At Along Come Norwich we're big fans of our owners and not impressed or excited by money. Not all Norwich fans are like us though and we get the occasional anti-Delia piece sent to us. So, as if we're the BBC and compelled to show every side, here is a for and against from Jon Punt and Ian Woodcroft
Ask anyone outside of Norwich City’s fanbase what they know about the Canaries, even if they have no real interest in football itself, and the answer will invariably include Delia Smith. Whatever you think of her, the name is indelibly marked into the club’s history.
I think quite a lot of her, and always have.
She, along with husband Michael, have done much more good than harm to the football club since their arrival in the mid-1990s and I have no doubt that when they eventually pass their majority shareholding onto another party, whoever that may be, that Norwich City will be on a more stable footing than when they were initially asked to be involved in the post-Chase era.
While Delia and Michael didn’t quite ‘save’ the club from bankruptcy, as some claim, they did give it a much-needed injection of cash when Geoffrey Watling asked for their help. Since then, and after taking over Watling’s stake in Norwich City, they continued to pump in money in the form of loans, initially to help it survive.
I don’t think they ever thought about a return on their investment, and almost certainly chose to write some of the debts off in the best interests of the club. Other loans they made to the club were repaid in full, the relative luxury of top-flight football took care of that, and I doubt anyone would have begrudged them it at the time. If we were in their position we’d have probably done the same. Look at how much of the anti-Delia vitriol is concerned with how much fans have been asked to invest for no perceived return, and you can see my point.
Of course, their tenure hasn’t always been smooth sailing. In fact you could point to the fact the waters are pretty choppy right now. The club have been driven to the brink of financial oblivion on more than one occasion under their watch and they need to take their fair share of responsibility for that. It necessitated the sale of players we’d all have much rather seen in yellow and green for years to come, and fairly large mistakes have been made along the way *cough, Neil Doncaster, cough*.
Their biggest mistake though? Probably trusting the people they’d chosen to run their football club a bit too much, especially when they were unstable narcissists *cough, Jez Moxey, cough*.
For me at least, this debate isn’t about money though. It’s about what you’d like your football club to look like moving forward. Are you someone who is happy that football has sold its soul, and would be perfectly happy for your club to sell theirs to try and compete, factoring in that money isn’t a guarantee of success? I for one, am not.
Now I get it if you are one of those people. I’m quite hopelessly idealistic at times, but I’d rather we stood for something, that we were a shining light in a post-apocalyptic ‘modern football is shite’ darkness.
Modern football can be a grind. It will probably get worse. A 39th game in Saudi Arabia, or a 2am kick off time to satisfy Chinese audiences probably isn’t unthinkable in the next decade, even though it would have sounded laughable just a few years ago. Meanwhile, we have majority shareholders who don’t really like the direction football is taking, away from us match-going fans and towards the armchair, or corporate, viewer. I applaud that, in fact I wish they’d talk about it, and try to actively battle it, more.
Delia and Michael, probably through years of experiencing highs and lows with their football club, have a pretty clear vision for the future of Norwich City. They want a club that retains its roots in the community. One that grows our own players. One that is best in class for communicating with their fans. More importantly though, one that doesn’t chase the financial riches of the Premier League for short-term gain, while neglecting everything good that got you there in the first place.
We have a project that we can get behind now. I don’t recall many clubs getting to the top flight on the limited resources Stuart Webber and Daniel Farke had at their disposal and I don’t think it will happen again anytime soon.
We performed miracles during 2018/19, yet it was a miracle by design, and demonstrated that the power of having a unified force and the momentum that can generate is hugely powerful.
Whether it’s powerful enough to keep us in the Premier League is doubtful right now. That hurts, but it’s not wholly unexpected. Lots of critics will look at the fact we didn’t invest enough during the summer to give ourselves a fighting chance.
Hindsight might ultimately support that, but it glazes over the fact our fortunes are likely to have been very different had we not experienced the worst injury crisis I can ever recall at Carrow Road.
It also glazes over the fact we attempted to do business and were prepared to pay around €15 million for one player towards the end of the window. There was money there provided the player fitted the profile, was better than what we had, was affordable within a wage structure, offered a potential for return on investment and wasn’t a dickhead. All pretty good criteria for a potential signing, but the key was spending within our means. Surely that should be the blueprint for football clubs of the future?
