time – the fall guy for a regime that didn’t just split opinion, but defined it in very passionate terms.
The vote that night sent a powerful message that reflected the opinion of the vast majority of fans at the time, delivered as a coup de grâce by the shareholders. Lockwood survived thanks only to the shareholding power of his fellow directors, but the die was cast and in a matter of months the board make-up was changed and the club started to re-invent itself.
Fast-forward 20 years, and the City board has found itself under greater scrutiny than at any time since Chase departed. The levels might not have been comparable to Chase’s time, we certainly haven’t seen mass protests in the streets, but the seeds are unquestionably there.
Chants of “Sack the board” have begun. Fans are arguing amongst themselves. Empty spaces are beginning to appear in the stands as season ticket holders don’t bother to turn up in spite of having paid for their tickets. It’s been very much Norwich City’s modern day version of the Winter of Discontent.
And it’s going to take an awful lot more than a new manager to sort this particular mess out.
Yet, for some reason that fan anger and frustration didn’t filter through to the shareholders back in November. We’re not talking about a lot of institutional investors here. We’re looking at normal, real fans – most of whom will have bought in when ITV Digital went belly-up and every club in the Football League was desperately trying to scrape out whatever cash they could find in the bottom of the barrel just to survive.
7,000 fans bought in – massive by anyone’s standard. The best part of 1,000 of them were in the room on the night. So why on earth, given the opportunity to vote against the re-election of, particularly, Jez Moxey and Stephan Phillips at a time when it was already clear the season was heading in the wrong direction, were less than 20 people prepared to put their hands up?
One shareholder asked the directors who were up for election to justify their presence on the board. Moxey’s reply was predictably bullish and frankly arrogant – “I’ve been a football CEO for 18 years so I’m great” was the general message.
It sounded hideous and wholly out of keeping with the previous ethos of our football club. Phillips claimed he had the very important job of chairing the Remuneration Committee – the very same committee that set the criteria that allowed David McNally to collect a bonus of several hundred thousand pounds in the season we got relegated and, presumably, also sanctioned and ratified Ed Balls receiving a very sizeable payment for work done between McNally’s departure and Moxey’s arrival – money that he apparently didn’t want but Michael Wynn-Jones insisted be paid.
Throw in a relatively recently commissioned new directors’ lounge in the former Main Stand offices and an expensive rotating scoreboard and one might reasonably ask whether the Board and Executive were happily watching whilst all around them was merrily burning.
Add in worsening fan relations, in a steady decline since the departure of Gordon Bennett then Andy Cullen, and it was certainly time for another pertinent message to be sent that the natives were restless. Instead, what the board got was effectively a ringing vote of confidence to carry on acting in exactly the same way.
On that night, the shareholders short-changed every fan who wanted better for themselves and better for their football club. They had the chance to send a massive message that things had to change, and quickly. They utterly failed to do so, and delayed the change we’re now seeing by what might be a critical few months.
Thankfully, it seems the directors themselves have finally worked out that the football club is dysfunctional in so many areas, and initiated that change themselves. What the structural review concludes, and the actions taken from it, now need to form that seminal moment.
There mustn’t still be jobs for the boys on the board, or ludicrous expenditure – and most importantly, the fans have to feel part of their club again, not a commodity to be fleeced at every available opportunity.
When we were relegated to League 1, nearly everyone stuck with the club and season ticket numbers and attendances actually increased because every fan felt wanted and valued as an individual. No-one in their right mind would think that would be a conceivable scenario should that happen again.
Those who aren’t up to the workings of the modern game need to move on – and in that respect it’s quite possible that Delia and Michael need to look very closely at whether they would now be better served taking a back seat and handing over to Tom Smith.
To do otherwise would do their generosity in keeping the club going and caring about it so much a disservice and it would be terrible if their legacy was destroyed.
There can’t be a place for people like Stephan Phillips, who appears more bluster than substance and offers little or no football experience.
If, as is widely expected, the role of Director of Football is created it needs to be filled by someone with significant management experience at a high level of football.
Ricky Martin is a nice guy who achieved a massive amount during his time with the Academy, including at the time of that wonderful FA Youth Cup Final win over Chelsea. But he has absolutely no experience of management at first team level. He deserves a position somewhere in the club appropriate to his skills, but the next appointment is critical and needs to be someone else.
This is, in short, a critical review that will shape the future of the club for many years to come. Sentiment can no longer can into it. Jobs for friends and confidants can no longer continue. Decisive action is needed. Change is not optional.
Ship up, or ship out.