United we stand, divided we fall

February 2, 2012 9 Comments »
United we stand, divided we fall
share save 120 16 United we stand, divided we fall

As the losses continue and the supporters’ frustration grows, what next? Steve Wright argues Forest fans should come together and contribute to the direction and vision of the club.

There will come a time in the future of Nottingham Forest when the club will have to find a way to unite. For so long now it has felt that there are different factions: the owner and the chief executive; a series of managers, of whom some were popular and others most definitely were not; and, most importantly, a fan base that so often cannot find a common cause and, especially, not a positive one.

Let’s be totally honest about the situation the club is in now. For the past 12 years we have been dependent on the financial input of one Nigel Doughty. We have lived beyond the natural means of the club, solely because of his financial ‘investment’ and whatever anyone thinks about how that money was managed we are now faced with a radically different level of income.

This is not the place to get into a discussion on the merits or otherwise of Doughty — it has been done enough, we all have our views — but it is, for the most part, in the past. He still owns the club but he has essentially cut all ties, playing no part in the running of the club beyond financing the pre-committed expenses of his time in charge.

The focus for us all needs to be on where we are going from here and we need to face the reality that what lies ahead is going to be at best mundane. We need to forget about big name signings and challenging for promotion to the Premier League and be prepared for a complete rebuilding that delivers something sustainable; and we need to play our part in a positive and constructive way.

That is not to say that fans should turn up, pay their money and quietly sit by without comment or criticism but that we need to find a way to engage with the club that goes beyond hurling abuse and accusation at those in charge.

Frank Clark made it clear recently that when Steve McClaren was appointed we didn’t just change the manager we blew a hole in the financial structure to attract certain players to the club. His priority is rightly to correct that and implement a wage structure and a cost base that fits with the club’s revenue and that will take both time and difficult decisions.

It’s a shame that Wes Morgan had to leave but we should not be surprised that those who have been with us through a period of relative wealth, high wages and promotion ambitions are struggling to adjust to this new world. Yet, Morgan left for a £1 million fee that when compared to the handling of Kelvin Wilson’s departure to Celtic in similar circumstances last year represents a considerable improvement. It also allowed us to recruit three additional players on loan as we fight relegation and we have come through the notorious January transfer window stronger as a result.

So, given that we are in the midst of an appalling run of form — in which not only do we not win but we cannot even score a goal — how do we respond positively to our club? It is not easy, I grant you. I share the concern of many that Steve Cotterill is not the man to produce a Forest team. I see much more to like about the new coach Sean O’Driscoll and would be feeling more confident about the future if he were in charge rather than in a temporary supporting role. But we need to find a way to break the destructive atmosphere that has taken hold of the City Ground.

Our rallying point has to be Frank Clark. He is a Forest man who has served us with distinction as a player and a manager and now, when he should be putting his feet up, he has come back to do what he can. We should honour his efforts with our support and put some trust into this most loyal of club servants.

It is clear from listening to him talk that he understands the game, the club and the mistakes that have been made in the past. He has responded to calls for better communication with fans by appearing in the media and has been honest about the decisions taken and the reasons behind them. The transition we face is not going to happen quickly, moving on the players you do not want is a lot harder than losing the ones we do and transforming a squad takes time. Clark deserves our patience.

We also have to look to ourselves and be neither bystanders nor hecklers. As fans we should be looking to contribute to the direction and vision of our club but we cannot do that by shouting angrily from the stands, however cathartic.

Perhaps the time has come for fans to form into an organised group that can communicate meaningfully with the club, not to own it but to contribute to it in a formal, respectful and coherent way. We need to express our feelings on what the values of Nottingham Forest are, what our realistic ambitions for the club are, what we expect from the club and what the club can expect back from us.

Fans are quick to complain about communication from the club but rarely have much to offer in return beyond personal insult and abuse. We can argue all we like about who has done what wrong and what their motivations might be but nothing will improve in such a negative environment. The club is at a crucial juncture in its history and we of all people should be looking to promote reconciliation and a shared future.

