The Derby result was just a sticking plaster for many fans concerned about the future of Nottingham Forest. Elliott Stanley reflects upon the apathy that some supporters feel and wonders what the way forward will be
It’s with growing apathy that I approach, and invest in, the on-field results of our beloved club. That apathy, bizarrely, accentuates the anger and disappointment with which I view the overall state of Nottingham Forest.
It’s not that I don’t see the rationale behind the recent calls for Dougie Freedman to become the latest in a long line of management failures. It just pales into insignificance when I widen the lens a little. It’s becoming difficult to care who the owner’s current scapegoat is. I only really cared the last time out because it happened to be a man I held, and still hold, in the highest regard possible (and I still haven’t forgiven Fawaz for luring Stuart Pearce into his circus before dispatching him with such a startling lack of respect it is still hard to believe it happened even today).
When Omar, Abdulaziz and Fawaz Al Hasawi swept into the City Ground in July 2012 it was, predictably, with beaming smiles all round and copious talk of restoring the glory days on the banks of the Trent. Talk, as they say, is cheap; and never a truer a sentence was uttered than is evidenced in the years that have followed for Nottingham Forest.
The wealth of evidence available to the prosecution in this case is staggering. From multiple winding-up petitions to embarrassing forays into social media spats with rival fans through to sanctioning media blackouts, it’s been the sort of stuff that would fill ‘A Dummies Guide to Ruining a Business’ from cover to cover.
Any fan willing to be honest will probably admit that they’ve overlooked much of this evidence, rationalised that it can be put down to a genuine mistake or a misunderstanding of culture in the ever-diminishing hope that the club wasn’t really being run into the ground.
It’s probably time we were all honest with ourselves. Fawaz is not the messiah. Sadly, for us, he’s not even a very naughty boy. In my opinion he’s an incompetent, wayward, naive owner and chairman who has done significant, possibly long-term, damage to the club.
As I pen these thoughts I am sat in The Pitchside Bar at Stadium:MK. It’s a bit like the Pitch Sports Diner at the City Ground. Except there are people here. Actual customers. People handing over money. Every single pound moves the MK Dons further away from any FFP issues. There are conferences here weekly. There are people putting money into this place seven days a week. A far cry from the commercial train wreck that is Nottingham Forest. The PDF brochure inviting potential customers to host conferences at the ground looks like something from the mid-90s. A tech-savvy eight-year-old could probably knock up something better over lunch on their iPad Air. I think my two-and-a-half-year-old could have a decent go at matching it for aesthetic prowess.
Aside from a few refurbs what has Fawaz done to improve the business revenue of the club? He can invest in the stadium, the infrastructure, the commercial offerings without having any impact on FFP. A man as wealthy, and seemingly as fancy free with his money, as Mr Al Hasawi would surely be pushing that off-field agenda? It’s in the long-term interests of the club as a viable business. The key in that sentence is long-term.
The evidence that Fawaz is not interested, not willing or altogether incapable of growing Nottingham Forest into a commercial success is stacked higher than the Al Hamra Tower in his homeland. I admit to having little idea over his part in growing the family air-conditioning business; but on the balance of probability you have to say his business acumen whilst custodian of our club suggests he played something between little and no part in the success of the family business.
When I sat in the Robin Hood Suite listening to Stuart Pearce, Paul Faulkner and Chris Cohen talk about the direction the club was heading when the 2014/15 season was in its infancy, I can genuinely say I have never, as a grown adult, felt so positive about the club. We had reopened and embraced communication channels with supporters. Our CEO had an enthusiasm for the future that suggested he saw the potential for commercial growth. On the pitch we were flying high. When I look back it was obvious then that Stuart was not a manager, but was perfect for the DoF role; one can only hope that such an outcome may, one day, be feasible.
What a spectacular fall from grace it has been since then. Perhaps the saddest, most enthusiasm-sapping element of this sorry tale is that I have no idea how it ends. I cannot see a way out. The debt is growing and is saddled against the club (upwards of £65m on the last accounts). At some point the ‘new manager bounce’ won’t come to fruition and we won’t avoid relegation. How we recover from that, again, I do not know.
I can be unequivocal, however, in saying I believe it is in the best interests of the club that Fawaz Al Hasawi leaves at the earliest possible opportunity. I will also say that I believe he owes it to us to clear the debt he has accumulated. I am not, however, naive enough to think he will. Despite that, I maintain it is better he goes, and whatever pain is to come, we take it now. Under his leadership, and it is an insult to the word to call it such, things will only get worse.