Norwich falls out of love with Delia

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For as long as anyone can remember, the nation has adored Delia Smith. But that enduring popularity is now being threatened by a mini-revolt, and at the heart of the furore are Delia's two greatest loves - cooking and football.

For as long as anyone can remember, the nation has adored Delia Smith. But that enduring popularity is now being threatened by a mini-revolt, and at the heart of the furore are Delia's two greatest loves - cooking and football.

The spark of the crisis has been the terrible early-season form of Norwich City Football Club, the team in which Delia owns a 58 per cent stake. The row, however, has been compounded by accusations that Delia is showing more interest in the club's catering than in the performance of the team.

While "the Canaries" languishes near the bottom of the First Division, it has sold its two best players in recent years for £10m, and Norwich supporters claim the most obvious sign of investment has been the opening of Delia's own restaurant at the club - the £22.50-a-head Delia's City Brasserie. She has also brought quality meat pies from Lancashire to the terraces, replacing the soggy southern ones on sale before.

"I don't know if her heart is really in how the team does. She is more interested in how her restaurant is doing," complained Ian Lindsay, editor of the Norwich City fanzine Man United Are On The Telly Again.

"When she came along, the fans thought she was the best thing since sliced bread." But, he added, "the fans have started moaning".

Lee Denington, who contributes to the fanzine, said: "We have a lovely restaurant, but they don't spend money on the players."

At the Brasserie, supporters can treat themselves to recipes freshly picked from Delia's books including, on last night's menu, Italian bean and pasta soup with Parmesan cheese, duck rillettes with a confit of soured cherries, toasted onion bread and watercress, and spiced Tunisian aubergine salad with coriander and mint - and they're just for starters.

"It is of very great concern being at the bottom," says Mr Denington. "You are watching them playing really well and they are still at the bottom. So you know the other teams must be spending money. If we are still there at the halfway stage, the fans will be on her back."

Delia, 59, became a director at Norwich in 1996, and is said to have sunk some £5m of her own money into the club. In the early Nineties, Norwich was riding high in the Premier League, playing European football against the likes of Bayern Munich. Last Tuesday, they were playing away to Stockport County. Delia took control of a debt-ridden club from the despised Robert Chase, who himself was a victim of a fans' campaign to oust him as chairman.

Delia and her husband, Michael Wynn Jones, a publisher with links to Sainsbury, have long been passionate Norwich supporters. In March this year, she was reported to have postponed her next BBC series, along with what would have been by most reckonings her 28th cookbook, in order to devote more time to the club.

She said at the time: "Working at the club I found a whole new energy. I feel it is something new and I want to dedicate myself to it. I'm an all-or-nothing person."

She was unavailable for comment last week on the fortunes of her team - she was on holiday with her husband in France - but the club's chairman, Bob Cooper, said: "I don't think the fans have been disappointed by the team's performances. The team have played pretty well in most games... but what they have been disappointed with is the lack of points."

Mr Cooper, who, until two years ago, was a director at Sainsbury, said the money invested in the catering facilities came exclusively from private funds and sponsorship, and "could not have been used for football players".

"Delia goes to every one of the matches," said Mr Cooper. "She is a supporter through and through. She loves every moment. She is a true fan of Norwich. What we have done is manage the debt situation. She has put money in and we have worked very hard to be in the strongest position we have been in for a number of years."

Norwich is a once-proud club with a pedigree of Premier League football, its low position made all the more galling by the success of its East Anglian rival, Ipswich. For the moment, Delia has been spared the fans' barracking - a drop into the Second Division may change all that.

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