On Tuesday, Martin Penney penned a piece in which he eloquently expressed his fears over the direction in which our football club is heading.
This was followed on Wednesday with Stewart Lewis’ equally erudite take on the club’s direction of travel; both offering reasoned and logical arguments, but at opposing ends of the positivity spectrum.
One of the comments that followed Martin’s piece was… “I’d quite like to see you and Stewart exchanging views in full flow.”
We’re not in the business of (deliberately) disappointing our readers and so, with computer keyboards rather than boxing gloves, MFW’s equivalent of Haye v Bellew was arranged (minus the trash talk).
MARTIN: Hi Stewart and nice to read your article yesterday morning.
I thought I’d start by addressing your somewhat tongue-in-cheek bullet-point list.
– ‘Not signing defenders’: Well we got Mitchell Dijks, who looks excellent. He’s on loan; he won’t stay. I don’t blame him.
– ‘Not signing attackers’: Not a big problem to me. Cameron and Nelson are effective enough at this level. But why loan out Carlton Morris and who is Kyle Lafferty?
– ‘Missing chances’: Yep, CJ is guilty as charged, but he works his nuts off for the team. Pity a few more don’t.
– ‘Poor defending’: Where in the hemisphere do I start? It’s been rubbish for two years and no-one can “defend” the accusation. It is truly poor.
– ‘Failures of selection’: Every time Bassong, Naismith, Whittaker, Mulumbu, Dorrans or a mistreated Bennett are on the team sheet we’re asking for it. And generally get it.
– ‘Failure to change games’: Oh please. It’s always too late and always like-for-like.
– ‘Losing in November’: Not the only month I’m afraid.
– ‘Losing to Rotherham and Burton’: I’m no footballing snob but you would expect better against genuine minnows.
– ‘Playing one up front’: If AN thinks his midfield is that good, fair play to him. Trouble is, the midfield isn’t that good.
– ‘Not sacking Alex Neil in November/last summer/after Wembley’: He will not be sacked. Delia has told us so.
– ‘The arrival of Jez Moxey’: Boo…
– ‘The departure of Jez Moxey’: Hooray…
– ‘Russell Martin/Timm Klose/Steven Whittaker’: I find this point awkward. Russell is a great guy and has been a fantastic asset to and ambassador for the club but whether he is a centre half or not is a different question. I like Timm Klose. Poor old Whittaker is so vilified by some of our supporters I’m surprised he turns up to training. I really don’t like to criticise players who are committed like the trio you mention.
– ‘Signing Pritchard; Ed Balls doing Strictly’: Pritchard? We didn’t really need him in my opinion. That money could have been invested in a centre half or two, who we clearly do need. Balls dancing? It was up to him – nobody made him do it. Trouble is, it adds to the image of “Delia and her cosy crew”. It’s not gone down too well with us pie-eating Viking types.
STEWART: I’m not saying some of the criticisms aren’t valid – far from it. Lack of signings in central defence, for instance, seems to me an obvious and glaring one.
I would argue that the post mortem can wait. If we’re to challenge for the play-offs from here, no-one can deny that both our away form and our record against the top clubs have to improve. I wouldn’t argue for the possibility if we lacked the quality to do it. But we do have that quality and capability. We murdered Derby who were the form team and only a whisker outside the top six. And don’t forget we led Newcastle going into the final minutes of both games.
I’ve read that we don’t deserve to be in the play-offs having lost to Rotherham and Burton. That seems to me a touch illogical. The teams who deserve to be in the play-offs are the teams who get enough points to be there. If that’s Norwich – a big ‘if’, I agree – we’ll deserve it. Unless we’re going to argue that Newcastle shouldn’t go up after losing twice to Blackburn….
MARTIN: Stewart, you consistently defend the structure of the club, from top to bottom. Much of the debate on other message boards is firmly directed at the Smith family, often because of their religion, their politics and their determination to only run NCFC within their own self-seeking parameters. Their Roman Catholicism and Socialism is being perceived by some as limiting NCFC in terms of recruitment. What say you?
STEWART: It’s easy to imagine a perfect structure and way of running our club. Not so easy in practice.
I won’t labour the point of Delia and Michael saving the club – except that it characterises their commitment. I can’t and won’t defend all their decisions (neither would they), but I will push back on the suggestion of their being ‘self-seeking’. Self-seeking owners do things like trying to change the club colours or name; they charge for their services to the club; and they lose interest when things aren’t going well. They certainly don’t attend Under-23 games.
External investment can work, of course. The one I can think of that’s comparable to Norwich is Southampton, when in 2009 after the club’s administration (a shameful betrayal of local suppliers that Delia & Michael would never allow) it was taken over by Markus Liebherr and now run by Katharina. I don’t think anyone at Southampton questions her religion or politics.
But there are many, many on the other side. Truly, we need to be careful what we wish for.
MARTIN: There is no perfect way to run a football club. If there were, everybody would be in the Champions’ League year in, year out.
