Three events made me think of my Canary friends this weekend:
1] A Facebook connection of my mine, Boro’s former “artist in residence” (I know, who would have thought Teesside could be so hoity-toity?) Richard Piers Rayner (who’d have thought a Teessider would have Piers in his name?) related a story about appearing in a feature on Football Focus, only for Garth Crooks to subsequently refer to him as Robert. I said he was in good company: I worked on Final Score the day Ricky Van Wolfswinkel made his Norwich debut. Garth decided he was called Wolfie Van Winkle.
2] I was slightly consoled on a day when Boro were outclassed for the first time this season that my second-favourite bet, sorry, team, had come from behind to win at Forest. I’m wary of omens, but Boro won 2-1 last autumn at Forest during a run which took them into the promotion places. I assured you weeks ago that you’d go up and probably finish above Newcastle. If you can just get the rest of the season called off now, I’ll have been right.
3] Rick Waghorn mentioned that there’s a bit of an ongoing kerfuffle about your club’s financial affairs, and that our media colleague, Facebook friend, and all-round good egg, Mick Dennis, has waded in. Did I have any observations, since I support a similar locally-owned and supported club?
So I’ve done a bit of homework, and the main conclusion I’ve reached is that while Mick sees football almost exactly as I do, he’s still a much better journalist than I am. He provides reams of facts and well-supported arguments whereas whenever I try to get involved in Boro debates, I tend to just throw a few bad jokes around or lose my rag.
I would in no way want to pass comment on Norwich’s ambitions but, as I’ve said before, we are remarkably similar clubs. We’ve both spent almost all our recent history bouncing between the top two divisions – I suspect we may swap divisions again at the end of this season – we’ve both won the League Cup, had a bit of European glory and produced lots of good players, many of whom we’ve eventually sold to “bigger clubs”.
And although Mick has received some stick for suggesting this, we also have similar “out on a limb” geography. This gives us both an enviable monopoly on our area’s support and young talent, but makes it trickier to get certain players or investors to come on board. Just look at a map, or plane or train schedules.
From the outside, we’re both envied for having people in charge with a proven love for the club. In both cases, this has been backed up by being there to rescue them in a time of need. Steve Gibson, as a 28 year-old local self-made millionaire, was part of the consortium which rescued Boro from liquidation in 1986, then eventually took overall control and moved us to the Riverside.
We’re a rare club where the chairman’s name is more likely to be sung than any manager, but people still complain vociferously. Yes, really. There were genuine mutterings on the Boro message boards when the latest transfer window shut that signing up Victor Valdes, Alvaro Negredo, Brad Guzan, Gaston Ramirez, Martin De Roon, Callum Chambers, and Antonio Barragan wasn’t good enough, and that we shouldn’t have let two Championship wingers go in Albert Adomah and Adam Reach.
Despite not being sure about either keeper, and fearing that there’ll inevitably be an Afonso Alves or Wolfie Van Winkle-style dud or two in there somewhere, this is the point at which I lost my rag. I was naturally accused of being a club patsy, and not wanting us to “move on to the next level”.
I replied that I’m a realist and that this is probably as good as it gets for a club like ours: I remember hearing a phone-in which Charlton fan after Charlton fan phoned up to suggest that, after another lower mid-table Premier League finish, Alan Curbishley and his board weren’t the men to take them to the “next level”. Well, their club’s found its “next level”, alright. A home defeat to AFC Wimbledon yesterday.
And breathe. Despite having a degree which supposedly included economics, I know next to nothing about football finances. Mick Dennis is one of the very few fans or football media men who’s made it his business to find out. Being debt-free and living within your means in any sphere of life has to be a good thing, surely? Just ask Leeds fans or Peter Ridsdale.
I believe that Boro are structured slightly differently from Norwich in that Steve Gibson’s profitable parent company is involved somehow, but we still met the Football League’s financial fair play rules, and went through a very difficult period after Gordon Strachan bought a series of Old Firm flops. New manager Tony Mowbray had to get them off the books and rely on free transfer s and the academy for a lean couple of years.
Current Premier League starters George Friend and Ben Gibson were propelled into our first X1 during that time. Naturally, the phone-in brand of native boycotted en masse and waved pitchforks in the street, but they’re all back now. Until we go on the inevitable run of Premier League defeats they haven’t seen coming, anyway.
