In the second of a two-part special, long-term Norwich City fan and former EDP editor, David Powles looks at what’s been happening behind the scenes at the club.
Working for 16 years as a Norfolk journalist, six of them as editor of the local newspapers, provides a fascinating and privileged insight into so many aspects of life in this fine county – our beloved football club being one of them.
And during that time my former colleagues and I worked positively with the club on many projects, from sticker albums to fan appeals and even the dreaded clap banners.
However, the relationship between football clubs and local media can be a delicate one and often all it takes is one story, perhaps even just one line, to shatter the fragile peace.
Over the years I’ve had more frosty debates than I care to remember with City CEOs, managers and press officers. One of my favourite players of all time even once refused to talk to our sports reporters because they took umbrage at a column I’d written.
Like any relationship, the healthiest ones are built on a mutual understanding and appreciation of the priorities of both sides. The media is there to challenge on behalf of the fans – those running the club quite rightly have the best interests of Norwich City as their priority.
The health of that relationship is always determined by the outlook of the central characters involved.
I’ve genuinely never come across a journalist involved in covering their local football club, at whatever level, who doesn’t want it to be successful.
Many, like myself, are long-term supporters.
Meanwhile, the theory that bad news sells, is completely inaccurate when it comes to football. Most of my best sales days in terms of print and online when editor came on the back of title wins and promotion supplements.
In my experience, off-the-field matters at a football club, such as the relationship between the media, only really come under scrutiny when things aren’t going well.
When all is rosy, the wins come with frequency and the football is fun, no one cares much about the sponsors, the media work, or even the management structure.
When things start to go badly, supporters look under every rock to see what lies beneath.
And during the last 18 months, the relationship between the media and Norwich City has come under much scrutiny.
It’s no secret that the relationship has become fractured, driven by disagreement over a few stories and, in my view, a loss of perspective about the media’s role and the cyclical nature of these things.
I’m not sure there’s anything to be gained by going back over that ground, other than to say that when that mutual respect and understanding is lost, the only ones who lose out are the supporters.
Of course, much of the current disconnect between fans and the club is driven by results, poor football, and a few bad management appointments and player signings.
However, the fact that, for a lengthy period of time, certain members of the club would only answer questions from their internal media team has not helped in terms of communication and getting a reassuring message across to supporters.
Ultimately, high-ranking club officials – and the media for that matter – should be prepared to be challenged and be big and brave enough to suck it up and move on when that happens.
Fortunately, over recent weeks that frostiness has thawed, and it can only be a good thing to see the media being given the chance to ask questions on behalf of the fans again.
One of the most pertinent questions I would like to hear a response to is how the club can reassure supporters the current structure has the best interests of Norwich City at its heart.
I have no insight to provide as to whether Zoe Ward, Stuart Webber, Delia Smith, and Michael Wynn-Jones do good roles as individuals. I have a lot of respect for the job all four of them have done at the club and, as Webber himself pointed out last week, they have lots to be proud of.
However, a structure with two married couples running the ship would be questioned in any business and I’m pretty sure all of those involved have been around long enough to realise that.
Supporters pump enough money into the club to warrant some insight as to why the current structure at the top has been chosen, as opposed to the more traditional one of a chief executive and manager working in tandem – or any other structures for that matter.
It was only a short time ago that City had a team of three running the show.
Former Chief Operating Officer Ben Kensell was someone who I was fortunate enough to work closely with and it was always clear he was a very switched-on, talented guy who had that all-too-rare ability to see things from all perspectives.
Whether through coincidence or not, he left shortly after the BK8 sponsorship debacle, and I believe the club was made poorer by his departure.
Meanwhile, the structure at the top of the club was made less healthy by a failure to replace him and put another voice into the mix. Are those who hold the balance of power being challenged enough from within the club itself?
Whether we like it or not, it appears the existing structure will remain. Whilst I certainly did not agree with everything he said, as far as last week’s media interviews are concerned it appears Webber does still have a fire burning within him to work for the club. If he is to remain in post that is vital.
I would never attempt to make judgement on whether someone was talented enough to do a job, but fans do need to be reassured that Webber still has the energy, passion, and desire to lead the club.
