To understand the appointment of Ed Balls as chairman of Norwich City, we need to start by going back 90 years or so to when a child of five watched her father die of pneumonia. The family could not afford to get him the treatment which might have saved his life.
The child was Etty Lewis, now Etty Smith — Delia’s mother: a Carrow Road regular, a simply dreadful loser and a lady whose vigorous spirit explains a lot of the drive that is evident in Delia’s career and character. Not surprisingly, the way Etty’s father died was a determining influence on her and she has been a fervent advocate of the National Health Service since its formation in 1948.
In her turn, Delia became a life-long supporter of the Labour party at least partly because of the story of the grandfather she never knew and the beliefs of the mother she adores.
Your politics may be different. That’s OK. It is a free country, thanks to Etty’s generation. But those City fans who responded to the appointment of our new chairman with knee-jerk, narrow-minded, potty-mouthed intolerance should find the wit and courtesy to accept that some of us have our reasons for never being able to vote Conservative.
Delia turned down Tony Blair’s offer of becoming a Dame but includes several current and former Labour politicians among an eclectic collection of friends. She got to know and like Ed Balls and his wife Yvette Cooper after learning about Ed’s genuine passion for Norwich City.
OK, that’s how they became friends. Now I need to explain how the Norwich City board works.
Delia and her husband, Michael Wynn Jones, effectively appoint the other directors. The appointments have to be confirmed by a majority of shareholders … but Delia and Michael own a majority of the shares, so they decide who sits around the table with them to discuss the big decisions, such as appointing a chief executive, picking a manager, setting the budget and so on.
Of course, Delia and Michael could make all those decisions unilaterally. But they don’t. Once they have appointed someone to the board, he or she has a full say and decisions are decided by a simple majority. Then, once a decision has been made, the entire board are expected to back it and not disclose any dissent. It’s a version of the principle of collective Cabinet responsibility with which Balls will be familiar from his time in Government.
The chairman leads and moderates those discussions and can set their tone and, to some extent, the tone of the club.
So, under Roger Munby, a Fellow of the Institute of Marketing, the club was outward-looking. He talked and listened to us “ordinary” fans at every opportunity. On his watch the new Jarrold Stand was built and Delia and Michael’s instinct that the “match day experience” for supporters should be as good as possible found an ally.
Alan Bowkett, a captain of industry, tapped into his experience as chair of big companies to negotiate with the banks and keep City in business. With him in the chair, City became more business-orientated, so as to free up funds for players — although much of the impetus and all the detailed work for that came from chief executive David McNally. And, whoever is chairman, McNally has the undiminished confidence of Delia and Michael and will continue to oversee the day-to-day operation of the club, including its transfer dealings.
We all owe Bowkett gratitude for the success of those critical negotiations over debts that were unsustainable when he arrived in the board room.
There was one occasion, though, when I thought chairman Bowkett didn’t toe the party line of collective responsibility: when he did not turn up for the away fans’ party in 2014. Norwich had just lost at home to West Brom. There were five games left, four of them extraordinarily difficult, and relegation looked certain. Yet manager Chris Hughton, his coaches and all the players fulfilled their commitment to attend a “party” after the match in the Top of the Terrace that was decidedly funereal. Delia and Michael went along too. So did all the other directors who had been at the match — except chairman Bowkett. I assumed (and wrote for this website) that he had not been at the game, but learned later that he witnessed the defeat but had then stomped off home in a fury.
We were all hurting too, Alan. You should have been there — if for no other reason than to support Delia and Michael.
So now our club has got Balls — and I expect the new chairman to “front up”, to be bullish in explaining policy to us fans and to be our pugnacious champion in meetings with the Premier League and others. He is formidably bright and disarmingly charming in person — but didn’t earn his reputation as a political bruiser by ducking a fight.
I’ve spotted him in the cheap seats at away games a few times over the years and bumped into him at a couple of home games. On the most recent occasion he grabbed my hand with two of his and enthused about Tales From The City. So he is obviously a man of great discernment!
He particularly liked Grant Holt’s chapter, he said, before adding: “The one by Gunny was a tough read”. I am relieved to report that he did not mean it was badly written, but that the story of how a club legend was brought down by the vicissitudes of management had been emotive.
