City chief executive Neil Doncaster this morning paid a heart-felt tribute to the people of Norfolk and beyond after revealing that the club had already sold 17,000 season tickets for next season.
When they may still be in the third tier of English football.
“I think the word 'incredible' is fair,” said Doncaster, with the exact figure of 16,939 season ticket renewals being the second highest show of extraordinary faith ever. Last season and the figure was 18,460.
But given where both club and wider economy are right now, to be nudging 17,000 renewals and processing them at a rate of 1,000 a day in the run-up to last week's first, easy-repayment deadline will be the envy of nigh-on every club outside the usual suspects.
Certainly the billionaire owners of Queen's Park Rangers would look at such numbers with disbelief as they find little more than 11,000 punters willing to brave the rain in West London last night.
“In the current climate when we are where we are in the division and when, economically, it's tough to say the least – to get these numbers is an incredible testament to the loyalty of our supporters.”
A loyalty that – for once – earned its long overdue reward last night with that famous 1-0 victory in the Smoke; Norwich's first away win in the capital for six, long years.
“And they're still coming in,” added the club's customer services manager Richard Gough – the man with the unenviable task of stepping into Andrew Cullen's shoes following the latter's switch to MK Dons this season.
“We had to add another dozen to that total overnight – they're still dripping in and the next deadline is still several weeks ahead.”
As for an explanation, Doncaster could offer little more than two words. “Unbelievable loyalty.”
And, it seems, a real sense that their club was back in the hands of someone they trusted – he's got no hair, but they don't care.
“I think there is a real willingness for Bryan [Gunn] and his management team to turn it round,” said Doncaster, a process that continued last night with that potentially priceless three points – urged on by the long-suffering Green and Yellow Army.
“You saw the attitude of our supporters last night which was terrific from beginning to end – and I think all of that is reflected in the sort of figures that you see in front of you,” added City's chief executive, who used this morning's Press briefing to make one, simple vow.
“We won't be going into administration,” said Doncaster, without pause or hesitation. That people regularly feared the worst for a club still saddled with ?20 million worth of debt – and with still just two 'poor' millionaires at the helm – was understandable.
“It's just the financial world that we live in right now,” he added. “Unfortunately there's a lot of businesses that are going bust in the wider economy – and there are a lot of football clubs that are seriously feeling the pinch.
“So that sort of speculation – particularly when we saw three clubs go into administration last season – [means] that I'm not surprised that people are speculating that clubs will be going into administration. But we won't be.
“And these sort of figures are a good demonstration of why we won't be.”
Another reason why City won't be following the Lutons and the Bournemouths of this world into the hands of the administrators is that the summer promises to bring a period of cutting their cloth according to these straitened times – on top of the clear cash flow projections such extraordinary season ticket numbers offers their lenders.
That and listening again to Fulham's reported interest in Sammy Clingan. And having no need now to find a new contract for departing City skipper Mark Fotheringham whose exit to Preston North End is due to be confirmed within the next 24 hours.
“It's very difficult to keep your head round a football club's finances – they're a lot more complicated than is easily portrayed on the back of a fag packet.
“But with a player wage bill of round about ?8.5 million, we make losses of round about ?4.5 million – our break even on players wages is round about ?4 million. And we spend far more than that,” he explained, the shortfall being underwritten – year after year as the likes of Peter Cullum do little more than play footsie with everyone's hopes – by the Smiths, the Foulgers and, till the summer, the Turners of this world.
And that's not about to change.
“The player wage bill is unsustainable if we don't receive money from our wealthy benefactors – Delia [Smith], Michael [Wynn Jones] and the Foulger family have been unstinting in their financial support of this football club. Plus the support of Andrew and Sharon Turner earlier this year.
“And with that support, it's meant that we've been able to support the player wage bill that we have. And whilst we make losses, they're accounting losses – and are supported by those wealthy owners.
“And clearly the wage bill that we'll be able to afford next year will depend on what sort of contributions we're able to get from our benefactors and owners. And when that becomes clear, we'll know what player wage bill is affordable.”
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