What a day. A car crash of epic proportions – both on and off the pitch.
In a season essentially made up of a collection of dark days, Saturday 23rd April made a compelling case to be the darkest.
It started of course with the oddly-timed Stuart Webber interview with Henry Winter in The Times, in which he explained the reasoning for his part-sabbatical – namely, that he wanted to quit but our owners were so desperate to keep him they granted him time off during this season and next – and also found time to have a sly pop at the fans.
But so keen was Webber to continue the latter theme, he decided to engage some protesters outside Carrow Road after yesterday’s game, which as we know was a horror show in its own right.
It really is a mess… an unholy one that starts at the top and has now filtered down through the club’s various layers. The disconnect was already tangible but Webber’s actions have only served to further divide what was becoming an increasingly fractious relationship.
It’s hard to see how he comes back from this and, quite frankly, I’m not sure he even wants to. He’s alleged to have told the protesters, “I can leave whenever I want“, which offers a fairly clear insight into his current thinking.
But how the hell have we managed to get here? How have we managed to become so reliant on Stuart Webber that he’s able to draft his own set of rules with the owners?
All in all, a right old to-do, and I’m afraid it comes down again to how this club is being governed. While Webber is at the heart of this season’s recruitment failure, it’s still a ridiculously tough gig – to keep this club in the Premier League mainly on fresh air and goodwill is proving, time and time again, impossible.
And so we have to look at how and why we are in this position yet again. While it’s a topic I’ll get told off for revisiting, I’m going to anyway…
I’ll also get mocked online by those who consider the questioning of the club’s ownership to be immature, ill-thought through, overly simplistic and off-limits. In fact, the pre-emptive strikes are already underway, but I’ll plough on regardless.
I’ll plough on because it remains a valid question; one that comes to the fore every time we lose Premier League games in which we’re uncompetitive and second-best by a mile.
Why are our Club’s owners so reluctant to allow someone – or something – into the club to help make it more robust and competitive? Why will they not even contemplate it?
As things stand, we’re marooned in the hinterland betwixt Premier League and Championship – good enough to compete successfully in one while being hopelessly out of our depth in the other.
There will naturally come a time when we’re unable to bulldoze our way out of the Championship thanks to the comfort blanket of parachute payments, but those for whom Delia is Queen pretend this will never be a thing because our innovative recruitment and our academy’s reliable production line will always pull us through.
But one day it won’t. That time could be next season.
As paupers of the second tier as well as the top tier, who knows where it will take us.
Under Daniel Farke we had two wonderful Championship campaigns – the stuff of dreams. Two titles, both wrapped up by playing football the like of which we’d not seen since the Dave Stringer and Mike Walker years. Some argued it was the best football by a City side they’d *ever* seen.
Either way, it was truly wonderful.
But, even with a prevailing wind, with the planets aligned, and with four-leaf clovers replacing Webber’s motivational messages in the Carrow Road dressing room, there is no guarantee of 2022-23 being of a similar ilk for us.
Fulham have managed to ‘bounce’ three times out of three, albeit twice via the Playoffs, but to blindly assume the same is going to happen to us next season just because we have what could be very loosely described as a Premier League squad, ignores the vagaries and unpredictability of the Championship.
It doesn’t need much to go awry to end up getting subsumed in the Championship midtable scrap, not least because the division will likely contain Watford and Burnley or Everton, plus some big clubs who, in the next few weeks, will just miss out on promotion this season.
We may discover that Dean Smith doesn’t possess the magical qualities of Farke when it comes to successfully putting together a team to waltz through the Championship.
And, let’s face it, any remodelling of the squad this summer will be done via the usual shoestring budget because we have no choice.
The parachute payment will, as I understand it, be used as intended – IE. to honour contracts signed on Premier League terms – and so essentially, if there are decent phone signals up Cotopaxi and Chimborazo, there will be more of the wheeling and dealing that, admittedly, served us so well in the summers of 2018 and 2020. (Or maybe the phone signals of Cotopaxi and Chimborazo will by then be irrelevant).
Incidentally, Webber, or whoever, can wheel and deal to their heart’s content but if, as part of said dealing, Teemu Pukki departs for pastures new – which is still possible despite current noises to the contrary – that mid-table Championship obscurity edges ever closer.
Of course, there are those who’d be happy with that and I guarantee in the comments below this piece there’ll be folk reminding us how lucky we are to have such sensible, reliable owners and how our rightful place in the natural order of English football is the Championship.
And fair enough.
Those same people will also reel off the clubs generally regarded as ‘bigger’ than Norwich City but who are currently below us in the pyramid, and I get it. Since the McNally/Lambert years shook the club from its slumbers, it’s been a really fun ride – of the type some of those clubs could only dream of right now.
For that, we should be (and we are) grateful and, of course, we have no divine right to be in the Premier League.
