When — if — the new owners come along, it’s not enough to just to carry on as things were, or to bung money at the problem. We need a plan…
In a recent series on The Seventy Two, the question was posed ‘what do you want from your club?’. My thoughts, as it turned out, barely scratched the surface. What do we want from Nottingham Forest? The obvious – success – means nothing on its own. How do we define success? What is realistic? Can anybody actually agree on either of these points?
After 13 years in the ‘wilderness’, and I don’t just mean the Premier League, it’s only right that, new owners or not, we have some grasp on what’s gone wrong and how we might go right. We’ve lurched from one manager to the next; we’ve spent big money, albeit in an irregular fashion; and we’ve managed to over-perform and underperform but never really just ‘perform’. So here’s a 10-point plan for the future:
1. A footballing philosophy
From top to bottom, the club needs to be preaching the same message. Why have we invested in one of the best academies in the country if we’re not carrying through their talent or the philosophy that Nick Marshall is instilling in them? Can anybody draw a lineage between Colin Calderwood, Billy Davies, Steve McClaren and Steve Cotterill? The ‘five-year plan’ might have been ill-conceived marketing but we need a real medium-term strategy; we need to join the dots and develop a strategy.
We don’t sell our best players. Or so we were led to believe. We just give them away. Last summer one of our most expensive signings in recent years walked away for nothing. Granted, Robert Earnshaw was 30 and had put in a good shift. But we paid £2.65m for him. Kris Commons went for nothing as did Kelvin Wilson, Nathan Tyson, Paul McKenna et al. In the same breath there are certain players on healthy wages who are clearly surplus to requirements. With a wealthy benefactor you can get away with this but it’s still very bad business practice. Either we tie players down to new contracts or we sell them at the peak of their value — ignoring the sales of Wes Morgan and Patrick Bamford this season, James Perch is the only noteworthy sale in years.
3. Transfer policy
As mentioned previously, this needs to be integrated with the Academy as well as a footballing philosophy. Our best players this season have been Joel Lynch (£250,000 from Brighton), Garath McCleary (£20,000 from Bromley), Andy Reid (free transfer) and Adlene Guedioura (loan from Wolves). We don’t need to spend big money; Reading didn’t exactly buy their way to the championship. But we should get used to selling players and maximising their value – losing Patrick Bamford to Chelsea potentially saved us from relegation although he might have been worth more had first team chances come his way. Similarly we have an excellent scouting network that isn’t being fully utilised, managers need a relationship with the Academy and scouts to identify value for money.
Both Watford and Crystal Palace, among others, have both fielded teams featuring a majority of players from their academy in recent months. Quite why we haven’t seen more products of the Academy coming through is much discussed but bringing through the young players must be a priority if we are to sustain the level of investment required to attain Category B status as part of the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP). Either way, we should be saving money on transfer fees or making money on transfer fees.
Boost revenues, be clever in the transfer market, maximise player sales… with the advent of Financial Fair Play we need to makes ends meet — but so does everybody else. Wages cannot remain the same, especially as a recent survey showed the average weekly wage in the Championship was £4,059. We could half our wage bill by simply paying players an average salary — and that would more half our losses.
Which leads on to our income. Our revenues are lower than several other Championship teams in a similar position – Leeds, Norwich (before promotion), Ipswich, Leicester… Again, while losing £12m is ‘sustainable’ with a benefactor it doesn’t really make any sense. Commercially we need to be smarter – and that doesn’t mean fleecing the supporters — with sponsorship and advertising income hundreds of thousands, if not millions, less than it could be. And while we don’t own the land the City Ground sits on (which makes it more difficult to leverage potential revenues) it’s not an excuse for not maximising income.
7. The City Ground
It needs a lick of paint and some TLC but, more importantly, rebuilding the Main Stand would seem to be the most viable option of modernising the stadium — boosting capacity and revenues. With the World Cup bid having failed, the development of the last ‘old’ stand was part of the club’s plan if it reached the Premier League. But most fans would agree that the rest of the ground could do with an update regardless. A capacity of 37,000 is more than enough but it’s the potential for corporate events and conferences that will bring additional money. And are naming rights something to be thought about?
8. Level of expectation
Everybody associated with the club needs to accept and appreciate the realities and demands of modern football. We are a provincial club in the Championship; we might have had a glorious past under Brian Clough but there is no divine right. But let’s also be pragmatic; Reading, Norwich and Swansea are in the Premier League while the likes of Wigan, Fulham and Bolton remain there. Newcastle are a big club and fighting for a place in the Champions League – but they too were in the Championship two years ago. Like Leeds, the Sheffield clubs, Middlesbrough, Leicester et al we have a fighting chance of achieving promotion — with the right approach.
9. Fan engagement
This is where the club has really let themselves down in recent years. ‘We’re serious about promotion, are you?’ being the worst example. Any new ownership needs to have a little respect for their loyal ‘customers’. A lack of transparency has alienated fans and there is a desperate need to feel engaged rather than exploited. We might not be shareholders but we are stakeholders and, crucially, much of the club’s income is reliant on its fans.
Ultimately, this is critical. What kind of club are we? Where do we want to get to? And how to we want to get there? FFP dictates we need to be sustainable — which can only be a good thing — but how do we go forwards? It might be easy to cite Norwich, Swansea, Blackpool, Reading and Southampton as prime examples but if we don’t attempt to emulate their success then we can’t say we tried and failed.