City chief blasts ‘grossly unfair’ accusations about neutral grounds and relegation
Stuart Webber has fought back at the ‘grossly unfair’ coverage which claimed Norwich City were among the clubs attempting to thwart the restart of the Premier League season, in the hope of avoiding relegation.
The Canaries’ sporting director has made clear that he feels the only fair way forward is for the remaining quarter of the campaign to be completed when it is safe to do so amid the coronavirus pandemic, despite Daniel Farke’s team sitting six points from safety with nine games to play.
That is partly due to the daunting financial and legal challenges which could wreak havoc in football if the campaign cannot be concluded, with several national newspapers reporting that the bottom six were resisting plans for matches to be played at up to 10 neutral venues..
Wembley was among those suggested, due to nearby hotels, with fears about fans gathering outside stadiums being one of the driving issues.
However, on Monday at least 12 clubs reportedly objected to games not being played at the expected home and away venues - even though it’s highly likely games will be played without spectators - and those accusatory reports have quickly subsided.
Asked if City had been opposed to neutral venues, Webber said: “To be honest, no. Obviously we want to play our home games, we want to play in front of our fans, because that’s what football is about. I think we all understand that playing in front of fans is off the table, for a while at least.
“But if you saw the agenda which occurred last week about the bottom six, that ‘we’re all trying to get relegation off the table and that we were using neutral venues as an excuse’, I’m just glad that’s been levelled up a bit this week.
“And it’s no surprise that once bigger clubs than us talk about it, suddenly people want to get around the table and don’t want to beat us up any more.
“So I’m glad that’s happened. I think most importantly is that we try and find a way of getting back playing where it’s safe and the competition is fair, they’re the key points.
“If that means we have to play on the moon to say it’s fair, then so be it, but what we can’t do is play it all out in the media when an agenda suits.
“I don’t think that’s fair on the bottom six, who got absolutely hammered last week.”
Webber was speaking on Sky Sports News, on a panel including presenter Geoff Shreeves, former Liverpool player and manager Graeme Souness and Manchester United legend Gary Neville.
The Welshman, asked by Neville if that coverage had made him angry, responded: “Oh, absolutely. We as a club decided to keep quiet publicly last week. It’s disappointing when you are dragged through, by so called top journalists and ex-players, everyone having an opinion on it, without the right to reply.
“I was in that meeting and there were a lot more than six clubs that expressed dissatisfaction around neutral venues. For it to be portrayed as the bottom six trying to kill football, kill a season, I thought was grossly unfair.
“At no point has our club said we don’t want to play. We want to play, once it’s safe, once it’s fair. So how it played out last week, definitely I thought was wrong.
“My job as a custodian of the club is to protect our players, our fans and our club – and it’s hard to sit there and keep your mouth shut when you’re getting beaten up and want to swing a few back.
“So definitely it was disappointing, because we didn’t deserve that as a club, I don’t think football deserved that. At times like this we all need to come together and we’ve got to fix this.”
Webber, alongside chief operating officer Ben Kensell and business and project director Zoe Ward, had spoken to the EDP and Evening News three weeks ago to explain that the Canaries are budgeting for a loss of income between £18million and £35m because of football’s suspension and uncertainty.
“We’ve already had Bury go as a club pre-Covid and it scares the life out of me,” he continued. “As someone who worked at Wrexham many years ago, during the ITV Digital crisis (in 2002), what’s going to happen to our clubs?
“We’re not talking about that enough. We’re talking about who gets relegated, who gets promoted, who wins the league, who does this, who does that – it’s like, no, we need to save football here.
“That has to be our number one priority, this game is going to be here for years, long after all of us have gone, and we have to somehow make sure that football comes out of this period in the best shape it can.”