The other difference, as far I know, is that Steve Gibson has never looked to sell. I wouldn’t use the Sunday Times Rich List to line the budgie’s cage, but I suspect he may be further up it than Delia and Michael. Even so, they can’t sell if there hasn’t been a potential buyer, and in any case, for every decent non-local buyer (sorry, I can’t think of one) you can just as easily end up with a Massimo Cellino or Mike Ashley.
Off the top of my head, I can only think of three reasonable-sized clubs whose recent owners I’d want to meet, let alone have as the custodian of my club: Boro, Norwich and Everton. And the third of those, Bill Kenwright, had the phone-in brigade baying at him for alleged lack of ambition while he waited for the right investor. He has ensured that he is still involved, so that great club doesn’t become unrecognisable as it pursues success.
F Scott Fitzgerald famously said, “The rich are different from you and me”. In my admittedly limited experience, most rich people and consortiums are not only different but, frankly, just horrible. Even the ones who do put their money where their mouth is – Abramovic, Abu Dhabi – want trophies in the same way as they want zero taxation and the biggest yacht in Monte Carlo, and tend to squeeze every last drop of soul out of their club.
I genuinely wouldn’t want to support Chelsea or Man City – no sensible neutral has liked Chelsea for about 40 years, but City were a much-admired underdog club for decades. Going to a game there now is like being at an airport, with the players passing inhabitants of some hollow transit lounge, and many of the long-suffering and funny supporters of old frozen out or bored by it all.
One of my best friends is a Watford fan of long-standing. For years, he’s followed them home and away, and watched them bounce up and down the divisions, with the occasional John Barnes or Ashley Young coming through the ranks before moving on. These days, they’re owned by the same people who own Udinese and Granada and the latest set of players and coaching staff are seemingly determined by where the revolving door stops.
Now they’re back in the top flight, he feels no connection to it all, and has stopped going. As he says, a glance at the first team sheet of the season is like a bad game of Football Manager, and for all anyone involved cares about the club (Troy Deeney apart) they may as well run out to “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye”.
Anyway, as I said, I don’t pretend to know as much as you all do about the details of the set-up at Norwich, but I’d always at least take Mick’s views on board, and keep the debate civil. I’d also urge you never to throw away the fantastic strengths you have as a club and supporter base in the pursuit of “the next level”.
Be careful what you wish for!
A thought provoking article.
Its certainly made me aware of our individuality as a Club which is something we should cherish.
Look whats happened to West Ham since they moved to the “promised land ” of the Olympic Stadium- discontent among supporters and disharmony on the pitch.
I for one will continue to enjoy life in the Championship!
Gary Field says
Thanks for sharing Paul.
There seems to be an overwhelming sense in many quarters that if you’re not doing the same as everyone else, then you’re somehow going to “get left behind.”
The dilemma seems to be, for every good example of new owners, there’s probably a dozen other examples where the new incumbents have probably left the club in a worse situation than before they started.
Watford is my local team. Completely soulless and lost to their supporters. Yesterday they whipped ManYoo for the first time in 30 years and no-one cares, other than the Watford based ManYoo “fans”.
Their critical second goal was scored by a Colombian substitute on loan from Napoli who played in a world cup q/f and who probably doesn’t know the name of the shopping centre and dreams of playing for Arsenal.
They change their manager every year because they don’t really need one – their system just allows for players who do what they are told, and if they don’t do it another bloke with an unfamiliar name who no one recognises will take their place next week.
My question to my Watford supporting neighbours is “Why bother?” What exactly is the point? Are you being entertained? Do you have any connection with Watford? Is it just about winning – in which case shouldn’t we all be Man City fans?
There are at least 28 clubs in the top two divisions with very rich owners. They can’t all win things and they can’t all be in the PL all the time. Most of them don’t care if the team wins or loses, they just want the ego boost of owning a club.
Watford is even worse – they just run a system to make money.
I drive 250 miles every fortnight because I genuinely feel connected to the team I support. When I see Norwich shirts on the street my heart is lifted. When we win it makes my weekend. When we lose it destroys it – until Monday morning when we start talking about the next game.
