Our ‘One from the Archives’ series has already had one pearler from the boss, penned in the aftermath of that infamous 7-1 defeat to Colchester. Here’s another of Rick’s, one that was also penned in the aftermath of something infamous, namely Delia’s interview with Henry Winter in 2016.
At the time, City were 16th in the Championship. It touches on a theme that remains very much part of the conversation.
As Delia Smith’s 20-year stewardship of the Canaries came back under the spotlight, this made for a timely read.
It’s Daniel Taylor’s piece on how Southampton dodged a bullet when the men from SISI came a-calling – a bullet that, instead, has ripped a huge hole through the heart of Coventry City Football Club.
It is worth a read if only for the genius line about the club’s over-weight mascot. Or at least in the eyes of its new foreign owners.
Until someone pointed out that the club’s mascot was, actually, an elephant.
The point of the piece is how lucky Southampton were to dodge said bullet; given that they are now a model club when it comes to punching above your provincial weight.
As, of course, are Leicester City.
The reigning Premiership champions have shattered the notion that clubs of a certain provincial ilk can’t attract foreign investors.
And that those same, foreign investors can’t then make the kind of judicious investment and appointments that yield a Premier League crown and a place in the Champions League.
Albeit all at the expense of the Financial Fair Play League; whose rules are there to be broken in this day and age.
So it is do-able.
Southampton might not have hit Leicester’s heights. But in the Liebherr family – first the father and now, on his death in 2010, the daughter Katharina – Saints found a foreign investor willing to not only take a punt, but equally happy enough to take a back seat.
And not complain about the size of the club mascot. Or the colour of the club’s home shirt.
They got ‘lucky’.
Whether they will get lucky for a second time with talk brewing of a £200m plus sale to a Chinese sports investment house is another matter. But, right now, that’s probably a nice worry to have. [Said takeover did go through and Saints are now owned by one Gao Jisheng – Ed].
Compared to the worries that beset fans of, say, Coventry, Portsmouth, Blackburn and Bolton. Who have all been used and abused by their foreign owners; their Premier League hey-days now a distant memory.
That there is this huge, fine line between test case and basket case; between getting it very right and very, very wrong – with repercussions for the powerless supporters that could last for generations.
So, as ever when people begin to question the ambition of the Smith ‘dynasty’ now that nephew Tom is on the Board, there is a case of be careful what you wish for.
Norwich could just as easily be a Coventry, as it could be a Southampton.
And here is the ‘but’ that the Southampton tale adds to the pot.
The Southampton and the Leicester stories have one thing in common – astute and ambitious managerial appointments by back seat owners that duly took both clubs into the higher reaches of the top flight.
It wasn’t just their money talking. It was using that money smartly when it came to managerial appointments.
They found the men to match and deliver their ambitions. And they found those men abroad. Who duly instituted a pressing playing style and squad fit for Premiership purpose. See Liverpool.
And that’s maybe the crossroads the club finds itself on.
My impression is that the ‘succession’ is done. The club is in Tom’s hands now.
And the Lady – judging by The Times interview with Henry Winter – is not for turning.
The fact of the matter is the whole ambition/ownership issues only raise their heads when Norwich are heading south; not north.
For as long as City are 16th and below in the Football League ladder, then it continues to bedevil conversations; with no easy answers. Not when the baton has so clearly passed.
The ‘trick’ is to get beyond 16th through managerial strength and acumen as opposed to flexing financial muscles you haven’t got. O if you have, so has everyone else.
And this is the challenge for Alex Neil. In that play-off season, he proved a very good Championship manager when asked to manage Championship players.
Now he has to prove that he is a very good Premier League manager when managing Premier League players – in the Championship.
That’s a big ask. Of anyone. Let alone of someone still cutting their teeth in the management game.
He is no Rafa Benitez. Or Claudio Ranieri.
Wherein lies a world of difference. As Tom Smith is fast discovering.
As it transpired, Alex Neil proved himself unable to sufficiently motivate said squad of ex-Premier League players and, in the following March, was replaced by Alan Irving until the end of that season, The rest is history.
