'Delia In For A Grilling' roars the newspaper billboard next to our house.
As it always does, in fairness, on the eve of a Norwich City Football Club AGM.
Whether tomorrow's offering will find the Canaries celebrity owner grilled, roasted, flamed or stuffed will, of course, depend on who exactly puts their hand up to be heard at Carrow Road this evening; who of the club's army of anxious shareholders is prepared to take the nation's favourite cook to task for her stewardship of their favourite football club.
That the shareholders – be they large or small – will arrive at the club tonight in an anxious mood is not in question.
Irrespective of events on the football pitch, these are anxious times. Indeed, frightening times as the full, knock-on effect of the global credit crisis drills its way ever deeper into every household in the country.
People are rightly worried about their jobs, their pensions, their mortgages and their futures. But the days when a trip to the footie offered a welcome distraction from all four are long gone.
Behind the secnes and the Canaries are being crunched as badly as the next man – what were once 'listening banks' turn a deaf ear to pleas for patience and understanding on debt repayments; what were once so many golden eggs, those parcels of development land over and beyond the Jarrold Stand now look to have lost their glitter… riverside apartment, anyone? Yours for 40%…
Turn to events on the pitch and the picture facing the shareholders is just as bleak. For all the clear improvement in terms of individuals in Canary Yellow, a team capable of stringing a consistent run of results together – let alone performances to warm the cockles of a recesssion-hit heart – look as far away as ever.
What looks good on paper, looks all too familiar in practice; a club seemingly sinking into the same mire it found itself in 12, long months ago. For all-too many, finishing 17th is probably the limit of their ambitions this term; simply making a re-appearance in the Championship next season will be their sole aim as the play-off pack – Ipswich included – start to disappear off on the horizon.
As for any home-grown hope firing the imagination in the manner of a Chris Sutton, a Darren Eadie or a Craig Bellamy – no chance. The best youngsters at the club right now are someone else's; those upon whom many a hope were pinned are scratching around for a Canary career at the very foot of the Football League – one having been banned from every pub in the Waveney Valley.
Hope… you havin' a laugh, aren't you?
How the board – and football management – position themselves against the growing ranks of the glass half-empty brigades will be fascinating to watch.
Because, as ever, the trouble comes not so much in denying the charge, but in finding the answer to 'What next?'
Or 'Who next?' if the clamour is such that someone demands that Delia's head should finally roll.
'Fine,' will be her likely answer. 'Find me someone who wants to take this club over…. and Michael and I will return to our season tickets in the City Stand tomorrow…'
That part of this evening's script has been written in stone for the last three years as the couple's 12-year commitment and ?12 million-odd investment weighed ever more heavily around their necks. It ain't that much fun any more…
What's interesting about this year's gathering is that there is now an obvious retort from the floor… Peter Cullum, whose ?20 million “offer” is likely to add that extra, poisonous edge to this evening's proceedings.
We have, after all, never been in the position before where a bone fide 'billionaire' of the Towergate chief's ilk has been stalking the club in the long grass. There was their big, shining, white hope – the hope and the promise of better times that you turned away from the door…
Dealing with the history of 'Cullum-gate' in a frank and forthright manner is going to be a testing exercise; that's where patience aand reason will be needed on both sides of the floor.
Because all those “?20 million” headlines of the summer wholly under-played the complexity of the game being played; there are – and remain – some basic realities to that alleged 'offer' that even now have yet to be fully grasped. But in the tide of emotion that comes with that billionaire wave, so they all too easily get drowned out.
And so they will tonight.
Is Cullum and his Towergate billions still 'in play'? Who knows? That will be one of the more pressing questions for tonight's gathering of the clan to glean.
For whatever my money's worth, it doesn't take the BBC's credit crunch guru Robert Peston to think that anyone who has built an empire of Towergate's proportions with that level of bank support might be feeling the pinch right now.
Of course, Cullum remains a very, very rich man. He might, however, just have rather more on his plate right now than pulling the Canaries out of the financial fire and landing himself with all that weight of expectation.
And whilst City's ?19 million debt might add to the whole atmosphere of unease and uncertainty in which this evening's meeting will be held, if Towergate were ever subject to the same level of shareholder indignation and interest as the Canaries then there could be some equally awkward questions from the floor after they reported a ?14.7 million loss for 2007.
For 2007. Not 2008.
But that's a reality that won't play well with the faithful; it doesn't fit with their dreams of a knight in shining white armour riding to their rescue.
And to swallow that pill is tough. Really tough. For right now we're all holding out for a hero; we're all looking for a straw to cling to; a light to shine out in these dark and desperate times.
And I'm not sure there is one.
Leave a Reply