Clubs should be owned by people who support the club because nothing else matters. I don’t know Delia or Michael but they have been very important people in my life because they were in a position to save my club and chose to do so. The vitriol they now get from teenagers and new supporters who expect us to do a Leicester (owned by billionaire absentees don’t forget) is ludicrous, but a sign of our times.
Don’t sell, Delia. Please don’t sell.
Dan R says
Great article, Paul, and a brilliant response from “sgnfc” Made a great start to the week!
Bucks Canary says
Got to say, I agree wholeheartedly with the perspective of this thought or invoking article. Not a single point made that I disagree with. The same goes for the three comments to date.
For once, let’s just value what we currently have and cherish our club and its ambitions to return to the ‘Promised Land’ and whatever (dubious?) rewards that may offer.
With regard to our activity in the transfer market, all our recent ‘Great’ players (Holt, Huckerby, etc.) have been journeymen players (no insult intended) who have happened upon NUFC and for many diverse reasons it just ‘clicks’ for them, and everything just goes right. Happenstance. Doesn’t mean we can’t try to be as ambitious as possible in the transfer market, just that we’re not always – despite the very best efforts of all involved- always succeed. Do I know that for a fact? No. Do I have any facts to make me doubt it? Of course not. Neither does any of the moaners.
Keith B says
It’s a good time to be discussing “the next level” because tomorrow we have a cup tie, and a pretty tricky one at that.
So you can bet we will have all the usual demands to save key players for the league, because of course instant promotion back to the Premier league is all that matters, isn’t it?
After all without that we cannot reach this mythical “next level” along with the likes of Southampton, Palace, West Ham and Stoke – all solid, well-established middle PL clubs or better. Except that suddenly it’s not looking quite that way for at least two of those is it?
Well for me part of the “next level” is to start being competitive in the cups again. Sure, with the number of fixtures we have in the Championship – another 3 in 8 days starting next Saturday, including 2 tough away trips – there has to be some rotation.
But do I want to see Godfrey, Thompson or Morris lining up at Goodison, as many will? “Give the youngsters a go”. No I don’t. Nor do I want to see those who have largely failed in the first team – Mulumbu, Whittaker, Lafferty, Turner.
I want us to recognise that there’s more to life than fighting relegation or chasing promotion and return to the days when we had a right good go at the cups, with all the entertainment and excitement that their later stages bring.
And I totally agree about having fan owners. Supposing we did find some oligarch with billions? It wouldn’t alter the fact that only 1 club wins the league, and regardless of whet happened last year it’s very unlikely to be a club like us again for a long time.
Cosmo P. says
Big respect for Steve Gibson: self-made, local business man who doesn’t operate his firm from a tax haven (unlike Bristol City’s owner as pointed out last week).
Not so much respect for Aitor Karanka – don’t think Norwich fans would have tolerated his defensive outlook and tactics. I’m guessing that’s why the ground was half empty most of the time before getting back in the PL?
Also, a top scorer with 8 in the Championship would have caused all sorts of stink at Carrow Road even if it resulted in promotion.
Ah, the Watford way. This site has had many (ahem) fruitful discussions with Watford fans in response to criticism of the Pozzos methods and the constant flux of foreign players squeezing any identity out of their club (3 out of their 18 yesterday were from these shores).
Any chance you could have a word about loaning us Jordan Rhodes for the season?
Yet another well thought-out article. I too agree with the other posters. We are lucky to be in the situation we are in – solvent, a good squad with talented youngsters waiting in the wings and owners who are as passionate about the club as any fan. Of course I was disappointed that NCFC were relegated last year. I was also (and am) thoroughly hacked off with those who bay for the board’s/manager’s/team’s blood every time something goes wrong. It doesn’t matter if we lose a game or get relegated the same amount of vitriol gets sprayed around regardless. I want our club to do well (if only to upset Alan Hansen and ‘Lawro’!) but not at the cost of its soul which is why I’ll back Delia and Michael’s decision to only sell to a buyer with the same care, passion and love for NCFC as they have.
Agree wholeheartedly with the posters. We are lucky to be in the situation we are in – solvent, a good squad with talented youngsters waiting in the wings and owners who are as passionate about the club as any fan. Of course I was disappointed that NCFC were relegated last year. I was also (and am) thoroughly hacked off with those who bay for the board’s/manager’s/team’s blood every time something goes wrong. It doesn’t matter if we lose a game or get relegated the same amount of vitriol gets sprayed around regardless. I want our club to do well (if only to upset Alan Hansen and ‘Lawro’!) but not at the cost of its soul which is why I’ll back Delia and Michael’s decision to only sell to a buyer with the same care, passion and love for NCFC as they have. A great article. Thank you.
