The Norfolk club were facing economic meltdown after their relegation from the top flight in 1995. Celebrity TV chef Delia Smith and her husband Michael Wynn-Jones became joint majority shareholders and put up the necessary cash to stave off the liquidators, the first step in an often difficult passage back towards calmer waters.
The journey took a jubilant turn last May when the Canaries finally returned to the top flight following a nine-year exile.
The club had been turned back from the brink of bankruptcy, Nigel Worthington was a stable presence in the dug-out and the facilities at Carrow Road were also given a makeover.
The antiquated South Stand was fully rebuilt, while a three-acre site behind the stadium was sold for residential development.
Norwich are also furthering their links in the Far East through a shirt sponsorship deal with Proton, the Malaysian car manufacturer and parent company of the Norfolk-based Lotus Group.
Smith and the rest of the City board, though, always maintained there would be no ‘Survival or Bust’ approach with the £20m promotion windfall, which had in the past cost the likes of Sheffield Wednesday, Bradford, Derby, Leicester and East Anglian neighbours Ipswich so dear.
“We have had to use the resources we have had available to the best effect, given we haven’t got the huge amounts of money to throw around that some clubs have,” Norwich chief executive Neil Doncaster said.
“We have had to do the best we can with limited resources, albeit those resources we now have in this division are much more than what we had in the division below. But we are not a hugely wealthy club and so that approach has always been the case.”
Doncaster, at 35 one of the youngest CEOs in the Premiership, added: “You can always just decide to bank the money, come back down and then hope to come back stronger the next time, then there have been clubs who took the approach that they were not going to spend massively when they came up to the top division, and unfortunately have not done very well since.
“You can look at other clubs who have spent every penny of the Premiership money which comes in. Now if that gamble pays off then fine, but in many cases it hasn’t and you can now look at many financial refugees throughout the Football League to see that.
“Or there is the more balanced approach, balancing prudence with ambition, which we have tried to do. We have invested where we can, given the manager the maximum amount of money that we can to be ambitious, but at the same time safe-guarding the long-term financial health of the club.”
Doncaster is in no doubt the approach is one which fans understand. “I think our supporters are very well informed and are aware of the situation financially in football.”
“They have seen very close to home what can happen when a club ends up in financial turmoil, as Ipswich did when they went down.
“I think there is a real willingness among our supporters for the club to be run as ambitiously as it can be, but within the long-term financial prudence that we have always preached.
“I think there is a real understanding that that is what has happened this year, and that Nigel has done wonders with the limited resources which he has had.”
Norwich smashed their transfer record to bring in £3m marksman Dean Ashton from Crewe during January, and the England Under-21 striker has netted four goals in his last five games as Worthington’s men mount a late charge for safety.
Doncaster said: “We had certain obligations to our shareholders to repay them certain monies, and we appealed to them in late autumn for them not to redeem their B Preference Shares, and that produced another £1.2m which could then go into the manager’s transfer pot in January and that, along with a little bit of ambition and a calculated gamble, enabled Dean Ashton to be bought.
“So everything which has been done has been done at the earliest possible opportunity, with the most amount of money which we could prudently spend.”
Should Norwich return to the second tier of English football, then a contingency plan is already in place to try to stave off severe financial hardship.
“Every single one of our playing staff and management staff are on Premiership wages this season, and equally will be on Football League wages next year, if we should end up there,” Doncaster revealed.
“We are not aware of any other club which has such an arrangement in place.”