Give Delia and Michael a break
David Cuffley There are weeks when it is hard to keep sight of the fact that football is a game at all - one of the simplest in the world, confined to the field of play.
There are weeks when it is hard to keep sight of the fact that football is a game at all - one of the simplest in the world, confined to the field of play. And this has been one of those weeks.
The news pages, the airwaves and the websites have been dominated by resignations, takeovers and transfer wrangles as events at Newcastle United, Manchester United, Manchester City, West Ham, and, closer to home, at Norwich City, have made the business of 22 men kicking a ball about on a green field seem like a mere sideshow.
The professional game has always been about money and power to a certain extent, but with each passing year since the advent of the Premier League, it has become more and more about those who have it and those who don't.
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It must have been galling for Glenn Roeder, less than three days after his team had produced one of the best performances of his time as City manager - though they are still without a win since the tour of Sweden - that the flowing football they delivered against Birmingham, at least in the first half of last Saturday's Championship game, was almost forgotten.
Instead, the attention of shareholders, season ticket-holders, members and other supporters was concentrated on the latest boardroom drama at Carrow Road.
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The departure of millionaire directors Andrew and Sharon Turner, little more than a year after joining the board, was first reported on the Norwich Evening News website on Tuesday morning.
According to Andrew Turner, the couple had made their decision two weeks earlier, though he declined to expand on the reasons.
The club that professes to be so open and transparent with its fans presumably didn't feel it was necessary to inform their thousands of shareholders that two of the directors had quit, at least not until the news broke elsewhere, after which a terse, two-paragraph statement was issued to the Press and published on the club website.
Later the same day, club chairman Roger Munby met the media to discuss the ramifications of the Turners' sudden exit. The news was worse than feared.
Not only had they gone, but he announced the Canaries would no longer be receiving the £2m loan the couple had pledged for season 2008-09 - a figure that, oddly, was amended later in the day to £1.5m.
The Turners had already loaned the club £2.5m, but City now had a big hole in the budget for this season, said the chairman.
“While some might mischievously suggest the club might be on the brink of administration, I can strike that from people's minds,” said Munby. “A series of disasters would have to occur before we were anywhere near that situation.
“The interest-free loans are on a long-term repayment so that will not come into play for a long time yet, but it does leave us with a short-term financial hole, in that they were intending to put in a further £1.5m this year.”
That had affected Roeder's “further plans” in the transfer market, admitted Munby, but the manager, no stranger to behind-the-scenes upheaval at his previous clubs, seems to have taken the potential blow to his future spending power philosophically.
“Glenn is totally supportive of the way in which the football club is having to manage with an immediate £1.5m hole in its resources,” said Munby.
Roeder's attitude to the whole episode is to concentrate on football duties and he declined to comment on events in the boardroom.
“At times like these, I think it's best to keep the players' minds focused on the job in hand, which is preparing for our next game,” said Roeder in midweek, arguing that he did not want to provide any excuses for his team ahead of the trip to Plymouth, of all places, hardly a happy hunting ground in the last two seasons.
The chairman revealed the club was already in talks with potential investors, but in the meantime it was disclosed that joint majority shareholders Delia Smith and Michael Wynn Jones had dipped into their pockets once again to come up with a £2m loan to help the club through its latest financial trouble.
It takes their total outlay in share purchases and loans over the past 12 years as City directors to an estimated £11m.
Yet as the clamour grows for City to bring billionaire businessman Peter Cullum to the negotiating table - following his revelation at the end of June that he had offered the club £20m for players last season - it seems to have been accompanied by a growing air of disillusionment and hostility from sections of supporters towards the so-called Stowmarket Two.
The message boards have been full of demands for them to sell up and go to make way for new investment, accompanied by accusations about their motives for having stayed on for as long as they have. “The sooner she's gone, the better,” was the conclusion of more than one poster.
Now I'm not after an invite to the boardroom or a signed cookery book because there are enough flatterers in the queue already, in the media as much as anywhere else. There are times when the level of deference shown to the club's owners would embarrass even the Queen.
But the vitriol currently poured on the heads of the majority shareholders is, to my mind, unreasonable, uncalled for and in some cases, downright spiteful.
They came to City's aid when the club was in pretty dire straits in 1996 and even in the darkest moments, have not walked away from their responsibilities.
It has hardly been a glory-filled 12 years, save for one trip to the play-off final in Cardiff and one memorable season under Nigel Worthington as Football League champions.
Yes, they have made mistakes - the most obvious being the wholehearted backing of a certain former manager in the face of all the evidence on the field - but no one can dispute the time and energy they have devoted to the Canary cause.
Is it reasonable, given City's financial position, to believe that owners with the club's best interests at heart would have rejected the advances of a billionaire and clung stubbornly to power if his offer was really as straightforward as it appears?
1957: With City facing financial ruin, an appeal fund was set up, chaired by the Lord Mayor of Norwich, Arthur South, to raise £20,000. The entire board resigned and only one director was re-elected at an extraordinary general meeting. Geoffrey Watling became chairman of the new board, heralding a new era of success.
1973: Geoffrey Watling dropped a bombshell at the annual meeting on the eve of the new season, standing down as club chairman after 16 years. He was succeeded by Arthur (later Sir Arthur) South. Manager Ron Saunders resigned three months later after a row with South, to be replaced by John Bond, but City were relegated from Division One at the end of the season.
1985: Sir Arthur's 12-year reign as chairman came to an end when the whole board resigned in a dispute over the building of the new City Stand. An emergency committee ran the club until a new board - including current chairman Roger Munby - was elected in January 1986 under chairman Robert Chase and vice-chairman Jimmy Jones.
1988: The sacking of manager Ken Brown and major staff changes in November 1987 led to calls for Robert Chase to go and, after a motion of no confidence in the chairman, an extraordinary general meeting was held at St Andrew's Hall early in the New Year. The motion was defeated in the second vote thanks to every share counting - and who held most of the shares?
1996: Robert Chase's 10 years as chairman ended in May when, with City in the grip of another financial crisis, he resigned and sold his shares to club president Geoffrey Watling. The board was reshaped again with Barry Lockwood as acting chairman. Six months later, four new directors were appointed, including Delia Smith and Michael Wynn Jones.