In common with about, I guess, 99 per cent of Canary supporters I have had precious little to with Canary chairman Alan Bowkett.
He is the third chairman I’ve nominally ‘worked’ with – be it in either my capacity as the Evening News’ football writer for 13 years and, more recently, in my online guise here on MyFootballWriter.
[That’s a lie; it four… see comment below. But it probably speaks volumes for the reign of Bob Cooper that I’d forgotten all about him…]
My first chairman was, of course, the one and the only Robert Chase; the second was Roger Munby; the third is Mr Bowkett, who presided with considerable aplomb at last week’s 2010-2011 accounts unveiling.
The comparisons you can draw between the three men are, for me, interesting. And speak volumes of where – through a combination of a little luck and huge, great dollops of judgement – the Canaries find themselves today.
Within reach of a 35,000-seater stadium and a ‘self-sustaining’ football club that can serve as ‘an examplar’ of the relationship that can be made to work between strong community ‘brand’ and the banks in what remains a ferocious lending climate for any business be it big, large or Addiply small.
Such was the vision that Bowkett laid out for ‘Brand Canary’ on Friday afternoon as he played mine host at the latest accounts. Or the vision for ‘brand’ On The Ball City, if you prefer.
Ask many a journalist and, indeed, the majority of football supporters and ‘brand’ is a five-letter word that is barely understood and rarely welcomed. Unless, of couse, that five-letter word is ‘Delia’.
That people understand.
And yet recognising the value of the ‘brand’ is wholly fundamental to the vision that Bowkett and City ceo David McNally laid out in front of everyone last week.
And it goes way, way beyond the ‘community’ brand that Munby worked so hard to promote in his tenure at the club.
In that he had the dream owners in the shape of Delia Smith and Michael Wynn-Jones; they long ago got the special relationship that the Canaries enjoyed with the wider ‘Norfolk Nation’. And Munby did ‘brand’ and marketing – that was his day job. He’d work with the frozen food giants out of the North Sea ports.
Plus there was Delia; what’s interesting of late is the way that her brand – and that of fellow director Stephen Fry – have rather retreated into the background. They were not central to placating the bankers in the way that the Premier League ‘brand’ can.
The Old Man, of course, was a builder. From the back of Yarmouth. But I think he got ‘brand’, too. It was just more brand ‘Robert’ than brand Norwich City.
And he worked it to a degree that few would give him credit for; via the corridors of the FA, brand ‘Robert’ would – so legend has it – find its way to the third or fourth row of the Three Tenors Concert at the 1994 World Cup Finals in America.
No mean feat for a Caistor builder.
But without doing any disservice to Messrs Chase or Munby, Bowkett appears to be taking the club into a whole new ball-park – albeit if City are riding on the coat-tails of Peter Scudamore and everyone’s new best friends at the Premier League.
There was talk of big marketing pushes into India, China and the Far East – the ‘safe’ nature of the Premier League brand opening up fresh opportunities in terms of online betting for a flutter mad Far East.
And, of course, that’s where the big TV rights deals will be when they next come up for grabs in 2013.
The impression, in short, was that City have gone from Halvergate to Hull to Hanoi in the space of 15 years and the three men at the helm.
Bowkett, he revealed, was off to China this month where he has long done business; he appeared to have an easy familiarity with the ways of the Premier League board; he ‘fitted’ with their likely vision of a supportive and engaged club chairman.
A man that Scudamore could easily do business with.
And this is important; clinging on to that Premier League ‘brand’ – getting and cementing Norwich’s place in such a global market-place underpins both the vision of a self-sustaining football club fit for the 21st Century and why – for now – the banks are off their back.
They have given them the global vision; they can sense the prospect of Far Eastern betting syndicates being made ‘legit’; their millions being funnelled through the Premier League’s own channels to Norwich’s advantage.
Mention was made of the fact that the Canaries are now proud 1/20th shareholders of that Premier League ‘brand’; and the way that the club will look to maximise the value of said stake.
It will, again, underpin the numbers that will be produced when it comes to the rebuilding of the City Stand; recognising the value of their TV rights under that same umbrella might also find the Canaries siding more with their new friends at Soho Square as opposed to those pub landords who beam live games in off a Greek decoder.
All of the above, of course, rests with Norwich maintaining their new-found status. They have, after all, been into that Far East market-place once before with trips to Malaysia, state dinners with the local prince and the like. But ‘selling’ a home game when it’s against a Yeovil or a Doncaster is a tough ask.
Which is why it is fair to expect Messrs Bowkett and McNally to be stretching every last financial sinew they can come January when Paul Lambert rocks up with his New Year shopping list.
The two are inextricably linked now; the football and the financial visions being mutually dependent on the club sitting pretty in the top flight for the forseeable; avoiding being bled dry like a Bolton by one bloated Premiership wage packet after another.
They sit tight about the relegation fray and reach out for a future that is self-sustaining – and one that wrings every last penny out of the Premier League ‘brand’ that is now Norwich City.