Ed Balls is a proper Norwich City fan. He has held high office in this country. He stands his ground to defend something in which he believes. And, like the rest of the board, he has a fight on his hands right now, to help Alex Neil keep our club in the Premier League.
We can carp and moan, or we can help by being, literally, supporters.
Michael D says
We can certainly benefit from the formidable economic and leadership experience that Ed Balls brings. The main question is, given all else he has on his plate both sides of the Atlantic, how much time for Norwich City does he really have?
The new Chairman has got to be given a chance.There is a disturbing trend these days to wade in and comment before thinking.
I don’t see too many complaints from West Ham and Newcastle fans about the track records of their Chairmen when things are going well.
The difference is that their Chairmen had cash to put in whereas EB presumably hasn’t.Perhaps in his political career he befriended a rich arab and can do some persuading to invest in NCFC.
Whatever you think about him he’s a true fan and should be respected for that.
(By the way Ed although the current strip is not popular in some quarters (pun not intended), we don’t want to change to red)
All that it was. Norwich FC. Goodbye.
Ivor Hardy says
@Jarrolder I thought you said, ‘There is a disturbing trend these days to wade in and comment before thinking’. The you said, ‘.Perhaps in his political career he befriended a rich arab and can do some persuading to invest in NCFC’.
Come son get a grip.
Stewart Lewis says
A welcome and instructive piece.
Delia’s politics will have helped (and probably still help) cement a personal relationship with Ed, but his appointment to the chairmanship will have a more businesslike edge. As Michael D says, Ed brings a wealth of experience and know-how to the job. He also – unlike most people in football and politics alike – actually understands numbers.
Keith B says
I think this is a crass and worrying appointment. It’s worrying because it suggests to me that Delia and Michael think everything’s hunky dory again so we don’t now need someone who has an idea how to run things. Well, you can certainly claim that compared to 5 years ago it is, and that’s largely down to Bowkett and McNally. But it’s a dangerous line to take.
Bowkett was appointed because we HAD to find a captain of industry to help bail us out of a crisis; McNally came in to provide of steel following years of Doncaster’s imitation of a chocolate fireguard.
We are still a business in a tough industry, and (hopefully) always will be. Just because we are not in crisis right now doesn’t mean we don’t need another captain of industry, or someone with similar skills, to ensure we don’t get into a mess again. I can not see that Ed Balls has ever acquired those skills.
To me this smells of a self-indulgent return to the complacency that marked Delia and Michael’s early years in charge (you may recall that in their first 15 years of ownership only one season was spent in the Premier League).
I’ve no doubt that Balls is passionate about the club. But with all due respect to him his whole life has been one big theory test. PPE at Oxford. MPA (Master of Public Affairs) at Harvard. Economics writer for the FT. MP, with everything that needs doing taken care of by the Civil Service. All very clever and worthy, useful in its context. But not for leading a top 20 football club. He is not a man who gets things done, he’s a man who theorises.
I wasn’t aware of Delia’s politics or her connections with the Labour party, and if it turned out she was a true blue and now turning to an ex-Tory MP with a similar life experience to Ed my reaction would be exactly the same.
I suppose the one saving grace is that it’s not Charles Clarke, whom I once had the distinct displeasure of meeting in the Gunn Club (don’t ask how I got in…)
I’m very disappointed that they have not understood the need to put cronyism aside and find a horse of the course.
Keith B says
Sorry, meant to also thank Mick for the background to the appointment, which is very enlightening for those of us not so close to the action.
The dynamic between Balls and McNally is the thing to watch. And a lot will depend on how Ed approaches his new job. Is he content to be the chair of a board, or does he want a more hands on role in running the club? I know people who worked for Ed Miliband, and Balls was not known for deferring to his leader…
I raise these issues out of interest rather than critcism. Ed Balls is as much a Canary as any of us, and deserves our support.
Well, if we’re going to wax political, some of us will recall arriving home from work in 1970s winters to find the electricity had been switched off by Labour empowered power workers, so kindly allow the same ‘wit and courtesy’ to accept that some of us have our reasons for never being able to vote Labour. Evenings of ‘enjoying’ an after-work sandwich by cold candlelight might be followed in the morning – if the electricity had been generously switched back on – of watching TV news footage of TUC leaders marching into No. 10 to pass their greedy eyes over Labour government policy. You can thank years of the public being held to ransom by Labour unions for creating Thatcher. Labour have always been great at spending money and useless at creating wealth so having a Labour “theorist” (well said Keith B) as chairman is deplorable.
