The depth of the crisis was demonstrated, the extent of the recovery recounted and the scope of the ambition revealed.
But I am not sure the packed room at the club AGM really appreciated the drama of what we were told with a mass of graphs and bullet-point slides.
So, let me summarise…
A year ago Norwich City Football Club were within days of going out of business, but now we can plan for 35,000 crowds at Carrow Road watching Premier League matches.
The transformation from basket-case to bold believers has been extraordinary and marks the last 12 months as perhaps the most momentous in the history of our fine club.
That is not hyperbole.
It is the sober assessment of someone whose day job involves chronicling the misadventures of football clubs throughout the land. Ours has been to the brink, but can now dare to think of a stable existence in the top division.
I have a few quibbles with the grand scheme for the next few years, but we are fortunate to be even considering the future.
In January 2010, I wrote on this site that the annual report frightened me.
The auditors had doubts about the likelihood of the club being able to continue its business – not nebulous, wishy-washy, concerns but genuine fears.
Then we learned that the huge debts owed to AXA and Lloyds had been “rescheduled”.
It was not the sort of triumph that leads to an open-topped bus parade, but perhaps it should have been recognised by some sort of celebration, because at this year’s AGM chairman Alan Bowkett admitted that, without that rescheduling: “We would not be standing here today…”
The part of the AGM in which chief executive David McNally took over the Power-Point was when the reason for the crisis was spelled out.
Relegation to League One had slashed payments from the Football League (TV money, central sponsorship and so on) by three-quarters and hit every revenue stream except Delia’s Canary Catering.
Our team had gone down and so had .income from tickets, sponsorship and commercial activities. Bowkett said this week: “We couldn’t afford to pay our interest and we couldn’t afford to pay the amortisation owing on the loans on time.”
So Bowkett went to the banks and persuaded them to suspend temporarily the repayments of both interest and capital. And for his next trick he got them to put the final repayment date back by four years.
If you believe Bowkett’s negotiations were straight-forward, try telling your mortgage lender that you intend to stop repayments. Oh, and try it at a time when banks are under pressure to call in bad debts and not to take risks.
I am guessing that he told the banks the truth: that if they demanded their money on time then the club would be forced into administration. In that scenario, the banks would get a few coppers for every pound owed.
Or Bowkett might merely have explained the details of the new board’s strategy and persuaded the bankers to back it. Whatever he said, it worked.
Norwich City FC were given a repayment “holiday” of considerably greater significance to my peace of mind than the two weeks in the sun for which my wife and I are currently packing.
Meanwhile, McNally was finding places to stick new seats, and being told by some where to stick his price increases for everything.
McNally has changed the culture at Norwich. The place is less consumer-friendly and he has made it less supplier-friendly as well, by squeezing firms for better deals.
The extra seats epitomise him. Mrs D and I occupied a couple at the back of the Barclay for the Portsmouth match. If you didn’t know, you would think they’d been there since the stand was rebuilt in 1992.
And that is what McNally does: he looks at areas others have taken for granted, works at the margins, concentrates on little details.
Some fans have squealed at the changes. I’m not thrilled that you can’t sell tickets back now, because I frequently have to change my plans at the last minute.
But McNally’s marginal manipulations are eroding that debt mountain. That is what will give the banks confidence in Bowkett’s rearranged repayment schedule.
In other words, without McNally’s machinations, we wouldn’t have a club to complain about.
If I’ve got to take a punt on tickets that I might not need and won’t be able to sell back, well that is certainly better than standing on a street corner with a collection tin for a bankrupt club.
That much I realised at the AGM, and we were told some other, startling stuff.
The club produced a prospectus for potential investors and Deloitte touted it around the planet. They took it around Europe, the Far East and Middle East, Russia, the USA and Britain.
Fifty-two potential investors were identified and approached. None could show Bowkett and Deloitte the money.
But, fear not, our board have a plan. And this is where I start to fret a little.
It’s a seven-year plan and, thanks to Paul Lambert and last season’s barnstorming promotion campaign, we’re ahead of schedule.
The next step will be another promotion. To the Prem. The expectation is that we’ll come straight down again but, McNally told the AGM: “Of course we’ll bounce straight back up…”
That is why I worry – because that is what every club says. It is what Hull said, for instance. So did Burnley. In fact, our division is full of clubs who dropped out of the Premier League, believed they could bounce back immediately but could not.
Everyone cites the example of yo-yoing West Brom, but most clubs go and don’t yo. In our 24-club division, 17 have been in the Premier League.
And, of course, that include us. We had a plan when we went up in 2004. But relegation the following summer was not followed by bouncing back.
It was followed by disappointment, then recriminations and schisms.
It began a downward spiral that took the club to its lowest ebb for half a century. Sorry to remind everyone, but we have to realise that the current momentum could be reversed.
That is what can happen in football.
OK, I’ll put down my half-empty glass, because I was enthused by the AGM.
The talk of a 35,000-capacity stadium made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I know we’d fill it.
And imagine that many folk belting out our song. Kick it off? Bring it on!
On the morning of the AGM, I was “unveiled” as an ambassador for the rebranded charity arm of the club – now to be called the Norwich Community Sports Foundation.
I felt a bit of a fraud, because the other ambassadors include Iwan Roberts and Dean Ashton (both of whom have returned to live in Norwich) and Craig Fleming (currently steering Lowestoft towards a second successive promotion).
But, although I didn’t play for NCFC, I’ll do my bit for the NCSF. Through involvement with the (national) Football Foundation, I’ve seen the huge impact football can make in education, health and social inclusion.
I have seen lives turned around.
And through being a judge of Football League community scheme awards, I’ve learned that Norwich set the standard to which others aspire. It is one of the reasons I am proud to support our fine club.
The newly reorganised foundation can only run its disability teams, reach out to people with depression, help engaged kids in reading – and the whole, wonderful panoply of good work – if the club is here.
And, as the AGM emphasised, the club is only here because Messrs Bowkett and McNally took it by the scruff of the neck and pulled it back from the brink.
Myra Hawtree - Supporters' Trust says
A great summary and I agree with every word
Paul Bond (chairman NCST) says
Mick – a good summary of the situation. I agree that not many fans realised the true depths of our financial crisis.
If they had maybe more would now be members of the Norwich City Supporters Trust of which you kindly agreed to be our president last year.
The significance of the financial re-negociations, led by Mr Bowkett, are even more creditable in that the banks seldom if ever loan money without some pretty strong guarantees against the clubs assets.
Lets hope we have also learned from our previous relegations, how to mentally and financially adapt for a subsequent promotion push…. hang on getting a bit premature here, lets get the first promotion under our belts, who knows we may even stay up?
Eddie Daniels says
Now that the club has gone public and admitted the finances of the club are or were in a mess, would it not be more honest to admit the real reason for abolishing concessions to the over sixties, rather than that what they displayed in there season ticket renewal literature. Just say we need more money rather than what they came up with.
If the financial crisis was as dire as described, it makes me wonder how far from the truth the News of the World article actually was? The newspaper’s report said the club was “teetering on the brink of financial meltdown” and could go into administration. Mick tells us in his article “I am guessing that he told the banks the truth: that if they demanded their money on time then the club would be forced into administration.” I hope their lawyers are not going to ask for the damages the club won to be returned…
In response to Nick, it should be remembered that the chatter from the NOTW occurred in January. By that time, it would seem that Bowkett had already had his conversation with the banks. Therefore the NOTW was wrong because things had already been sorted. If journalists spent a little more time on verifying facts and less time running a ‘mud’ story to see how much sticks, we all might spend a little less time looking behind the headlines and speculating.