It's the hope that kills you
The Man In The Stands During the past ten days Norwich fans - at least the romantics in our ranks - were afforded the opportunity to dream about a team significantly improved by a £20m investment.
The Man In The Stands
During the past ten days Norwich fans - at least the romantics in our ranks - were afforded the opportunity to dream about a team significantly improved by a £20m investment.
Just as we looked set to embark on another season of underachievement, our fifth in a row, a White Knight had arrived to elevate us from the monotony of lower-table struggle. Jackpot.
It was fun while it lasted, but last week's news that talks had been cancelled was a cruel pill to swallow, albeit a predictable one. The Man still hopes (yes, that bl**dy hope again) that there has simply been an outbreak of common sense at Carrow Road, and discussions will continue in private, but it's probably a long-shot. We shall see.
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However, there has been one discernable benefit of this upheaval, in that it has provided an absolutely fascinating insight into the workings of our club. And if nothing else, we are left with a much clearer sense of the ambitions of our current board.
I spoke to Cullum over the phone for about 30 minutes last week, the result of an interview I had set up weeks ago, long before the investment story broke.
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The Man contacted him after he made his “never say never” comments in the Independent; I thought if he could elaborate further it might make a nice piece for Archant's season preview magazine. Sadly for The Man, in pure journalistic terms, I was scooped. Delia made her “lovely old investment” comments at the Norfolk Show, and Cullum received some calls from reporters assuming he was the mystery backer.
It was then - with Delia now seemingly in the money - that Cullum decided to go public on his own offer to the club. That is one of the supreme ironies of this whole saga; that dear old Delia, gawd bless her, prompted this whole thing. How I bet she wishes she had kept her mouth shut.
Cullum stuck to his appointment with me, which is how the “talks are back on” story emerged via this column last week.
Now, on the basis of my little chat with him last week, The Man is not going to suddenly become Peter Cullum's champion. Quite frankly, only a privileged few know what went on in the talks the club had with him, and Delia and Michael's 11-year stint at the club deserves a good deal more loyalty than that.
But there is one particular element to this whole fiasco that really troubles me; the fact that the richest Norwich fan in the world (I think that's a safe bet) approached the club in October - a deal was rejected - and yet NO-ONE from the club bothered to go back to him.
This is despite regular promises from Delia that she would step aside if the “right person” came along. It is just downright weird; completely at odds with what we have been told in the past.
As far as The Man is concerned, as soon as Delia and Michael found out there was a Norwich fan worth £1.7bn - ONE POINT SEVEN BILLION POUNDS - there should have been a invite for a slap-up meal in Stowmarket pushed under Towergate HQ's door, either that or to one of those curry nights with Alan Hansen. But there wasn't, and ludicrously it is Cullum that has had to make the running.
Talk about the tail wagging the dog…
And when Cullum came back for a second bite, he was first greeted with a £56m price tag, and then had to wait for Norwich Union to broker talks.
It all points to the fact that Delia and Michael do not, when push comes to shove, want to give up control of this club. To anyone. They see it as their baby, and they are not going to give it away.
The Man would be happy if the Stowmarket Two came out and said: “We've met Peter Cullum on numerous occasions, had lots of talks, tried to do a deal, but at the end of the day he's simply asking us to give the club away for nothing - and if truth be told we need (and deserve) a return on the millions we have ploughed into it.”
I could live with that, I really could. But the impression I get is that Cullum has been chased out of Norfolk, with the Stowmarket Two and Neil Doncaster gloriously waving their pitch-forks behind him. Now, before I get shot down for daring to question the judgement of Ayatollah Delia, let me restate that I would still choose them over Cullum, as things stand.
But what is clear is that there is an almost unhealthy fundamentalism that surrounds the Stowmarket Two, which brands anyone an infidel for questioning their judgement.
One of their supporters, an experienced national sports journalist, even said he did not need to speak to Peter Cullum to know whether he was right for Norwich, because Delia would instinctively work out what's best for the club. Holy moly!
This is the woman, and board, who appointed Bryan Hamilton and Peter Grant…everyone makes mistakes, it is not being disloyal or ungrateful to question the actions of our current regime, even though they don't take criticism very well. They may think they are always acting in the “best interests of the football club”; but we have a duty to question that sometimes.
And to this end, a certain amount of mud has been slung Cullum's way since the talks were “officially” cancelled - miraculously emerging on message-boards and in reports.
Some have questioned why Cullum has chosen now to go public on his bid for the club? Well, why not? If he was a really uncaring soul he'd have done it in October when the club was on its knees.
Others have described him as a “distant owner” and have talked of him disappearing to his “Maidstone HQ” - sorry, but since when has Kent been on the Moon? Maybe it's a sign that he'll trust the club to run itself, albeit with one of his suits to keep an eye on things, Mr Doncaster. And let's not forget, we are owned by two people who live in Suffolk, so we can't be touchy about locations…
There are also claims that Cullum is trying to get the club “on the cheap”. Maybe. But I'd like to see Roger Munby go before the Dragons' Den panel and tell them that a club £20m in debt, with no real playing assets, set to make a significant loss year-on-year, is worth £56m. Do me a favour.
The “King of Deals” description also hints at the fact Cullum is a ruthless old bugger. Well, if we are going to wait for a nice self-made billionaire to come along, we'll have an even longer wait. Those that think he's just a bit of a shark would be worth paying The Norfolk Hospice in Snettisham a visit, it is still open thanks to a £500,000 donation from Towergate last year.
On the subject of donations, the remark was also made that Cullum (the tight sod) could just simply write the club a cheque for £20m and take a seat on the board. Last week Neil Doncaster even said the club was still open to “donations” to Glenn's transfer fund. What nonsense. It is totally fair that Cullum wants a say over how the £20m is spent, this is a board that sanctioned a £500,000 deal for Andy Hughes after all.
Again - if you asked me to choose now between the Stowmarket Two and Cullum, I choose the former based on sentiment and loyalty - but the fact Cullum has had to make the plays in this saga is deeply unsettling.
Be honest with us Delia, either you want to let go or you don't? Seemingly putting up a fight with a billionaire Norwich fan as the country moves towards recession - thereby plunging the club into further financial trouble as income dwindles - does not look good from where I am sitting. OTBC.