Canaries' future hangs in balance

NORWICH City's future was in the balance today as Delia Smith effectively put the club up for sale.

NORWICH City's future was in the balance today as Delia Smith effectively put the club up for sale.

It leaves the club at a pivotal point in its history - aspiring for Premiership status or settling for lower-league mediocrity.

It is understood that Delia and her husband, Michael Wynn Jones, are looking for new investors of all sizes, including outright ownership.

The joint majority shareholders looked set to call time on their 12-year love affair with the Canaries as fellow directors Andrew and Sharon Turner resigned from the board - leaving City with a £1.5m black hole to fill this year.

The Turners, who own financial services business Central Trust, will not be able to immediately recover £2.5m of interest-free loans to the club, which are on long-term repayment schedules.

But they will now not be making good their promise to put in another £1.5m this year.

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It leaves City with a worrying cash shortfall, which could lead to a flurry of backroom redundancies and a frantic bid to cut the current £10m wage bill for playing staff.

It also means City boss Glenn Roeder will have less money to play with in the immediate future as he bids to turn a promising squad into one with real hope of a return to the Premiership.

However, in a development that would excite many City fans, the Turners' departure and Delia and Michael's apparent willingness to sell could reopen the door to billionaire businessman Peter Cullum, who two months ago made a failed £20m bid for ownership of the club.

Mr Turner, whose sub-prime mortgage business is valued at £275m, said: “It is true. It happened two weeks ago and it is a sad moment for us, obviously, but we are making no further comment.”

The couple, lifelong fans of the club, got involved when they bought the 5,000 shares of vice-chairman Barry Skipper, who stepped down from the board after 10 years last year.

In a statement, Delia, 67, and Michael, 67 later this month, said: “We would like to place on record our thanks to Andrew and Sharon for their hard work and endeavour since they joined us and their interest-free loans to the club totalling £2.5m.”

City chairman Roger Munby said the board was in “active conversations” with “more than one” potential investor.

But he admitted that club finances were “under active review”, and added: “If staff were to leave at the moment we wouldn't immediately replace them.”

He said: “We've got to recover our ground. This has put us back by £1.5m and it has put us back because we have lost two expert, fresh executive minds.”

Mr Munby said the club had been on track to move from loss-making to profit-making in the near future, and said the absence of the Turners' cash meant the situation was more likely to be “neutral”, which he said was “still no bad thing in football”.

He said: “It's a sad day. Andrew and Sharon have taken their own advice and made their own decision to leave, regrettably. Categorically this does not mean that there is a threat of the club going into administration.

“There are plans in hand. There's belt-tightening but fans can be reassured that the club is not in any embarrassed financial position.”

Two months ago Mr Cullum, ranked the 40th richest person in Britain and executive chairman of insurance giant Towergate, put in an offer of £20m to invest in new players in exchange for ownership of the Canaries.

The lifelong City fan and former Norwich City youth player, 57, was initially snubbed by the board. And when the two sides finally held talks, they quickly broke off with no agreement.

Last night there was no comment from Mr Cullum.

But Mr Munby said a rekindling of the deal was “certainly a possibility”. He said: “We left the last discussions on amicable terms. Peter may class himself as one of the people who may be interested.”

He said he “could not say why” the Turners had walked away.

He said: “They left despite the fact that they are lifelong fans who harboured a lifelong ambition to be involved with the club. I'm sure their reasons must be very pressing. The situation has come up very quickly.”

Mr Munby said the Turners had carried out an audit of the club's finances and left behind a “strong strategy” that the club would be following through.

He said the board members were informed of the Turners' decision to leave via a series of individual telephone calls and the “odd meeting”.

Amid rumours of a boardroom split he said: “There's been no bust-up.”