Changing the face of Norwich City’s independent support
Remember 'Chase Out'? Or 'Worthy out'? Or 'Keep your rebate'? The calls for Robert Chase to leave Norwich City proved to be the foundation for the creation of what is now the club's biggest fans' group, the Norwich City Independent Supporters' Association (Ncisa).
The clarion calls have verged on the militant; in March, 2006, St Andrews Hall was packed as supporters, heckles raised, vented their anger at then manager Nigel Worthington's reign. Only 16 months ago it was the great ticket rebate debate, and the future of Bryan Gunn.
Their emotions rattled the rafters of the former house of worship, but at the same time they perhaps created a huge rift between the church they worshipped and many of its congregation. Like Marmite, you either loved them or hated them.
Ncisa wasn't the most popular organisation in town with the football club, while some non-member supporters saw it as divisive, a group of trouble-makers hell bent on creating havoc. In some cases, they had a point.
In the bad times, Ncisa raised it's voices and others' ire. When times were good, they quietened down. Membership numbers decreased because there was nothing to shout about.
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Today the organisation has around 370 members, a new chairman, and a different outlook on life.
Chris Wright, a 63-year-old, semi-retired – 'I work for my son' – IT man, is at the helm, following the resignation of John Tilson, who was the very public face of the organisation.
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Wright doesn't intend to continue the trend. As far as he's concerned, it's time to change the public perception of Ncisa.
'I really felt it needed to change. It has had a lot of aggravation and a lot is to do with how it is perceived. It's not necessarily Ncisa's fault.
'There needs to be an avenue for people, but I think there are ways to do it. Leaping up and down and getting the pitchforks and the flaming torches going may not always be the best way.
'I sat in St Andrews Hall for the last one and there was an anger that needed to be expressed by the fans. There was a general bad feeling that the fans needed to channel.
'Not all of those people were Ncisa members, not by a long way, so there needs an avenue and Ncisa has done that reasonably well, but it has suffered with it – because all of the people who didn't agree with the sentiments say 'you were the catalyst for all the trouble'. It was not, it was the avenue.'
Wright has a meeting lined up with City chief executive David McNally in a fortnight's time, who spoke at the organisation's annual meeting recently. McNally and the new board that came in last summer are a different animal to their predecessors. No longer can you call up the top man and have a moan about the price of a pie; they're too busy trying to get the yellow and green house in proper working order. What Wright hopes is that he can present the collective feeling of Ncisa members – and hopes that working closely with other supporters' groups means a larger number of voices will be heard.
'It needs something he can perceive as a body politic behind it to say there are 1,000 fans sitting here saying this, David, please listen. He might. He is a politician, he is swinging the club around, he is changing the face of it totally. It is not the friendly neighbourhood club it was, and it's not going to be.
'It did need the change. We can't afford to have a club that is going to lose umpteen millions each year because the club is not going to exist. We haven't got a multi billionaire running it and therefore that needs to be nailed down. But they will lose something they will never get back if it is pushed too far.'
Wright is an affable chap, whose supporter credentials stem from his debut on the terraces in January, 1959, when he saw City beat Manchester United during their glorious FA Cup run.
He's no apologist for the football club, but equally he wants co-operation rather than confrontation. His hope is that Ncisa, as an organisation, can benefit both.
When McNally spoke appeared at the annual meeting, he was quizzed about the current hot potato – the scrapping of the 16-21s ticket concession. It's a good example of where Wright believes Ncisa can step forward with constructive ideas, rather than placard-waving opposition.
'I came up with an idea – I've had no feedback from it, but we suggested they start a club for 16- to 21-year-old students, costing a fiver a year to join, use technology to see that on a Friday when they will know they have a certain number of seats that are unsold and they can email members of the club with a first-come first-served offer at a tenner a time. It is simple.'
Wright is keen to work with other organisations.
'I would love to - we have finally got some of the Forces people join us, who have their own organisation. I would like a closer relationship with all of the groups – they are important but jointly we have a bigger voice.
'We have 360, 370 members at the moment, but it is nowhere near where it ought to be. I'm targetting by the end of the season more than 1,000. We get up to 600 when there is a lot of trouble brewing and then it drops down again when everybody is happy.
'That's why I want to try and change the face of it so it stops just being seen as this avenue of antagonism. We have an all new website to keep people up to date and we want to offer members something back for their membership that doesn't cost the club, and gives them something to say it is worth joining for.'
Some of the ideas include:
• Match day tickets to be 'raffled ' free of charge to members.
• Canary Squares raffled for members use.
• Vouchers for Yellows restaurant.
• Other NCFC merchandise.
Wright hopes to obtain block booking of seats for an away game and arrange transport so that Ncisa members can travel together as well as promotional deals with local businesses.
'We donate money to the football club – upward of �32,000 since inception – everything spare goes to the club, and part of my theme is to say okay, if we buy two tickets the club stills gets the money, but the members get something for it. If we get discount for Yellows, the club get something and we can see something in return.
'We want more people to join because it's not just a voice and more like a club.