The Canaries today announced one of the biggest, shock departures of the summer as their award-winning Director of Sales & Marketing, Andrew Cullen, left for the MK Dons.
Cullen, 47, is expected to take up his new role at stadium:mk role later this autumn and will be a very hard act to follow after his unrivalled success in sustaining the Canaries' season ticket base on an unrelenting recent diet of mid-table – or worse – Championship fare.
The fact that the MK Dons offer such a blank canvas in terms of building a whole new generation of supporters for a club that is still little more than a babe in arms is clearly a big attraction; that having ticked most of the sales and marketing boxes at Carrow Road over the last ten years, perhaps it was now time to see if he could repeat the feat for MK Dons' ambitious owner, Pete Winkelman.
“The move to MK Dons will present a new personal challenge,” said Cullen, as the club officially released today's surpise news.
“It is one I am looking forward to but I will never forget my time here or the many good friends I have made and will forever cherish fond memories of the unique and much-envied Norwich City community.”
One that he clearly did much to nurture through such initiatives as 'kids for a quid' and the interest-free, easy repayment schemes for the club's much-admired season-ticket base – plus such outside revenue generators as the tele-sales and marketing team.
The expansion of the club's family areas this season right across the Norwich & Peterborough Stand was, likewise, very much in keeping with the Canaries determination to capture – and keep – the next generation of City supporters.
Cullen's focus on the Canaries as part of the wider community was also wholly in line with the thinking of the club's principal shareholders, Delia Smith and Michael Wynn Jones.
Again, the Supporters' Consultative Group – a bid to make the Carrow Road club far more of an 'inclusive' institution – was another one of Cullen's many initiatives; again something that is likely to have caught Winkelman's eye as, armed with a brand new stadium and a place back in League One, the Dons owner looks to develop a bigger fan-base within the young and rapidly-expanding City of Milton Keynes.
“Andrew has been an outstanding contributor to creating a unified community club with a track record of commercial success that is very highly regarded in the footballing world,” said club chairman Roger Munby, as the Canaries began their own search for a replacement.
It is, it appears, not the first time that other clubs have come a-knocking for his services. But as a life-long Canary supporter, Cullen has – up to now – spurned any opportunity to move elsewhere.
But with the 'Stadium Full!' signs likely to be much in evidence again this season and the obvious sponsorship deal with the city's principal employer – Norwich Union aka Aviva – finally secured, there must be an element of 'Job done, what next…' to his thinking.
“It is no surprise that Andrew's many talents have attracted the attention of many other aspiring clubs and I feel sure that MK Dons will flourish under his commercial leadership.
“As a marketing specialist, I wish to extend my personal thanks to Andrew for his skills and enthusiasm as he helped us go about the process of rebuilding our club and its reputation following the problems of the mid-1990s.”
MK Dons' finest hour came last spring when then-boss Paul Ince led te team out at Wembley for the fnal of the Johnstone Paints Trophy in which they beat Grimsby Town 2-0.
In the run-up to the game, Winkelman had urged the new city of Milton Keynes to rally behind its new team – it is into that rich seam of potential support that Cullen will be asked to tap.
“We're building a 30,000 seat stadium ultimately and I would like to think a city the size of Milton Keynes can take 30,000 people to Wembley, so that's our own aim and let's see what we can really do.
“I don't think it's out of the question; I've seen Northampton take that amount in the past; I've seen other places do it, too, and if Grimsby get through they might be taking 25,000 and we certainly want to be outcheering them. Come down, because we've all got a bit of Milton Keynes in us and let's show that to the world.
“This is a chance for the city to witness a moment in history.”
In the event, Winkelman got his wish as 57,000 supporters watched the final; the majority travelling down the M1 for the day.
“It has been a real privilege to serve Norwich City Football Club for over ten-and-a-half years,” said Cullen, as he gave the first of, no doubt, many farewell speeches.
Originally recruited by former chief executive Gordon Bennett as City looked to rebuild both its shattered finances and broken relationships with the supporters following the dark, latter days of the Robert Chase regime, the Canaries are now barely recognisable as the same club.
As much as there are on-going tensions between supporters and board in terms of when, if ever, a big target man is likely to roll up and certain aspects of the whole Cullum-gate affair still linger from earlier this summer, the sound of horses' hooves clattering down Carrow Road is a dim and distant memory.
“Much of what we achieve off the pitch would not happen without such outstanding commitment from so many of our fans,” said City's departing sales and marketing chief.
“They have supported me by stimulating creative ideas on our different supporter working groups; by providing counsel through consultation on difficult and contentious matters; advising the best way to correct mistakes I have made and by volunteering their services to provide my team and the Club with extra resource when it has most been needed,” he added, as the list of 'Thank yous…' continued.
“I also want to thank Delia, Michael and the entire Board of Directors who believed in me and gave me the scope and freedom to challenge a number of traditional football practices; ideas that at the time may have seemed risky or crazy, particularly those designed to build our attendances at Carrow Road, but they all encouraged me to turn these proposals into practice.
“And I must pay tribute to and thank a great team of colleagues, who have demonstrated tremendous powers of patience in our work together. All of them show such great passion and pride in what they do.
“Football is very much about dreams as well as memories and I wish Glenn, his staff and the players every success in their determination to realise our supporters' most profound wishes – a regular place in the Premier League where Norwich City should and truly deserve to be.”