Prior to Brentford, the news that Jacob Murphy and Martin Olsson had signed contract extensions was perhaps the only good thing to have come out of Carrow Road for what seemed like an eternity.
Jacob’s deal was particularly pleasing.
After all, he is (in the words of the chant) ‘one of our own’.
Now I’m not fussed where are players come from or the route they took to get here. None of my favourite City players were products of our academy system but as fans, we do recognise and appreciate the value of home-grown talent.
Firstly, it means that he was free!
Granted, you have to overlook the significant running costs of the academy but either way, it’s fair to say that buying a 21-year old English prospect like Jacob would command a sizeable fee, running up into the millions.
It’s also reassuring to see some tangible benefits from the academy and the local scouting system – even more so whilst there remain such big question marks over the effectiveness of the recruitment department.
Secondly, you suspect that there is an added sense of loyalty from those players who have come through the ranks. Jacob’s decision to commit to City, and resist the rumoured interest from the Premier League, may have been based on his chances of minutes on the pitch but it’s clear he’s settled at the club.
So we’re all happy that Jacob’s signed and hopeful that Josh will follow suit. But what are the benefits when the ‘one of our own’ is the one who owns?
For a while, we’ve been told of the value of having owners who, like us, are genuine fans. But how does that value manifest itself?
To be clear, this piece is neither an attack on nor a defence of our majority shareholders and their approach to running the club. The debate has (at least to me) grown as tiresome as it has predictable.
For every Leicester, there’s a Portsmouth; for every QPR, there’s a Southampton. We can all wheel out the examples which best serve to support our own views but nobody really knows how the club would fair under new ownership.
So putting all that to one side, is it actually important that those running the show are genuine supporters or is it simply a ‘nice to have’?
I suppose we all have different definitions of the term ‘supporter’ and differences in what supporting Norwich City means to us as individuals.
For me, it’s a lifelong obsession that has led to sleepless nights; either worrying about league positions or through the excitement before a big game. It has led to hours spent on the A47 or A11 heading to or back from all manner of far-flung stadia. I’ve bought god knows how many over-priced shirts that didn’t get worn very much and with designs or colours that on a few occasions I didn’t even like.
Money and time that often I could ill-afford.
In short, being a fan brings out a side to me that is wholly irrational.
But is that a good thing in the board room? Do we want a rational business mind pulling the strings or one that lets emotion overrule common sense?
To a degree, I’d suggest that buying into a football club in the first place defies all common sense and business acumen.
That is unless (like me) you limit it to two shares for £50 quid and a chance to go to the AGM.
But prior to the upturn in television income and the ‘holy grail’ of top flight riches, very few budding football club owners would have expected to make any money from the deal. Certainly not compared to what they could earn from investing their millions elsewhere. So rather than being a genuine investment or business proposition, it was simply the opportunity to own a club.
Or perhaps – and slightly closer to home – an opportunity to save a club?
Either way, it’s a case of the heart ruling the head, which tended to make it the sole reserve of those who had a genuine and heartfelt attachment to a club, such as local business people and wealthy fans.
As an aside, I still remember the speculation that Hugh Jackman may plough his Hollywood dollars into our club when he suggested he was a Norwich fan.
Wolverine in the board room. Imagine that.
Noel Gallagher, the musician and lifelong Manchester City fan was asked whether he would ever consider investing his personal wealth into his team and flatly refused, suggesting that buying into a football club would “be like putting the money into a massive bucket and pouring it down a drain.”
(He also has an unnecessary pop at Norwich for good measure)
However times have changed. The growth in the global appeal of the Premier League has attracted staggering increases in media revenue and foreign investment on a scale not seen before.
In 2009, Sheikh Mansour bought the Manchester City Football Group for a reported figure of £265million. Approximately a year ago, he sold 13 per cent for the same price.
Noel Gallagher is a genuine fan with the memories of watching his team from the Kippax as a kid. Would Man City fans prefer to see ‘one of their own’ at the club rather than foreign investment?
I’m not so sure, but the fact that his estimated net worth of £50million is ‘only’ enough to buy 2.5 per cent makes the question a bit redundant anyway.
The fear for Man City fans is perhaps what happens when or if the current owners decide to take their money elsewhere. Will they do what’s best for the club’s long-term interests or cash in to the first bidder?
Does it even matter?
I’d suggest that what fans really want is for someone to run their club properly.
By that I mean with a level of financial management and strategic planning that brings a level of success on the pitch and a sustainable future off it (easy right?)
But just like the players who pull on the shirt, I don’t really care where they come from or whether they’re a fan like me or not.
Sure it’s nice if they genuinely care for the club as we all do, but I just want them to do a good job – whether that’s out on the pitch or in the board room.
