Safeguarding Norwich City’s future was an offer Michael Wynn Jones and Delia Smith could not refuse
PUBLISHED: 16:55 13 October 2015
In an extract from Tales From The City, Norwich City joint-majority shareholder Michael Wynn Jones recalls 1996 and club president Geoffrey Watling has, for the second time, stepped in as he attempted to save the Canaries from financial armageddon.
Martin Armstrong, chief executive of the Norwich and Peterborough Building Society, had joined the emergency board and was tirelessly scouring the City for any kind of help.
He invited Delia and myself out to dinner to ask if we could make the required loan (for) two seats on the board. We’d think about it, we said. So we did... for a few minutes. We thought of all the things we would prefer to do with the money than help to safeguard Norwich City’s future and, do you know, we couldn’t come up with a single one, even though we honestly never expected to see the cash again…
A year later, with Geoffrey Watling well into his eighties and in indifferent health, we were urged by Martin to try to buy his shareholding, which proved easier said than done.
Geoffrey invited Delia and myself to dinner. We mentioned a figure, he scribbled a note, then stood up impassively and said ‘let us dine’. Was that all then?
He went off on a cruise, but not before writing to inform us he was not selling his shares at this time. So we were staggered to receive another letter a week or two later saying he would sell the shares to us after all. The reasons for this change of heart he took to his grave, but we remained on excellent terms with him for the rest of his life.
The finances were, if anything, even more precarious. The board’s response was to sanction the issue of a shedful of more shares…and in what feels in retrospect like a somewhat cavalier moment, Delia and I also agreed to underwrite the share issue, and hope that enough of the other shareholders would take the altruistic view and pay up.
Many did but quite a few, including some with significant shareholdings, did not and the unforeseen outcome was that by the end of 1998 our own percentage had increased to 63 per cent!
It has always been an article of faith with us that a football club belongs to the fans and that owners and directors are at best only trustees and caretakers for a finite period – though I appreciate this may not be the universal view among Russian oligarchs, American entrepreneurs or Middle Eastern sheikhs.
• Tales From The City is available now for £10 from talesfrom.com/norwich and various book stores