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Should the Canaries take a leaf out of Pompey’s book and become a supporters-owned club?

PUBLISHED: 11:43 17 March 2017 | UPDATED: 14:06 17 March 2017

Portsmouth fans arrive at Fratton Park: Is it time for the Canaries to look at their business model of fan ownership, asks Nick Conrad.

Portsmouth fans arrive at Fratton Park: Is it time for the Canaries to look at their business model of fan ownership, asks Nick Conrad.

PA Wire

Is it time for Norwich City to consider becoming a supporters-owned club, asks Nick Conrad.

Sitting in the Barclay for the Blackburn match was like attending my local library rather than a football game.

Lots of people were there. However, at times, you could have heard a pin drop. Frustrated fans showed their clearest dissent through the occasional chant of disapproval and then at other times through their haunting silence. The hierarchy at the club couldn’t have helped but notice the chill in the air.

But whatever grievances the City faithful have had this season pale into insignificance in comparison to our visitors. I lived in the North West for many years and know first hand the passion of Blackburn’s fans. Blackburn’s travelling band of ‘very un-merry men and women’ must have been chuckling away at the demi-protest from the home support.

The long-suffering Lancastrians, in some commentators’ views, have become the textbook example of bad ownership. Venky’s are foreign owners, heading a consortium. Norwich have joint-owners. The two contrasting set-ups with a fast, similar outpouring of frustration gives me the excuse to rake over different models of club ownership...

The real issue in both cases can be summed up in one word - results. It’s worth remembering it’s the same board (minus the chairman and one member) which delivered four seasons of Premier League football for Norwich City. Rovers can’t rely on historic goodwill - it is six years since Venky’s, an Indian poultry firm, took over Blackburn, with great fanfare. The Rao family arrived amid bullish talk of delivering big stars. They promised to “think big, aim high” and “absolute respect for the legacy of Jack Walker”, the local benefactor whose largesse helped the club win the Premier League in 1994-95.

Instead, the majority of Rover’s loyal fans feel the food giant’s arrival ushered in an era of misery and turmoil. Along with Hull, Cardiff, Leeds and Nottingham Forest, Blackburn occupy a place in English football’s ever-expanding hall of shame. This category is purely the creation of fans, a collection of great clubs who’ve fallen on hard times, which is used to demonstrate the complexities of overseas investment in the beautiful game.

One Blackburn fan outside the ground (Mark from Chorley) reminded a few Canaries how bad it could be. His assessment ignited a frank exchange about the ‘perfect model’ of ownership. The billionaire backer with deep pockets vs the community-run concern with fans on the board. The conclusion, rather unrealistically, was a combination of both.

Few who invest in football see it as a viable business in its own right. Very often clubs are the token part of a wider business portfolio. Here might be Venky’s downfall. The board hoped that by buying Blackburn Rovers (then in the Premier League) the spotlight would help increase sales of their poultry products across the Western World. It most certainly increased their profile. In some cases when the initial investment and business plan doesn’t succeed some owners’ enthusiasm can cool. But can you blame them? It must feel like burning cash.

Does Portsmouth have the answer? Portsmouth became the largest fan-owned club in the country in April 2013 when the Portsmouth Supporters Trust bought the club for more than £3 million from the administrators. The new Pompey is built around the long-term viability of the business which runs the operation.

The club is owned by a supporters’ group. This ensures that at the heart of the club are its most valuable and long-term investors: the fans. There was plenty of cynicism for ‘fan ownership’ but now many clubs are looking at this model more seriously.

There are huge obstacles to overcome. Consulting passionate shareholders must, at times, be like herding cats. And supporters’ groups also tend to have shallow pockets, not the cash reserves aspiring Championship clubs need.

But ask many fans of troubled clubs if they’d swap riches for rags in their boardroom and you might be surprised by their answer. Fans are wise to the trappings of ‘bags of cash’ ownership. The supporters are the best custodians of the club; they understand its history and care about its future more than anyone else. The irony here is that all those on the Norwich board happen to be big fans too!

10 comments

  • I am not too convinced that fan ownership is the way forward, even if we all had the cash to buy an equal share. Then would come the problem of whom to elect to serve on either the board or a committee. I was once involved in a Southern League club that ended up being run by a committee and believe me, some daft things can be promoted by the will of the few. I for one would not like certain people that have been heralded as leaders of the fans making decisions on how a club was run when my money was invested in it. Lets simply get off the backs of the current owners, yes they have made mistakes, but had Alex Neil kept us up last season, then everybody would be happy. We could not go out and appoint a top coach, throw millions at him and still fail, or we could appoint the current coach of some obscure village that turns out a winner, there really are no certs in the footballing world I am afraid.

