Is now the time to trust in Norwich City’s long-term prospects?
- Credit: Archant
Is there a new voice for City supporters? Michael Bailey looks at the relaunched Canaries Trust…
Football and long-term thinking are not always bedfellows – especially with where many clubs find themselves in the current season and all that's still to be decided.
Yet, away from player performances and coaching staff, it's the boardroom where a club's true custodians reside.
Let's get this out in the open from the off – the current Norwich City directors have done some job in taking the club from debt-ridden to an off-field position the rest of the Championship envies.
You only need to look at the likes of Cardiff, Fulham, Wigan and Bolton to see how wrong things can go. And that's without touching on the fun and games at Leeds.
At the same time, the next 180-ish minutes of football may well have a major influence on what the longer term issues will be at Carrow Road.
And when there are issues, there needs to be healthy debate – which is where the rebranded and reorganised Canaries Trust wants to play an active part, without the perceived problems that afflicted the likes of the Norwich City Independent Supporters' Association (Ncisa).
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'Football is now a business, fans are consumers and because that dynamic has changed, the interface has to change as well,' said trust chairman and former Ncisa lead, Robin Sainty. 'Ncisa was of its time and important then, but that set-up doesn't really work any more. You don't engage with clubs by shouting at them and waving placards. It's about sitting down with them and giving them a reason to sit down with you. We feel you can have that effective dialogue if the supporters are a shareholder in the club – and a significant shareholder. We want the fans to be treated as partners.'
Things have moved on a long way since Ncisa's pomp and the Norwich City Supporters' Trust was first set up. The club can point to a huge social media presence and the individual fan interaction that brings, alongside its Global Canaries framework of international supporter associations. Independent groups and the Canaries Trust itself also enjoy regular dialogue with the club, while selected fans have a say in key decisions such as season ticket pricing.
Earlier this month was Supporter Ownership Week – prompting the question: Can an English club be run by fans and be a success?
Further down the Football League ladder, the examples are wrestling with the stereotype – be it Wycombe, Exeter, Portsmouth or AFC Wimbledon; all clubs that endured recent times under private control ranging from difficult to desperate.
Whether similar frameworks could succeed for bigger clubs at higher levels may be a different matter. But fan representation remains a pertinent question – filtering into community engagement, ticket pricing, rebrands and shirt colours. Labour has actually included in its General Election manifesto a pledge to enforce all clubs to elect two supporter representatives to their boards. The previous government also looked into whether it should protect clubs with supporter boardroom involvement.
Clearly in recent years, this has been an issue away from Norwich City. In fact, the Canaries can point to numerous board members who were fans first, before putting their money and time where their love is.
'The way Norwich City is run, there are more than two fans on the board already,' added Sainty.
'You've only got to look at what's happened at clubs like Portsmouth to see how supporters' trusts have been instrumental in saving clubs. Heaven forbid it would ever come to that situation at Norwich – but that's not their only purpose.
'They are very important going forward and we want to appeal to the moderate Norwich City fan. Not the ones who want to protest at absolutely everything, but those who want a grown-up relationship with the club. The more people we get on board, the more shares we can buy on behalf of the fans and the more of a voice we can give them.'
• For more information on the Canaries Trust, visit inthehandsofthefans.co.uk
• Follow Michael Bailey on Twitter @michaeljbailey