Norwich City's board grilled by shareholders
Archant Norfolk 2016
Alex Neil may have been in the spotlight during Norwich City's recent tailspin but it was the turn of the Canaries' top brass on Wednesday night when they faced shareholders at the annual meeting.
Neil’s grilling came later in the procceedings, after the tone had been set for a series of feisty and frank exchanges from the floor by the first two questions during the formal part of the evening, which included the re-elections of the likes of chairman Ed Balls and Tom Smith.
Both joined the board within the last financial year, and the latest set of accounts revealed they had purchased shares at a vastly reduced rate to the rank and file fans.
“It was not an issue put to us when we became directors regarding the shares,” said Balls. “We understood it was a normal part of it. There is no suggestion any of us was trying to seek any financial gain. Nor would we be in the position to trade those shares. They were a formal part of joining the board. It was a legal requirement.”
A point fleshed out by finance director Steve Stone.
“As per our articles we are obligated to issue shares to incoming directors,” he said. “We are legally allowed to issue shares at that nominal value but they were purely issued in the same way that a director leaves, as David McNally did, his shares were transferred across to Jez Moxey at a nominal value. So there is no intention to obtain a benefit at the point at which the shares were issued.
Majority shareholder Michael Wynn Jones also clarified Balls was the recipient of a £90,000 fee for his work during the period following David McNally’s departure from his post as chief executive.
“The payment was made to Ed, not at his request, but at our request because there was a vacuum at the time when David McNally had left,” he said. “We had not appointed a new chief executive and so Ed for three months undertook the job of being chief executive and it would have cost us considerably more otherwise.”
McNally’s sizeable £1.35m pay-off was a thorny issue for shareholders but Balls was bound by legal requirements from divulging the details of the financial small print surrounding his high-profile exit.
Wynn Jones, however, did make it clear McNally retracted his initial resignation offered in the wake of a damaging home defeat to Manchester United, which effectively sealed Norwich’s Premier League fate.
“I was very heavily involved in that whole process,” said Balls. “David McNally made a very significant contribution to this football club over a number of years, including taking us from League One to the Premier League and back again. We want to put on record our thanks and that item does refer to that payment. All I can say, and I am sure you will understand, we operate in a legally constrained environment and because of the agreement we reached with David we are unable to make any comment.
“I am sorry but that is the nature of these processes. The accounts set out the position clearly.
“That was a payment made at the end of David’s contract but there is a confidentiality agreement drawn up by lawyers from both sides. It is standard not just in football but right across the private and public sector.”
Away from financial matters, Moxey’s announcement technical director Ricky Martin will take a greater role in the recruitment process led to fears from certain shareholders of a transfer committee.
“No player will be brought in without Alex Neil giving his seal of approval,” said the chief executive. “What we want him to do and I know what he wants to do is concentrate his full efforts on trying to win football matches. Alex, myself, Ricky and the staff have a very close relationship.
“There is no transfer committee, just a group of highly-committed people who have a job that must be to spend night and day, seven days a week, to find quality players to supplement the team.
“The manager does a lot of work but he can’t be in three places at once and the best teams in Europe have scouting networks that are headed up by people which are so much bigger than ours. There is a lot of work to be done.”