Return of fans and academy success in focus as City hold AGM via video conference
- Credit: Norwich City FC
The return of fans to Carrow Road, academy success and the financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic were all on the agenda as Norwich City held their annual general meeting on Thursday night.
This year there was no packed-out lounge in the Barclay Stand however, as City’s directors held a socially distanced AGM with no other shareholders able to attend - but able to join via a video conference online.
The AGM was held on the day that the government had confirmed that Norfolk would be in tier two of the Covid-19 guidelines when lockdown ends on Wednesday, which will allow 2,000 fans to return to Carrow Road under strict social distancing and safety rules – rather than 4,000 allowed for tier one areas.
The Canaries were one of a handful of clubs able to host a pilot game in September, when 1,000 season ticket holders were in the South Stand for the 2-2 draw with Preston, and joint majority shareholder Delia Smith had written an open letter to prime minister Boris Johnson pleading for football clubs to get more help in staying afloat financially – only for those pilots to end as coronavirus rates spiked again.
That means that the home game against Sheffield Wednesday a week on Saturday could see fans return, with chief operating officer Ben Kensell answering one of the questions sent in ahead of the meeting, asking if we could see full crowds at Carrow Road before the end of this season.
“It’s certainly what everyone wants to see and it’s looking promising with the vaccine,” said Kensell.
“It’s also encouraging with the tiered status that we’ve received today, so we will have fans back in for the Sheffield Wednesday game, at the earliest.
“I think we led the way in this if I’m completely honest, as a football club championing fans returning and we’re really delighted to bring fans back.
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“It’s not been the same, football without supporters isn’t the same and we can’t wait to have fans coming back.
“There’s every chance and we’ve got to remain positive and have a glass-half-full view on this, rather than half empty.
“So we’ll be ready to have fans back and we’ll be delighted to be able to share in that community again, I know our fans, our players and our staff can’t wait to have them back.”
The basics of the club’s financial report for the 2019-20 financial year were revisited, having been published earlier this month, which had shown a profit before tax of £2.1million, up from the £39.4m loss of 2018-19.
The headline figures had seen promotion to the Premier League bring a huge rise in turnover from £33.7m for 2018-19, to £119.3m for the year ending July 31, 2020 – chiefly thanks to the huge rise in broadcast revenue
The impact of the pandemic however had reduced profits, with the financial hit at £12.3m as of the end of July, thanks to rebates to fans and broadcasters and other costs. This of course has continued to build into the current financial year though as football continues behind closed doors, with finance director Anthony Richens estimating that in total the pandemic will eventually have cost the club around £25m.
The significant value of the sales of Jamal Lewis and Ben Godfrey during the summer transfer window - reportedly worth around £40miliion initially - and the decision for direct debit payments for season tickets to continue and be transferred to the 2021-22 season are part of the measures taken to prepare for that impact.
A spending review, non-essential projects being put on hold, an attempt to minimise commercial rebates and the use of the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme are all part of the attempts to deal with the unexpected financial pressures as a self-sustainable club without wealthy benefactors.
Richens, who said around 50pc of staff – believed to be around 200 - were put on furlough in March but that was now down to 90 thanks to the flexi-furlough allowances.
Richens concluded: "I truly believe we should be proud of our self-financed model and at times like this it emphasises how important it is.”
With the formal business of the accounts being approved and both Delia Smith and Michael Foulger re-elected as directors, attentions then turned to football.
Head of football development Steve Weaver, who was promoted from the role of academy manager earlier this year, highlighted the success of the club’s youth academy and the benefits already being felt following the vast improvements to facilities at the Lotus Training Centre at Colney.
Weaver highlighted that at the end of 2016-17 City’s academy was ranked 24th of the 24 category one academies in the country and spending just under 20 percent below the national average spend of £4.89m by category one academies.
This rose to 11th of the 24 in 2018-19 despite that spend dropping to 25.5pc below the national average, with City spending £4.21m on their academy. The rankings for 2019-20 are not available until April but that spend has dropped further to 29.9pc below the national average.
He illustrated that productivity by pointing to the rise in first-team appearances from academy graduates, which was 90 during 2016-17 and rose to 172 in 2017-18 after Daniel Farke and Stuart Webber had arrived. This dropped slightly to 145 during the promotion season of 2018-19 but was back up to 168 last season.
Weaver also pointed out that the Canaries had the most minutes played in the Premier League by academy graduates last season, of 10,944, ahead of Chelsea and Manchester United.
While another memorable stat was that only four clubs in the big five leagues in Europe – the top flights of England, Germany, Spain, France and Italy – had a higher percentage of minutes played by under-21 players than City’s 24.2pc.
These were all in France, led by Lille, ahead of Nice, St Etienne and Toulouse, with the Canaries again just ahead of Chelsea and with German giants Borussia Dortmund also behind them in the top 10.
The evening concluded with the usual question and answer session, although these had to be submitted beforehand.
Answers included Kensell saying plans to increase the capacity of Carrow Road have had to be placed “on the back-burner" due to the financial impact of the pandemic and that plans for a permanent memorial for club legend Duncan Forbes would be looked at next year as the club gets back to normal operations.