Chase stands defiant against pack

Norman Fox believes Norwich's vilified chairman will keep on selling
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ASK ALMOST anyone about Norwich City Football Club and they talk about "travesty", about "a ship that has run aground" and a club foundering "without any help from the board". Anyone, that is, apart from Robert Chase, who continues to resist a long, sometimes violent, campaign to oust him as chairman. He says that if anyone is prepared to put in as much as he has over the past 10 years they are welcome to take over. Supporters believe the time is nigh. Chase denies it.

The three quotes above come from Jon Newsome, recently sold to Sheffield Wednesday, Roy Blower, of the Norwich City Independent Supporters' Association, and the manager, Gary Megson. A fair cross- section, you would think, but yesterday, on the eve of the club's match against local rivals Ipswich Town, who could go back to the Premiership next season while Norwich stay in the First Division, Chase remained defiant. "I've said on several occasions that if anybody wants to buy my shares and if they have the time and resources, I would stand aside as long as it was in the best interests of the club. There have been lots of inquiries but nothing more concrete."

Chase says he is left with two choices. "To walk away - an option I am not considering - or to continue with a larger board and a chief executive, as recommended by the club's trustees. I am not prepared to throw in the towel just because things are a bit rough at the moment." He threatens more "scaling down", which supporters will read as the selling of more players.

A 20 per cent drop in gates since relegation from the Premiership and less television and sponsorship money has left Chase insisting that selling players is the only way to keep the finances under control.

The fans disagree. The chant "Chase out" has been heard every week since the club faced then succumbed to relegation last season. Unlike other chairmen, though, Chase is not accused of interfering with team selection, except by the gradual erosion of choice caused by his selling of top players. He says his job is looking after the balance sheets, not team sheets.

The opposition is led by Blower, who says Chase has presided "over a club that between 1991 and the end of last year saw liabilities quadrupled in a period which was the most successful in our history. We took in more money in transfers than we spent, played in Europe, and got money from TV, sponsorship and a commercial department that Mr Chase said was one of the most successful in the country. So where has the money gone?"

Rebuilding and high Premiership salaries, says Chase. "It now seems unlikely we are going to bounce back this season, and we must therefore consolidate," he says. "The reduction in income underlines the fact that our priority must be to reduce our borrowings to a level we can afford and our bank will support. The club will have to reduce overheads considerably".

While the city is full of rumours about takeovers, Chase dismisses them. Blower disagrees. "It's not a question of if but when. The problem is the debt. After selling Newsome and Ashley Ward, we still look as if we're pounds 4m in the red."

Blower says that a straw poll indicates that one in three season tickets holders will not renew unless Chase goes. "People have stayed away because of him. He's right to say there is a loss of income when you get relegated but the club is not getting some sponsorship simply because he's there. If he'd talked to the fans and explained things it might have been different. Why is the club not more open? A lot of fans are shareholders and they have a right to know what's happening to their football club".

Blower added: "Last season he was talking about getting up to 10 million shares if we went public. Now he'd be lucky to get 1.2 million top whack".

Blower believes he will soon be proved right when he says: "If Mr Chase stood down, we would have 20,000 at the next match and there would be street parties all over the city".

Defeat today will see Chase under even more pressure to go, but he said: "I'm as committed to this club as I was when my father took me to my first game. I always considered it a privilege to be associated with Norwich City Football Club. I still do."

"The sooner the club loses its association with him, the better," Blower said.