Over the years I’ve been to a fair few Norwich City AGMs – the annual opportunity for shareholders to gather to approve the latest set of accounts.
Normally, they’re quite staid affairs, with the formal business typically taking less than 20 minutes, often followed by brief presentations, by various people within the Club’s hierarchy, and always followed by a Q&A session between shareholders and Board members.
This year, however, was different. Very different.
For starters, there’s the refreshed look to the accounts, with lots of added commentary and photos, certainly all going well beyond any legal requirements – all befitting of a Club that champions itself as part of the wider community, with an emphasis upon supporter engagement, openness, and transparency.
All the feedback I’d seen was overwhelmingly positive.
Then there was the “yesterday’s news” story, breaking on Thursday morning, namely that none of the local media were going to be present on the night.
Of course, the AGM is for shareholders, so there’s no automatic entitlement for them to be present, that’s a given. Nevertheless, the Club has nearly 7,000 shareholders, just over 200 of whom were present on the night. The remote access option, a leftover from the pandemic, still allows access to those unable to attend, although its take-up rate is far from clear.
Then, of course, there are the thousands of fans who’re not shareholders – the vast majority. And, while for many it’s just about the football, there’s still a significant number who take more than a passing interest in the Club’s finances.
These fans, who are equally important stakeholders in the Club, have always been to obtain information from various sources; whether that’s from traditional newspapers, local radio and TV, or via numerous sources online.
For sure, those unable to attend can still refer to the Club-produced content, but this begs the wider questions of the true extent of scrutiny, openness, and transparency. And, whatever happened to the mantra, “ignore the noise?”
In this context, the backstory, most of which will probably never be told, becomes almost irrelevant – but if you exclude a significant portion of your stakeholders, the fans, you do so at your peril. That’s the direct consequence of the current situation.
As would be expected, the stand-off with the local media was revisited on two or three occasions in the subsequent Q&A and the response was that some of the content was still very personal.
To be honest, there seems no point in referring to the latest indiscretion, as to do so would simply amplify a headline, which, in reality, actually seems to have got very little traction online.
Personally, I’m not sure if shareholders were overly content with the responses given on this particular issue. Ultimately, it’s an unedifying mess, a sideshow, a distraction, which really needs to be resolved once and for all.
Of course, that’s going to take willingness on both sides and I’m not holding my breath that it’s going to be anytime soon.
As for the main event of the night, the whole board was present, including Mark Attanasio, who had traveled across from the States, with his family and some of his team.
One shareholder voiced concerns about the possibility of having to repay his £10m investment in seven years’ time.
Mark’s response was positive. He was keen to emphasise that he, and his group, did not intend to do anything which would cause the Club financial distress. Quite the opposite, in fact, as they were viewing this as a long-term investment opportunity and intent on looking to enhance the club going forwards.
Of course, only time will tell if this actually happens, but there seemed no reason for immediate concern – a view that seemed to be shared by many of those present.
As for the actual formal business of the night, which preceded the Q&A, all five ordinary resolutions, requiring just a simple majority to be passed, were approved (despite a handful of objections to each resolution, either via proxy votes submitted in advance, or by a show of hands) in less than ten minutes.
The accounts were approved, and so was the reappointment as directors of Zoe Ward, Delia Smith, and Michael Foulger, together with the auditors, MHA MacIntyre Hudson LLP.
As AGMs go, this was probably the most interesting in recent years. The Q&A lasted for well over an hour, with most responses generally well received.
Obviously, how the Attanasio role plays out from here, will be the most important factor. For the moment,
I’m encouraged, but time will tell.