Delia and Michael approach 25 years of Canaries control

Delia Smith and Michael Wynn Jones, pictured at Carrow Road in November 1996

Delia Smith and Michael Wynn Jones, pictured at Carrow Road in November 1996 after joining the board of directors at Norwich City - Credit: Dennis Whitehead

Four trophies, six promotions, five relegations, two play-off finals and 12 managers have featured during Delia Smith and Michael Wynn Jones’ time as Norwich City directors, which started almost 25 years ago. 

Later this month, November 28 will mark the 25th anniversary of City’s majority shareholders first being elected to City’s board of directors as the club realigned following the tumultuous exit of Robert Chase in the summer of 1996. 

Revealed as new board members alongside Michael Foulger and Barry Skipper at Carrow Road, the new directors would inject around £2million into the Canaries as the battles for power continued. 

Wynn Jones and Smith would become majority shareholders in 1998, having bought Geoffrey Watling’s 42 per cent shareholding the previous year, who was in his 80s and of ill-health at the time.  

Having saved City from financial ruin on at least three occasions, the man known as ‘Mr Norwich City’ was a life president and former chairman who had been integral to forcing Chase out. He passed away in 2004 aged 91, having dedicated 50 years of service to his beloved Canaries. 

Following a share issue to raise over £1million of capital, which the Stowmarket couple had agreed to underwrite, they ended 1998 with 63 per cent of shares and had become the public figureheads of the club’s - at times painful – attempts to reignite top flight ambitions. 

Many highs and lows have defined the intervening time, with the 25-year anniversary arriving with the club they love yet again finding life in the Premier League difficult as a self-sustainable business. 

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Much has changed at the top table of English football since November 1996. It has become a billionaires’ playground where some of the world’s wealthiest people attract the globe’s top players, to compete in a much-hyped competition that is screened in almost every country incessantly. 

Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich took over at Chelsea in 2003, US businessman Malcolm Glazer forced his way into power at Manchester United in 2005 and United Arab Emirates royalty bought Manchester City in 2008. 

The evolution of the English game, that had been started by the creation of the Premier League in 1992 and the rise in technology driven by Sky, had soared to almost unimaginable levels. 

In 2021, billionaire ownership is par for the course. Traditional big boys such as Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham, Everton and Aston Villa are all joined by clubs including West Ham, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Brighton and Leicester in having extremely wealthy benefactors. 

And, of course, now there’s Newcastle. The team currently sat two points above Norwich in the Premier League relegation zone have just been bought by the Saudia Arabia private investment fund, making the Magpies the wealthiest club on the planet. 

DARREN HUCKERBY WITH DELIA SMITH AND MICHAEL WYNN JONES AFTER SIGNING FOR NORWICH AHEAD OF THEIR MAT

Delia Smith and Michael Wynn Jones unveil the signing of Darren Huckerby on Boxing Day 2003 - Credit: Steve Adams

Yet through it all, Norwich City have kept plugging away with morals intact, trying to defy the odds and revive the club’s top tier fortunes in spite of the admitted financial disparities. 

Prior to the painful relegation of 1995 amid protests against Chase selling star players - which would lead to Smith and Wynn Jones’ arrival - the Canaries had spent 20 of the last 23 years in the top flight. 

City were an established force, finishing in the top five on three occasions, reaching three League Cup finals and winning one of them, as well as reaching two FA Cup semi-finals. 

Chris Sutton had been sold to Blackburn – being funded by a wealthy owner – for a British record £5million in 1994 after scoring 25 league goals. This summer, Manchester City signed Jack Grealish for £100million.  

The arrival of celebrity cook Smith and publisher Wynn Jones had been speculated about for some time before their arrival, with their love for City well known. 

delia and michael wynn jones with the first division trophy

Norwich City majority shareholders Delia Smith and Michael Wynn Jones with the Division One trophy at City Hall in 2004 - Credit: Adrian Judd

Posing with a yellow and green scarf, Smith spoke to the Eastern Daily Press on the night it all began in 1996, saying: “I’m very excited. It’s every supporter’s dream to have some say in the club and I’m very interested to learn.” 