Don Harold says
And so the debate continues.
It may be that when football makes its behind closed doors comeback, the economy will be slower to get going. If this is the case. a lot of clubs with hitherto rich owners will find that their owners are far less rich. Are these owners going to concentrate their attention on a football club that they can’t even go to watch or on their core business interests which made them rich in the first place?
I have no answers but I think it’s possible that a few clubs will be looking towards self-sustainability, in which case we will be a few years ahead of them.
martin penney says
Good thoughts Don.
Re the “Times interview” I read it in print at the time – a mate put a copy through my door with loads of his markerpen comments on an additional piece of plain A4. It was quite funny actually.
I tried to revisit the article this morning before said Times told me it was a subscription only read and I should, erm, subscribe or bog off. I bogged off.
Your point about investors concentrating on their core interests is an excellent one and in several cases I would imagine that will come to pass.
Tim Ball says
Rick certainly hit the nail on the head when he said ” They found those men abroad” as was to prove incredibly prophetic as regards one Mr Daniel Farke.
We have had countless debates on here and in other areas on Delia & Michael’s contribution to the club and their future. For my part they have done some fantastic things for the club and some definitely not so fantastic !!! For my part more of the former than the latter, but I know many on here will disagree with that opinion. And that’s what debate is all about.
However they have until recently always had the clubs interests at heart. I feel that the said interview with Henry Winter showed they will find it difficult or one might say impossible to give the club up. Perhaps like a parent unwilling to let a child go, is how I see it.
Now there is a different football landscape coming, and it could be a revolution.
We may not have full grounds until 2021-22 season at the earliest, and while I feel finishing this season is almost impossible, playing behind closed doors ( or very, very few spectators) could happen for the 2020-21 season as long as the NHS is not overwhelmed and a far brighter person than me can then work out how.
Many clubs may now have to follow our way, of producing your own talent and not relying on the transfer market.
Players will have to change their wage demands, even at the lower level. Reading spending 150% of their income on wages must become a thing of the past. Some lower leagues may become regional and the players part-time.
And so it becomes less over what Delia does next and more about what football does next.
Dan Rear says
I fully agree Tim, the world’s gonna be a very different place when this all ends, or starts to end anyway. And if footballers at all levels have to take a 60-70% pay cut, then so be it.
Dave B 2 says
A few months ago I had a discussion in the Guardian comment section with ‘Toongull’ as to what was the problem with Newcastle, here’s his response, and if they ever do get rid of Ashley, they have the Saudi’s lined up for a takeover. If they ever came to Norwich I would stop supporting my team. Why am I posting this ?, well, things could be worse, much worse
Here it is:
Ashley has hoiked out the innards of this club, and left a shell. There is no joy in the club, no ambition other than to live down in the murky depths of the Premier League, feeding on debris and hoping each season to JUST do enough to stay above that dotted line. The club had been relegated 4 times in 110 years before Ashley took over.
Since 2007, he managed that twice more, whilst presiding over a club whose stated ambition in the cups has been a brazenly public ‘Lets Not Bother”.
“lets not Bother” seeps like pus from every part of the club under Ashley. Lets not bother challenging higher up the table, lets not bother trying to keep key players , lets not bother trying to buy players over a certain age, lets just not bother being a football club at all.
Im 56, have supported them since my first visit to St James park in 1969 (and probably before)…. and yet I’ve never felt so alienated and numbed by it all – we’ve been worse, 1980-81 for instance, mid table Div 2, with top league scorer Bobby Shinton on 7 (seven) goals and the team creeping above the 30 goals for the season mark on the very last day.
But this is now a Zombie club. Ashley has been taking the P for over ten years now. its not Bruce’s fault, its not the players fault. The sooner Ashley sells up and goes the better.
(Here endeth what became a Rant!)
Former away-season-ticket holder says
Especially for Martin Penney. I offer no comment on ‘But what if Norwich were promoted with an all-foreign side? “I genuinely don’t think the supporters would like that at all,” replies Michael.’
