More questions than answers...

It may have come as a nasty shock to many Norwich City fans to discover what chief executive Neil Doncaster outlined this week as the “huge gap between perception and reality” over the state of the club's finances.

It may have come as a nasty shock to many Norwich City fans to discover what chief executive Neil Doncaster outlined this week as the “huge gap between perception and reality” over the state of the club's finances.

In defending the Canaries against accusations of a tight-fisted lack of ambition, he produced a list of what he regards as mistaken assumptions by supporters and reporters alike about just how much spare cash there ought to be in the transfer kitty.

In his EDP column, Doncaster revealed that striker Dean Ashton cost City £4.5m rather than the £3m originally quoted in reports when he signed from Crewe, that the Jarrold Stand cost £9m to build rather than £6m, that Moroccan international Youssef Safri cost £950,000 rather than £500,000, and that the sale of land for flats at what most of us still like to call the River End of the ground brought in only £4m rather than £6m.

It amounts to a polite ticking-off for those firing the bullets at Fortress Carrow Road over lack of investment in new players this summer, but how they were supposed to know all the finer details of City's financial arrangements I'm not entirely sure.

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Most of this information had not been made public before, at least not in such simple terms.

The club's annual report for the year ending May 31, 2005, may have contained enough clues about the state of the Canaries' finances for those prepared to plough through its 44 pages, but not all supporters are shareholders and not all of them will have seen it.

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So there are shades here of Jeremy Paxman sitting behind his desk on University Challenge with all the answers on little cards and chiding the students for getting things wrong.

Possibly most worrying of all the figures published on Thursday was the disclosure that City were only £580,000 better off after their year in the Premiership than they were before the season began - although in this case we had been warned.

When the Canaries' accounts for 2004-05 were issued last October, they reported a profit after tax of £7.7m, but that figure was described at the time by Doncaster as an “accounting quirk” and he pointed out that the real figure would be closer to £700,000 once long-term expenditure had been taken into account.

One is tempted to ask if the Canaries could do no more than break even in a Premiership season, what chance do they ever have of clearing a debt of about £18m?

An extended stay in the top flight, which they were one victory away from securing, would probably have enabled them to gradually chip away at their financial millstone. As it was, however, they doubled their players' wage bill from £6.4m to £12.8m and spent a further £5.7m on new signings without hanging on to their hard-earned status.

In one sense, this week's disclosures explain why City have not been wading into the transfer market during the close season with the same vigour as Birmingham or West Bromwich Albion - though at least one man at Carrow Road clearly feels they could have been a bit more adventurous.

But it could be argued that the latest financial nuggets of information cast before the populace actually pose as many questions as they answer.

For example, was it an absolute necessity to spend a further £3m on top of the original construction costs of the Jarrold Stand, including £1.3m fitting out the third floor dining and viewing areas for the executive fan, already very well catered for in other parts of the ground?

What exactly were the £2m “infrastructure costs” involved in selling the land at the back of the River . . . sorry, Norwich and Peterborough Stand, which sliced a third off the sale price of £6m?

Why, when Page 7 of the annual report referred to the £5.7m spent on transfer fees “with £2.5m of that total being invested in the club's record signing Dean Ashton”, did he end up costing City £4.5m?

And if Safri's transfer fee was virtually doubled to £950,000 by add-ons, including appearance-related payments - for a player who played only 52 games in his first two seasons - are some of City's other signings going to prove considerably more expensive than originally announced? Will Andy Hughes actually cost £1m rather than £500,000? What was the cost of Peter Thorne's free transfer? Why do so many players move for “an undisclosed fee”?

I'm not for a minute suggesting the figures are inaccurate or there is anything untoward in them, but one set of answers inevitably throws up a new set of questions.

There was a time when football club finances were so simple that the City balance sheet was just that - one folded sheet. Later a simple booklet was introduced, before forests were cleared to enable the current brochure to come on the scene.

Yet, simple or not, the basic balance sheet was in some ways more informative. You could find out, for example, how much City's police bill was for the season - and how much the top earners were paid.

Without naming names, the accounts listed how many employees fell into each wage bracket.

In those days the top sums were in the region of £35-40,000 and £40-45,000, but at today's salaries? Now that would make interesting reading.

t Whatever the Canaries have paid their top earners over the past few seasons, they could never be accused of profligacy on an FA scale. It has been revealed that Sven-Goran Eriksson will continue to receive his full England salary until next year, an agreement that could cost the FA an extra £3.4m. While new boss Steve McClaren has started collecting a reported £3m a year, Eriksson will receive his full salary until January 31, 2007, then half his salary for the five months until June 30, 2007. The FA will also make up any shortfall in Eriksson's salary until the end of June if he takes a lower-paid job before then.

The severance deal is currently costing the FA £85,000 a week - no wonder tickets to watch England are so extortionate.

t One thing I'm not sorry to see axed as part of City's pre-match routine - unless I happened to miss it in the first two games - is the players' huddle. The first time I saw this was at Lord's in 2000 when Alec Stewart was captaining England against the West Indies.

To be fair, England won that match, and our cricketers seem to have persevered with the huddle. But even under-11 football teams do it now. And if everyone does it, doesn't it become a bit pointless?

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