Joe Ferrari reports from Norwich on why the clamour for Robert Chase's departure is getting louder by the day
Norwich City’s traditional Yuletide slide – two points from seven games – took on deeper significance this year, set against a backdrop of bitter division on and off the pitch, blame for which can be laid squarely at the door of club chairman Robert Chase.
Chase’s past masterstrokes have been well-documented: top players sold off for millions, failure to buy adequate replacements, the bulldog-spirit admiral shouting, “Steady as she goes!” over the tannoy as the team sank through the Premiership in the second half of last season.
There was brief hope with the appointment of popular former Canary Martin O’Neill as boss and a promise that cash earmarked for the rebuilding of the South Stand would instead be ploughed into a team to win promotion. We performed well enough to begin with, but the writing was on the wall as early as September when O’Neill decided to ‘swoop’ for Dean Windass of cash-strapped, eager-to-sell Hull City.
Later, when Windass was scoring on his debut for Aberdeen, the local press revealed that the only ‘swooping’ from Carrow Road had been carried out by a rather ponderous bird called Robert, who allegedly opened negotiations by stating that he had never paid £1 million for a player and didn’t intend to start now. It emerged that O’Neill, as head of what Chase endearingly refers to as “the football department”, was expected merely to recommend transfer targets to the board.
The strained relations between manager and chairman suffered a further blow with the publication of Chase’s promotion masterplan in the Eastern Daily Press. Chase claimed he had agreed with O’Neill at the start of the season to aim for nine points every five games, giving a final total of 81 points. As we were only a few points off course, Chase argued, there was no need for all this divisive talk of team-strengthening.
The bemused boss responded with comments to the effect that the graph would make an amusing game to take home and play with the children. The graph farce coupled with the sudden vacancy at Leicester were all it took to persuade O’Neill to go.
Managerial shenanigans have been accompanied by boardroom manoueverings of mounting intensity. In a calculated move, Chase issued a ‘put up or shut up’ challenge to local businessman Harry Serruys, who has long signalled his desire to take over. Potential buyers with £10 million to spare were given a certain amount of time to come forward.
Serruys and a separate mystery consortium expressed interest, but both bids faltered when Chase refused to provide detailed club accounts, saying he was only selling his shares, not the club. Nevertheless, the mystery consortium is rumoured to be close to agreeing a buy-out figure and to have enough cash to enable us to buy Old Trafford and run United as a nursery club. How much of this is understandable wishful thinking remains to be seen.
Aside from some light relief when Chase unveiled a ludicrous plan to build a 3,000-seater “leisure dome” behind Carrow Road, funded by Lottery cash, things are looking grim. My family invaded Carrow Road for the 1-0 defeat by mighty Southend. While the chants of “Robert Chase has f***** it up again” were to be expected, the ugliness of the atmosphere was not. I doubt my disenchanted relatives, casual supporters for the most part, will bother going again for a long time – a boycott of sorts, I suppose. Hundreds chanted outside the City Stand after the game, a few windows were smashed, police dogs were used and a few arrests were made.
The Norwich City Independent Supporters’ Association, keen to increase the pressure on Chase as peacefully as possible, has collected 10,000 signatures on a petition calling for him to resign. Supporters of Chase are always quick to condemn any protests, pointing out the man’s excellent financial achievements. But I don’t support Norwich so I can dance a jig around my living room when the yearly accounts are published.
From WSC 108 February 1996. What was happening this month