Steve posts on Twitter @StevoCook
Buying a football club defies all business acumen?! Delia, if she was to sell, would stand to make tens of millions of pounds. It’s the very epitome of big business. You buy a club and if you get it to the prem it has instant cash flow coursing through its veins. For the record, Delia can only be considered a fan of she sells. This bureaucracy is not healthy for anyone and not that act of a fan.
“1 Jeff – I take it you meant to say that Delia can only be considered a fan IF she sells. Well she´s already told us that she will, and to whom, so there´s your answer, and imo she´s the epitome of a true fan whether she sells or not.
Stewart Lewis says
Jeff (1): Delia has never looked to ‘cash in’, any more than she’s asked for a return of her loans to the club (which the club has now done, long after paying back other creditors).
For better or worse, she and Michael have always put what they see as the best for the club ahead of their own wealth.
More generally, Steve highlights a potential tension for owners like Delia & Michael between their emotional involvement and professional management of the club. I think that dilemma came home to them in 2008-09 – at which point they hired McNally with a brief to professionalise the club, even if it meant going against some of their sentimental inclinations and loyalties.
Stewart Lewis says
PS Steve: I’m not sure your line “for every Leicester, there’s a Portsmouth” is quite right.
For every Leicester, as I see it, there are SEVERAL Portsmouths.
I know debates about Delia crop up fairly regularly. For my part I’m a huge fan and I think everything has been done with the very best intentions for the club above all else. Sure, the money will come to them afterwards but they have convinced me entirely that the long term future of the club is everything. That matters to them and it certainly matters to me. Any number of clubs have had investors who put money first and the club second, most all of them are in a much worse position than us. OTBC and thank you to Delia and Michael from me at least.
Keith B says
It really does matter that owners are very much fans of the club.
They may not always run it brilliantly – nor do third party billionaires necessarily – but once it’s out of the hands of genuine fans the chances are you’ll never get it back until the club hits rock bottom, like Portsmouth for example.
By the nature of the game the majority of clubs fail each year whoever owns them i.e. don’t win a league or cup, or get promoted, or even manage stay in their current division, which might be their more modest aim.
At least these days you can go to the AGM and ask your questions Steve, if you wish. If an outsider buys the club they will buy every share, including yours (once they hold over a certain level they can enforce that whether you like it or not).
Rock bottom is rapidly approaching gain. Smith took us there once before until,McNally baled her out. I guess some people just like to lose Every week. The club is a mess from top to bottom. Incompetent at every level. Never mind though, she’s got a nice yellow,scarf on.
I have no problem with our owners being fans. My problem with them is their total lack of football knowledge and amateur approach. AN is so out of his depth it is painful to watch but they let him blunder on, making the same mistakes week after week and wasting our best shot at promotion. Their sentiment is costing us big time. Would I like them to sell to some Chinese billionaire and become a super team? Of course. It is infinitely preferable to going down the Smiths Little Norwich route and becoming Ipswich mark 2.
A measure of how far our club has regressed in the last two seasons- Wilbraham looks a player who would be an asset in our team. When he was 3 years younger he couldn’t get near our first eleven.
Apart from Jacob Murphy I can’t think of a single player who has improved under AN. We, the fans, can’t let this continue.The Board apparently will……..
Cyprus Canary says
The very crux of this debate is that you feel that it is necessary to have it. If the true fans of the club felt that the future was in good order, both immediate and long term, we would not be having this conversation. The long-term future, in terms of survival as an entity, is secure but short term there is a decision to be made which, in my opinion, has been required since January and which is being avoided in the hope that all will come good in the end. The end of automatic promotion hopes is already upon us and without action the end of the playoff hopes will follow.
Dave B says
The most fundamental criteria for ANY owner of ANY business is that they are able to run it successfully. How you define success is open to debate, of course.
An owner being a product evangelist in no way ensures a company’s success. Many business whose owners founded the company go broke every day.
In an ideal world a successful owner who believes in their product is ideal.
Personally, to me I don’t count the Smiths as successful owners. We almost went bankrupt once. We’re set to go back into debt. We have squandered all opportunities to grow. We have grown into a bloated team with players deprecating in value. We have no consequences for failure. And worst of all, the product on display has been abysmal for most of the last four years.
The best move the Smiths could make would be moving into a ceremonial position and leaving the business well alone.
In less than eighteen months time, we shall lose the premier league payments. Given the fact that Delia smith is the poorest owner currently in charge of a championship club and she is not going to put money in her stance towards never listening to offers or enquiries effectively means that Norwich city will have one hand tied behind their backs when competing against 23 of their peers. Given the pigs ear the club is currently making of the season with the benefit of delias hated premier league filthy lucre, that thought alone should terrify city supporters. Ask yourselves, why on earth would a so called supporter of the club chose to put it at such a crippling competitive disadvantage against all comers? What’s the story here? What are we hoping for the clubs future? Do we care? Hello?