Perception often different to reality

Neil Doncaster, NCFC chief executiveWith the transfer window a mere eight days old, it is more meaningfully considered in a fortnight's time. Nonetheless, early signs are that those pundits predicting a damp squib in Championship outlay, rather than a rampant spending spree, are feeling just a little bit smug.Neil Doncaster, NCFC chief executive

With the transfer window a mere eight days old, it is more meaningfully considered in a fortnight's time. Nonetheless, early signs are that those pundits predicting a damp squib in Championship outlay, rather than a rampant spending spree, are feeling just a little bit smug.

The slowdown on the high street, it seems, is being replicated on the terraces as clubs across the land try to reduce their spending.

Traditionally in football, January is the time to panic buy - for teams at the top to consolidate their prospects of European football next season and for those at the bottom to gamble on spending their way out of a relegation dogfight. January transfer spending has soared from �33m five years ago, to �175m last year - but that was when credit was relatively easy to obtain. How times have changed.

Now, with even Roman Abramovich calling a halt to spending at Chelsea, what are the prospects for the rest of football?

The dramatic fall of the pound against the Euro hasn't helped those shopping abroad. And while the plight of sterling might not be a concern for the likes of Manchester City's Abu Dhabi-based owners, it certainly affects the ability of the rest of the Premier League to shop for bargains overseas.

Closer to home in the Championship, not too many teams are likely to be shopping anywhere other than Britain - if they are shopping at all.

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Glenn Roeder warned recently that transfer fees will soon become a thing of the past in the Football League. And he may well be right.

Increasingly, the traditional model of buying a player on a long-term contract with a transfer fee is being replaced by short-term loans and seasonal contracts.

At the time of writing, 62 deals have been registered with the FA since the opening of the window on January 1. Thirty-nine of these were loan deals or free transfers, 19 were for undisclosed or nominal fees and two were previously unattached.

Only two players moved for a quoted transfer fee - Lassana Diara from Portsmouth to Real Madrid for �20m, and Adam Bygraves for the princely sum of �5,000 from Weymouth to Histon.

While heavier transfer activity may be expected later in the window, so far the activity that has taken place suggests that any spare money is being kept under the mattress rather than being spent - certainly in the Championship at least. But the key issue I want to deal with in this column is the media.

In the past, before the era of online bulletin boards and internet chat-rooms, supporters would read about their local club in the paper - and what it reported would largely be taken as gospel truth.

These days however, with so much speculation and chatter flying across the internet, fans can be forgiven for not knowing what to believe.

A recent example was the story that Glenn Roeder had offered David Bell to Coventry in return for Elliot Ward. Most supporters I have spoken to believe that such an offer was made - when in reality no such offer was made at all. Not a tentative approach. Not a quiet word to agents. Nothing. The story had absolutely no basis in fact whatsoever - but nonetheless many people believe it to be true.

The difference between perception and reality is often quite stark. Last week for example, one supporter telephoned me last week to complain about the number of loan players in our squad against Nottingham Forest.

His perception was that the majority of the starting eleven were on loan - when in fact only three players were: Leroy Lita, Elliot Omozusi and Ryan Bertrand. Incidentally, exactly the same number of loan players who started most games when Darren Huckerby, Peter Crouch and Kevin Harper were here on loan during our Championship-winning season in 2003.

This supporter's perception also seemed to be that although teams under previous managers had not always done too well, at least their squads had been full of "our own players". And therein lies the problem. Long-term contracts are marvellous when you have a sought-after young player signed up for several years. But they are less

attractive when you have to pay up players who are surplus to requirements.

It is no secret that Troy Archibald-Henville was not a roaring success in his time on loan with us from Spurs before Christmas. But his wages were extremely modest. And we were able to send him back without paying any financial penalty. Contrast that situation with a number of other players who have been "our own players" over the years. The likes of Raymond de Waard, Fernando Derveld, Julien Brellier, David Strihavka, Marc Libbra, Steve Walsh…every single one of them, and many more, have been contracted players. And every single one of them has had to be paid up in order to get them off the books.

Critics might fairly point to a scouting system that in the past has let us down. But show me a club that has not made mistakes in the transfer market.

I entirely understand the sense of dislocation that some supporters feel about the team at present - a feeling of not being able to relate to a largely new squad. But given that, of the current team, only Adam Drury and Gary Doherty have been with us for more than a few seasons, such feelings are entirely understandable.

Surely that will change as the likes of Sammy Clingan, David Bell and Wes Hoolahan cement their place in City folklore.

Football League chairman Brian Mawhinney was quoted last week as saying: "clubs will have to slim down. The sensible chairmen will have put downward pressure on their costs."

Of course, what he is really saying is that clubs will have to spend less on players' wages - and I entirely agree. And that is the problem. We all want the club's financial picture to improve, for our losses and our debts to be reduced. But these laudable objectives are entirely inconsistent with going out and spending money on players in the January transfer window.

Nonetheless, the City board of directors are totally committed to doing whatever they can, despite the economic gloom and the need to bring costs more in line with income, to invest. To use the transfer window to ensure the club pulls away from the danger zone near the foot of the Championship.

When Glenn comes to the board with targets, we will do everything within our power to back him. And with that in mind, next week's FA Cup replay against Charlton and the prize money on offer in that competition could prove to be a particularly welcome and timely boost - a boost that has enabled us to go out and sign Jonathan Grounds on a two-month loan this week.

Equally, we remain on the hunt for wealthy supporters who want to financially support the club going forward.

Keith Harris, however, who has been instructed by Delia and Michael to try to find investment, spoke candidly yesterday in The Guardian about the difficulty of finding new money: "We're in the toughest economic situation anybody has endured in our lifetime and that means we are unlikely to see much activity on the football takeover scene. Takeovers are not going to be the solution to the woes. That is unequivocal. I do not see much activity on takeovers until we get some form of stability in people's minds."

Michael, Delia and Michael Foulger have already put huge amounts of their own money into Norwich City over the past 12 years.

The perception out there is that, over the years, a number of other wealthy individuals have wanted to put their money into the club, but have been turned down. That we have somehow looked a gift horse in the mouth. The reality though is wholly different.

Many people have talked in the media about their wealth, and about their ability and appetite to put money into the club. But, despite so much speculation to the contrary, no one has actually offered to do so. The board have, in the last 12 years, never turned down a single application for shares in Norwich City. Not one.

The financial burden of supporting this great club has fallen, time and again, on Michael, Delia and Michael Foulger; the thousands of supporters who generously subscribed for shares in the club; the tens of thousands of fans who have used their hard earned cash to support the team home and away; the local businesses who sponsor us. All, together, have shared the burden.

And that togetherness, that loyal support, will continue to sustain the club, through good times and bad. And that is why, when all around us seem so very pessimistic about the year ahead for the country, I remain optimistic about the prospects for Norwich City Football Club.

May I wish City supporters wealth, health and happiness for the year ahead. I hope 2009 will bring Canaries fans the success they so richly deserve.

On the ball City!