As the rest of the sporting nation watched the drama unfold on the Centre Court of Wimbledon this evening, Norfolk's sporting nation were wholly engrossed in a tennis match of their own as the Canary board smashed the takeover ball back into Peter Cullum's court.
This morning had belonged to the 57-year-old insurance billionaire and his promise to pump ?20 million into the Championship football club – provided that the controlling interest in the Carrow Road club was his.
This evening and the board responded with an official statement on their own website – one which all but challenged Britain's 40th richest man to find another ?36 million if he was wholly serious in pumping said ?20 million into Glenn Roeder's playing budget.
“We look at the individual, we look at what they want to achieve and we look at the financial viability of their proposition,” read the statement, as the ball pinged back over the net with Andy Murray-like venom.
“In the case of someone seeking to take control of the club and at the same time invest ?20 million in the playing squad this would take a minimum of ?56 million.”
In what has to be a fairly extraordinary piece of open-handed negotiation, the statement then continued with effectively a shopping list of what Cullum would have to 'buy' into if he were to hold true to the suggestion that Roeder's transfer kitty would be ?20 million the stronger for Towergate's controlling presence on the board.
The first hurdle comes courtesy of City Code Rule 9 – that if Cullum were to take control of Delia Smith's 61.2% majority shareholding in the club, he would have to buy the club outright. Make every single shareholder an offer. Either that or limit his shareholding to a minority stake of 29.9% – a fraction below the 30% tip point and as would-be Birmingham City owner Carson Yeung has discovered, a recipe for a bitter stalemate.
On the current share issue price of ?30 per share, making an offer for 100% of the issued share capital would cost Cullum ?16 million.
More intriguingly, the club also revealed that the club's long-term securitisation deal would also have to be repaid upon a change of ownership – adding another ?16 million to the cost of “doing something that I've always wanted to do”. With the repayment of directors loans adding another ?4 million, Cullum was handed a ?56 million 'bill' if he wished to take his interest any further.
It is a fascinating match, with the City board clearly feeling that the ?20 million offer Cullum made last October was one that, in fairness, reflected their sorry plight at that particular stage in the season. It was still short of the mark, but City were pretty friendless and alone at that stage of the season.
Five points adrift at the very bottom of the table and most commentators agreed that it would need a minor miracle for the Norfolk club to avoid a ruinous slide into League One.
But that was then – and this is now. For with the slate wiped clean again with the start of a new season, a new and experienced manager at the helm and the prospect of alternative investment crossing Delia's lips at the Royal Norfolk Show last week, the club's owners clearly feel that a ?20 million offer fails way, way short – be it in terms of both the club's current value and it's on-going liabilities, headed by that ?16 million debt repayment provision.
Given that the Turners – Andrew and Sharon – are likely to be wholly sidelined by any Cullum-led arrival, they might be of a mind to ask for their ?2 million 'loan' back.
“In the last 12 months we have talked to a number of potential investors,” tonight's statement added. “We have also reviewed a number of different propositions.
“Unfortunately none of these investors have made a proposal which we have considered financially viable.
“Notwithstanding this the board remains open-minded about future investment and will continue to seek new investors and evaluate their propositions using the process described above.”
What is interesting for those with a calculator to hand is working out what Delia and Wynn Jones would be looking to recoup were the sale to proceed on a full buy-out basis at ?30 per share. With 61% of the shares to their name, that amounts to just under ?10 million of the proposed ?16 million cost – which, by most accounts, simply equates to the money that the pair have put into the club over the last 12 years.
Given that Cullum has a reported personal wealth of ?1.7 billion and liquified another ?60 million odd of that as recently as April with the release of a trnche of shares in Towergate to an American hedge fund, the one-time Norwich City schoolboy footballer could slap ?56 million on the table tomorrow which – given the level of his financial resources – would leave Delia and Co in a basically untenable position.
But given Cullum appears to have drawn his line in the sand at ?20 million – “I'm not an English version of Roman Abramovich,” he told the Eastern Daily Press this morning – it will be interesting to see whether or not the so-called 'King Of Deals' moves his valuation nearer to the board's.
That is, after all, what happens in any negotiation. Whether it needs to be done in quite such a public fashion is another matter.
And that is one of the odder aspects of today's events; having not spoken for six months, why not put a quiet phone call in and see which way the wind was blowing?
If he did and it was rebuffed, then perhaps Cullum had no option but to go public with his frustration and impatience; if no new call was made, however, then forcing the Carrow Road board onto the defensive in such a headline-grabbing fashion might not enhance the prospects of this being the kind of friendly takeover that Cullum was hoping for.
Either way, the ball was now firmly back in his court and it will be interesting to see how Cullum and his crack M&A team at Towergate opt to deliver their response – in public for the world to see or with a quiet phone call and the chance to work this out sensibly once and for all.