It’s difficult to disagree with our method, given the perils of overspending, so ably demonstrated by the plights of Portsmouth, Blackburn, Blackpool, Sheffield Wednesday, Bolton, QPR, Stoke, Bury, Macclesfield, Ipswich, Coventry, Charlton, Sunderland, Gretna, Rangers....
I’m sure people can raise me a Leicester, Bournemouth or Wolves, but that misses the point. There are many more examples of over-spending going wrong than there are right and who knows what will happen to those clubs, when their owners get bored of their toy?
Lessons have been learned from previous failures and we won’t compromise on our principles. Every time we’ve actually tried to spend in the Premier League it’s ended badly. RVW, Fer, Naismith, Pinto and Elmander are the kinds of mistakes we’re not likely to make again.
We’ll grow our own, and we won’t forget about the importance of adding to the infrastructure along the way. There’s a clear philosophy which permeates throughout the club and it’s similar to Guy Roux’s Auxerre model (where they regularly punched above their weight in France’s top flight for years) that Delia spoke of so passionately when she first arrived at Carrow Road. I can get behind that.
If I was nitpicking, there’s more that I’d like the owners to do. Given they’ve publically come out against the rising prices in the game for the fans, I’d appreciate them pushing supporter causes a bit harder with the powers that be. They might be doing that for all I know, but if they are they should be more vocal about it.
When City’s season ticket pricing was one of the highest in the Championship, I’d have liked some action. When away membership debates were being had, I’d have loved to have seen them squash it by rejecting the scheme in the face of supporter angst.
They didn’t. They’re not perfect. They care though, as much as you and I do, and they want to run this club in a responsible way, continuing to grow the talent we have and by reflecting on what didn’t go so well in the past. That’ll do for me.
Delia’s (and Michael’s) Barmy Army.
Through the fog of my memory, I can’t recall exactly when it happened.
I think it was in one of the seasons following our relegation from the Premier League under Nigel Worthington.
But I stopped singing “Delia’s barmy army”.
And I was not alone, the chant itself gradually died out during that period, from its former peak around the time we reached the Play Off Final in Cardiff. Whether it was fashion or feeling, I wasn’t clear why others stopped singing it too.
But I was clear why I no longer sang it.
I used to be a supporter of our owners, but as the years passed, and as I paid attention to their occasional comments, that feeling waned.
Sorry, I am one of the few who would like to see the back of them. They have had their turn.
As we find ourselves on the likely precipice of a record-breaking fifth Premier League relegation, we need to come to terms with a certain reality: that we can never establish ourselves in the Premier League under Delia and Michael.
The game has moved on, and having a rich owner, or at least one that can help with cashflow, is as much a part of the Premier League checklist as having a goalkeeper or a sports scientitst.
Let me be quite clear at this point, I believe Delia and Michael, assisted by Tom, should be looking to gift the club on to new owners. I know that does not happen overnight, it could take years, but it should certainly be the vision and a process which is starting now.
We may not even find a new owner, but for the future benefit and growth of the club, we should sure as hell try.
In a recent interview with Gary Neville, Delia said she would like to own the club “forever”. I’m afraid that is a stubborn and negligent attitude. But based on her previous behaviour I firmly believe it.
Their comments around investment and selling the club over the years have been inconsistent at best.
I recall one stroppy outburst at an AGM where Delia said words to the effect of “Someone can have this club tomorrow if they pay X for it”. Ok, cool.
But this was punctuated throughout the years with other vague declarations that the club is “open to investment”. Upon further investigation, this appears to be that the club was open to people who wanted to give money but receive no equity. A non-starter.
Actually, my belief is that Delia and Michael are in love with owning a football club and have no intention of letting that go. It has become utterly entwined with their lives. It is written across everything they do. You may find this endearing, but it is actually rather dangerous.
They can’t afford to own a football club.
Certainly not a club the size of Norwich City.
I noted recently the club set itself the heady target of being a “top 26” club. Perhaps the first time in the history of business that an entity set a future development target in which dropping below its current level could still be regarded as success. Mind blown.
