Nick Hayhoe was lucky enough to accept NCFC’s invite to ACN to cover the club’s Annual General Meeting. Here’s how he got on, along with a few little cheeky morsels of interviews he conducted with Messrs Webber, Kensell and Balls…
What was the general mood on the night?
It was a very timely AGM of course, with Norwich being top of the league, and it was hard to escape the positive vibes in the room. But it was clear this was not entirely down the the club’s league position. The members of the board walked around and cheerily greeted the shareholders before the start of the proceedings, and this exemplified the general atmosphere of the night. It was stated that there will continue to be a concerted effort to push the club towards greater transparency with its supporters, and Michael Wynn-Jones openly apologised over the fact that the club had not been good at this previously. This is, without doubt - considering the current greedy cesspit that most of football is finding itself in - a positive thing. Delia Smith reaffirmed that she believed that they were not the owners of the club but its guardians, and that they wanted to do their very best for us (as in, all of us - not just the shareholders). Considering what Coventry, Blackpool and Charlton fans are all going through at the moment, I wish I could put that quote above the boardroom door of every club in the country.
It should be noted that Stuart Webber, and Daniel Farke, were under no illusions that things could have been different had the AGM taken place three months ago.
What financial position is Norwich City in?
There was a great honesty over the fact that the club will be in deficit next year and are still, quite literally, paying for the past mistakes from the Premier League tilt a few seasons ago. While not in complete dire straits, there is a £5 million pit to escape from in the overdraft come the end of the season and, to their credit, the board did not make any attempt to dress this down. As a result, the idea of focusing on long termism with regards to the club’s finances was reinforced. Zoe Ward confirmed that Norwich had been part of the rebel group of clubs with regards to the latest EFL TV deal, but I think most people in the room knew that this was in an attempt to ensure the club’s future sustainability - and not a move motivated by greed, as it perhaps was from other clubs.
You can view the slides explaining the club’s financial position in further detail here.
Will we buy any players in January?
What is undeniably great about Stuart Webber from a fan’s point of view, is that he really is hugely honest. While a director of football/sporting director, manager or board member at another club could have given a roundabout, non-answer to this question; SW quite literally said a straight “no”. Considering the depth our squad has, he further added that he felt there wasn’t really a need to add to it come January. He did say that the club always keep their eyes and ears open just in case something incredible comes across the table (or if an injury unexpected sale happens), but don’t expect anything much to happen with us on the yellow Sky Sports News ticker. Not with the the “players in” bit anyway...
Will we sell any players in January?
The club’s financial position is clear. Norwich will not stop being a selling club. I know this hurts a little bit. I have never been able to get over it when we sell our best players. But Stuart Webber made a point of noting that new heroes are always being being made to replace the old ones. The club are not automatically looking to sell anyone in particular (well, maybe someone) in January, but if the right offer comes along then they may be left with little choice. Rest assured, however, that it appears, much like the transfer of James Maddison, that this will be done with the absolute best interests of the club in mind if it does happen.
Is Stuart Webber leaving?
SW categorically denied that anyone, Southampton or otherwise, have approached him and I think everyone in the room firmly believed him when he said this. He stated that he was very happy at Norwich and will be staying for the foreseeable. He did go on to further say, however, that he is not a Norwich City supporter and, as an ambitious person, if a big club came calling - or perhaps a club abroad - then he would need to think about such an offer. It is, after all, his career.
What are the main reasons to be positive with what's happening off the pitch?
The club has taken to adhering to six core values with everything that it does: Growth, integrity, belonging, resilience, pride and commitment. While talking about this sort of thing from most football clubs would be marketing/PR horseshit; here I genuinely felt that these are things that the club currently feel very strongly about being and doing. There is a general sense that whatever the club do, they want to do “the right thing” which, while sounding obvious, isn’t exactly what football in general always does (see Richard Scudamore’s golden handshake for further information).
Indeed, it seems as though the club would not want to sign a player who did not adhere to these values, no matter his playing ability. Examples of the players engaging in these values were seen in a video, showing them in the community and genuinely wanting to represent the club in the best way they possibly could. I feel that this is an exceptional thing. Not only because the club is doing and being what you want it to be in the community, but also because we are seeing the dividends of this attitude on the pitch. A few weeks ago, I wrote that the players genuinely seemed to care about the club while playing. Not the team. The club. And I got a greater understanding here as to why.
What is happening with Timm Klose’s contract?