Deep down only he will know that. As I know from my own experiences in life, if he has lost his belief in ‘project Norwich’, then it’s time to be brave enough to walk away and give someone else a go.
Whatever happens off the field, I think David Wagner deserves the chance to build his own team and see where he can take us. But if next season begins poorly, the mood will no doubt quickly sour.
With the real possibility of new owners around the corner, the club is in a strange no man’s land as it waits for Mark Attanasio and co to show their hands.
With that in mind, exciting times could be around the corner, after all things tend to never stay dull at this football club for long.
However, we may have to stomach a season or two of consolidation before we get there.
David is chief executive of the Norfolk Community Law Service charity.
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Inside Right says
‘No Man’s Land’ is an accurate description for this the club is. For board, for owners, for staff even the player.s.
Much hope is being pinned on the Attanasio’s, but I fear they won’t be enough for the harsh realities of football.. Somebody has to stand up and say this ‘Self Funding’ model is completely dead and cannot possibly succeed, but who is going to do it?
After decades of the majority shareholders not entertaining any offers, whose stubbornness has arguably restricted the club with their archaic and parochial view of football, the club has to play catch up but shows little signs of doing so.
I’m not Webber’s biggest fan. He can appear obnoxious, rude and arrogant at times, a PR disaster.. But also forthright and honest. But I have sympathy. His own personal career has suffered because of the model he is working under. He is expected to make a silk purse from sow’s ears to keep this delusional self funding model alive and he knows it cannot be done. Yet he perseveres, waiting for the phone to ring to take him to another club who firmly believe in 2023 and beyond, not 1975.
I’m not sure how long the club can continue not to take the world of football seriously. We cannot turn back the clock. It needs owners with plenty of money to give it a chance and right now, it has no chance. It doesn’t believe in the world of football and especially the EPL, so what is to for?
Remember when the club said it was the envy of the Football League? In reality, it is the envy of nobody.
Bernard Owen says
I reckon David Warner will make an awful football manager, he’ll be as bad as David Wagner opening the batting in this summer’s ashes series.
Sorry couldn’t resist that typo is great.
Bernard Owen says
Oh , Gary read this and changed the typo.
I only do free proof reading !!!!!
MYSTIC KEV says
No matter how much money we spend if the manager can’t get the best out of them it won’t work this season is a prime example of that we had good enough squad for a minimum of the player offs but poorly managed and coached . Webber to blame for choice of manager players just not up for it need better coaching ..
Webber did say that Wagner needed a pre-season to inbed his ideas, methods.
Yet Michael Carrick took a club I the lower reaches of the championship inbedded his methods and system in short order his only 2 signings were both from Villa.
He even had to build his own backroom team as it was his first managerial role, what can he do for them with a full pre-season and a couple of his own players maybe rejects from the Manchester United academy that he knows.
But one thing his Sporting Director will not sign injury prone players
I think Michael Carrick’s team starts in the same division as us next season. Let’s see how he does without the PL loans, one of which of course signed by his Sporting Director was the very injury prone Ramsey.
As for this site’s constant criticism of the “self-funding” model and the apparent belief that we are alone in following this ideology, that is simply wrong. If self funding means that we have owners who don’t put money in there are a number of Championship clubs run on this basis.
We are actually not currently one of them given that Attanasio has already put in £10m and we are all waiting to hear whether he has bought the additional shares.
But don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.
Sorry the £10m is a loan to be converted into A shares at a later date andwas a goodwill gesture maybe to held get the Foulger deal done we just don’t know.
What other club constantly shouts self funding none that I know it’s a mantra we only use and I agree other clubs live within there means and admit to debts City says no debts yet have borrowed £55/66m on future income.
MYSTIC KEV says
Totally agree about Carrick but the players there wanted it we didn’t it seems such a lack of fight I know we can do alot better with what we have or had take care Alex.
Kev V-M says
I’m sure that I am not alone in my thoughts in saying, we should never have sacrificed Daniel Farke, we would now have been looking forward to next season playing in the premier league, instead of playing the likes of Ipswich yawn yawn.
Jane Markland says
Completely agree with you Kev. Webber admitted it the first time, but didn’t the second. Changing the style didn’t work and now we don’t have one, plus a group of players who can’t play as a team. That’s just on the pitch, where the cracks really show. Sadly from up above they’re a constant.