Michael Bailey: The reality of Colney, raking over all ground and the real Canaries bond that's needed
In his latest weekly column, Norwich City correspondent and PinkUn Show host Michael Bailey talks Colney’s academy redevelopment and exactly what the club are up to with the launch of their Canaries bond.
It was about 1997 when I first visited Colney, at the time a major asset to Norwich City Football Club.
It was a reason players signed, a place they wanted to train – and a result of substantial, if also controversial, investment that played its part in turning Robert Chase into a villain.
It was also a symbol of where the Canaries had so recently found themselves, the last surviving English club in 1993-94 European competition and behind only to a handful of sides in a pre-lucrative Premier League.
Come November 2007, I was back at Colney for my shiny new job as a sports journalist. For my first press conference, I found myself sat inside a freezing mobile classroom for the first time since high school.
The rest of City’s Colney Training Centre seemed pretty much the same as in 1997, apart from a big dome with an indoor pitch – again, much heralded when it arrived – and a few other temporary rooms to make the place functional.
Fast forward to 2018 and there has been the arrival of a smart, all-weather surface – but the rest of Colney rather mirrors the Canaries’ long-term strategy over the same 10 years.
It’s a mishmash of temporary solutions installed dependent on the club’s situation at the time – and as a result, has left a training complex bereft of any meaningful, strategic investment.
In fact, Colney has not been up to scratch for a few years compared to what City would consider most of their rivals.
There are stories of City wooing some players that didn’t really get a warm fuzzy feeling from seeing where they would train six days a week – seven if you’re Cameron Jerome.
As a Norwich City fan more than anything, that loss of pride in the club’s training ground and facilities is so sad. Perhaps it is also antagonising, given City’s freshly unveiled redevelopment plans will cost about £3.7m – barely a drop in the ocean for any Premier League club, where they spent four of the last seven seasons.
Sure, the old ground can still be raked over. How did it happen? Why did City opt to plan for an academy palace costing £12m-plus that was about as likely as adding 10,000 seats at Carrow Road? Why in reality, were the facilities they did have only minimally improved?
The Premier League isn’t always the promised land it suggests, when so much desperation of purpose and financial leakage comes with the territory. Meanwhile, the club’s books as their Premier League legacy drains away have been widely discussed for 12 months, if not longer.
None of that changes how Colney currently looks or works, when compared to other elite academies across the country.
I was lucky enough to get out to Portugal this time five years ago, to scout a certain Dutch striker at Sporting Lisbon destined to arrive a few months later. No prizes for guessing who I mean.
It was a great few days of hard work – really! But one abiding memory was taking in the club’s Academia Sporting training base, just outside the Portuguese capital; an expanse of gorgeous pitches, modest but proud buildings and a sense that the surroundings matched the club’s serious pedigree in youth development. It’s also a club that’s had its fair share of financial troubles, for the record.
Such thinking is partly why Norwich have decided to be creative and launch the Canaries bond.
Having heard in recent weeks a few suggestions about what the club might do for its grand academy plan, I will admit I was worried.
Asking fans to hand over more money to help build something City should have planned for when they were earning more revenue than all our wages put together, with the backdrop of what the BBC deems is the Championship’s most expensive season ticket, felt like it had the potential to be toxic.
And of course, I have no doubt City’s solution – to make supporters invest rather than simply donate – will be met with a degree of cynicism from some. Indeed, I’m writing this just 45 minutes since the plan was unveiled and they are the only messages I’ve received so far.
But the club’s stakeholders knew what they were asking for and came up with a way that could genuinely make it work for everyone, alongside plans for Colney’s redevelopment that are not only modest in cost – but will restore a great deal of pride in what Norwich City are trying to do with their top-tier academy.
The scheme isn’t aimed at everyone, and perhaps that is how it should be.
Likewise, managing director Steve Stone is right to say the success of City’s big plan will ultimately come down to whether people have faith the club can deliver what it is pledging to do. Everyone has the right to make up their own mind on that one.
But equally City fans should hope enough who can afford to and want to, do indeed step forward.
Because the fruits of that labour should inject something into Norwich City Football Club that was apparently beyond even the so-called promised land. And that could yet prove priceless.
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