Over two months ago, I became so incensed by events at Norwich City that I found myself ringing Canary Call to rage about those responsible for running our beloved football club.
My initial call, taken by the show producer, was all over the place. The red mist had descended. My thinking was jumbled, my sentences were mixed; a style not unknown to me when I am at my worst.
I could not stop myself, I felt compelled to vent about all that had been allowed to unfold in the multi-million-pound business we also know to be our much-loved Norwich City FC.
At the time, one man had been allowed by his closest, openly adoring colleagues – one of which is his wife – to devote less than one hundred per cent of his time and effort to his job and be paid handsomely for it. All of this was arranged while he was one of a small Executive team during a significant loss-making financial period for the club.
It is still unclear who pitched the idea. Was it our owners to retain their dear champ? Or the man himself, who had started to show much less love for his employer – certainly its well-paying customers, Snake Pit dwellers and women’s team – as his tenure passed?
We have heard that the job is considered so involved and bothersome, with its significant hours, that every penny is hard-earned. So, to then allow our Sporting Director to reduce his time and commitment placed the future of our club and its vital progress at risk.
It was a critical time for the club, with the P & L written in blazing red and with the self-funding Farkeball jet having crashed and burned. The “90 per cent” decision also made it appear that one person was more important than the whole, yet on we went, all of this taking place during a decline in affairs both on and off the pitch.
Would any of us running our own troubled enterprise, allow one of our business leaders to deliver less during such a challenging period? Or would we be clear about his underperformance, demand more and insist on targeted improvement?
As for my level of fury at the time of my radio appearance, I didn’t expect to be allowed on air. I was told I would perhaps get a call back if and when there were fewer waiting. To my surprise, when this came, I had to make some quick notes to focus my mind on what I wanted to say.
In the days that followed, our 90-per-cent-engaged Sporting Director – who left a legacy of ageing players, his old friend in charge, a foggy identify and a squad, many of whom have just months left to run on their contracts – finally made an ‘early’ exit (At least that’s what we were told – Ed). But not before he was hailed a hero, given a guard of honour and allowed to take the rest of his twelve months’ notice with him.
It all tainted what was a pivotal moment in NR1, which could have signalled the start of some positive change. Instead came evidence of a takeover, and not the one we thought might allow a new broom to sweep the Carrow Road corridors of its long lingering debris and breathe some much-needed fresh air into the place.
Instead, our majority shareholder dug her heels in. Her annoyance and lack of awareness and understanding were laid bare at the first public opportunity and when offered a perfect opportunity to bring a new, unified and positive vibe to the AGM, she declined it.
It should have been a tap-in but Delia missed.
As we well know, instead the questionable decision was made to call out a few, quote, “boo boys”. One wonders how, if so small in number, the whingers triggered such a substantial reaction at owner level during an important business event.
The twenty (per cent) clearly carried plenty in terms of sway and influenced our leaders sufficiently for them to put club and reputation aside. Rather than attempt to build bridges, they created an uncomfortable divide before adding that their recently departed friend still remains close, with his views still welcomed when circumstances permit.
Owners and past employees aside, many of us hoped the arrival of Ben Knapper, albeit with no experience in the job, would signal some kind of strategic shift. His one club presser appeared to say the right things while also – was it me? – painting the enticing image of fast-flowing football in a somewhat flat, passionless and uninspiring light.
Weeks later, let me tempt fate, there is not even a whisper of an NCFC-related transfer rumour. Even Webber managed that, perhaps given the extent and sometimes perfect timing of his worldwide travel.
Sufficient time has now passed for, perhaps, more than a quarter of us to find ourselves fuming over the turgid performances we now turn out to watch in silence.
If we stick to Delia’s original accusation, the ‘unhappy’ proportion equates to 5,400 of a full Carrow Road. But why do we still show up? It’s starting to feel like the hardest of breakups and a reminder of what love can do to you.
No fan ever wants to break away or say goodbye to their club. It’s a huge part of who we are, as are those who sit around us and all those we know and who become dear through the precious, shared connection that is football.
We support one another as much as our team. Our club is us. It is the memories we form, the escape we crave and the identity we offer up and pass on. It hurts to have that sorely tested.
A cup game presents the opportunity to stay at home but it’s not a feeling that will ever sit comfortably when the goal is always to enjoy the ride. I know I will only sever ties with my beloved team when my days are done. The reason we all show up is because we literally are ‘City ‘til we die’, though at present, it feels that notion is taken for granted while our very hard-earned pounds continue to pour into the fast-emptying coffers.
Regardless of how we all feel about what we are witnessing, too exhausted to protest such is the level of resignation and the ever-tenuous position of the manager, the structure that has been allowed to dominate the ivory towers of NR1 has to be called into question.
Its fitness for purpose would not be signed off in any serious, forward-thinking business. Our owners have left it extremely late to seek investment, perhaps only recently recognising that they really won’t be around forever.
They have credited their ever-reducing Exec team for arriving at such a radical idea, yet it is one that many fans had been calling upon for many moons only to be denied. But still the club is unable to break free cleanly and speedily as one might hope as a period of uncertainty has evolved with potential new owners shrouded in question marks, and yet to prove their worth and (apparently) unable to do so until permitted.
They say very little, with a power and communication vacuum forming in place of clarity, good strategy and sense. And who might question it? Non-exec Director, Tom Smith, once somewhat prominent, is now as silent as the rest, perhaps deciding against a more hands-on role or, more simply, finding it awkward to challenge his aunt.
That leaves our one-person Executive, which should say it all. I do not believe any other business would be allowed to run with such a limited structure, least of all a football club.
As it stands, no one else forms the NCFC Board of Directors. I do not believe such status has been afforded to young Knapper, and the Commercial and Finance Directors sit just below the one-person team.
Coupled with this, the NCFC top brass – already knee-deep in their own trouble as a result of being too good at ignoring the noise – have facilitated not one but two PR disasters in just the last three months.
If there is one thing Norwich fans know, and this works on both sides of the border, it is never to expect an apology from your biggest rivals. And I say that as someone who, along with my 15-year-old daughter, absorbed enough choice expletives from the mouths of babes to last us a lifetime while walking Princes Street, Ipswich on December 16.
That’s football and that’s what it means. However, one thing that lot down the road do have is a CEO and a decent board of associated directors to boot. Perhaps they are too busy and focused on progress and delivering results for their new owners to issue flowers and apologies to those who, so seemingly out of touch with how the game has evolved, decided to navigate their own match day way into a mass of blue flares and pumped up Suffolk passion. (And for me to deliver any compliments that way south, is hard).
Norwich City needs to rejuvenate to become successful again, and fast. Our Board has to change. The day we have a chairman, or a CEO with a Chief Operating Officer, a Finance and Commercial Director, all carrying equal responsibility and weight, alongside a Sporting Director, all able to paint a vision, make brave decisions, evolve at pace, hold one another to account and take difficult comments on the chin showing understanding and commitment, is the moment we will know this club is back on track.
We all hate to say it but football is a business. It must be run like one, and to do that you have to have immense skill and bravery. You must take accountability, know where you are at and be clear with everyone as to the challenges that lie ahead.
You can add passion, openness and integrity for bonus points but right now, not one person in charge at Norwich City is showing even one of these vital competencies. Mark Attanasio may possess them but it’s hard to know what he plans to offer as things stand, without information and a plan.
We have been told we have ‘no idea’, so please educate us!