Survival proves key issue at Norwich City’s AGM
Courtesy of the EDP
Attracting top-level players, the prospect of expanding Carrow Road and problems with half-time sausage rolls – all just part of another Norwich City annual general meeting.
Shareholders had their chance to grill the club’s board of directors at Carrow Road on Tuesday night and often found they were receiving a similar answer, whatever their issue.
Preserving top-flight status is key to all of the ambitions the club’s hierarchy and supporters have, with chairman Alan Bowkett jokingly turning to manager Alex Neil and saying with a smile: “All we need is for Alex to make us a regular Premier League club and then we’re home and dry!”
That message was no surprise, emphasised further with chief executive David McNally’s illustration of the club’s “revised vision” with a football-shaped graphic.
At the heart of that was the message “we are Premier League”.
So when the issue of expanding Carrow Road’s current 27,244 capacity was raised, the answer remained unchanged. An investment of over £25million, which would take over 10 years to pay off, is not the priority in the club’s first year back at English football’s top table – but it remains in the board’s long-term hopes.
McNally reminded supporters that another year in the top flight would be worth around £65million in broadcast revenue alone, having earlier said: “It wouldn’t need too many things to go right to double our income year on year.”
That was emphasised by revisiting the annual accounts, revealed earlier this year, which showed City’s income was forecast to grow 91.6pc, from £53.6m to £102.7m, for the 2015/16 financial year.
When it was pointed out that the Canaries currently sit 16th in the English football pyramid but only have the 30th biggest capacity, McNally took a different tact.
“Our facilities at Colney have to be improved, we have not got a choice,” he said. “It has to be best in class if we want to attract and attain some of the best players in the world.”
Neil has been telling supporters the same thing ever since the summer transfer window and agreed that the club’s training ground at Colney must improve if he is to attract fresh talent in January.
“Six years ago this club was in financial turmoil and was rescued by a lot of the people sitting here and is now looking to get back established in the Premier League – and that is a phenomenal achievement,” the Scot said. “Although the first team went up through the leagues, behind the scenes it hasn’t caught up.”
The formal business of the night was concluded smoothly, with chairman Alan Bowkett and deputy chairman Michael Foulger re-elected to the board.
The absence of fellow director Stephen Fry for a second successive year was raised, with financial director Steve Stone passing on the actor’s apologies for his absence.
The evening started on a sadder note though, as a round of applause was given in the memory of former AGM stalwart David Batley, who passed away recently.
But the AGM finished on a quirkier note, although an issue which will be important to many City fans.
The problems of long half-time queues in the Jarrold Stand and food not being ready until 2.15pm at some games, when the stadium opens at 1.30pm for a 3pm kick-off, prompted McNally to pledge action.
“The queues are too long and that is not good enough, we have got to do something about it,” he said, adding that more tills and staff are needed.
Joint majority shareholder and celebrity chef Delia Smith added: “If I could come down and give you a sausage roll myself, I would, and like David said, we will investigate it.”
It summed up a relaxed night and encapsulated perfectly that although the Canaries are in a great position, plenty of hard work is still needed if the club is to continue on an upward trajectory.
Promotion to the Premier League may have held up the careers of Norwich City’s youngsters but manager Alex Neil is still well aware of the talent available to him.
Neil and City’s hierarchy were grilled on a range of issues at the club’s annual general meeting, including the lack of academy players currently playing for the first team.
Premier League rivals Southampton and Tottenham were held up as examples of clubs who are managing to integrate youth stars into their top-flight teams – but Neil insists the Canaries are not yet able to do that.
“We have loaned out more players than this club probably ever has in its history and that’s the way we’re trying to do it,” the Scot said.
“Let’s not kid on, us getting promoted has prevented some of the young players playing. The Murphy brothers (Josh and Jacob), Harry Toffolo. Those three in particular I would have had in the squad, in terms of being involved in squads on match days, as we would have needed to cut costs.
“But at the moment two of them are playing regularly in the Championship and the other in League One, so we are trying to get them ready for first-team football in the Premier League, as they’re not ready yet.”
Josh Murphy and Toffolo are currently playing in the Championship, for MK Dons and Rotherham respectively, and Jacob Murphy is shining for Coventry in League One – scoring a 10-minute hat-trick on Saturday.
“Southampton and Tottenham are on a much better footing, they’ve probably got nine or 10 players who cost £10million – we haven’t got any,” Neil continued.
“Tottenham have got an experienced squad which can carry one or two players being blooded in but this season our only objective is to stay in the Premier League and blood some of those players in the future.”
The Canaries boss was quizzed on a variety of issues at the club’s annual general meeting at Carrow Road last night, including his recent
preference for a more defensive approach to games.
Neil has seen his team beat Swansea at home and narrowly fall to defeat away to Premier League big boys Manchester City and Chelsea recently and admits City supporters will see more of that style this season.
“Those first 10 games we were generally offensive and tried to play attacking football, as we did last season, but we were coming away in losing positions,” the City boss told shareholders.
“We were playing really well and I thought we were entertaining. I think our supporters were getting value for money, but we weren’t winning points.
“We played that attacking style last season and the start of this year because that is generally the way my teams play.
“But it’s not about me, it’s about the club and financial stability. The growing of the club is bigger than my philosophy. I’ve got to find a way of keeping us in this league so that style can grow with this team.
“I’m not so sure that playing that (attacking) style over the course of the season is going to work. It’s not as enjoyable for me but, ultimately, my job is to keep us in the league.”