Backlash fears as Cullum deal collapses

Sarah Hall Norwich City supporters today told of their fears the football club could face a backlash from fans after talks with billionaire Peter Cullum were sensationally scrapped.

Sarah Hall

Norwich City supporters today told of their fears the football club could face a backlash from fans after talks with billionaire Peter Cullum were sensationally scrapped.

Fans' hopes that Glenn Roeder was set to get a £20m transfer kitty boost were dashed after the club and Mr Cullum issued a joint statement saying talks had been “terminated with immediate effect.”

Majority shareholders Delia Smith and Michael Wynn Jones yesterday met the 57-year-old, ranked as Britain's 40th richest man, having originally dismissed the approach, saying they were yet to receive a “financially viable” offer.

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Mr Cullum today declined to go into detail about the talks, but did say: “The discussions were very amicable from my perspective but sadly nothing could happen. We just keep our fingers crossed that we have a good season.”

The joint statement, issued in the early hours of today, read: “Despite the very best efforts of both sides, and following a number of amicable discussions, Peter Cullum and the directors of Norwich City Football Club PLC have been unable to agree a mutually acceptable basis upon which they can meet the stated objectives of Peter Cullum, whilst still ensuring compliance with the current legal and contractual obligations of the club to its stakeholders, and delivering a solution that the directors of Norwich City Football Club consider to be in the best interests of the club and its stakeholders. Accordingly, all negotiations have been terminated with immediate effect.”

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Carrow Road chief executive Neil Doncaster today refused to reveal further details about the talks themselves, including how long they had lasted, but insisted the search for investment would continue.

He said: “The search for new investment has been constant in the 10 years I have been at the club and the board is in constant dialogue with key businesses and individuals around Norwich. We remain extremely keen to bring in new investment.”

Mr Doncaster said if somebody did want to put money into the playing budget, all they would have to do was write a cheque, but if somebody wanted to take over a club they would have to make a separate offer to all shareholders, which in this case, he said had not happened.

With Glenn Roeder's predicted summer signing spree yet to emerge, some supporters are speculating the talks have simply been put on hold because other clubs had been upping price tags on players because they believe the Canaries would soon have cash to splash.

Mr Doncaster refused to say whether the club would speak to Mr Cullum again in the future but on the transfer issue he said: “We have certainly seen with other clubs, where there has been speculation that they will have more to spend, the price they are quoted for players suddenly goes up. I do not think speculation about becoming a wealthy club does you any favours in the transfer market.”

Mr Cullum claimed he had originally offered £5m in transfer cash in January, when the team was fighting a relegation battle, to be followed by £15m this season. It seemed he hoped that £20m for players would also see him become majority shareholder, although he said he wanted Delia to remain “as a figurehead”.

But bosses at Carrow Road had already set out the conditions any investor would need to meet. They said on top of any investment in the playing staff, it would be necessary to pay up to £16m to buy out shares, £16m to pay off debts and another £4m to repay loans from the existing directors - a total of at least £56m.

Fans groups warned the collapse of talks could anger supporters who had hoped his money would help the Canaries get back into the Premiership.

Kathy Blake, Norwich City Independent Supporters Association secretary, said: “I hope the fans will be made fully aware of the details, otherwise I think there could be a bit of bad feeling about this.

“There are going to be a lot of disappointed fans and they need to know why this has happened. The devil is in the detail and it might be that the club have made a really good decision, but they are just not telling us enough for us to make a judgement.”

Lifelong Canary Roy Blower said: “You have to look at both sides of the coin, but, obviously, the majority of fans are going to be extremely disappointed with the situation.

“There was this crock of gold that was there to be taken, and it's not been. And, until we know whether the Cullum deal was unreasonable, fans are not going to be placated.”

Norwich North MP and season ticket holder Ian Gibson said: “We still haven't got a decent team in place for next season and we shouldn't be getting caught up in silly games between individuals.”

A shareholders' group have warned of dire consequences should the Peter Cullum investment debate begin to divide Norwich City fans into two factions.

The Norwich City Supporters' Trust, which is fighting for a democratically elected “fan” director on the board, fear a wide division of opinion could prove dangerous.

“We believe that to create a polarisation of the fans either pro or anti the existing majority shareholders will be so damaging that it could tear the heart out of the club and return it to position it was in during the latter years of the Robert Chase regime,” said Trust secretary Mike Reynolds.

“There is a need for the club to progress, but this is best done through evolution not revolution.”

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