Dear Mr Dennis,
Having heard earlier of the new appointment of
Mr Ed Balls as our new club chairman,being of the Conservative persuasion I was so very touched by what you had to say about the Labour connections within the Canary Family of Norwich.
When someone once said “the pen is mightier than the sword! “You have just proved that beyond doubt *
Indeed of the 4 close members of my family! If it were not for the setting up of our world famous National Health Service 3 of us would undoubtedly NOT be here today *
So in short I welcome our new chairman to our club for his loyalty & undouted expertise he can bring to what is surely
THE BEST FOOTBALL CLUB in the world #OTBC
I have to say Keith B hits the nail on the head with his comments. My thoughts:
1. Chummy appointment, back to cosy little old Norwich of 1995-2005
2. Divisive appointment. He is disliked by many people (not just Tories Mick) including his own party
3. I would rather trust many people within my own circle of friends than his so called ability to run a steady ship
4. Mick, paragraph 4. I know a lot of labour friends unhappy at this appointment, it’s narrow minded of you to think everything is coming from conservatives. Probably your worst and most unbalanced paragraph you’ve ever written in here. You’re allowed one though 🙂
dr rob says
With all due respect to Keith B, I have never read something so ridiculous as his claim about Ed Balls that, “He is not a man who gets things done, he’s a man who theorises”. Perhaps you were abroad during the period 1997 to 2010 Keith so you might have missed the fact that Ed Balls was at the very heart of policy making decisions that determined the running of the country during that entire time. It is commonly acknowledged by political commentators that the Tories feared Ed Balls more than any other Labour politician precisely because of his formidable intellect and political nous. Norwich City fans should be overjoyed to have such a dynamic and brilliant man as its chair
The timing (and slant) of the Bowkett tale here is interesting, and rather reinforces the impression that Mick acts as a club mouthpiece.
Maybe Bowkett had expressed doubt in the ability / tactics of CH, found himself outvoted and then been forced to watch as his worst fears were realised? (If not one board member had doubts about our situation in late 2013 then they are not fit to run a football club). If Bowkett had been so outvoted then, no doubt, he had every reason to be furious.
It will also be interesting to see if our new Chairman increases his existing share-holding, to show confidence in the Board and reflect his new position (something that Mr McNally has yet to do)
Dave H says
This is a very interesting appointment and one which I think could be very shrewd. From my own sparse knowledge & with the help of Keith’s mini biography, Balls would appear to have a number of skills that could be hugely beneficial for the club. It was inevitable that there would be criticism whoever was appointed, although I’m not aware of many better alternatives being suggested.
el dingo says
Not everyone who questions the appointment is a Tory Mick. I know I’m not! For all the jokes about “Don’t give him the chequebook” I would rather not have ANY politician as Chairman. As someone said it’s all a little too cosy. However let’s see.
Jim Davies says
I’m amazed at the vitriol this appointment has generated. Ed Balls is clearly a high profile figurehead, and while he is unlikely to have control of the chequebook, as some posters have feared, he at least is a recognisable figure amongst other football figures, and may have some worthwhile contributions to board meetings. I note that this is an unpaid post, so he’s costing us nothing (apart from the odd prawn sandwich in the boardroom), and at least as everyone recognises, he is a true fan.
I’d rather see him there than some overseas mogul who may be looking to make a fast buck. At the moment, we’re probably the closest thing in the Premier League to the German style of clubs run by the fans, and I’d rather see us stay that way than sell our souls for thirty pieces of silver.
Gary Field says
As someone who attended that particular “away fans” gathering, I agree with Mick, the atmosphere was funereal. We were all hurting that evening, for obvious reasons; indeed I know of several City fans who decided not to go.
I never realised at the time that Alan Bowkett didn’t attend, and, if I’m honest, upon reflection, personally, it makes no difference either way to me now. I therefore find it slightly strange that this is raised now, as there seems little to be gained by bringing it up?
