News that the Canaries are now free of external debt was merely confirmation of something Alan Bowkett alluded to 12 months ago, but was still music to the ears of all associated with the club.
To see the club dragged up from its very lowly bootstraps in the summer of 2009 to become debt-free in the summer of 2013 has simply been the stuff of dreams; City’s fairy godmother arriving in the collective form of Bowkett and David McNally in the wake of that awful and unforgettable afternoon at the Valley.
And it’s been done the hard way. No mysterious benefactors; no oligarchs; no Middle Eastern royal families.
Instead Bowkett and McNally have played the roles of chairman and chief executive to perfection, the former by steering the club through the most troubled of waters by – amongst other things – talking extremely nicely to those lovely people at AXA and the Bank of Scotland.
If the chairman’s role came anything close to being that of good cop, McNally quickly morphed into the opposite; his bad cop routine first coming to the fore in the sacking of Bryan Gunn and the ensuing ruthless pursuit of Paul Lambert. But it was when his attention turned to the club’s books the real hard work began.
As our own Mick Dennis so eloquently put it when extolling the virtues of our chief executive extraordinaire… ‘he made every penny work harder’. He did just that as part of his forensic review of the club’s finances and – while not being privy to what went in behind the scenes – it goes without saying there has been more than a little pain along the way.
There had to be. Basket cases like those put before him in June 2009 require more than a few tweaks. No room for a Mr Nice Guy.
But while there had to be some pain – not to mention a few casualties – en route, we now find ourselves the envy of many – if not most.
Of course the whole thing could have been very different but for one or two good slices of fortune, but that thing about making your own luck… that’s exactly what Bowkett and McNally have done.
Interestingly, while there remains a relatively small level of internal debt, the chairman stated it is the club’s intention that these loans – owed to Delia and Michael, and Michael Foulger – will be repaid during the next financial year, leaving the club free of even a modicum of debt.
Whether this is a case of clearing the decks for future planned changes at board level or simply a case of the chairman wanting to ‘house keep’ remains to be seen, but one assumes at some point in the future the three individuals in question will be looking to resume their role as bona fide Norwich City fanatics minus the stresses and strains that accompany a place on the board.
And who could blame them. None of us would begrudge them that; their places in Canary history already assured.
But regardless of the make-up of any future boardroom, the big question is where do we go from here… or even, how far can we go from here?
Backwards clearly isn’t an option with both CEO and chairman making clear their desire for ‘continued improvement’. From that top line mission statement even the non-mathematicians amongst us can deduce that with consecutive Premier League finishes of 12th and 11th the boys at the top are demanding top ten this time round.
For now the club has put on hold plans to redevelop the City Stand, with Bowkett – as alluded to by Mr Waghorn yesterday – content to revel for a while in the fact the banks are no longer knocking at the door asking “when?”.
Those of us who have ever been beholden to our bank manager know exactly how good that feels and few could deny the club a season or two minus the financial squeeze of another mortgage.
Two seasons ago – when the board were making no secret of their ultimately futile search for external funding – the chairman cited that in order for the club to operate successfully in the Premier League it would require either a 35000 capacity stadium or additional major investment. Given their declaration that short-term we will making ‘making do’ with a capacity of a little over 27000 one wonders if, in order to propel the club forward – dare I say, to the next level – said ‘major investment’ is still being considered.
Of course, the financial landscape of the Premier League has changed massively over the last 24 months, with this season’s TV deal dwarfing anything that has gone before. So while this may indeed render Bowkett’s comments obsolete – his current desire for the club to operate as a ‘mutual’ made clear at Wednesday’s briefing – one questions whether to steal a march on others outside the top six there remains a need to continue our search ‘outside the box’.
Time will tell, but there’s no doubting that a board comprising Bowkett, McNally and five of the staunchest City supporters imaginable will only ever do what they consider the best for the football club. Others have become attractive to oversees investors because their straits were dire – Hull and Cardiff to name but two – but thankfully that’s a grubby little club Norwich City is no longer part of.
With Cullum-gate thankfully consigned to history, City’s off-field destiny is now completely in their own hands; the books, for the first time in a generation, in the rudest of health.
The road may have been thrilling and bumpy in equal proportions, but one gets the feeling the first part of the journey has just drawn to an a close.
So… with that done and dusted it’s time to again fasten our seatbelts and prepare for part two. This could be good…