Norwich City’s majority shareholders talk investment, succession and the Webber and Farke revolution
PUBLISHED: 11:44 26 January 2019 | UPDATED: 18:59 26 January 2019
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Majority shareholders Delia Smith and Michael Wynn Jones have offered a rare insight into life at the top at Norwich City and re-emphasised that they would be open to potential wealthy investors, if they have the club’s best interests at heart.
City’s senior couple opted to speak to Along Come Norwich, one of the supporter groups which has been working with the club to bring added colour and noise to Carrow Road this season, featuring on the weekly ACN podcast.
Covering a wide range of subjects, from highs and low of their time at helm, including dealing with angry fans during the low points, Wynn Jones, 78, and celebrity cook Smith, 77, also spoke about the potential future ownership of the Canaries.
“I think when we turn 100 we’ll probably pack it in!” joked Wynn Jones. “But no, seriously, I think we have slightly shifted our stance over the years but underlining it all is that whatever happens has got to be in the best interests of the football club, not money, not us.
“And how you define what is in the best interests of the football club is probably the next question now. I think we have seen so many times clubs that have thrown money at it and I mean thrown, hundreds of millions, and they’ve done absolutely bugger all, frankly, or gone backwards.
“You’ve really got to be aware of that and do your best. You can’t predict how (it would go) with any particular sheikh and the camels coming down Carrow Road and all that. We should say that Sheikh Mansour has done a decent job at Manchester City to be honest, but there are plenty of other sheikhs who haven’t, or investors from America or Dubai, Hong Kong.”
Picking up the reins, Smith continued: “We would never, we love our football club too much to stand in the way, if somebody came along who wanted to buy our football club – who would make it better – we just want to assure our fans that we care for the football club too deeply. We don’t see anything in it for ourselves, we just want the football club to be successful.
“So if we find the right person. I gave an interview once and what we said was we were bored because we had seen some real stinkers who didn’t want to put any money in.
“Then you get to the stage where you think I don’t want to raise myself up and go to meet them any more. We’re not going to do that now, we’re going to let (management committee) Stuart Webber, Zoe (Ward) and Ben (Kensell) sort it out.
“They can come to us and say ‘look, this is really good, but unless it’s really good we’re not interested.’”
She concluded: “On the succession, I don’t know, whatever is best for the football club. It’s on the radar.”
The couple have been majority shareholders of City since 1997, as the club recovered from the financial implosion of the Robert Chase era.
When talking about her lowest point of the years that have followed, Smith appeared to be referring to the controversy which surrounded wealthy businessman Peter Cullum in 2008, who told a national newspaper he wanted to pump £20million into the club – which never materialised.
“I’ve never thought it wasn’t worth it, never thought that,” Smith continued. “But we did once, where we tried to get somebody to bring money into the football club because we were desperate, really desperate, and it didn’t work out at all.
“And I think that was my lowest moment, it was just awful, but we’ve never ever had enough of it and wanted to walk away.”
While their time as City’s head honchos has included three promotions to the Premier League and five campaigns in the top flight, it also included dropping into the third tier in 2009, for the first time in 50 years.
It’s been a roller-coaster ride which has seen the club’s majority shareholders come in for plenty of criticism along the way, some justified and some absurd.
“I think it goes with the territory,” Smith said. “The first time someone came up to me and said ‘you’ve ruined this football club’ I was a bit shocked.
“There was one who came up to me, I had to leave early because I was filming a TV programme and I walked down Carrow Road and had a car at the end because you can’t get a car up there, and I had a guy who came up to me and said ‘you’ve dragged our football club into the gutter, will you please go!’.
“All the stewards were like (shocked) and I said ‘well, I still love you’ and walked off. That’s the only way to deal with it.
“We went to a pub before a match, at Burton, a lovely pub and we had an hour-and-a-half with all the supporters, it was a lovely time.
“But just as we were leaving, this one really can’t get over it, and he says ‘what have you done with all the money?!’ and I was like ‘money? I never saw any money!’
“We get that but now I understand where they are coming from and how they feel and it doesn’t upset me.
“Everybody has got their band of whingers, not just in football, in life. But sometimes a supporter will come up and say something and I’ll think, I’ve learned something from that.
“So at the end of the day, I just do love them, I really do, I’m emotionally involved.”
There was also plenty of praise for sporting director Webber, who arrived from Huddersfield in April 2017 and began the vast cultural changes on and off the pitch which have led to Daniel Farke’s team sitting second in the Championship table ahead of this afternoon’s Carrow Road clash with promotion rivals Sheffield United.
“Since Stuart Webber has arrived, we’ve never been so involved in our football club – and we’re loving it,” Smith said.
“Stuart Webber, it’ll be like ‘Tettey’s injured, can he come to lunch with you two on Saturday before the match?’ and we’ve entertained almost every player in that squad – and their family and kids – Michael and I have entertained them on a matchday.
“Can you imagine how wonderful that is? It’s fantastic, he’s brought that about and included us. He let’s us know, that so and so’s wife has had a baby, so we can send them congratulations and it’s all becoming so much more of a family.
“I’ve been there all day today and there’s such a wonderful buzz. I know we’re doing well but I do think inside Carrow Road things are really better than they have ever been.”
• You can listen to the full podcast above, for more about the ACN interview head over to alongcomenorwich.com