Two decades on from Delia Smith joining the Norwich City board, Zoë Morgan praises her calming, pragmatic control of the club: she’s far more than just an excuse for food-based puns
When Delia Smith wrote to supporters, I think after the playoff final defeat in 2002, she used a quote from a Kate Bush song: “Wow Wow Wow Wow Wow Wow. Unbelievable.” I may have loved her before; there was no going back after Kate Bush.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Delia, along with her husband Michael Wynn-Jones, joining the Norwich City board of directors. It’s hard to imagine life without Delia, back in the day where Robert Chase almost destroyed the place and I drew red fangs on his face for an art project at school. It wasn’t long after that I remember seeing Delia sing On the Ball, City on Skinner and Baddiel’s Fantasy Football League and I fell in love.
It’s important to remember that Delia isn’t that rich. Not in the grand scheme of football owners (she became majority shareholder a year later in December 1997). Yet, in what can only be described as complete MADNESS, Delia and her husband have given everything for the love of Norwich City, giving a club gasping its apparent last breaths the kiss of life on two occasions. Elizabeth Gaskell (or was it Santayana, I forget) is quoted as saying “sometimes one likes foolish people for their folly, rather than wise people for their wisdom”. It’s certainly the case with Delia and Michael.
If you tell someone you’re a Norwich fan, the reaction is usually “Delia eh? Eh? Let’s be avin’ ya! Eh? Why are you walking away?” It’s so infuriating. Delia’s on-pitch ‘moment’ was 10 years ago and it’s still all anyone can remember? If it were me, I’d have probably have had about six fewer gin and tonics before I went out there, but she had a good point. We’ve all had a moan about how Norwich fans can become quiet and stroppy when things aren’t going the team’s way. I remember hearing someone say not long after the incident that Delia “could have gone out there and had a wee on the pitch for all she’s done for the clu”’. Well said, sir.
A quick Google search will throw up another annoyance about media coverage of Delia: the food puns. It’s extravagantly lazy. For example, “Delia has plenty to CHEW ON as her team go in four-nil down at half time. She must be STEWING”, took me 30 seconds to think of. I Googled ‘Delia Smith Norwich’ and the first food-based pun in a headline was less than half-way down through the first page: “Delia Smith boils over after Norwich are promoted to the Premier League”. Grow up. Is it because she is a woman who made a (very successful) living from a typically ‘female’ job, cooking? We don’t go banging on about the professional history of any other Premier League owners.
Delia was a pioneer of TV cooking and as she became more involved in Norwich City, the club became part of her shows. There was the yellow and green scarf hung in her hallway in the opening credits, there were shots of her at Carrow Road watching a game. She retired from TV in 2003 to spend more time at the football club, but returned in 2008 with a new book and series – to help raise money for Norwich City. Frozen mashed potato became a ‘thing’ because Norwich’s coffers needed replenishing. No one’s ever really thanked her properly.
Delia and Michael have made no secret of their desire to sell the club to the right buyer as their supply of money doesn’t get you very far in football these days, not least the Premier League. They’ve come close to it twice: Peter Cullum and Tony Fernandes. Now I can’t say much for the former, but for the latter, Delia, thank you for saying no. Norwich is a city so ingrained in the fortunes of its football club that Delia and Michael know they can’t possibly make a frivolous decision about City’s ownership.
This is especially pertinent now that the club’s finances have been secured under the leadership of Delia and Michael’s appointment of David McNally as chief executive. The hard work and the cultural changes that have taken place in recent years could be seen as Delia’s and Michael’s lasting legacy. And all on a relative shoestring.
It’s not been boring since Delia has been in charge. Norwich have been promoted, and relegated, and relegated, and promoted, and PROMOTED, and relegated, and PROMOTED in that time. There’s certainly been some mistakes along the way, and you’d like to think Delia would be the first to admit that. The appointments of Bryan Gunn and Neil Adams could be described as sentimental and optimistic if you’re being nice, idiotic if you’re being honest. And during those seasons of decline that resulted in relegation from the Championship, more should have been done to turn things around.
But would we cherish our success together quite so joyously if we hadn’t shared the dark days?
One of the most touching moments from the playoff final at Wembley was when Delia appeared on the pitch to join in the celebrations. Almost immediately, 40,000 Norwich fans applauded and sang her name. She was interviewed for 5 Live by Juliette Ferrington, who, not wanting to miss out on membership to Cliche Club, squeezes in a ‘Let’s be ‘avin ya’ gag and a cooking pun.
It’s hard to know whether Delia is struggling to hear the questions due to the noise of the crowd or due to rapid-onset selective hearing. However, in a goosebump-inducing tribute to the fans, Delia says “I am so pleased for them. The day is theirs. They deserve it. We went down to League One, they never stopped coming, they never stopped buying their tickets. And this day is theirs… it was wonderful.”
I think I’ve got a giant lump of dust in my eye.
When I take my seat at Carrow Road I instinctively check on the almost reassuring presence of Delia, Michael, and Delia’s mum in the executive box across the pitch. It may soon be necessary, due to the constant financial demands of modern football, or even old age, that they are no longer majority shareholders at Norwich City. But while they are still there, joining in with On the Ball, City, and cheering as loud (if not louder) than the rest of us, the club is in well-meaning hands.
Delia loves Norwich City, but love can often be lost in a world of commercial targets and agents’ fees. Perhaps it will only be when a new owner is in charge that we will really appreciate Delia’s love and understanding.
Zoë Morgan tweets at @zvfm2. Feel free to send her food-based puns
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