So, we've all had the weekend to catch our breath and get our heads straight about the events (or as it turned out, the non-event) of the last fortnight. Everyone clear about everything?
No, me neither.
I've been trying to think of a suitable analogy for the situation, and the best I've come up with is this ad from Thailand which was featured on Jimmy Carr's Commercial Breakdown a couple of weeks ago. (It's for an insurance company, though it's not part of Towergate as far as I know…)
Everything's up in the air for a while, then the dust settles and it's all back in place as it was before ? leaving the dazed and bewildered onlookers wondering what the **** happened there. (Admittedly the onlookers are terrified rather than hopeful while everything's in the air; I didn't say it was a perfect analogy.)
Did Peter Cullum make any sort of offer, however informal, for Delia and Michael's shares, or did he want them to hand over full control of the club for nothing? Most people seem to be assuming the latter, in which case it's not surprising his approach was rejected ? but it's impossible to know for sure if you weren't in the room.
Has Cullum walked away for good, or is he just pretending to walk away as I do when my 22-month-old son sits down on the pavement and refuses to budge? (It never works, incidentally; I always have to go back and get him.)
And what of the other investment in the club which Delia hinted at when interviewed at the Royal Norfolk Show? Is that still in play? Did it affect the negotiations with Cullum? And where might such an investment be coming from?
The most obvious source would be the Turners, who have now had plenty of time to settle in and get the measure of the place. I was under the impression that they joined the board with a view to succeeding D&M in the long term; if that has always been the plan, and they are intending to invest more money soon, did that have an effect on the Cullum talks?
On the other hand, it was reported that Andrew Turner (as well as Norwich Union ? oops, Aviva) was instrumental in getting everyone around the table to talk. So who knows?
As well as not knowing exactly what went on, I'd say we are still no clearer about the intentions of the parties involved. And that includes the question of whether D&M are really prepared to let anyone else take control of the club.
It may well be the case that they can't bring themselves to let go, despite all the talk of being ready to sell to any other 'idiots' prepared to put up the money. (Local idiots, ideally.) But never having spoken to them, I can't judge whether this is the case. And I don't think it can be judged on the basis that last week's talks got nowhere. It simply means no acceptable offer was made.
Some quotes from Delia have been interpreted as pledges that she would walk away if someone invested heavily in the team. Pledges on which she is now apparently reneging? except that she didn't actually make those pledges if you look carefully.
Here's what she said to Simon Mayo during an interview on Radio Five Live in February this year:
“If somebody comes along and says 'I will put ?20 million into Norwich City Football Club on the playing side…', not just on the day-to-day scrabbling about trying to survive but on the playing side, I think that the supporters wouldn't forgive me if I turned it down, or Michael and I turned it down.”
The key words here are surely 'not just'; in other words, the ?20 million for the playing side would need to be on top of the funds needed for scrabbling about.
This quote from the AGM held in January 2007 (quote courtesy of Wikipedia, so the usual caveats regarding accuracy apply) appears more incriminating at first sight:
“The only way we would relinquish our shares is if somebody is going to put money into the football….Only if they put money into the squad – not if they buy our shares, we don't want money. It has to be that there is money for the squad, serious money for the squad.”
The words 'not if they buy our shares, we don't want money…' have been taken to mean that D&M wouldn't want any money for their shares. But I don't think that's what she was saying. I think she meant that simply selling their shares (ie without an additional investment in the team being made…) would be of no interest to them; they would only sell if the squad were strengthened too.
And even if she did mean that they were prepared to give away their shares for nothing, could they really be blamed for changing their minds when the person wanting to take over the club is so much wealthier than them?
Meanwhile, what to make of Peter Cullum?
On the one hand, he's the King of Deals who loves the motto 'Show me a good loser and I will show you a loser…'. Surely he could only have amassed his fortune by driving hard bargains?
But then you watch him being interviewed by Adrian Chiles on Working Lunch in 2005 and he's Peter Cuddly. This is what he says about his approach to takeovers:
“We don't hustle people; it takes a long time, because as I say, it's a very, very important decision. In terms of price ? I would say this ? but we always pay top dollar for good businesses and price never really becomes a major issue to us.”
Which of those two images is closer to the truth? And are they necessarily mutually exclusive? Search me, guv.
Ticking the 'Don't Know' box is admittedly not what a columnist should be doing. Some sort of opinion is generally expected, after all. But with so many unknowns, wearing the bemused expression of those guys in the Thai insurance commercial seems to be the only reasonable response. (You could term it a Socratic position if you want to be poncey: 'I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance…')
Oh, one more thing about that ad. Every part of the house falls back into place at the end ? but what do you think might happen to it the next time there's a strong wind?
I don't know, obviously. I'm just posing the question.
And finally? I was genuinely surprised to learn that I've been voted Best Columnist in the NCFC on the Web Awards on the City 'Til I Die site. I didn't know anything about the poll; if I had, I'd have voted ? though with my self esteem issues, I might have reduced the margin of victory rather than increased it.
Many thanks to everyone who took the trouble to vote for me. I'll take it as a sign that my efforts are not universally loathed, which is as much as you can realistically hope for when your work appears on the net.