City chairman Roger Munby this afternoon was left with the tricky task of papering over the cracks left by the shock departure of Canary directors Andrew and Sharon Turner.
As all the fingers pointed towards a fraught autumn on the takeover rumour mill, Munby revealed that the Turner's exit had left a gaping “?2 million” short-fall in the club's finances – a figure that was later revised down to ?1.5 million by club officials. The Central Trust founders had, it appears, already pumped ?500,000 of their latest ?2 million, annual investment into the Championship club.
Though they may have left for reasons unknown – and, on and off the record, the Turners were politely refusing to elaborate this evening – ?2.5 million worth of their own personal fortune will stay on loan to the Carrow Road club. It is understood that repayment is triggered on two events – either Norwich City being promoted to the Premiership or Delia Smith and Michael Wynn Jones selling their majority stake in the football club.
Under the rules governing the sale of any Plc that would inevitably invlove a complete sale of the club – at which point the Turners recoup their loan.
At this particular moment in Canary history, promotion back to the Premiership looks a distant dream.
A complete change of ownership, however, could be no more than weeks away with Munby admitting that the couple were now “actively” seeking new investors. And nor was Towergate billionaire Peter Cullum necessarily the only show in town.
“I can't tell you why they've left – despite the fact that they were lifelong fans and harboured a lifelong ambition to be closely involved with the club,” said Munby this afternoon, after an official club statement that begged more questions than provided answers.
'Why have they left?' was the most obvious one; 'What next?' the most pressing, after that budgeted income of ?1.5 million disappeared with the departing Turners.
“I'm sure their reasons are well thought out – and very pressing to deny themselves what had been a lifelong ambition,” added Munby, with the serious fractures understood to have developed a fortnight ago. It was only, however, in the last 48 hours that their full intentions to quit became clear.
They had long been viewed as Delia's chosen heirs; good Norfolk people who shared her thoughts on the Canaries as a cornerstone of the community. The fact that they were self-made business people who batted at that Sunday Times Rich List level as opposed to the 'poor millionaire' status of the TV celebrity chef merely added to their appeal.
'Plan T' now lies in ruins; for reasons unknown. Plan B is to seek out and secure new investors to take their place on the board; Plan C could be to re-open negotiations with Towergate billionaire Peter Cullum who is, presumeably, still waiting in the wings with his offer of “?20 million for players” still on the table. Whether he is now prepared to offer Delia and Wynn Jones anything for taking control of the club is just one of any number of questions left up in the air tonight.
“I think their decision has come about fairly quickly,” added Munby, confirming that timetable of an initial fortnight's warning. Which they clearly then opted to see through to its bitter end today.
“I'm sure they've been deliberating long and hard – and it was a reluctant decision, as you might well imagine, which only came to fruition a few days ago.”
There hadn't, he insisted, been any 'bust-ups'. The couple were, in fairness, up to their elbows in encouraging greater efficiency through-out the club during the course of the summer; they have – by every account – been very 'hands on'.
Something, however, has happened. Be it factors inside or outside of the club; of Central Trust's or Norwich City's making, the Turners have chosen a different path than the one Delia and Wynn Jones might have originally offered them.
In the meantime, there was spot of short-term fire-fighting to do on the financial front.
“Immediately, there is a financial hole,” said Munby. “They had already put ?500,000 into the coffers this year, but the intention was another ?2 million [?1.5 million] beyond that. So immediately as we sand here today, we've got a ?2 million [?1.5 million] hole. And there are contingency plans for that.”
The club was, he said, having “active conversations right now” to find potential new investors. One of whom, inevitably, could be Peter Cullum. That door, said Munby, remained open after he courted the supporters, if not the board, so openly via the Press this summer.
“We left previous discussions with Peter on an amicable basis, so why should it not include Peter?” he asked. Because he lives in Kent has traditionally been one stock answer; that stipulation appears to be now slipping. Needs must.
Is the club in talks, right now, with possible future investors? “Yes, it is,” was Munby's firm response. More than one? “Yes – that's what we're looking at. With potentials; with people.”
Note the 's'; people, not person. Cullum might not have the field wholly to himself. Are they close to fruition?
“They take their own time,” said Munby. “That's all I can say. If we opped up with a name and an amount of money tomorrow it would be quite dramatic. But if it took three or four months, that's not going to embarrass the club.”
They were, he said, not about to follow Ipswich into administration. Presumeably if they were weeks away from that, you don't add to your commitments by bolting Antoine Sibierski into your thinking late last night; Jason Shackell's exit to Wolves was written on the wall the moment that Dejan Stefanovic walked in through the door, not the moment that the Turners walked out of it.
Cash-flow wise and the club have – courtesy of the departing Andy Cullen – just banked another full season ticket sale; the real pinch will probably come in 2009.
“A series of further disasters would have to befall the club to be anywhere near that situation,” stressed Munby. “We got time in hand; we've got planning time in hand; we've got discussion time in hand.”
They've got three or four months to find a buyer; that would appear to be getting somewhere near the bottom line. Do that and Steffen Iversen's New Year move may well be still on; don't do that and all bets are off come January.