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    TrevorKeith

    Thursday, March 23, 2017

  • It's the way forward but not on the Pompey model. Norwich should appoint a Turkish man with a sound knowledge of football to liase with Besiktas who have crac#krd it. Same sized club same age but fantastically effective - do not be too proud to learn!. Also teach Norwich City history. There was a time in 19923 when a famous international player said NORWICH ARE NOT JUST AN ENGLISH TEAM BUT A EUROPEAN TEAM. In the first year of the Premier League we finished third - also do not forget the example of Leicester last season. The manager of Besiktas defected to West Ham - Slaven i iBilic - nothing daunted the club appointed a new manager set to work and put non believers to flight by winning the Turkish Premier title ovesrcoming big wealthy clubs on the way!!!! Tactical awareness wise guidance and unrelentingly HARD WORK

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    mardler

    Wednesday, March 22, 2017

  • The collection of great clubs who have fallen on bad times is an interesting collection. Forest and Leeds definitely fall into that category but Cardiff and Hull???? Hull are in the top flight for only the 4th season ever and Cardiff have rarely savoured any season better than this over the past 50 years

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    JohnnyH

    Saturday, March 18, 2017

  • "The same board (minus the chairman and one member) who delivered four years of Premiership football for Norwich City." That "one member" is of course David McNally, so why can't you say so? And why are they "minus"? Both of them resigned, for reasons unknown. This is the most disingenuous piece of spin I've read in a long time, masquerading as a serious discussion about ownership.

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    urban seagull

    Friday, March 17, 2017

  • Comes down to money. Doubt we'd compete beyond the lower leagues. Maybe we need a new condition, only supporters play for the club?

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    Surrey Canary

    Friday, March 17, 2017

  • Interesting article. Myself a Pompey fan can sympathise but as you have stated the cash flow is an issue with fan ownership. See our chief executive talk about our transfer budgets for the up and coming seasons. I know he has to manage fan expectations but it does leave me wondering how far up the league system we can manage to go: http:www.youtube.comwatch?v=H8pN9dVyXpo

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    Mat Ellis

    Friday, March 17, 2017

  • Just a thought Blackburn are still, just in the Championship and Portsmouth are currently pushing for promotion from League 2 . . . I suspect that at the end of the day the real difference is how good the manager is with the resources he has. Leeds was mentioned, well under a previous sacked manager, they're not doing to badly at the moment. While a club owned by supporters seems like a supporters' dream come true, the actual logistics especially from a big fan base like Norwich could have could be an even nightmare then exists at the moment. But you pays your money and takes your chances.

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    manbythesea

    Friday, March 17, 2017

  • Barcelona, Real Madrid, both owner by the fans (Socios) - a pity we don't have 180,000 and 100,000 fans as they do respectively.

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    Citizen

    Friday, March 17, 2017

  • Thought-provoking article. As Malaga has pointed out, most supporter-owned clubs came out of necessity rather than choice, in order to keep the club alive. A lot of people including myself have posted criticisms of the NCFC board, but the reality is the club could be in a far worse situation than it is at present. At least one club was set up by fans out of choice. when Manchester United supporters who were unhappy with the Glaser brothers purchase of the club set up FC United of Manchester, which is doing quite well in non-league football.

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    Suffolk Exile

    Friday, March 17, 2017

  • My home town club Northampton Town was the pioneer of fan ownership and since then it has helped numerous others establish the model. However it should be noted that all these clubs ended up going down this route as a matter of necessity, due to imminent winding-up orders. I don't know of a club in England that has become fan-owned out of choice. I believe fan ownership is, however, more the norm in Germany. As the article above states, one major problem with this is lack off finance. It has been a long haul for the likes of Northampton and Portsmouth, working from the bottom up. So while it does put a club in the hands of fans it does have limitations. I am not sure Norwich, with a fan base of some 26,000 and debt-free is likely to want to go down this road. I doubt very much the BoD would fancy the idea! What ideally Norwich needs is more footballing and business acumen at the top. By today's standards we are not a rich club, neither are we a poor one. No doubt the fans of Blackburn Rovers would love to be in our position. Yes there are obvious weaknesses and it could be much better but it is more a question of how well we spend what we have rather than necessarily deep pockets. The sad fact is that under AN the club "invested" over £50 million in players for very little, if any, significant return. Therein lies the problem. Bad decisions have cost us.

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    malaga flier

    Friday, March 17, 2017

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