Just how much devil there would be in the detail of any potential deal with billionaire insurance boss Peter Cullum became clear tonight as the largest, unified bloc of joint minority shareholders offered their thoughts on the takeover approach by the 57-year-old 'King Of Deals'.
The Norwich City Supporters Trust clearly has all sorts of interest in which way the Cullum wind blows as the Carrow Road board and Britain's 40th richest individual continue to eye eachother warily – the Towergate Insurance chief offering a ?20 million injection into Glenn Roeder's transfer kitty in return for full control of the 106-year-old football club; the board, and in particular the club's joint majority shareholders Delia Smith and Micahel Wynn Jones, politely pointing out that full control only comes with an offer for their 61.2% shareholding.
At which point, under the laws of the land, the man with a reported ?1.7 billion up his sleeve has to make an offer for every share in Norwich City Plc – including those owned jointly by the 570 members of the Norwich City Supporters Trust.
Today, the Trust announced that they had just purchased another ?2,400-worth of shares in Norwich City Football Club – to take them above the ?25,000 target they set themselves when they first launched in 2002. The idea – already fully enacted lower down the Football League structure – is for such a bloc to earn one of their democratically-elected number a place on the board.
The fact that Cullum's proposals included special mention of a place for a supporters' representative on a new-look and Towergate-led board was clearly, therefore, music to The Trust's ears.
Just as it would have been to the Norwich City Independents Supporters Association, the Capital Canaries and the Friends of Norwich City Youth – all of whom and more could rightly put their hands up in the air and wave when it came to the Towergate reps looking for a fan to join them in the directors box.
Tonight Trust spokesman Mike Reynolds saw Cullum's potential arrival as a chance for the club to evolve into a more democratic and distinctly well-funded structure – if all parties could work out a sensible compromise in terms of the price Cullum might be reasonably be expected to pay for the Smiths' majority shareholding.
“Our worry has been that the Press have been keen to whip up a real, black-and-white situation with Cullum versus Michael Wynn Jones and Delia,” said Reynolds.
“But our view is that the club has to evolve – I firmly believe that anybody coming in would be stupid in ditching Delia,” he added. “She brings in the opportunity for Carrow Road to make money seven days a week – through the catering. Her brand doesn't seem to be dying away.”
For Delia Smith and Peter Cullum to sit round the same boardroom table, Cullum has either to give up his demand for full control for his ?20 million transfer injection – or else buy the TV chef and every other Canary shareholder out.
Tonight and there was little or no hint that Cullum's original stance had budged an inch. It was ?20 million – and I'm in full command.
As to what The Trust would deem their own bloc of shares to be worth, that too swiftly got mired in the detail.
“We've never looked on the shareholding as a value,” said Reynolds, with the Trust – numerically – now owning more shares than club chairman Roger Munby. Their bloc power is, however, seen more a 'lever' towards seeing a democratically elected supporter on the board than as a way of earning some cash.
Which then leads to their first dilemma – for the price they would put on a Norwich City share fluctuates wildly depending on the strings that came attached.
Place on the board, as promised, and it could be ?1; no place on the board as the Towergate men dominate and it's the full market rate – the ?30 per share that they have just paid for their latest ?2,400 tranche of City shares.
“It would come with a caveat,” explained Reynolds. “As I said earlier, we've used the purchase of shares as a lever.
“If he [Cullum] said 'Right, it's ?1 per share; we're guaranteeing a seat on the board for a supporter and it's going to be run democratically…' then I expect we would snap his hand off for ?1.
“All of our money has been raised through fund-raising and what would we do with any profit? We're the equivalent of a mutual building society. But until we are in the position of any such offer being put to us, then we would be looking for the going rate.”
And what is that going rate?
“Well what we paid today when we acquired some more shares was ?30 per share. Whether that is fair or not who knows? Most people who have bought their shares are not expecting to get a return on that anyhow.”
At ?30 per share and Delia and her husband walk away with pretty much the ?9 million plus they are believed to have put into the club over the last 12 years. At ?1 a pop but with a supporter rep on the board and the couple would be looking at nearer ?300,000 for their controlling interest in a Championship football club.
If every loan could, indeed, be re-negotiated, that would leave Cullum in command, ?19.5 million in Roeder's transfer kitty, a fan on the board – and Delia some ?8.7 million down on the deal. And unlikely to be in much of a mood to meet and greet on the door of the Brasserie every Saturday night.
As for how, exactly, that supporter 'rep' would work when the existing Supporters Consultative Group has already found itself coming under fire for not being free and easy with all it knows on the Cullum situation, Reynolds admitted that – in reality – any in-put would be largely one-way.
“We are all aware that you cannot put any Tom, Dick or Harry up,” he said, with The Trust having already have initiated their own search for an appropriate candidate of their own. Just as NCISA , the SCG, FONCY and the Capitals would, no doubt, do.
“We have searched long and hard for a businessman to be involved with us, someone who's got a bit of nous and would sit happily with that sort of community and somebody who would be acceptable to the fans on masse.
“It's easy for small clubs to do when they go belly up. The fans have ended up running it and going on the board. But we're not in that sort of situation. Whoever got the supporter position on the board would need to hold their own and not be bullied.”
And not tell the rest of the supporters the terms of Roeder's new contract. Or the name of the six-foot two-inch striker that's just checked in at Dunston.
“It will be very difficult,” said Reynolds.
“One recognises that anybody would be held by the confidentiality of the issues they discuss. For example, the Supporters Consultative Group have been briefed on the Cullum situation but they are now not allowed to say anything and that has caused a problem.
“Where I think it will be useful is where they could feed-back in from the fans. Trusts on the whole do not get involved on managers and playing styles, etc, etc. But when there is an undercurrent of opinion and someone could convey that an individual is losing the confidence of 25,000 regulars – that would be useful.”
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