Norwich City Football Club tonight found themselves 1.7 million new followers as TV wit, writer and consummate social media star Stephen Fry joined the board of the Carrow Road club.
Or rather not quite 1.7 million followers… 1,683,183 people who as of 7.48pm this evening ‘tune in’ to the 53-year-old’s @stephenfry Twitter account.
One ‘tweet’ later and that worldwide audience was made aware of the latest movements in the Carrow Road boardroom.
“Well that’s it. A director of Norwich City Football Club. *gulp* On the board. Let joy be unconfined – w00t! Delia and I talked to the press… “was how Fry announced his arrival to his legions of avid followers this evening.
The point is very simple. Norfolk-born Fry has a ‘community’ at his command that dwarfs many times over the audience of the Eastern Daily Press, Evening News, Radio Norfolk and MyFootballWriter combined.
As an ‘ambassador’ with a mission to ‘sell’ Norwich City to new supporters and fresh investors alike, Fry is uniquely placed to spread the Canary gospel – even if he hasn’t arrived with a large, show-biz cheque attached.
What he does, however, bring is the know-how of to build and sustain a global, digital community; he knows exactly what a hash-tag is… how #ncfc enables that global Canary family to gather and converse.
“When you look at Norwich City, it’s often called a community club,” said Fry, a self-confessed tech toy addict who has taken to the new world of ‘social media’ like the proverbial duck to water.
He ‘tweets’ and people listen. And chuckle. And follow. The fact that he follows 53,000 people back suggests it is not a one-way conversation, either.
“And Norwich City is a community club; it’s connected to the land, to the county of Norfolk in particular – and all in a way more than many other clubs in the country are.
“But it is only now that we’re beginning to realise that there’s another element of ‘community’ – one that isn’t tied to the land and the physical landscape as it has been for hundreds of years.
“It’s one that connects people from wherever they may be in physical space and puts them in the same ‘room’ as it were – and that’s through social networking; through the ability of things like hash-tags to draw together in one great stream of connectivity people from all over the place.”
Twitter is where Fry can best be found; the fact that MyFootballWriter pioneered the use of that #ncfc ‘tag’ via funding from Channel Four’s 4iP digital innovation fund in December, 2008, makes today’s arrival all the more sweeter.
Fry is a master of that Twitter ‘craft’; he gets it like no other current TV ‘personality’ in this country. “I find a huge number of my followers on Twitter are women,” he revealed. “Some of my most loyal and devoted followers are women and I’d love to think that Norwich could raise its game in terms of its supporters that are women.
“It’s always been a family-friendly club, but I think if the national average of season ticket holders that are women is 11%, in Norwich it’s higher – it’s nearer to 17%. Half as much again, but it’s still not enough.
“And I think that things like Twitter can help that enormously.” Canary fans have, in fairness, taken Twitter to their hearts; on ‘Twibbon’ uptake alone – the little City badge that fans can ‘stick’ onto their Twitter picture – the Canaries are the fourth-best supported club in the country.
“It’s fantastic, isn’t it?” enthused Fry, long since a digital evangelist. “And because I have a lot of supporters and followers on Twitter, if I can help that; if I can help people think: ‘Hang on, I don’t have to live in Norfolk to be a Norwich City supporter…’
“After all, most of Manchester United’s supporters have never been to Manchester, so why not choose a club that isn’t one of these great big clubs where players drive off in their Lamborghinis and Astons but is a real kind of fun club – one that you can smile about being a member of…
“And if I can encourage people to think: ‘Yes, I can be a Norwich City supporter!’ and to slowly find out the fun of learning the results every week; of getting it texted – or, of course, of following it on #ncfc.”
Fry is, of course, not the first comedian to join a football club boardroom. Some might argue there have been hundreds down the years; two sprang to Fry’s mind – Jasper Carrot at Birmingham and Billy Connolly at Celtic.
“There are a few people in the public eye that have made that journey onto the boardroom table,” said the fast-witted star of a host of TV travel shows and quizzes; he has, in short, a way of delivering a one-liner perfectly attuned to the demands of a 140-character world.
“Aside from our Delia, there was Elton John when he was at Watford – and I can’t match them in terms of reach and glamour and, indeed, depth of pocket.
“But it’s a wonderful tradition to be in, but I hope people don’t think I’m just doing it as a badge of honour and not pay any attention to it because I do really intend d to do my bit if I can.
“I can’t promise to come to every match because my life takes me around the place, but it’s part of that – the taking me around the place – that the board has looked to. They hope that I will spread the word of Norwich around the world as I go. That I will mention it on talk-shows in Australia or America – and other places where I travel; that one of the great prides and passions of my life is to be a director of Norwich City Football Club.”
It was, clearly, a big day in his life; he arrived at this evening’s Press conference fresh from his first board meeting.
“It is an incredible feeling to be asked – even if the first question is ‘Does Delia expect me to bankrupt myself..?” said Fry.
“But I do have to pinch myself; it is an extraordinary feeling to think that I am now a director of this wonderful football club. And Norwich City Football Club does represent something rather fine in English life,” he added.