Fiery AGM at Norwich City FC
Nearly 440 fans attended the annual general meeting of Norwich City FC and remarks made by Delia Smith attracted a subsequent clarification from would-be investor Peter Cullum. It emerged there was no money available for new transfers and Peter Cullum's potential takeover deal was dead in the water. The club has appointed Keith Harris of Seymour Pierce, the 'Mr Big' of football takeover deals, to try and find new investment. But this will not be an easy task, illustrating the dilemmas that clubs of the size of Norwich face despite their solid fan base and historical track record. As Delia commented in reply to a question, 'What has changed is the state of football. It has sold itself to money and anyone outside the Premiership is going to struggle without billionaires and millionaires.'
Delia Smith once again told supporters that she and her husband Michael Wynn Jones would 'be very happy to stand aside' as majority shareholders if someone came along with an offer to buy them out. Delia also stated that she was never made an offer for her majority shareholding by Peter Cullum. An emotional Delia spoke of her 12 years at Carrow Road and said: 'The lowest point to date was last summer when we were not allowed to speak to our supporters with regards [to] the media circus week after week. It was an extremely difficult time and the thing which hurt the most was not being able to speak. The reason we could not speak was we did not want to compromise an offer which might come along.' She added, 'Michael and I have spent a lot of time, hours and hours, we have had conference calls, we have had meetings. We have tried everything we can. I, at the age of 67, am standing up to do a great deal of work this year I hadn't planned to do because we have to find £3m this season and go out to earn it.'
Supporter Rob Emery told the meeting, 'I should be reassured by the fact you are trying, but my concern is I can hear nothing new. The issue I have is that in the 12-year tenure of this board you have managed to attract £2m in investment which would have been £4m if the Turners had stayed. That cannot give confidence you are going to find millionaires and billionaires to invest. The thought that a team which can only reach 16th or 18th on an £8m wage bill having a £5m wage bill is a little bit frightening.' Delia replied, 'The truth is that it is not just £2m. That is new investment, but we have invested quite a lot of money.' Another supporter said that the hope of major investment had raised the hopes of fans and said the atmosphere in the stands had changed because of the raised expectations.'
Peter Cullum subsequently confirmed that he did not offer to buy the shares of the majority shareholders. He explained the £20m he offered would have been in return for new shares and that money would have been used to buy players, but he had never offered to buy out the majority shareholders. He added, 'From my perspective, discussions have been terminated and I shall watch anxiously, as a lifelong supporter, at the disappointing results on the pitch.' One view would be that a gift horse has been looked in the mouth, but there is no definitive view on why the negotiations, brokered by club sponsors Aviva, broke down. As things stand, the AGM heard that the club's 'dire' situation financially meant that the transfer chest is empty and manager Glenn Roeder will have to rely on selling players and donations from supporters to boost the playing squad in January.
Tim East, a supporter and county councillor said, 'I think the appointment of Keith Harris to examine the possibility of future investment is a deliberate diversionary tactic to deflect criticism from the board. If he can't find a buyer for Newcastle [which in fact he probably will], how is he going to find a potential investor for little old Norwich City, especially in this current economic climate? I think the board needs to go cap in hand back to Peter Cullum, admit they made a mistake and say we need you back on board.' In fact, not everyone is interested in buying a club as big as Newcastle. With its large catchment area without any league level competition, Norwich would be quite an attractive prospect to an investor seeking development potential. Meanwhile, one group of fans has launched an online petition, saying they would be prepared to pay more for their tickets in return for better performances on the pitch. That is certainly a novel approach. The more general point is that Norwich's problems are not that unusual.