One thing that has been a hallmark of this Board over the years, during its various incarnations, is its tendency not to do knee jerk reactions, to give managers every chance to “put things right” and to give due and proper consideration when the time came to send managers on their way.
For some, that’s seen as dithering, for others, the proper way to do things.
Either way, virtually every attendee that evening, simply knew CH couldn’t go on and his time was up. The question on everyone’s lips was, “will there be an announcement here, tonight, or tomorrow?”
Whether AB had already made his mind up that night, or not, I guess we’ll never, which is probably the way it should have been left. This revelation just adds fuel to the speculation fire.
As for the new chairman, irrespective of your political views, perhaps we should give the man a chance and judge him by what he does going forward, rather than for what he may, or may not have done in the past.
Keith B says
To make things clear, my suspicion of this appointment is nothing to do with political views. My MP is Chancellor of the Exchequer, a very clever man no doubt, but I wouldn’t want him leading a football club either. Before him of course we had Martin Bell – how come he hasn’t become involved?
I’ve no doubt that Balls is a very sharp guy, and I’m certainly not saying he’ll contribute nothing. My ex-boss met him at an industry dinner and he was very impressive – but that’s the way with politicians, you won’t even get picked as a candidate by the local branch if you haven’t got some kind of charisma and the ability to talk to people, let alone become a Minister.
And dr rob (12) I was certainly not abroad from 1997 to 2010 and I’ve no doubt EB was very influential in policy making, and indeed in the years since. (Worked out well for them didn’t it?) That’s not the same as getting things done though. We can all be back-seat drivers when it suits. That’s what career politicians are.
It is the thought behind this that worries me. One point that I did not pick up originally was how much of a non-Exec role this is to be. If the thought process is that we don’t need someone hands on any more, but rather someone to come in and ask questions from a more independent point of view (i.e. classic non-exec director role) then sure, Balls fits that much better. I could understand him joining the Board for that reason – but not as the figurehead.
I think they still need someone alongside McNally to run the business and be far more proactive than Balls will be, and that’s why I’m concerned about what they’ve set up. Replacing Bowkett with Balls can only weaken the governance of the club in my view.
Gary Gowers says
Please can I just ask that we keep the debate free of vitriol. Regardless of your views of Ed Balls or Mick or Delia or even me, I see absolutely no necessity to bring spite and venom to the table.
Healthy debate, yes. Insults, no. Simple.
Premier League Pedant says
Enlightening piece Mick. Interesting comments too. I struggle to see how this appointment can be born of complacency, ‘chummy’, and indicative of “cosy little Norwich” whilst also being so clearly devisive. A man described on all parts of the spectrum as a ‘bruiser’, and seems exactly the type who WILL get things done, rather than merely “theorise”.
We need to show more respect for Delia and Michael, and trust their judgement that this is a good thing for NCFC, rather than a nice little gig for their pal. How can it be cronyism when it’s a demanding job, UNPAID?
Fair to say I’m left of centre, so not particularly a fan of a Blairite, but that’s an irrelevance with regard to his ability to do the job. Give the guy a chance. And Corbyn too!
Keith B says
I can’t see anything that’s vitriolic Gary (19), and I certainly hope nothing I’ve written has been interpreted that way. Critical, yes, but the closest I can see to an insult is dr rob describing me as ridiculous. I can live with it, and it probably won’t surprise him that I’ve been called a lot worse than that! But I see no spite or venom.
It is a pity that political leanings play a part in this because they are in danger of clouding the issue. That Delia supports Labour is no more relevant to running the club than the fact hat she’s a practising Catholic.
The issue to me is the kind of individual who should have been appointed, which does not necessarily mean someone we’d ever heard of by the way, and the need to match his/her skills to the role. That, I think, is what they have got wrong.
el dingo says
19 Gary Gowers: I don’t see much venom or spite here – unlike some other sites:-) Some of us disapprove and my knee sure jerked yesterday. Having realised it’s non exec let’s give him a chance but to appoint a career politician is a strange move imo. I realise Delia can appoint who she chooses but I still find it a little bit cosy. Time will tell but not everyone takes Mick’s slant on this. Happily it is still a great read but it is impossible for some folks to agree with the Board’s choice of Appointing a politician of any persuasion. And I say again I am no Tory – Mr Balls’ politics are irrelevant to me and hopefully all of us.Off to the game now!