We have a problem here. In fact, it is THE problem.
Being a “top 26” club under Delia is indeed a success. A spectacular success. In modern football for a club solely funded by the fans and related commercial elements, top 26 is indeed remarkable.
But Norwich City is more than a top 26 club. It should strive to be more than that, and I believe it has the potential to be so much more than that.
Our targets and ambitions are being limited by our ownership. It is not Delia FC, but sometimes I feel that is what we have become, clouded into an almost cult-like existence.
The media and commentators around the club are seemingly all invited into Delia’s cosy club.
Whether that be Talk Norwich City tweeting pictures of having meals with Delia, or the ACN boys’ boardroom visit, or Chris Goreham on the club payroll via his programme articles. Far too cosy. Why isn’t anyone questioning this Church fete model?
In the ACN podcast with Delia and Michael, I was actually annoyed on ACN’s behalf when Michael asked “did you pay for those flags yourself?”. Spoken like Toad of Toad Hall. Yes we did Michael, like everything else at the club it was paid for by the fans.
Equally, in the ACN chat pre the Villa home game, when ACN said to the Villa fan: “it’s different for us (Norwich), we are just happy to be here (Premier League).” Are we? We were light years ahead of Villa last season. Why do we have to limit ourselves so quickly?
I will admit I think the majority of our fanbase are just happy to have a club and actually don’t care what division it is in.
I know I am very much in the minority in thinking we should be bigger than that. As a veteran of the Chase protests - when he was hounded out for selling players and having a lack of ambition - I know that passion has now gone. It is a different fanbase. One that cares much less about winning.
I find it odd that Stuart Webber thinks it’s fine to talk about aiming to be a top 26 club, but then routinely bemoans the lack of atmosphere in the stadium, something he did again speaking in the Gunn Club after the Wolves game.
So on the one hand we are supposed to accept these mediocre targets, but also be uproariously passionate about it. Are we a football team, or a community project where success is just taking part? You can’t have it both ways.
On this, I’m probably alone in taking offence at Webber talking about wanting to punch fans, as he did last season, but I found it pretty grubby. If he does eventually get round to punching one, perhaps before he does so he should politely enquire as to whether that fan bought a season ticket in League One, or helped finance the recent new training ground build? You get my point.
Webber of course is only here for a couple more seasons. If your head of the business believes so little in what is going on here that he openly wants to leave in two years what the hell are we all supposed to be buying into? It’s just odd.
Please don’t think my feelings are a reaction to our current form.
When Delia and Michael celebrated on the pitch at Villa Park (they won’t be on the pitch when we get relegated this season of course) I did not join in with their particular moment. For me it acted as a stark reminder of what was on the horizon. As a graduate of their approach to the Premier League I knew what was coming…
Daniel Farke and the squad performed a miracle in getting us to the Premier League. Everything I have seen from previous failed attempts to stay up tells me you have to strengthen. Two or three quality additions.
Quite frankly, to enter the Premier League on the back of spending £750,000 in transfer fees in the summer is ludicrous. And I bet if you asked Farke, in private, he would agree. The challenge put in front of him this season was unreasonable, and I would go so far as to say quite cruel. Their is so much experience in the boardroom too, no other boardroom has been through this process more.
The board would say it simply didn’t have the money to help Farke in the summer. Well, that should be a clear sign that they need to move on and let someone else have a go. A board’s job should be very simple: appoint a manager, give him as much money as possible, and then keep quiet.
We are good at giving managers time, but poor at giving them the money to actually build anything. Farke is someone you can build a club around, but lack of resources means he is ultimately doomed here.
Please don’t talk to me about signing an Everton reserve in January as an example of when we “went for it”. That kind of signing should not break the bank, but it did because our owners can’t afford to own a football club.
We spent our summer before the Premier League season trying to rinse another £300K out of our fans for membership schemes. Quite absurd, and just another by-product of having owners who can’t afford to own a football club. It permeates everything.
So it now seems we are locked into a painful Groundhog Day, were the occasional promotion will be doomed by virtue of the fact the board can’t then back its manager in the Premier League, for fear of creating debts its “poor” owners can’t serve.
I know most fans will be happy with that.
For me, it’s not what Norwich City should be striving for.