But I see nothing wrong with wanting this club to go one better – and by that, I mean spending more than one season in the Premier League. Or, perhaps, even to not go one better but to at least be competitive in the relegation battle. These opportunities are going to eventually run out if they haven’t already.
At the moment we’re not remotely competitive and if (very big if) under our current guise we do manage to go up again at the end of next season, we’ll continue to remain uncompetitive.
If nothing changes; if the model remains the same; if the owners sit tight and declare the toy theirs and no one else’s, then the same thing will happen.
It’s hard to picture any other scenario. Another season of abject misery just like this one.
Which is why I’ve become that broken record – the one that pleads with Delia and Michael to least take seriously the notion of new money coming into the Club, and by taking seriously I don’t mean this crazy idea of Delia’s of putting any prospective bids to a supporters’ vote. That would be pure carnage.
Interestingly, as I understand it, in order for there to be a change in control at the top of our football club there is no direct necessity for Delia and Michael to sell.
Back in 2010, the board granted, through a special resolution at the AGM, the ability to allocate, without the need for shareholder approval, a maximum of 1,000,000 new shares. Initially, these shares were allocated at a price of £30.00 per share but were increased to £100.00 upon the club making it back to the Premier League.
This arrangement was initially in place for a five year period and has since been renewed in 2015 and 2020, via special resolutions approved by shareholders at those AGMs.
Now, by my rudimentary maths, given that the Club currently has just under 617,000 ordinary shares – a figure unchanged since around 2010 – if someone, or something, came in and purchased all of the new shares, this would immediately give them a controlling interest.
This would of course mean we would have a new majority shareholder – something that Delia has always warned against – but given that she and Michael have, between them, been just that, they would be on a sticky wicket if they were to contest this.
I guess, in an ideal world, they would prefer the shares, if they were to be taken up, to be done so by more than one individual, thus then retaining their largest share of the Club’s equity, but it all hinges on them wanting the new shares to be taken up in the first place.
I suspect they don’t.
It appears though that the mechanism at least is there for them to retain their current seats on the board while also allowing someone with deeper pockets to come in and inject additional cash into the Club with the aim of taking it forward.
Like I said, this all assumes that Delia and Michael are open to change.
It also assumes there are people out there who would be interested in putting their money into Norwich City Football Club – a club that at the moment isn’t a basket case, which is often the point at which new owners take control.
And, as an expert on these things recently reminded me, in order for any deal to take place you need three things – a willing buyer, a willing seller and a sensible price. With two of these three within the gift of Delia and Michael, if a willing, suitable buyer were to appear, would they even give consideration to the other two?
At this juncture, I’ll be reminded that there are no billionaires drifting around Norfolk looking for ways to part with their hard-earned cash. I’ll also be reminded that most ultra-wealthy individuals have become so by means that are not always legitimate, while being asked ‘do we really want to bring in owners from overseas who have no affiliation to our football club?’
And then, when a club in the top two tiers does announce new ownership, the satire begins again…
*Broad Norfolk accent* “How come they attract investment when no one is interested in Norwich?” *smiley face emoji*
Every single time.
But no one is suggesting that every owner who takes on a football club could have taken on Norwich City; nor are they suggesting that every new owner would have been right or suitable for Norwich City.
That’s not the point.
No one wants us to be in the thralls of a very dodgy oil-rich Middle Eastern state with an appalling human rights record. Of course we don’t, who would want that?
The point is, there are people out there who, for a whole variety of reasons, are willing to throw their time, weight and money behind football clubs. And I refuse to believe they’re all bad or dodgy folk who we shouldn’t be touching with a bargepole.
Some are, without doubt, but I don’t believe that every single enquiry that’s made – and the Club’s finance director Anthony Richens confirmed at the AGM that there are some – is unworthy of even a second glance, although I suppose every enquiry can be construed as unsuitable if you don’t wish to take it seriously in the first place.
I understand totally Delia and Michael’s desire to keep the Club in what they deem safe hands but if that means their criteria for being suitable prospective owners is a list of impossibilities, then they risk also holding the Club back and stifling any potential growth.
With some robust due diligence, the notion that any new ownership model would be no more than ‘rolling the dice’ is at least partly mitigated. Because we’re not yet one of the aforementioned basket cases, we do retain the ability to pick and choose very carefully.
There’s always risk. Just as there is a risk in Delia and Michael keeping their vice-like, white-knuckle grip on the Club and us then becoming Championship regulars with a diminishing number of family jewels of which to dispose.
Then what happens?
So, yeah, the tin hat is ready yet again and I’m braced for more ridicule on Twitter but I’ll keep on asking the question because I believe it to be a valid one.
The notion that Delia Smith and Michael Wynn-Jones are literally the only two people capable of owning and controlling this football club is wearing a little thin.
The problem goes beyond Stuart Webber.