Norwich City are the Premier League's financial conscience

Posted by Paddy Davitt

Delia Smith and Co. have Norwich City back in the black.GettyImagesDelia Smith and Co. have Norwich City back in the black.

Norwich City's chief executive may have labelled the Canaries' lowly Premier League standing in the bottom three as "embarrassing" this week, but there is no question his club are currently leading the way in their fiscal success.

City went into the current international shutdown mired in the relegation zone with only Crystal Palace and Sunderland below them in the early standings. David McNally's frank admission at a fans' forum that Chris Hughton and his expensively assembled squad must raise their collective sights played well with the audience in attendance at Carrow Road.

Perhaps the astute figurehead of the club's corporate turnaround since arriving when the Canaries were at their lowest event ebb in League One knew the counter-point would be the release of another set of record figures on the balance sheet.

Norwich's continued membership of the top flight has now seen them wipe out their external debts. The £900,000 still outstanding in the latest accounts relates to £700,000 in preferred shares, or company stock paid to shareholders, leaving £200,000 of debt which has since been paid.

By any measure that is a remarkable turnaround to match their ascent on the playing side. City were saddled with debts in the region of £23 million when they sunk into the third tier in 2009. The club have just spent that amount and more in the most recent summer transfer window to furnish Hughton with the ammunition to raise the extent of Norwich's ambitions beyond mere top flight survival.

Norwich have passionate owners and a famous figurehead in Delia Smith, but there has been no influx of Middle Eastern money or flows from across the Atlantic or east of the Urals. Norwich's fiscal triumph is a home-grown story of co-operative housekeeping. It may not generate the same headlines, but is residually effective.

In the boom and bust global economic meltdown, City's top brass spend what they generate. Administration was a real prospect in their darkest days. Now ambition frames every decision from boardroom level down to the product they produce on the pitch.

Norwich may never realistically threaten the established order and those European aspirants, but Premier League contemporaries could do worse than reflect on their business model.

To place this in context, only Swansea and Wolves of the Premier League clubs who contested the 2010-11 campaign were similarly debt-free, based on the evidence of their completed accounts. Arsenal's perceived inability to remain in the front rank prior to the recent big-money arrival of Mesut Ozil was always projected as a by-product of the Gunners adopting a considered fiscal approach following the heavy burden of the move to their new Emirates home. Yet in those 2010-11 statistics, Arsenal carried a net debt of £98 million, Manchester United £366 million, Chelsea £878 million. Those are staggering amounts even for an industry that continues to generate billions in revenue.

Norwich's latest record figures can be viewed in part as an antidote to such liberal excess. The path to sustainability need not be always paved with pound signs and negative equity.

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