At the age of 10, Abraham Lincoln was kicked in the head by a horse. Those who found him thought he was dead; he spent the night unconscious and wasn’t expected to recover.
In 1958 – five years before the “I have a dream” speech – Martin Luther King was stabbed, the knife missing his aorta by less than an inch.
Steve McQueen was due to be at the home of Sharon Tate on the evening of 8 August 1969; he didn’t make it, so avoiding the massacre carried out by the Manson Family cult (he was on their hit-list).
We’re all familiar with other ‘near miss’ incidents. The ones above – at least the first two – are striking and thought-provoking because they had important consequences.
Whether you attribute them to fate, divine intervention or just coincidence, there’s no doubt that narrow margins play quite a part in human affairs. And we’re inclined to read a lot into them.
Where am I going with this? To a couple of thoughts on the ownership of Norwich City.
Of course our Board and owners shouldn’t be closed to outside investment. It’s my understanding that Delia’s Times interview and Michael’s comments at the AGM were borne of frustration at their previous attempts to find investors, and came over as more closed and definitive than they actually are.
Setting that aside, could City’s current ownership structure be viable for now and the future? Does it inevitably doom us, as many claim, to Championship mediocrity or worse? Or could it be the basis of a top-flight club?
Here’s where we return to fine margins. We’re having this conversation about ownership only for one reason: we got relegated last season. If we’d stayed up, it would be a small discussion around the fringes.
How fine were the margins at the end of last season? If we’d beaten Sunderland at Carrow Road on 16th April we’d have moved seven points above them, surely too much for them to recover. The corner count in that game was 14-0 to Norwich, and marginal decisions about penalties went against us.
A week earlier we played at Palace, having won the previous two games. It’s hard to remember now, but Timm Klose was playing outstandingly; at 0-0 he was injured, ending his season and damaging ours.
Bits of luck, or fine margins, with major consequences.
It seems to me that City’s ownership structure doesn’t automatically condemn us to the second tier and mediocrity. It can succeed, at least to the point of getting us into the Premier League and keeping us there.
With one big reservation – it doesn’t give us room for error.
We can’t do a Bournemouth: spending £9m on a player, finding he’s a dud, and promptly spending another £9m to correct it.
As Ed Balls said in an early interview after becoming City chairman, our model is sustainable – but only if we do everything well. In particular, our player recruitment and decisions on the manager (now Head Coach) have to be spot-on.
Which clearly hasn’t been the case over the past year, or for most of the past four years. Hence the restructure announced at the weekend.
Some fans, I know, have dismissed the management restructure as irrelevant; I have to disagree. A lack of football expertise in the Boardroom, and a Chief Executive role that covered everything from operational management to dealing with transfers, were working against our chances of getting key things right.
We needed a different set-up, more appropriate for where we are in 2017 and where we want to be. The step of restructuring marks a renewed professionalism at Board level and I detect the growing influence of Ed Balls (who’s easy to dismiss, but was actually admired on both sides of the House of Commons for his organizational abilities).
Adopting the structure that has served Southampton so well isn’t a bad start.
Other fans have said the revamped structure is all very well, but its success is dependent on putting the right people in those pivotal roles of Sporting Director and Head Coach. And…they’re absolutely right.
To me, there’s reason to say “so far so good” about current changes. However, no-one can properly judge until we have those people in place and they make their mark – probably beginning with the squad changes in the summer.
The recipe for success is largely in our hands. Get it right, then we can hope for the fine margins to be kind.
Sometimes, football gets put into perspective. Encouraged by Mick Dennis, I went to Carrow Park at lunchtime on Saturday to watch the Down’s Syndrome game organized by the Community Sports Foundation.
The players’ commitment to the game, and to each other, was humbling and inspiring. It was brilliant, and brought obvious joy. Huge credit to everyone involved – not least the Barclay and Snake Pit for their half-time reception of the players.