However, Delia and Michael nearly had it all. We loved them. Come on, we did at the beginning. I know I did. Then they grew older, attracted ineffective acolytes, lost their focus and became less loved. Then they decided they wouldn’t talk to the Plebs any more. And continued to be loved only by the strictest of loyalists.
Self-seeking is harsh I agree. I only mean that in the social upmanship sense anyway. But just like King Charles I, they have outstayed their welcome with the populace. I also am careful what I wish for and it isn’t a Cromwellian takeover.
STEWART: Some of the criticism of Delia and Michael is utterly – sometimes scandalously – unfair. However, it’s perfectly legitimate to scrutinise their judgement and ask whether they’re past their sell-by date.
They are Othello rather than Richard III – their fault is caring too much about the club, rather than too little. They’re prone to sentimental judgements about NCFC and its people (eg appointing Bryan Gunn). To counteract that, they hired David McNally to make harder-nosed decisions – which he did, to the huge benefit of the club.
With McNally no longer in the picture, the question is whether Delia and Michael are sustaining that professionalism or reverting to bad habits. I’m not equipped to answer that question, but I can say this. If Tom Smith takes an increasing role at NCFC, I hope people will take a proper look at him before leaping to judgement. He’s an impressive guy, and anyone who meets him will see that his appointment is far more than nepotism.
MARTIN: Delia and Michael lay themselves open to criticism through their apparent lack of desire to communicate with the wider NCFC world – to me, their sell-by date has expired and that says it all, while they say nothing. They simply don’t have the clout or will to succeed in the modern football environment.
You are quite right: they do care about the Club and don’t deserve some of the more extreme barbs aimed at them but they are very prone to sentiment. I agree with your take on David McNally, who I met a few times and was largely impressed by.
Tom Smith is the unknown quantity. Hamlet, if you like. With no Horatio on hand. Our MFW friend Jeff suggested I had softened an article by saying Tom should be given a chance. Jeff is more or less psychic, but I genuinely believe Tom Smith should be given that chance. What particularly impressed you about him?
STEWART: I’m not sure Delia and Michael have hidden – they’re certainly visible and accessible at away games – but I take the point about lack of communication. And ‘clout’, sadly. They have so much that’s right and valuable for our club; I just wish they had more money.
Some fans seem to believe that investors are queuing up at City’s door, only to be rebuffed by an intransigent Delia. I believe that’s far from the truth.
The most impressive people I’ve come across in business life aren’t the showy and bombastic ones, but those who do thorough homework and go about things with clear thinking, modesty and a genuine desire to listen. Tom – in contrast to Jez Moxey – struck me as having all those qualities.
MARTIN: That’s an interesting comparison with the business world, and one I can certainly relate to. Due diligence is an area we have perhaps been lacking in when it comes to appointments both on and off the pitch for some considerable time, so if Tom Smith contributes to this process positively all well and good.
However, the letters that run through the Board’s stick of rock spell: “Football knowledge: poor”. I feel Tom is going to need help to give himself a chance, as it were. You say he has a genuine desire to listen – a worthy attribute and let’s hope he listens to the right people, who are hard to find.
As for outside investment, I only know what I have read in The Times. That interview filled me full of horror, bluntly, and to claim a “misquote” or an “out of context” cuts no ice with me at all.
STEWART: Some fair points there. As I say: having painfully introduced professionalism to the running of the club, Delia and Michael mustn’t let it slip back now.
I’m inclined to cut Delia some slack over the clumsy Times interview, only because it’s so out of keeping with what we’ve all heard her say before. I can hear their frustration at the failure of attempts to attract investment (other than the poisonous Cullum offer) and/or share the load.
This conversation has brought something else into sharp focus for me. A few of the things we debate are matters of fact, provable one way or the other. But most are opinions – passionately felt and argued, but still just opinions. It’s a great thing about this site that we debate and argue, but we don’t forget our opinions stem from a shared passion: our love for this strange and wonderful football club.
MARTIN: Stewart, your point about Delia and Michael not allowing us to slip back is the crucial one. I feel that we are in danger of doing just that – this close season will be absolutely vital to the future of NCFC without a doubt. I really feel this campaign has been one of missed opportunity. Are Derby, Reading, Fulham, Huddersfield, Leeds and Wednesday really better than a focused Norwich? I don’t think so; the table tells us otherwise.
I agree that in hindsight the Cullum offer reeked and without wishing to appear hypocritical I am glad it was rejected. The jury must remain out on The Times farago. I wasn’t present, so cannot judge the tone of it. In the starkness of print however, it looked awful.
Of course most of our discussions are opinion-based; that is how it has to be. But as Stewart says, everything is derived from a shared passion. Sometimes I wish our beloved club was a little less strange and a little more wonderful, but that’s the way of the world.
Cheers to the guys for a clean fight; a few blows landed on either side and all above the belt. Respect.
Of course, as both alluded to, we ultimately all want the same thing: to see Norwich City Football Club thrive both on and off the pitch. Where we differ is in our views on how that can be achieved.
It’s a debate that shows no immediate signs of abating and will probably give The Mousetrap a run for its money.
“On The Ball City…”