As tends to be the case when things go awry in the hallowed halls of Colney and Carrow Road, much of the focus turns to how this club is run and, hand-in-hand with that, how it is funded.
MFW pages aplenty (including yesterday’s) have been filled with the rights and wrongs of the current self-funding model, and its robustness and suitability when City make it into the Premier League. As things stand, even its most vehement supporters may have to question whether City’s version of The Good Life is a worthwhile fit for a club aiming to be one of the country’s top 17.
First things first – and before I get launched upon for being disrespectful to Michael and Delia – I love the fact that both are genuine City fans and were there to help when the club neared its darkest hour. Their help, along with heroics from Gordon Bennett and Geoffrey Watling, ensured that our club survived when all appeared lost.
For that, we will all be forever grateful. Their vital role in the club’s history is set in stone; there for posterity.
(If you feel a but coming… you’re right.)
But let’s not pretend that the ‘self-funding’ model was one that, after being mooted and discussed at length in the City boardroom, was run through a series of focus groups, refined by an expensively acquired bunch of hotshot City of London consultants and then implemented by an equally expensive project management team.
Self-funding for this club is a thing because our owners – both hugely successful people in their own right – are, in elite football terms, paupers. That’s no criticism, just a fact. Therefore there is no alternative.
Well. there is an alternative but that would mean Delia and Michael either selling their shares in the club or inviting in someone (or something) else with the means to be able to provide more financial muscle. And we all know that ain’t happening.
The only plan, as far as I’m aware, is one of succession and involves them, when they feel the time is right, passing the reins (and shares) en masse to nephew, Tom – a very nice chap but who appears to be in no position to bring any additional funding to the party.
So, for all the whining and sniping from folk like me, nothing is about to change in terms of the club’s depth of pocket. For all our hand-wringing, teeth-gnashing and consternating, ours is a football club that has simply no option but to live within its own means. Not a choice it has made. One imposed upon it by the owners’ decision to sit tight.
It feels wrong, of course, to feel irked at such a noble ideal – living within your means should be the bedrock of any individual, family or business or even country – but in the top two divisions of English football, Norwich City are the only club following this particular path. One club in a field of 44.
In an ideal world, football clubs would aspire to only spend the money they have earned. But this is not an ideal world. Far from it.
It’s a world where those with wealth beyond anyone’s wildest dreams are lauded merely for having those bottomless pits of cash; where human rights atrocities (and the execution of journalists) can be met with a shrug if the price is right; where the paupers are mocked and derided for being paupers; where it’s normal, encouraged even, for the big guy to punch down on the little one.
It stinks. Is absolutely rotten. But, as we’ve discovered, to swim against that unstoppable, sh!t-infested tide is futile.
It leaves you with a football club that has all the trimmings – good infrastructure, nice training ground etc – but a playing squad that is, in reality, unfit for purpose. So unfit for purpose, you find yourself as a fan suffering almost weekly bouts of embarrassment and humiliation.
It’s not the losing, we can take the losing. It’s the knowing before a ball has been kicked that so hurts.
The current mitigation comes in the form of a threadbare squad due to illness and injury but, aside from a decent November, we’ve not been properly competitive since that first ball was kicked against Liverpool on 14th August.
It takes an optimist of extraordinary belief to not see seven consecutive defeats at the start of the campaign and five consecutive defeats in December as the product of a team and squad that is just not good enough.
And it’s no coincidence that whenever we breathe in the refined air of the Premier League, we’re never good enough.
The club’s most recent successful attempt at staying in the Premier League – when Chris Hughton’s class on 2012/13 ensured safety with a win over West Brom on the penultimate day of the season – was achieved via the seat of our pants when the playing field was slightly more even than it is today.
As the seasons’ pass, the gap between us and the other 19 ever widens.
We convince ourselves that we’re big spenders and that lessons from previous disasters have been learned, yet nothing changes. And nothing changes because the limitations in our model don’t allow it to. I’d argue, given all the disadvantages and hurdles we face, 19th place in any given season would be an over-achievement.
Quite where that leaves us, I’m not sure. Delia, Michael and Tom are not budging – and fair play, it’s their call – but as things stand, the best we can hope for is an overachievement in the Championship that results in promotion, followed by a season of abject misery in the top flight.
The only way this cycle is broken is if, as seems inevitable, we eventually suffer a Championship season of mid-table mediocrity (or worse) with, as a result, no lucrative one-season stopover in the Premier League to follow. Once the advantages of PL prize money and parachute payments have evaporated, only then will the true meaning of ‘self-funding’ become clear again – as it did in the Webber/Farke first season.
And then, to achieve promotion – as they did in 2018-19 – it requires a punching-above-your-weight of extraordinary proportions.
But, to conclude (and before I get shouted at by people I like), I’m fully aware that even if Delia and Michael did decide to open up to the idea of external investment, there are still no billionaire donors wrapped in Norwich City regalia waiting in the wings. In fact, I suspect there are no investors of any kind who have Norwich City FC at the top of their list of potential investments.
We, it seems, are not an attractive proposition.
As I said four paragraphs ago, quite where that leaves us, I’m really not sure. I have no answer other than to clap… happily.
Oh… and a Happy New Year to you all 🙂