To be the majority shareholders of a football club can be a tough gig at times, even more so if as well as wielding the power you’re fans of that same football club.
When defeats and bad runs come along not only are you feeling the pain of a supporter, you’re also bracing yourself for those same old questions being asked – that’s how it tends to work.
While the sailing is plain any questions and concerns are suppressed but when the waters get choppy, depending on the height of the waves, they are unleashed. And the big question for our own majority shareholders is obviously around their ambitions for the club and their apparent reluctance to invite anyone in with deeper pockets.
It comes up constantly and is a question that’s never going to go away until (or if), for better or worse, the self-funding model is declared no longer fit for purpose.
What isn’t clear to me however is what the majority of fans feel. There are vocal groups of ‘loyalists’ who support Delia and Michael’s take on the club remaining very much part of the community and being self-financing, and other equally vocal elements who crave change and an influx of cash. In a flawed attempt to gauge opinion I foolishly attempted a Twitter poll. The upshot was thus:
Serious question… if it was purely an A or B choice (which it isn't) what type of #ncfc would you prefer?
— MyFootballWriter (@NorwichCityMFW) November 2, 2017
In the world of Nigel Farage and Theresa May those 54% may represent the ‘will of the Yellow Army’ but to normal people the key figure here is 235 votes. It was a plan. It failed. And I’m no further forward.
Fellow columnist, Stewart Lewis, in his fine Canary Call piece yesterday touched on the thorny issue of external investment and picked up on something said by Ed Balls in the post-accounts round of interviews, where he alluded to the fact that Delia and Michael are open to outside investment but aren’t actively seeking it.
Stew’s take on it was that he’d prefer the club to sound more proactive and welcoming. I agree. But I’d take it a step further and ask if their raison d’etre is to protect the long-term future of this club then why aren’t they actively seeking ways and means by which its future progress can be enhanced?
I love that this club is at the heart of its community and how through the work of the CSF, and the club itself, Norwich City FC extends far beyond the reaches of your average professional football club. That’s something to be extremely proud of – and we are – but the idea that this all goes to rat ‘do do’ just because someone, or something, with deeper pockets takes a controlling stake in our club is, in my eyes, wrong.
I respect that Delia wishes to retain an element of control – it’s a right that her and Michael have earned – and that she sees Tom as the heir apparent to her financial interests in the club, but their clear reticence to invite in any form of external investment seems underpinned by a desire to retain this community ethos – as if the two are mutually exclusive. They’re not.
It’s an argument my dad and I have had on numerous occasions. He too loves that the club seeps into all the hard to reach crevices of Norfolk and North Suffolk but struggles with how this would fit in with a club that has been buoyed by what he would deem filthy lucre. Again, I disagree.
What I want is for Norwich City FC to be the best it can possibly be; to strain every sinew and explore every avenue in search of footballing glory. I accept that’s something that could – and probably is – said by every fan of every club but right now it feels like for us there are one or two avenues that are being completely ignored.
I also accept that for every example of a successful benefactor or external investment there are two or three horror stories but still that shouldn’t preclude us being out there exploring the possibilities. I also accept there isn’t a queue of billionaires forming, all fighting and jostling for a stake in Norwich City, but still this is not a reason to offer the prospect the palm of the hand.
The end of the parachute payments in May next year won’t see our world cave in. Plans and processes are already being pulled together to cope with that particular well drying up but Carrow Road and Colney will have a very different look and feel once those plans are implemented.
There will likely be no James Maddison, Alex Pritchard or Tom Trybull. Josh Murphy too will probably be sold. We’ll be left with a shell of a squad; one bolstered by some of our talented young crop of youngsters. And that’s fine – that doesn’t mean we can’t still be competitive in this division – but it does mean the financial advantages of the Premier League years will have been blown. Back to square one. And there’s no way a squad shorn of its individual talent will be as good as one with it.
That’s not to say the Premier League money was wasted, aside from those few dodgy and costly appointments. The theory that entry to the EPL cures all financial ills is a flawed one. It just means you have more money to spend to try and survive there, usually to no avail. The money is soaked up like a giant sponge as, predominantly, players’ wages ensure that cash is haemorrhaged at the rate of Vegas slot machines.
There are of course a few good examples of how to do it – Stoke, Southampton, West Brom and Swansea being those most akin to ourselves – but there are naturally more examples of it not working because three teams have to be relegated. Yet all of the above already had significant financial backing or have gone down that route since making it to the big time. Standing still isn’t an option and while the self-funding model appears very worthy I’m unsure of its sustainability, certainly if there is a continued desire to move in an upward direction.
Steve Stone and Stuart Webber are both convinced our existing financial model can lead us back to the Promised Land – Stuart having witnessed it almost first-hand at Huddersfield – but there can be little debate over it being a significantly more difficult task when the purse strings are getting increasingly tightened. And few can have enjoyed watching the impact of Wolves’ extra financial muscle 12 days ago; a better example of its impact you’d be unlikely to find.
So, while I love this club for what it it and what it represents – and would do so whatever its form – there is for a me a glass ceiling that needs to be shattered; a brake that needs to be released. It may lead us forward or it may not, but until we at least entertain the prospect we will never know.