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Leave your tributes to hard work of Norwich City fans’ group which has ploughed more than £350,000 into the Canaries’ academy

PUBLISHED: 07:46 07 September 2012 | UPDATED: 09:10 10 September 2012

Craig Bellamy.

Craig Bellamy.

The supporters’ group that has ploughed well over £350,000 into the Canaries’ academy has brought down the curtain on 16 years of fund-raising.

Norwich City writer David Cuffley looks back on the group’s work

Every penny counted in the grim days at Carrow Road that saw the formation of the Friends of Norwich City Youth.

In the summer of 1996, the Canaries were between £5m and £8m in debt. Less than three years after playing in Europe for the first time, famously beating Bayern Munich in the Olympic Stadium, City had come within a whisker of going out of business.

Departing chairman Robert Chase sold his 34 per cent shareholding in the club to president and former chairman Geoffrey Watling, and new chief executive Gordon Bennett began to get to grips with a financial crisis in which one club official said City “had the expenditure of Inter Milan and the income of Southend”.

Debt repayments were re-negotiated to enable City to keep trading and begin the slow process of recovery, but with the club’s youth set-up feeling the pinch, it was Bennett’s idea to tap into supporters’ goodwill to help the academy.

Foncy was born and raised nearly £12,000 in the first year. The £100,000 mark was passed in 2001 and the £250,000 barrier was smashed in 2006. The final figure topped £363,000.

Foncy chairman John Landamore summed up the support they received when he said: “I can’t praise the fans enough. Right from the word go, they took Foncy to their hearts. They knew how important the academy was to the football club and what we were trying to do. Delia Smith said they were the best football supporters in the world and she was 100 per cent right.

“Other supporters groups, like Capital Canaries, have backed us with big donations over the years. We even had two of our supporters who died and at the funeral the request was no flowers, but donations to Foncy. So you’re a supporter of the club all your life and beyond. It’s quite amazing.”

The Friends of Norwich City Youth, formed in 1996, handed over the last of their donations to the club after holding a winding-up meeting.

Chairman John Landamore, the driving force behind the group known as “Foncy”, confirmed: “We paid the last cheque over in August, about £10,000, and we have ceased working as a fund-raising organisation.

“We are a bit sad about it but nothing stays the same forever. It has been an absolute delight to be able to serve the club the way we have.

“For the last 16 years, my life has revolved around it. I was 60 last year so it’s a quarter of my life, but I wouldn’t change a thing. We’re planning to carry on doing the website and the match reports, and as individuals we’ll still be up at Colney. We’re still the only club in the country to do a match day programme for academy games.”

Foncy’s contribution to City’s academy reached a final total of £363,696.57. The 57 pence is a reminder that the organisation was formed in darker days, when the club was in desperate need of every penny.

Former chief executive Gordon Bennett came up with the idea for the group and at the first committee meeting, Landamore was elected chairman in his absence.

He recalled: “We started in 1996 after Robert Chase left the club as chairman and it brought together an amazing group of committee members, people like Roy Blower, Colin Tovell, Richard Bland and our treasurer, Tony Sadler. We were just there when the club needed us.

“Roy has been our vice-chairman all the time the group has been in existence.

“One year Tony lost nine pence and couldn’t figure out where it was. It had to be a special item on the agenda that he had lost 9p!”

Early fund-raising efforts included a McDonald’s voucher scheme and youth bonds, but the biggest money-spinners were the annual raffle and auction at the club’s open day, with Foncy hitting a peak of nearly £39,000 raised in 2004.

“We worked with Gordon, Colin Watts, Sammy Morgan, Ricky Martin and Kevan Platt, who were good people to work with. It didn’t always go in harmony. We had to stand up to them once or twice, but nine times out of 10, whatever they asked for they got,” said Landamore.

“We bought a minibus, we paid for all travel for the youth team from 1996 and from 2004 we paid for the schoolboy travel as well, to the Sunday morning games.

“We bought the dug-outs that were at Colney, footballs, paid for tournaments abroad, we paid for things the club weren’t in a position to pay for at the time. Financially, it was a very different football club to what it is now.”

The satisfaction was in seeing players progress from the youth team to the senior ranks.

“First and foremost it was about helping to bring players through. There are 30 players who have come through the academy who have played for the first team since 1996,” said Landamore.

“I won’t pretend they got there because of us but we had some little input into it. The two that really spring to mind are Craig Bellamy and Robert Green. But you can add people like Adrian Forbes, Darel Russell and six of the current first team squad.

“The way the money was raised was quite amazing, as well. I have to pinch myself sometimes to think we had these raffles, advertised as prizes money can’t buy.

“The top two prizes every year were a meal out with players. Fans dined out with Malky Mackay, Iwan Roberts, Duncan Forbes and Dave Stringer, and a lady drove all the way from Cambridge with her son to have dinner with Darren Huckerby in the city, through Foncy.

“The raffle used to bring in up to £10,000 every year, and the auction was like Boxing Day at Harrods, it was that manic.”

Academy manager Ricky Martin paid tribute when he said: “After 16 years in operation, and a staggering amount raised, the success of Foncy is unquestionable.

“More than 20 players have come through the youth system and have gone on to play for the first team, with six still part of Chris Hughton’s squad today. Without the support of Foncy, it is without question this number would be significantly less, and it is testament to them and their supporters, that we have been able to regularly produce players capable of playing at first team level.

“I would like to personally thank those at Foncy who have contributed across the years, none more so than John Landamore and his committee.”

With City banking Premier League millions and embracing category one status in the new four-tier academy system being introduced under the elite player performance plan, Foncy’s raison d’être is all but gone, but Landamore believes there will be a legacy of all their hard work.

He said: “Who is to say a little under-10 or under-11 whose travel we have paid for the last two years doesn’t go on to score the winning goal for Norwich City in the FA Cup final in 10 years’ time, or the goal that takes us back into Europe?

“And a time capsule has been buried under the pitch at the Barclay End since the centenary year of 2002. I was there to seal it up and I put in two or three Foncy lapel badges so they will get dragged up in 2102 – but we won’t be here to see it.”

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