Chase breaks his silence on City
RICHARD BALLS Former Norwich City chairman Robert Chase has broken a 10-year silence to speak about the events that led to his dramatic downfall.
He has not been seen at Carrow Road since his hugely contentious reign as chairman came to an end 10 years ago - his name consigned to history. But now, finally, Robert Chase has emerged from the shadows to talk candidly about some of the events that preceded his demise. RICHARD BALLS reports
The angry scenes outside the entrance to Carrow Road were unprecedented then and - despite frustration on the terraces this season - they have never been repeated. Police on horses clashed with incensed fans as they staged an uprising designed to oust Chairman Chase from the club and publicly went to war with the board of their beloved club. Eventually they got their way, Chase could take no more, and the Delia Smith era began.
The successful builder retreated to Halvergate Hall and has rarely been seen in public since, with Sir Arthur South's memorial service at Norwich Cathedral being a notable exception. Although he has attended the odd away match, he has never been back to Carrow Road, choosing to follow the fortunes of the club he has followed since he was a boy from the comfort of his armchair. Football fans have long memories and there is no doubt that his presence could have inflamed some of those who believe the club has never fully recovered from his mismanagement of its finances in the mid-1990s. When Norwich City reached the dizzy heights of Inter Milan's San Siro Stadium during that memorable European adventure, his failure to release the purse strings and splash out on new players resulted in that momentum being lost, his critics claimed. Instead of pushing on, the club went into reverse.
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In his interview with Anglia News, he speaks about several of the incidents which so riled supporters, including the sale of leading striker Chris Sutton to Blackburn Rovers in July 1994 for a then record British fee of £5.5m. Not only had the club parted with its prized asset, but several months earlier Chase had famously assured fans that “if Chris Sutton isn't at Carrow Road next season then I won't be either”.
Reminded of the remark, he has this to say. “I think you've all milked that very well up to now, but let me just say. We were trying to convey that we had done the best deal we possibly could for a local lad who we wanted to keep - that was the objective. The choice of words, with the benefit of hindsight, I wouldn't have used. But nevertheless I would have done everything I could at that time to have made it as difficult as possible for anyone to come and poach him.
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“Once we had done the deal I thought that was settled. But there, we have seen it happen since and we will see it happen again. But who would have deprived Chris of a championship medal? Who would deprive anyone of a cup final medal? We are not in the business of doing that.”
It was not just the sale of Sutton, Ruel Fox, Efan Ekoku and Mark Robins in that ill-fated 1994/95 campaign that destabilised a side that would go on to be relegated. Back in December, inspirational keeper Bryan Gunn broke his ankle as he took a kick at Nottingham Forest's City Ground and while his young understudy Andy Marshall made the step up after a spectacular performance at home against Newcastle, some fans believed Chase's failure to draft in an experienced keeper was a fatal error.
“I think Bryan played a terrific part in the team,” he says. “Apart from being a fantastic goalkeeper, his presence was a terrific asset to the football club and breaking his ankle like he did, it was very unfortunate.
“If you have a terrible bump and you get hurt, I think it might be easier to live with than getting your foot stuck in the mud and breaking your ankle like that. He had a terrific presence in the dressing room and it was impossible to ever replace that.”
Asked directly whether he should have brought in an experienced keeper or other players to strengthen the team, he admits: “Perhaps with the benefit of hindsight we should have strengthened earlier. Yes, I think that's a fair comment. But it's easy to be wise after the event, isn't it? No one thought at Christmas that we were in any danger at all, but there, that's what makes football the marvellous game it is.”
It was arising from the resignation of the entire Norwich City board in November 1985 that Robert Chase, a builder from Halvergate near Yarmouth, was ushered in as chairman and the club did enjoy good times under his stewardship.
Led by manager Ken Brown, Norwich won promotion back to the top-flight at the first time of asking after their relegation and in 1989 reached the FA Cup semi-final, losing to Everton on the day of the Hillsborough disaster.
In 1992-93 the club finished third in the newly-formed Premier League winning qualification to Europe where it was to enjoy its greatest ever adventure, beating the mighty Bayern Munich on home soil and going on to play Inter Milan in the splendour of the San Siro.
But rather than the club building on such amazing success, it appeared to slide backwards and following Norwich's relegation in 1995 and O'Neill's resignation, a fierce campaign was launched by fans to drive 'Chase Out'. At its height, mounted police were drafted in to deal with angry scenes as supporters gathered around Carrow Road to call for his head.
After the sale of star players and with revelations that the club was several million pounds in debt, he finally bowed to pressure and resigned on May 2, 1996.
Asked whether he has any regrets or whether he wished he had done things differently, he pauses before replying: “I think nine of the 10 were fantastic years and I wouldn't have changed anything. Whatever you do in life over a period of 10 years there are some things that you would wish you would do differently and all you have got to do is look at the last two prime ministers. I bet they would have changed things if they could turn the clock back, but you can't.
“I think the only thing I would have done differently is to have gone six months or a year earlier.”
t The interview will be broadcast in Anglia Tonight at 6pm this evening.