It was mentioned that there had been offers rejected for Timm during the summer, and if there was a player who adhered to the aforementioned ‘six core values’ than it was him. Stuart Webber made clear that we will be hearing news about his contract imminently. Hopefully it will include a bonus regarding a new house in Diss.
What is happening with Daniel Farke’s contract?
Ed Balls answered this by simply stating that the board know that the fans want him to stay, and that the club will aim to deliver on what the fans want.
Farke himself was on good form, cracking a few gags about penalties and offering a place on the coaching team to a shareholder who, while praising his style of football, queried why we do not take long throws or set pieces in certain situations. DF certainly seems a man many of us would enjoy having a few pilsner with and, this being my first experience of him “in the flesh” as it were, it was hard not to be charmed.
What was said about safe standing? What is Norwich’s position on it?
As someone who feels particularly passionate on this issue, I asked this question during the wider Q&A, as I feel that the views of the club on safe standing should be put on official record as much as possible (even if they do not change). Ed Balls answered, stating that the club is still supportive of safe standing and believe in a choice of standing being made available to supporters. EB believes that the government and authorities are listening to supporters over safe standing, and has no reasons to believe that this will change following the resignation of Tracey Crouch.
Do the club have a succession plan in place if Webber were to leave?
I asked Ed Balls this question, and while not directly answering, he did say that the board constantly discuss any risks that could come their way and it felt, again, clear to me to this is genuinely the case. Stuart Webber has been very honest with the board about his ambitions, and it seems that there has been discussions regarding the plan if he were to go, albeit either a plan that has not been formalised, or one that will not be revealed more publically at this stage. EB further went on to state they had seen the problems of other clubs where the club had revolved around one person, and that he did not want Norwich to fall into that trap.
What is the club’s plan with regards to Brexit? Are foreign players/staff worried? What is the FA’s or EFL’s plan?
I asked these somewhat left field questions in light of some research I had done this week, where I discovered the only whispers from the FA with regards to some sort of “Brexit Plan” have been around Premier League player quotas and not much else. I feel that this is pretty poor of the FA, considering the dramatic affect Brexit could have on football in Britain - with it being an industry with one of the highest amounts of non-British staff in employment. Ben Kensell answered by stating that the club have been seeking all of the advice they possibly can from the EFL, the FA and the Premier League but, like everyone else outside of football, no one is absolutely sure what is happening yet. He further stated that Brexit is not affecting the club’s recruitment decisions in any way, and our foreign contingent of players have generally not been worried about what is happening as things have been so up in the air. Considering Kensell and the board clearly have had detailed discussions over Brexit (and have apparently been thinking about it more than the FA), I got the sense that whatever happens, the club will be in safe hands should they need to negotiate potentially choppy waters over this issue
Did anything else interesting happen?
There was an excellent question from a gentleman with regards to whether the club feel comfortable with having a gambling company as a shirt sponsor. Ben Kensell answered this by saying that the club had to take this option as their offer was 3x greater than any other kind of sponsor, and they simply had to do it for the money. Without wanting to assume something I have misinterpreted, it seemed to me that the club is a little uneasy about the situation (considering how much of a community club they are trying to be) and BK made a point of noting that there is a break clause in the contract with LeoVegas should Norwich get promoted.
Ed Balls and Tom Smith were up for reelection to the board, but this was a mere formality, and I don’t think I saw any dissenting hands against either of them.
Stuart Webber spent a good 20 minutes talking to myself and Connor Southwell from My Football Writer after everyone else had left the room. It cannot be underestimated how good this is for the sporting director to spend that much of his time with two representatives from fanzines. While there could potentially be accusations that we (ACN, and other fan groups) are ‘cosying up’ to the club’s top brass due to the fact we are giving this praise, I feel it is extremely important to give the club credit here. There are literally thousands of supporters up and down the country where the owners of their clubs do not give a single fuck about them, and we must praise the club for resisting - and resenting - this toxic attitude.
Further to this, I’d like to note at this point that I give up my time for ACN entirely voluntarily. I am not a journalist and as such I was a tiny bit nervous about representing ACN at the evening (I do have anxiety after all!); so I would like to extend my thanks to the club for making me feel very welcome.
There was a lot of other stuff discussed that I just don’t have the time to cram in here, so do check out Connor’s report from our interview with Stuart Webber over on MFW and the full audio from our chats with Webber, Balls and Kensell.