Chairman happy to hear fans

Football club chairmen don't generally have too many positive words to say about protest meetings and marches - but Roger Munby has a more enlightened attitude than many to the thorny subject of fans' dissent.

Football club chairmen don't generally have too many positive words to say about protest meetings and marches - but Roger Munby has a more enlightened attitude than many to the thorny subject of fans' dissent.

The Norwich City chairman has always encouraged a unified approach at Carrow Road, with everyone connected with the club pulling together to achieve the same target - success on the pitch.

Togetherness was certainly a key word as the Canaries enjoyed several years of success under Nigel Worthington, culminating in promotion to the Premiership. But following a season of under-achievement the key relationship between the manager and supporters has become more than a little strained recently, with over 500 people attending a public meeting at St Andrews Hall and a slightly lower number marching on the ground before the recent home fixture against Stoke.

It goes without saying that Munby would prefer to see a harmonious atmosphere in and around Carrow Road - and he's hoping that the recent conciliatory noises coming from various groups will enable bridges to rebuilt over the coming months.

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But in an exclusive interview with the Eastern Daily Press yesterday he made it clear that he had no problems with supporters voicing their opinions on Norwich City and their manager. As far as he is concerned it's just another way of showing passion for the club, and providing protests remain peaceful he will never criticise those who share views markedly different to his own.

“I welcomed the meeting at St Andrews Hall,” said the Canaries' chairman. “It was a symptom of the great strength of our football club. It was a symptom of the great loyalty the fans feel towards this football club. Just like the volume of season ticket renewals, with many of those renewals having a letter of concern attached.

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“It shows people care. It shows people want the best for their football club - and it is their football club.

“I felt the size of the attendance was very creditable and I thought it was a different kind of meeting to the ones held by the club.

“This was a public meeting, with no representatives of Norwich City being present, and I felt many fans probably felt less inhibited - and more free to express their opinions.

“The meeting was something the club took very seriously - hence the follow-up meeting with representatives of the Norwich City Independent Supporters' Association.

“That was constructive, objective, calm. The committee summarised the meeting very well and made a number of good points. The club has often been credited with being good at listening to fans - it's also important to stress that the club hears what they have to say as well.

“The door always remains open. We only had a limited amount of time and if they had further points they wanted the club to examine in detail then they are always welcome to get in contact again, and they know that.”

Munby is equally open-minded about the protest march organised by the Worthy Out group, which saw some of club's most vociferous fans call for the removal of the manager in the wake of a truly depressing 4-1 defeat at Crystal Palace.

“That was another expression of loyalty that has to be taken very seriously,” he said. “On one hand it was slightly disruptive to people who were trying to get into the ground, and we have had lots of letters on that. On the other hand how can you organise a protest without it having an impact on people's access to Carrow Road?

“I thought it was well organised, peaceful, numerous - and people were able to put their views across. The organisers said they didn't want to disrupt the game, and they were as good as their word. I take my hat off to them for that.

“All credit too to our chief executive Neil Doncaster for going out there and speaking to some of the supporters involved. I thought that was admirable. It was a symptom of the bridges we are all trying to create from both sides.”

Although he supports the right of disenchanted fans to get their view across, Munby is pleased that both NCISA and Worthy Out have asked people not to protest against the manager before Saturday's big home game against Sheffield United. After last Saturday's excellent 2-2 draw at Leeds the groups both clearly felt the time had come to call a truce - but the chairman accepts that some deeply felt feelings about the manager still remain.

“I don't want to place too much weight on the Leeds performance itself, encouraging though it was, because it was just one game and one doesn't deny the intensity of feeling among some fans,” he said.

“I don't think it serves anyone's best interests to try and work out who are in the majority and who are in the minority but we recognise that a good number of fans have concerns and we take that seriously and listen to them.

“As far as building bridges is concerned, I think Delia and Michael said it admirably last week. If the distance between club and fans was allowed to grow then chaos would ensue. If we can find ways of listening to each other and taking each other's point of view then that will always be the best way forward.”

As far of the rest of the season is concerned, Munby has declined to set any precise targets - but he would clearly like to see a few more repeats of the Elland Road performance over the next eight games, and certainly doesn't want a repeat of the Selhurst Park debacle.

“In a low-key sense I think you would regard one defeat in the last six as a general trend that you would like to see consolidated,” he said. “You'd like to see more good performances, leading to more positive results. We would also like to see an approach which starts to recognise not only this season, but also the implications for next season as well.

“At the moment our main focus is on Sheffield United on Saturday. Last weekend the second half performance at Leeds was outstanding, almost by any criteria and particularly in the context of our season so far. I take my hat off to Nigel for that. His sense of tactics, and the way the players got a grip on the game and performed was first class. If we continue that approach it would be terrific.

“But like a lot of fans I still haven't got over Crystal Palace. You still bleed for that - and you bleed for the supporters too. I know how much time and money they invest in following their team.

“We all felt the pain of that defeat - the directors, management and players. It's not a question of the passion of the players, their work-rate, ability and commitment. They have all of that. It's a matter of putting that all together on a given day.”

Looking ahead to the weekend, he added: “I sincerely hope and believe that everyone's attention will now be wholly focussed on the Sheffield United game and what happens on the pitch. If our fans can get behind their team like we know they can, and we know they want to, then they will be become that12th man and that is my ambition for Saturday - for us all to participate in a rip-roaring game and to come out of it with a victory.

“There has been a strange atmosphere at recent games, I know that. It's borne out of concern and how people see the future of their club and the nature of its management. Now we are talking much more effectively and I hope whatever people's differences are they will find common ground. Let's hope it's now a case of everyone working together and trying to push forward.”

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