Here are some comments from Twitter. All very recent. All genuine. All entirely predictable.
“As things stand, our beloved old club is not rich enough to succeed in the modern game.”
“It’s the owners’ fault. You could stick any manager in, and we would still be getting the same issues time and time again: lack of investment.”
“This is such basic economics: invest in immediate improvement and there is a very clear path to recover those costs and much more.”
“To those who say, ‘go and find a buyer then’, I say: unless owners actively look to sell the club then nobody will appear.”
“We can protest and push Delia to put the club up for sale.”
“What do you expect when you are shopping at the bargain bucket every transfer window. You have to put your hand in your pocket as an owner these days. It’s modern football.”
“It’s surely right to point to our overall current position as an owner/insufficient investment problem.”
“Who has been the constant during the years of apathy?”
“No ambition from the owners, again.”
“At what point does our placid fanbase say ‘Enough is enough’, and protest?”
Obviously I tidied up the spelling and punctuation. Oh, and I changed “owner” to “owners” and “Marcus Evans” to “Delia”, because those are all comments by fans of the Suffolk club who fell out of the League One play-off positions at the weekend.
Marcus Evans is worth about £800 million. When he took over at Ipswich, in December 2007, the club’s indebtedness was £32m. Ipswich had overspent in the Premier League and, when relegated went skint – because they couldn’t sell four big earners: Hermann Hreidarrson, Matt Holland, Finidi George and Martijn Reuser.
The club’s debt is now £96.3m. Or, to put it another way, Evans has put in almost £100m over 13 years.
All of the money is owed to Evans. He has not converted any of it into equity. Instead the growing debt is treated as a loan by Evans, on which he charges the club 5.4% interest.
The point is a simple but undeniable one: having a rich owner, prepared to “invest” is no guarantee of success. Because, when you think about it, pretty much every club in the top four divisions is owned by one or more wealthy individuals, and they can’t all be successful. In fact, season after season, most of them must fail.
For instance: the teams fighting with Norwich at the wrong end of the Premier League table all have multi-millionaire or billionaire owners: Brighton, Bournemouth, Aston Villa, Watford and West Ham.
Many Norwich fans ignore the example of the strugglers and point instead at the good results achieved this season by Sheffield United. There’s always someone to point to, for a season or two.
Yet look over a longer time-scale and it becomes clear that no club outside the top six or so can think of themselves as established in the Premier League, no matter how loaded the owners.
The proof is provided by a “rich list” of owners outside the Premier League. The top of that list is:
1) QPR: Tony Fernandes, Lakshmi Mittal (combined worth £11bn)
2) Stoke City: Coates family (£6.9bn)
3) Barnsley: Chien Lee (£6.9bn)
4) Fulham: Shahid Khan (£5.3bn)
5) West Brom: Guochuan Lai (£2.8bn)
So four of the five richest owners outside the Premier League have seen their clubs relegated since they took bought them.
Even if having a wealthy owner were a guarantee of success for a football club — it can’t be, as I’ve shown — there are two more good reasons for not throwing money at a football team.
The first is that it often makes you skint. In the Premier League era there have been 56 instances of English football clubs becoming insolvent and entering administration and/or a company voluntary arrangement.
On 31 occasions, the insolvency led to points deductions — and always the clubs end up paying only a fraction of the money they owe to local firms and organisations such as the St John Ambulance.
There are well-known examples of clubs enjoying success after periods in administration — either as a new club or as the original club with new owners. Crystal Palace are currently sustaining a long period in the Premier League despite twice going into administration (in 1988 and 2010) for instance.
But, equally, there are examples of clubs being so damaged by insolvency that they do not fully recover. Portsmouth and Wimbledon provide stark examples.
Portsmouth went into administration twice in three seasons as one rich owner decided to stop spending so much of his wealth on his hobby.
Wimbledon’s period of administration followed their controversial move to Milton Keynes and they emerged from admin as MK Dons, by which time fans of Wimbledon had started their own club from scratch: much like Stockport fans did inn 2014 and Bury supporters are trying to do at the moment.
The second reason why it is dangerous to throw money at a football team is that, after years during which rules about “financial fair play” have been widely ignored, there now appears to be a real appetite to take the issue seriously and to stop what has been described as “financial doping”.
When QPR were fined £42m for overspending, it was a classic case of a gamble failing. They squandered money in the Championship, thinking that they would get promotion, stay in the Premier League and never be punished by the Football League. But they were relegated and the fine that was waiting for them forced them to rethink their entire player-recruitment policy and has left them struggling to make an impact in the Championship.
Currently Derby County, Sheffield Wednesday and Reading are being investigated for selling their grounds for allegedly inflated amounts to companies associated with their owners.
In Rugby Union, Saracens have been docked 70 points, relegated, and told they cannot display trophies they won while fraudulently ignoring a wages cap. Their owner, Nigel Wray (whom I know) has had all his spending on the club exposed as cheating. He has been broken by the affair.
So we Norwich City fans should ask ourselves whether it is morally and ethically correct to flout rules about profits and sustainability — and also whether it is worth the risk of overspending only to have sanctions waiting for you if you are relegated.
So, to recap: having a mega-rich owner doesn’t guarantee success. Lots of rich owners fail every season. Over-spending carries a real risk of insolvency and “financial doping” now brings the likelihood of tough sanctions.
There has to be another, better way. And that is what Norwich are trying to establish.