We can accuse and castigate and grind this club into the dirt with bitterness or we can seek to come alongside the club, open a dialogue and plot a way forward. How we do that is the first point of debate. Maybe we need a mass sign-up to the Supporters’ Club or maybe it is to follow fans at other clubs and create a Supporters’ Trust. Whatever the answer, we need an organised and viable means to play our part. Otherwise we risk abusing this club into oblivion.

Follow Steve on Twitter: @mistrollingin

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  • Rob Lewin

    This is by far the most balanced and constructive article I have read about Forest in months. Well said Sir.

  • Paul

    Very good piece. You make many valid points. There does seem to be a small element of fans who seem to want the club to self destruct, an element that is growing due to the state the club now finds itself in. The problem is that many fans can’t see a way forward. I hope to god we don’t get relegated because it could get far worse than it is now. Sad times.

  • johnp

    Outstanding piece. And we can start by showing our support for the full 90 minutes on Sunday. Ignore (if, as I fear we may have to) what is happening on the pitch and try to avoid the banter with Derby fans. Just sing in support of the boys in red…

  • RighteousBrother

    I agree, whatever anyone’s view is on Nigel Doughty (I personally feel sorry for him and blame him in equal measure for the terrible waste of money and resources that has taken place during his ownership), but in truth, that debate is irrelevant.

    We need to establish some common ground amongst the fans and I would hope that most of us can agree on the following:

    1. NIGEL DOUGHTY: We need to establish that if a buyer can be found for £1 and the investor can prove to have the funds and willingness to take on the liabilities that Nigel Doughty currently undertakes and also have the resources to provide improved, sensible and sustained investment into the club (1st team, youth set up and the ground infrastructure), what would Nigel Doughty’s response be. If we can get a commitment from Doughty that he would say yes and not seek to have his loans repaid to him by the new buyer, then that fact should be publicised far more than it currently is across the globe in an attempt to find interested buyers. This is crucial, as Doughty may be dead against selling to a foreign investor like Leicester have, and if that is the case, we need to know about it. He also may seek to have his part or all of his loans repaid so the club cannot in truth be bought for £1 plus a commitment to take on the remainder of the costs that were agreed to whilst he was Chairman. Ultimately, we need more clarity on this than just the carefully prepared statements that have been put on the Club’s website since he left. We need the facts to be clear on this and then we need to stop underselling the club by saying no one would want to buy it. Reading have just been bought, Leicester have been not so long ago as well. Yes we don’t have a brand new stadium, but we do have a history that lends itself to promoting an international brand that can far surpass either of those clubs (or even Manchester City). Other than the people currently running it, the whole footballing world seems to appreciate what Forest have been, should be, and can still be.

    2. FAN’S REPRESENTATIVE: We need more direct fans involvement in the club. Arsenal have a supporters’ representative that sits in on board meetings. We should have an elected representative that is able to take an active part in the club’s decisions and also put the majority opinions of fans across to the other board members. Perhaps this can done more formally than is currently happening through the supporters club, and each season ticket holder would get a vote.

    3. EXISITNG BOARD MEMBERS: If there is one thing that almost all Forest fans can agree on it is that we don’t want Mark Arthur involved with the club anymore. In any event, at this time of review of how the club is being run, each person on the board should have at the very least their own position reviewed as well, and if all the facts point to a terrible track record (as I’m sure it will with Mark Arthur) then they should be removed just as easily as all the managers have been in the past and replaced with more capable people.

    4. FANS AT THE GROUND: There is a terrible sense of apathy that has set in at the club. If we get relegated, I think that the situation could be almost irrecoverable (particularly with other clubs in the East Midlands seemingly building from strength to strength). We need to address key issues in the ground. A club such as Crystal Palace should be looked at very carefully. They embrace their local community and have a group of “Ultras” that create an outstanding friendly yet raucous and supportive atmosphere in their ground. An “Ultras” (or call it what you like) area should be established in the ground where people won’t be asked to sit down constantly (like the Palace fans aren’t or even the away fans at the City Ground) and where they are encouraged to make noise and sing witty, original and supportive songs. We need a new generation of fans who will get behind the club vocally.