On the occasion of their 20th anniversary of joining Norwich City’s board, Delia Smith and Michael Wynn Jones have voiced their fears for the future of the game they love and want the government to intervene in the running of English football. They believe that supporters are being betrayed, that the Premier League has warped priorities and that the FA badly let down their friend Roy Hodgson during his time as England manager.
Their focus is mainly on events at Carrow Road. They revel in going to matches, chatting to fans and guests, and backing their manager, Alex Neil, “absolutely 100 per cent”, according to Michael. The husband-and-wife team will “never” sell their majority shareholding, which will pass to their nephew, Tom Smith, a director. “Tom will be the recipient of our shares,” Delia says.
They care passionately about Norwich, and also the game in general, which is why they want to speak out. Sitting in the conservatory of their home, they note that since the founding of the Premier League in 1992, a culture of greed has increasingly enveloped the national game.
Delia and Michael rue the sight of so many clubs falling into uncaring hands. They admire owners such as Steve Gibson at Middlesbrough and Peter Coates at Stoke City. “Both wonderful guys,” Delia says. “But it’s devastating what’s happening to some clubs. The big example would be Portsmouth [who went into administration in 2010 and were subsequently relegated three times]. That was
toxic what happened.”
Michael nods. “Football ownership has gone to Wall Street, Dubai or Hong Kong,” he says. “It’s appalling. Where will it end? Now it’s filtering down into the Championship with Wolves [who were taken over by a Chinese investment company in the summer].”
Delia continues: “Football in England is not looked after. You could put all the problems back to the creation of the Premier League. There’s all that Premier League money washing into people’s pockets and going back out to Europe, not into here because we’re buying foreign players.” Michael agrees. “Sky and the Bosman ruling, the two combined, and it’s an inevitable disaster looming. Are
Sky guaranteed to keep this [investment] up forever?”
The game is losing its soul. “I fear that,” Delia says. “I really do feel for supporters. They’re treated so badly. They book their hotel rooms and get cheap prices for their travel tickets in advance. Bang. Oh, that game’s not on that day any more. The average age of a supporter goes up and up. Families have to share a season ticket: one child can go one week, and another the next because they can’t afford it. I’d love to see supporters worshipped and respected because otherwise it’s going to end up on television.”
She once riled the chief executive of the Premier League, Richard Scudamore, by suggesting that grounds weren’t full because of ticket costs. “I had a two-page letter from Scudamore: ‘Sorry Delia but seats are up.’ Michael helped me write a letter back. At the time Bolton were in the Premier League and they were [almost] half-empty. Scudamore was there and I went up to him, and said
“I feel the only way now is for the government to step in and say, ‘Unless you get your house in order we will govern it instead of you.’ Just threaten it. Football is so precious. It’s hard to find community in the world but you always find it in football.
“We arrived one day at Barnsley and there was a coachload of [Norwich] 15-year-olds. I went up and said hello. They were full of life, and when they got inside, two of them were carried out because they were swearing or something.
“They were singing, and I could see this is how they’re letting their energy out. They are not on the street doing drugs, getting their thrills. The government don’t understand that football’s the safe drug. If I was in government, which I never will be, I’d say, ‘Right, we’re going to share that money to support all football.’ The government won’t do it because the Premier League is the one thing that’s giving the government brownie points in the world.”
Delia cares. Such ardour underpinned her swaying, “Let’s be ’aving you” rallying cry to Norwich fans at half-time against Manchester City in 2005. One critic demanded she be charged by the FA. “They wanted me to go before a panel,” Delia says with a laugh. “I had letters and letters from supporters all over the country, saying, ‘Wow, if only we had a director like you.’ ” Would she do it again? “Yes.” “Next time don’t wear high heels,” Michael suggests.
Apparently, the going was soft to heavy, so Delia’s heels sank. “Yes. I couldn’t walk very well so everyone thinks I’m an alcoholic. They do.