Gary Gowers says
(21) and (22) No need to take it personally guys. Was, in the main, a reference to a few ‘comments’ that didn’t make it past the moderation stage. No need to elaborate.
el dingo says
Ignoring the usual scepticism I think this is a really positive step
1) Along with Jake Humphrey, Ed Balls is the only one of our celebrity fans I’ve seen at a match outside of the Directors box – on a freezing cold Tuesday night at the Den
2) According to the Guardian he’s working for us for nothing- I assume we are now saving Bowkett’s salary
3) If you are an ex-Chancellor then you are bound to be connected to the money men – Delia can’t last forever and it wouldn’t surprise me if this marks the start of a move to new owners
Keith B says
Premier League Pedant says
Yeah but what about the blackouts and the 3-day week 40 years ago!
South of the Border says
Broadly speak I agree with most what Keith B (6) had to say about this appointment. I would be more than happy for my sceptaeism about this to be unfounded.
However, for me you simply have to compare the cv’s of Alan Bowkett and Ed Balls to reach a conclusion on who is most suited to the post.
In my opinion this post should be filled by a ‘captain of industry’ with a strong background in business not an academic with a background in politics!
Whatever side of this debate you may sit we all as city supporters owe the outgoing chairman a huge debt of gratitude for what he did in 2009 that essentially prevented the club from going into adminstration.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Norwich City is a professional club run by amateurs. I’ve nothing against Ed Balls as a person, but is this appointment personal or professional?
The chummy back slapping of the Delia era has to stop. We need an enforcer!
Michael D says
Having read through all the comments, what strikes me is that despite all the opinions we have absolutely no clue what Ed Balls will actually bring to the club at this stage, so most comments would seem to me premature. My very first comment (1) was just to say that Ed Balls is a consummate professional, whether one agrees with his (political) views or not, and I don’t expect him to bring anything else to the club other than professionalism. He’s not a weak person, and I suspect Delia and Michael wanted a bit heavier clout in their boardroom, someone who can bring some weight to bear in improving Norwich City’s standing and footprint. I assume they also believe that he will be financially beneficial for the club, both in his command of economics and finances, and perhaps also in his ability to attract additional resources to the club.
To those that suggest it is a ‘chummy’ appointment, I don’t believe that in any way at all. Ed Balls is not a chummy person. He may not be my favourite person either, but whatever he brings to the club it will not be slight and it will not be merely theoretical. Ed Balls is a brilliant man – hence his academic pedigree – but he is also extremely practical and aware of the world. At this point the only people being theoretical are ourselves, since as yet we have no clue as to what he actually will bring and do.
(25) Kobecanary: I do not believe that Bowkett took any salary. The NCFC accounts state “Total and Highest Paid Director” , indicating that only one Director (presumably the CEO, David McNally) received a salary.
And for clarification, here are details of those Director salaries:
12-13 1,640,000 (only Arsenal, Spurs & Soton paid more)
13-14 1,119,000 (in a season we were relegated, only Arsenal, Spurs, Chelsea & Soton paid more)
And for further clarification, that makes our Director(s) salaries the fourth or fifth highest in the Premiership, at a time when our average finishing position was 15th.
Crikey no wonder we can’t afford to pay Ed Balls! McNally is doing obscenely well out of NCFC.
Mick Dennis says
The fourth paragraph was a response to the more intemperate social media comments provoked by the appointment. If your response was not narrow-minded, intolerant,knee-jerk and potty-mouthed, it wasn’t aimed at you. It starts by saying it’s OK to have a different political view. Of course it is. Some of my best friends are Tories!
Gary Field says
(31) London Fan – I’m pretty sure those figures you quote are salary, plus bonus. I guess it’s for the Board to decide whether that’s good value or otherwise. Personally, it makes little difference to me.
(34) Yes, the figures are total remuneration, the same as the other figures against which comparison was made (I expect that most CEO pay has a performance element).
It may make no difference to you, but I wonder at the structure of a scheme that pays a £367,000 bonus in a season where gate receipts were down, media income was down, catering income was down and relegation occurred!