Delia staying as top shareholder

STEVE DOWNES Norwich City's chief executive has refuted rumours that Delia Smith and her husband Michael Wynn Jones were on the brink of offloading their shares in the club.

STEVE DOWNES

Norwich City's chief executive has refuted rumours that Delia Smith and her husband Michael Wynn Jones were on the brink of offloading their shares in the club.

Speculation about the future of the joint majority shareholders surfaced in the wake of the departure of manager Peter Grant, who left “by mutual consent” on Tuesday evening after a horror run of results.

Delia is currently spending less time at the club as she is filming her latest TV cookery series and penning a book.

Her absence has coincided with the increased involvement of Sharon and Andrew Turner, the Norfolk couple which recently made an interest-free £2m loan to the club.

Mr and Mrs Turner are the joint founders of financial services business Central Trust, which is estimated to be worth £275m, and they are reportedly keen to get even more involved in the day-to-day running of Norwich City.

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But, speaking at a hastily-convened Carrow Road press conference this morning, Doncaster quelled the rumours of a transfer of power between the two couples.

He said: “I've seen the speculation that Delia and Michael are about to sell their stake in the club, but I've absolutely no reason to believe that's the case.

“We know Delia has extra commitments with filming and with her new book, and it's inevitable that the time to devote to the football club is limited, but I've no reason to believe it's a long-term strategy. She hasn't mentioned that it's going to happen.”

Doncaster refused to say how much Grant had received as a pay-off for his terminated contract, but added that speculation that it had matched the £600,000 given to his predecessor Nigel Worthington was “well over the mark”.

And he did not accept accusations that the board had appointed the wrong man when Grant was given the job this time last year.

He said: “When we sat down last year to discuss the qualities we were looking for we came up with what was important to us for a Norwich City manager. Peter Grant emerged as the best candidate.

“He had a wealth of experience as a coach and serious top level experience as a player. Very many people were excited about what he brought to the party.

“Sometimes things just don't work out. We felt it was in everybody's best interests for there to be a change to give us the opportunity to move away from the danger zone and get up challenging for promotion.

“I believe the board has done everything possible to support Peter, and he said that himself. I've got a very high regard for him as a coach and as a man. We are very grateful for the honesty and integrity he has shown. History will show it has not worked out as we would have hoped.”

He said he did not want to prejudge the type of man the board would be looking for to replace Grant, but added that previous managerial experience - which Grant lacked - may be on the list.

“Jim Duffy has agreed to be the caretaker manager and will do his best to prepare the team for Bristol City at Home on Saturday week. Clearly we would like to fill the role as soon as possible, but we are not going to rush into it.”

He would not be drawn on the names of potential candidates, but said there had been “a significant number” of “high-calibre” applicants already.

“I do think this is an attractive club. The level of interest we've already had in the position reflects that. A club with loyal support, high crowds, a stadium like this, a board that lets its manager manage is an attractive proposition to any high-calibre manager.”

Doncaster revealed that the seeds of Grant's departure were sown after the 1-0 loss at QPR on Monday, when club chairman Roger Munby made his traditional post-match visit to the dressing room.

Doncaster said: “The chairman went down to the dressing room and there were long discussions that took place with Peter. The bus didn't get away from Loftus Road for some hours. We agreed to meet at Carrow Road the following day at 5.15pm.”

The “businesslike” meeting lasted for about three hours, when the departure of Grant was announced.