Amid the roller-coaster ride there have been many questions about whether City would be sold to wealthier owners, including accounting firm Deloitte being enlisted in 2010 to search for potentially appropriate investment.  

The search proved “unsuccessful in a difficult market” according to former chief executive David McNally later that year, as finances started to stabilise after promotion from League One. 

Celebrations in the Canaries directors' box as the League One title was won in 2010

Celebrations in the Canaries directors' box as the League One title was won in 2010 - Credit: Simon Finlay

Earlier, there had been the arrival of Andrew and Sharon Turner in 2007, buying Barry Skipper’s stake, but less than 18 months later they had departed, with their interest-free £2.5m loans eventually repaid. 

That followed a summer of wrangling with wealthy businessman Peter Cullum, who went public with his interest in taking control of the club for £20m, which fell short of a £56m internal valuation when including the £20m of debt and bank loans which were causing such concern. 

The following year, after relegation from League One, a new board was elected and new chairman Alan Bowkett worked alongside McNally to restructure the debt and begin the roller-coaster ride which would spark the current yo-yo process between the Premier League and Championship. 

The above barely skims the surface. It’s 25 years which would most definitely – and probably will – one day fill a book full of revelations, surprises and drama. 

Norwich City's Joint Majority Shareholder Delia Smith and Norwich City's Joint Majority Shareholder

Majority shareholders Michael Wynn Jones and Delia Smith with the Championship trophy in 2019 - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

Yet in the here and now, it’s believed that discussions of pursuing fresh investment or potential new owners have not been on the agenda during board meetings at Carrow Road in recent years, despite Smith and Wynn Jones celebrating their 80th birthdays earlier this year. 

If the current on-field struggles bring yet another Premier League relegation, it seems unlikely that will remain the case as supporters become exasperated in a sport increasingly defined and dominated by financial power. 

THE FUTURE?

Succession isn’t just one of the most popular television shows in the world at the moment, it’s a subject that is playing on the minds of Norwich City fans. 

Whether it’s the future of Daniel Farke as head coach or that of majority shareholders Delia Smith and Michael Wynn Jones, the club’s current Premier League struggles have brought succession back to the surface. 

Later this month, Smith and Wynn Jones will pass the milestone of 25 years since joining the Canaries’ board of directors. They will also prepare for City’s annual general meeting, when shareholders get the chance to grill the club’s senior staff. 

Last year’s AGM had to be held over video call, with questions sent in advance, to be answered alongside the usual presentations about the progress of club projects and the annual financial report. 

It’s not clear whether the AGM will return to normal service in one of Carrow Road’s lounges yet, or whether continuing worries about Covid-19 will prevent a large crowd gathering for an indoor meeting. 

In either scenario, if the Canaries are still bottom of the Premier League and without a win, it is sure to be lively. 

Smith and Wynn Jones both celebrated their 80th birthdays this year and have previously said that they intend to pass on their majority shareholding to their nephew, Tom, who joined the board of directors in January 2016. 

Speaking to The Times newspaper a couple of months earlier, as part of a wide-ranging interview about club ownership, Delia said: "The supporters will be very disappointed to hear that. But no way will we sell. We don't even listen to any enquiries. 

"Our nephew, Tom, is now a board director. He's a very good board director. 

"He's a very passionate Norwich City supporter and he will be the recipient of our shares." 

Tom Smith, the new director at Norwich City Football Club. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Norwich City director Tom Smith - Credit: Denise Bradley

Tom has since become a familiar face at Carrow Road; alongside his aunt and uncle in directors’ boxes home and away, as well as on the club’s work to campaign for safe-standing, in his role as trustee of the Community Sports Foundation and being credited with the initial idea for the Canaries Bond scheme which funded the new academy facilities at Colney. 

Mentions of when, or if, that succession plan remains in place have dried up in recent years though – as English clubs have continued to be bought by wealthy owners and investment groups. 

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