“I was phone-tapped [hacked] by the News of the World because of that!? They thought, ‘She’s got a drink problem.’ They had a man following me. I hope he enjoyed going to Mass.”
She reacts like a fan. “That’s really, really what I am. A fan.” Michael is too, his affiliation with Norwich stretching back 60 years. “We are stewards of the club, not owners,” he says. “The club belongs to the supporters.”
They consult fans. “We got the designer, Bruce Oldfield, to design the kit one year . It was all yellow. The supporters objected to this. ‘Where’s the green?’ So they had a vote, handing out green and yellow cards at Carrow Road. “Delia sat surrounded by supporters in the Barclay End, the only person holding up yellow. So we changed it.” Delia adds: “I wished we could do more of that. I’d like to
go out on the pitch and say, ‘Shall we sack the manager or not? Hands up!’ You would, wouldn’t you?” “Theoretically, yes,” says Michael.
She’s very conscientious. “I’m a very, very passionate believer in God,” Delia says. “I’m writing a book about belief. I can’t blame atheist scientists dismissing it [religion] because a lot of it needs to be dismissed. I just want people to understand what’s real about it [belief]. I struggle with the writing but I am a communicator.” “You’ve just recently become computer-literate,” Michael says.
“All Delia’s cookery books were written in longhand, and I was the only person who could read the writing so I’d type them.”
They make a good team, having complementary strengths: the editor and publisher with his patience and the famous, passionate cookery writer and broadcaster. “Yes,”
Delia says with a smile. “He never gets a word in. The balance sheet is your problem because I don’t know which way to hold it up. I sit in board meetings and I’ve plenty to say but not when it comes to money. I just switch off. If you do cookery on television and write cookery books which sell, that doesn’t make you a business person.”
For all her protestations about “luck” shaping her career, Delia has always seemed incredibly shrewd, tapping into public aspiration. “I was working in this French restaurant and I saw people struggling with menus.
“I felt after the industrial revolution and two world wars when the handing down of cooking from mother to daughter was interrupted, it was hard for Britain to get to terms with cooking again. In the wars, people didn’t have any food to cook with. There were these awful magazines doing these terrible recipes about baked beans or there was Elizabeth David and Robert Carrier which was beyond most people. Why can’t we just all learn to cook?
“People used to go to cookery school in the evening. So, go out on a cold evening or you actually learn it in your own home by the fire in front of the television? I deserved the success because I put the work into it. The TV sold the books.”
Viewers trusted her. “You’re a perfectionist,” Michael says. “Every recipe that ever went out was tested to destruction. You could see so many basic errors, laziness or sloppiness in existing recipes.”
The recipes, books and television made the pair comfortably well off. “We went down the bottom of the garden one day [20 years ago], to where I work in that little treehouse,” says Delia, pointing to her book-lined haven overlooking a duck pond. “We sat on the balcony and said, ‘What do we want to do with our lives?’
” Michael says: “We went through all the options, like a yacht in the south of France.” Delia: “And then we both said: ‘Well, we’d like our football club to be successful.’ We didn’t want anything else. We watched the whole collapse under [Robert] Chase, all our players going one by one. It was terrible.”
Michael takes up the tale: “Martin Armstrong, the chief executive of the Norwich and Peterborough Building Society [who had joined the emergency board], said to us: ‘If you could put £500,000 up we could offer you a seat on the board.’ At which point Delia said: ‘If we put £1 million up can we have two seats?’ We were firefighting all the way. We would have gone bankrupt.” They bought shares and, in what Michael calls “a somewhat cavalier moment, we agreed to underwrite the share issue, bit naive really” and ended up with a 66 per cent stake.
“We’ve never had any money back from what we put in as shareholders,’’ adds Delia. “What we’ve had to do is to rush to Carrow Road with a cheque at [critical] moments.” Some subsequent loans have been reclaimed, such as one given in 2008 when “the club needed £2 million urgently,’’ says Michael. “We were amazed to get our loan back,” adds Delia. “We didn’t expect to see that again. The majority of Norwich fans appreciate what we’ve done. People come up and say, ‘Thank you.’ But there’s always whingers. They want us out this week! 5-0 [the loss away to Brighton & Hove Albion last weekend] Out!”
