This is not going to make me popular. My tin hat is near and handy. But the news today that Barnsley are now under the ownership of a consortium, which includes a Chinese billionaire, unsurprisingly made the ears prick up.
The circumstances that have led the Yorkshire club to this juncture are clearly very sad indeed – outgoing chairman Patrick Cryne has terminal cancer and recently wrote a letter to the club’s fans to say he was “living on borrowed time” – but however poignant the route, Barnsley now find themselves with some owners with deep pockets.
This doesn’t necessarily mean those deep pockets are going to be utilised immediately. It doesn’t mean cash will be hurled around willy-nilly. And it doesn’t mean they will be looking to play out their ‘It’s just like watching Brazil’ song for real anytime soon. But it does mean there were people out there willing to consider the prospect of investing some cash in a Championship club.
You know where this is going…
The message emanating from the Norwich City corridors of power differs slightly depending on who is delivering it but the upshot is the same: Keep your grubby hands off – this club is not for sale.
Ed (Balls) was willing to accept that if offers were made those with the majority shareholding would at least listen, but equally made it crystal clear that no-one from the club would be pro-actively seeking any external investment.
Delia and Michael however, in the now infamous interview with Henry Winter, were rather less willing to entertain the prospect.
Michael was first up: they will never sell.
Delia compounded this: ‘The supporters will be very disappointed to hear that. But no way will we sell. We don’t even listen to any enquiries.’
There’s little need to try and read between the lines. We get it.
Since that damaging interview various attempts have been made to soften the message but however many times the words are re-arranged into a different order, the conclusion is the same with an added ‘it’s not as if there is a queue of billionaires all jostling for a piece of Norwich City FC’.
Quite why our club is so unattractive to those with said deep pockets has always remained a mystery. Are we not sexy enough? Are we *too* provincial? Do the sums not stack up? Or is it because in footballing circles it’s understood that Norwich City is staying in the family, so there is no point in even enquiring?
When the time comes for Delia and Michael to call it a day, her nephew Tom will be the recipient of their shares. Quite how that fits with the ‘no one shareholder shall hold more than 51% of the shares’ is probably a debate for another day but – and I stand to be corrected – Delia and Michael currently circumnavigate this rule by their c76% shareholding being split between them both.
I’ve briefly met Tom. He seems a very nice chap. He was complimentary about this very website. He’s also not going to be able to do anything creative with his shareholding when the time comes, at least not without a fight. Delia made clear his shares will be governed by a board of trustees, so should (heaven forbid) Tom wish to sell at any stage he will have to get their permission first.
Clearly Delia and Michael have an awful lot of love for this football club and feel very protective of it. We all do. None of us want to see us become another Coventry, Charlton or Blackburn. But equally none of us would object if we took the Bournemouth, Wolves or Leicester route.
We are acutely aware that lots of money does not automatically equate to success and no money does not automatically send you southward but if the choice is retaining or selling your crown jewels, then surely every avenue possible should be explored to help you keep them? Right now there appears an acceptance from the very top that this is our lot. Like it or lump it.
The perceived risk of someone other than themselves being in charge of this football club appears too great to be even worthy of a second thought for Delia and Michael.
Let’s dream for a moment though. If hell did freeze over and they found a worthy, upstanding, Norwich City supporting, English, Norfolk-based billionaire, just imagine the sheer level of due diligence that would be undertaken before any dotted line was signed. We could all rest safe in the knowledge that if it happens the groundwork will be done to death, along with the psychometric testing, the polygraph test and the boardroom initiation.
But that’s all hypothetical of course, which, given the size of the financial black hole we seem to be heading toward, is a shame.
Not a shame because we are yet to find our Mr or Mrs Right – he or she may indeed not be out there. But a shame because even if they are, there’s absolutely zero chance of finding them. And I’m not sure that’s how it should be.