Stephen Fry? A journalist friend speculated that Norwich had made a mistake. Did they mean to appoint Barry Fry as a director?
Another friend said City now have the best board in football. The food is sorted. The humour is taken care of and (in a reference to Fry’s eccentric choice of private car) there’s someone to drive you home in a taxi.
I dare say fans of some of the teams Norwich play will also have their own comments about Lord Melchett’s presence in our boardroom.
What’s it all about? Well, he has put a small amount of money in – small to him, and insignificant given the size of City’s debt. He’s bought some shares, and we’ll find our how many when the accounts are published.
But the club’s official website announced his appointment by saying Fry will “act as an ambassador for Norwich City, using his superb contacts and enormous personal fanbase to help give the Canaries’ profile a massive boost at home and abroad”.
So Rick Waghorn got it right on this website when he drew attention to Fry’s astonishing following on Twitter. Fry’s appointment is a harmless bit of PR: an attempt to tap into his popularity. And the modern-day Oscar Wilde responded by immediately putting the club’s badge on his Twitter picture.
I think it is much more significant that, seven months after appointing Deloitte to “help the club consider their options”, there is still no sign of major new investment.
It was the club’s primary creditors, AXA and Bank of Scotland, who insisted on the calling in Deloitte in the hope that the “professional services organisation” would find someone willing to take over the club.
It should not surprise anyone living in the real world – which excludes those who fell for the Peter Cullum tosh – that, so far, Deloitte have not been successful. Nor was Keith Harris, the deal-maker Delia Smith and Michael Wynn-Jones had already asked to hunt for an investor.
There simply is not a queue of oil-rich Arabs or Russians forming along Rouen Road. There never has been.
And the reason for the dearth of interest is the same reason AXA and Bank of Scotland want City to find a buyer. They want their money back.
Under the standard terms of the loans, anyone buying the club must settle the debt or renegotiate it, and the lenders don’t want to renegotiate. They want the £23 million or so they are owed.
That was why David Gold and David Sullivan did no more than run a cursory eye over City’s last financial results when they were looking for a club to buy. I had a series of email conversations with Sullivan, but he indicated that the debt was too big and Norwich too far from his home near Epping.
Those financial results were grim, in case you have forgotten. The auditors reported doubts about whether the business could continue as a going concern. Since then, new chairman Alan Bowkett has eked some more time from AXA and Bank of Scotland – and so has done as much for our club as anyone in its recent history.
But the debt has to be whittled down much more and as quickly as possible. That is why I for one didn’t complain when I discovered that prices of pies and pints and the rest had been “rounded up”, as chief executive David McNally put it. Fans cannot urge Delia and Michael to leave huge amounts in the club and then quibble over the cost of a cup of coffee.
But there is no point in pretending that there is not a different feel, a change of emphasis at Norwich now.
I admired Neil Doncaster. He was lampooned as “Doomcaster”, I know, but I saw him at work in football’s corridors of power and noted how some of the game’s most influential figures listened to him and heeded his opinions.
Doncaster bought into Delia and Michael’s vision of a club rooted in its community and, although he got scant recognition for it, he was the most approachable chief-executive I’ve come across anywhere in football. Why else would he stand on the corner by the club shop before matches, letting people come up and – as I witnessed more than once – moan about anything and everything?
Doncaster was perfect for the era when Norwich were building their magnificent attendance record. When he joined, as club secretary in 1997, the average Carrow Road crowd was fewer than 15,000. By the time he left, the ground was regularly packing in full houses of more than 24,000.
But McNally is the right man for now: the era in which that fan base has to help keep the club afloat. So McNally’s feat in putting in extra seats – a skill he had to learn at penny-pinching Fulham – has been pure genius.
Of course, his best work for City was poaching Paul Lambert from down the road in Essex. But Lambert won’t have a team to manage, and we won’t have a team to cheer, unless Bowkett and McNally’s drive to bring down the debt is successful.
I am glad that we’ve got a little bit of Fry on board. He’s a very funny chap. But the real business of our board remains about as serious as it could possibly be.