They went to the dressing room last Saturday to show Neil their support. “Alex was devastated,” says Michael. “We really believe in him. He can be [intense] but he’s an absolute charmer. He’s really intelligent.” Neil has their backing. “My dream is to have a manager for ten years,” adds Delia. “If we could do that it would be wonderful. If I had my way now I’d give him all the time he needs. I would. But you see in football, now . . . we’re fourth, and they [fans] want us out. And him out. We’re fourth. It’s amazing”
They will never sell. “No,” says Michael. “We can’t on one hand [protest] that football’s being run from Dubai and Wall Street and then give into it.” Delia grins. “The supporters will be very disappointed to hear that. But no way will we sell. We don’t even listen to any enquiries. Our nephew, Tom, is now a board director. He’s 35. He’s a very good board director. He’s a very passionate Norwich City supporter and he will be the recipient of our shares.” “They will go into a trust first,” says Michael. So Tom cannot sell. “He could if the trustees think it’s right and proper. He can’t do it on a whim. He’s been a fan
since he was eight.”
They will help to guide Tom, just as Hodgson helped them while he was Blackburn Rovers manager 19 years ago, as Delia recalls. “I met Roy at a game and he said, ‘What’s it like being a board director?’ I said: ‘My problem is I don’t know anything about football.’ He said: ‘That’s the most refreshing thing I’ve heard a board director say. Come down to Blackburn and we’ll teach you about football.’ They gave me lots of tips like how you need a comfortable area where injured people can relax. I went straight back and organised that. Roy was very kind to us.”
They travelled around France during the European Championship in June and July with Hodgson’s wife, Sheila. “We were very privileged,” says Delia. “We went to see training at Chantilly. God. Those players were absolutely amazing. We saw Gary Neville doing a short pass session, which was absolutely brilliant. The atmosphere was just so lovely in the hotel. Players had their families there. We saw Roy. He said he knew it was going to be tough. [Hodgson said:] ‘I’ll probably get the sack but I really believe in this team. Whoever takes it over now will have the makings of a really, really good team.’ ’’
Delia has no doubt who derailed England’s campaign. “I really think it was Greg Dyke’s fault,” she said of the then FA chairman. Delia, Michael and Sheila were en route to Saint- Étienne for the Slovakia group game when news came through about Dyke’s comments about Hodgson’s future. Hodgson was soon in contact, voicing his disbelief that the FA was effectively judging him game by game.
“Roy’s a really good guy,” says Delia. “I don’t think he was treated very well. It’s all very well saying, ‘You’ve got to be tough’ but people got completely thrown — the coaches and the players. I found it extraordinary. I blame Greg Dyke. All sports people are sensitive when they’re ready to go to a match — and then that hits the airwaves. We believe in Roy.”
She understands the difficulties of the role. “If foreign players were restricted in some way, more English players would get games and then we’d have a better national team. Danny Welbeck was a really good player but he didn’t get in the Manchester United side. So Roy was waiting for Danny but he wasn’t getting any games. How can you be ready for the World Cup then?”
Michael laments: “When you’re fielding a [club] side without a single Englishman, that’s a nonsense.”
But what if Norwich were promoted with an all-foreign side? “I genuinely don’t think the supporters would like that at all,” replies Michael, who takes hope from the academy, which is not cheap to run. “£2-3million [a year, minimum]. The Murphys [identical twins Josh and Jacob] will hopefully now be signing new contracts. The supporters love ‘One of our own’ [the chant]. ” Which is why Carrow Road will today salute Delia and Michael,
two of their own.
martin penney says
Painful reading in many parts but I’m really grateful to you for the chance to recap.
As for your preamble I’d like to think that meant “we’d like to see a few homegrowns in our squad”, but in reality I’m pretty sure it means something different.