    5. THE MANAGEMENT: Whether you believe Cotterill should be sacked or not (I think he should be although that would be a terribly sad way to use the Patrick Bamford money), we should listen to Stan Collymore’s views on how the club’s management should be structured from Chairman down to youth team coaches. There are only a handful of clubs in this country that can point to having the tangible history that we have. We have an in-built and inherent philosophy that we can point to as being “The Forest Way” (even Billy Davies spoke about it). This should be installed at every level of the club like Liverpool and Manchester United have based on history, and clubs like Swansea have done more recently. Frank Clark deserves respect and should be welcomed as a figure head and as a bridge between the fans and the board, but we need more people who either are Forest people or understand the club at every level and their overriding aim should always be to approach football in the “The Forest Way” which is the type of football that we played under Clough. The Forest fans will always stay positive even in difficult times if they can see that the footballing principles they hold so dear are at least being attempted to be adhered to by the club’s management and players.

    I hope my fellow fans read this and I would welcome your views.

  • Kev Edwards

    Well said. I think the Supporter’s Trust idea is a good one – how about talking to the Notts boys and girls about how they set up theirs??

    From what I understand you charge a nominal amount to join – it just needs someone with the time to organise it, liaise with the club and put the ideas out to the membership.

  • David

    The biggest worry is Bamford. I don’t know whether we pushed him or he really wanted to go, but he is now at the premier league club with one of the worst records of bringing through young players. It sets a worrying precedent if we can’t even hold onto a forest fan with potential whose come through the system.

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  • Andy Caddell

    An excellent article Steve and some positive ideas for reflection.

    What really matters now is where do we go from here? Actually, before even that can be decided upon we need answers to the question that Righteous Brother outlines about Nigel Doughty’s future intentions for the club. The ambitions and remit for the involvement of a group of supporters will necessarily be framed by that fundamental factor.

    It seems a sensible approach to start form what we know will happen if there are no new developments such as new owners. ND has stated that he stands by the financial commitments agreed to under is active tenure which ceased a few months back. And that’s it. So from about the beginning of the 2014/15 season, in order to balance the books we need to cut our spending to a level of less than half of current spend assuming revenue remains static. If revenue goes down – I have seen estimates it could drop by a few £million if relegated, then things are far worse. The gravity of the situation can not easily be exaggerated.

    My apologies for regurgitating a load of stuff that I am sure fans reading this forum already know, but I do wonder whether the average Forest fan genuinely has a full grasp of what we face?

    From my seat in B block I witness a sometimes depressing degree of hostility and negativity from a significant minority. So many know that they don’t want the current situation: “Arthur/DOughty/Coterill out” etc. but I suggest that very few could begin to articulate a REALISTIC way forward from where we are. And no, I am not talking about bringing “our Billy” back because the problems at the club run far deeper than who the manager is.

    What the club needs is a vision, a long term vision, and there are some fine examples towards for guidance and inspiration. I am no expert on the structures of all clubs, but I do know a little about Swansea from a friend who is a season ticket holder there. That club has been built up over the last 10 years after nearly going bust’ if you have the time read all about it on the excellent Swiss Ramble’s blog here:

    http://swissramble.blogspot.com/search/label/Swansea%20City

    The atmosphere at The Liberty is sensational, the club play wonderful football and prospects for them are exceptional. A wonderfully run club from top to bottom. (A quick aside, apparently the side which out-passed Arsenal the other week had a combined weekly wage mill of £198k, that’s all 11 outfield players and 5 subs. There are several individual players elsewhere in the prem who get more per week).

    Next steps then all? And when? Has anyone got an specific suggestions? How about all the forums getting together to discuss? Leafleting outside the ground? Twitter campaigns? Facebook? Or how about a small group of considered fans meeting together to discuss some of these ideas and see what positive achievable first steps come out from that?

    Andy C

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