Meeting cried out for the hand of Paxman

DAVID CUFFLEY The worst of Thursday's wild weather had abated by the time Norwich City shareholders turned up at Carrow Road for their annual bout of sparring with the board.


The worst of Thursday's wild weather had abated by the time Norwich City shareholders turned up at Carrow Road for their annual bout of sparring with the board.

The comparative calm after the storm probably came as a relief to club officials, who have been accused of many things over the years but never yet of arranging gale-force winds and transport chaos as a means of keeping numbers down on the night and reducing the risk of taking a battering.

True, the Gunn Club wasn't crammed with an audience of 600, as had been the case at the previous annual meeting 15 months earlier when Nigel Worthington faced a Halloween grilling. But there were about 200 present, certainly a big enough turnout to guarantee some pertinent questions, even if some of the speeches could and should have been curtailed.

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I say speeches, plural, because it wasn't just club chairman Roger Munby who spoke at length with his opening address of 1,541 words, quoting American poet Samuel Ullman and civil rights campaigner and Nobel peace Prize winner Martin Luther King - oh, and City manager Peter Grant - along the way. Grant himself managed an 18-minute reply to the first question about a perceived lack of passion in the team.

The problem with this meeting is that some of the shareholders grabbing the microphone do so to deliver their own speeches rather than ask questions. The forum is supposed to be a question and answer session, not a public speaking competition.

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The impact of those who make concise, relevant points is often lost amid the outpourings of others who grab their once-a-year chance for five minutes of fame.

Perhaps questions should be submitted in advance as on Question Time. There would no doubt be cynical accusations of spin doctors slipping the awkward ones into the bin when nobody is looking, but we really need a Robin Day or Jeremy Paxman figure to keep things moving and enable more people to have a say.

That's because most of the speakers made some important points.

David Batley, from Pakefield, long-time Soapbox correspondent - who was thrilled with his appearance in our Pink 'Un Hello Dolly feature a few years ago as a lookalike for Sean Connery - could on Thursday's evidence stage his own stand-up routine.

He urged Grant to switch Dion Dublin back to a defensive role and make him captain, and he pleaded with the manager to be positive and “go for it”, horrified by the substitution of Robert Earnshaw when City were 2-1 up at Wolves.

His passion for the club was welcomed by the manager.

Former teacher Cameron Newark, from Caister, who had no less a player than Dale Gordon in his school team back in the 70s, was to the point, as ever, and suggested some cost-cutting measures.

He pointed out that 13 of the 38 men on the team picture at the start of the season were not players. He asked why the floodlights had been switched on throughout a home game earlier in the season when the sun had shone brightly for 90 minutes, and questioned why City felt it necessary to stay in a hotel overnight for their game at Ipswich in November, then proceeded to play as if they had slept under Southwold Pier.

His questioning of the Ipswich trip and the need for an assistant kit manager brought an angry response from Grant, who said he had personally asked for the overnight stay and argued that saving £7,000 on the kit assistant's job would not buy him a striker capable of taking the club to the Premier League. He invited the questioner to visit Colney and see the laundry operation for himself.

The floodlights, said chief executive Neil Doncaster, were on at the referee's request.

Peter Wolsey pointed out his disappointment that there had been no acknowledgment in the annual report of the work of Steve Foley as coach for 10 years, an oversight that was accepted on the top table.

But the talking point of the evening came when regular home and away fan Keith Roads made an emotional plea for board members to step down following two disappointing seasons, suggesting there were other people out there willing to pump money into the club.

He said: “I think it is time for a new board. I really think this club is on a 10-year cycle.

“I think there are people out there who would put a lot of money into Norwich City but that would mean a lot of people on the board would have to step down. But I think that is the only way forward. We need real investment in this football club, not £250,000 signings.”

Joint majority shareholder Delia Smith replied by revealing she was prepared to give up her stake in the club if the right offer was made.

“If anyone has got the money, you can have my seat on the board any old time,” she said. “Derby County had five people put in £5 million each.

“If there are five people in Norfolk with £5 million each who want to come on to this board and put that money into the football they would be sitting in these places now.”

But she was adamant it would have to be someone prepared to put money into the club, not just buy her and husband Michael Wynn Jones' majority shareholding.

The subject of Worthington's departure was not allowed to drop off the agenda completely, and shareholder Keith Spanton let it be known that he not only felt City's current position was down to their failure to remove the previous manager quickly enough, but was irked by the board's failure to admit their mistake.

He said: “I'm disappointed with the Nigel affair. There doesn't seem to be any acceptance by people that had a decision been made earlier we would be in a different position. All the people were wrong all of the time.

“Consequently, the decision should have been made long before. Nigel was a good man for our football club and did wonderful things, but like a lot of things in football, he had reached the end of the line. The decision wasn't taken soon enough and we are where we are today.”

Which, before today's matches, was 17th in the Coca-Cola Championship.

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