Dorset Canary says
Excellent article that should be read by every supporter who constantly moans about our club for whatever reason. Thanks to Dehlia and Michael we have a club to support. Give me ‘loyal fan ownership’ any day even if it means being a yo yo club.
Don Harold says
sgncfc (3) has produced the best post I have ever read on MFW and probably anywhere else. It entirely articulates what I, as a similarly exiled fan in a ‘city’ that has a team which seems to be moving away from it’s fan base, feel.
I love our yo-yo club and look forward to years of joy and despair in equal measure.
Mick Dennis says
Bob in Diss says
Mick (12) – are you hard boiled or scrambled?
Dave C says
If our team plays brilliantly, or dreadfully, on Saturday; ask yourself who you’ll support next week? There’s only one answer. That’s why our owners are different to the rest.
el dingo says
Can’t do much beyond agree with everybody really. My mate Russ is a Watford fan and has said exactly the same things as sgncfc tbh.
A great original article too. I’ve read the author’s stuff before and thoroughly enjoy it.
My only difference with some posters is that we have had enough opportunities to consolidate in the PL, and haven’t taken them. Doesn’t stop me supporting NCFC though. Nothing would do that tbh.
I walk to the ground and back for every game and the atmosphere starts when I leave the front gate.
It’s great to hear the views from supporters of other clubs or those connected to them and long may it continue.
Gary Field says
@15 el dingo – personally, I think the consolidation point is a bit of a myth akin to “the next level” quote.
Should we have done better last time around? Definitely – but I believe it will be a struggle whether we do one, three or ten sessions consecutively in the Premier League.
Good article , made me think. Why am I a Norwich supporter and what do I want from my club. Like most true supporters it goes back to childhood My first game was the Spurs replay in 59 as a ten year old. I queued throug the night for tickets & stood against the railings behind the goal where Terry Bly scored the winner. Since then I have supported & followed Norwih through thick & thin from near & far . I remember being on patrol at sea with the RN for 7 weeks & we had a mail drop. I received 6 weeks copy of the Pink un & I put them all in order to read them.
What do I want from NCFC To win the next game of course , but realistically what I need is to be able to look forward to the next game with hope & expectation. To read all the reports in the Sunday newspapers several times , listen to every report on the radio & TV & have something good to talk & think about until the next. ( like this W/E ) This doesn’t always come with ” success ” I’ve not had many of those moments during our time in the ‘ greed is God ‘ premier league. What has made being a Norwich supporter so special is those memorable days & nights. How can you forget Fratton Park with Paul Lambert , Steve Bruce burying that header in THE semifinal against Ipswich or being at Old Trafford in 67 for the cup win against Best Charlton Law & all Times like that make up for all the lows , the dissapointing journeys back to Norfolk from far away places like Maine Rd (0-6 ) Brighton , Derby & many others
It’s all these times & more that bond all us true supporters of NCFC , & why we will never take our support else where in pursuit of ‘ success & glory ‘ Give me the emotional roller coaster of following Norwich over supporting a ‘BIG ‘ team whose players I can’t remember the name of ( or pronounce ) bankrolled by a man in a limo who checks his bank balance before he looks at the football results , anytime . OTBC
Paul Armstrong says
Thanks, all. Some very well-expressed replies, even from Cosmo P, who makes a fair point about Karanka’s less than adventurous tactics. We Boro fans will take dullness over relegation, though both would be a bit dismal. Sgncfc elaborates superbly on my point about Watford and I love Victor’s passion, even though he saw his first game even longer than I did. Speaking of old-timers, apologies for likening you to an egg, Mick. At least it was a good, rather than bad, one…
Stewart Lewis says
Victor (17) – I took issue with (I think) your first posting a couple of weeks ago. Now find myself agreeing more with every comment!
My start was a little later, around 1963 – Keelan & Stringer in the early days of their City careers. Many highs and lows since then.
I guess we’ve both seen enough to understand the value of Delia & Michael’s involvement with our club.