As Nottingham Forest continue to progress and develop this season — albeit not as quick as some would like — it’s about time the continual knee-jerk reactions of the Fawaz Al Hasawi era are put behind us, says Paul Severn
It often seems as if the ghost of Brian Clough walks the corridors of the City Ground. His presence hangs over every Forest manager. But the memories he gave us means this ghost is always still welcome. However, after a ghastly Halloween horror-show performance at Reading, it seemed clear to me that a new ghost is making itself comfortable at the club.
Under Fawaz Al Hasawi, the club’s ethics, ideology and mentality changed. Although managers came and went under Nigel Doughty, he was not a populist. After the horrendous 5-2 play off defeat to Yeovil in 2007, I wondered if Colin Calderwood’s days were numbered. But Doughty held fire and was rewarded with promotion for his level-headedness.
Under Fawaz it all changed – as it did at other clubs too. Each season saw two or three managers per campaign, but sadly, this became part of the mentality of much of our fanbase. And unfortunately it still exists as a major factor despite the demise of the regime. Every defeat creates a backlash. Every bad run puts the entire strategy under the microscope. This makes the whole experience of supporting the club feel edgy and less enjoyable.
Burnley are one of the most consistent, overachieving clubs in world football. It’s easy to forget that they were relegated from the Premier League in 2015. Manager Sean Dyche stayed, and is now one of the top managers in the country. They have established a philosophy, a style, and can overcome the loss of star players comfortably.
It goes without saying that Fawaz never would’ve allowed the 2015 relegation to happen without a managerial change. I can picture him staring at an East Midlands Today camera pleading: “We are bottom of the league. Sean Dyche is a good manager, but I had to change it. Maybe Joe Bloggs will do something.”
The hard truth though is that a section of our support also would’ve backed this approach. And continue to do so today. At the time of writing, Forest are close to the play-offs and well clear of relegation. There are a number of key issues on the pitch which need attention. But too many fans take this too far and want rash change yet again. Do other clubs have this issue? I notice Preston have also lost as I write this. Should Alex Neil get the chop? Unlikely.
It could be argued that we read too much into social media and should ignore such posts. However, I think the problem is wider. In the excellent recent podcast by Bandy and Shinty, Steve Wright astutely pointed out that there was a bad atmosphere at the Burton game. The players were booed off, and Steve perhaps correctly interpreted an incident where Jordan Smith was cheered for hoofing the ball down the field as a wider rejection of the Warburton philosophy. I have also picked this up from my seat.
When Bournemouth were promoted a few years ago, Forest beat them twice. I doubt very much Eddie Howe was lambasted for these off days. I doubt Bournemouth fans listened to Burnley fans who said he was an average manager (34 wins and 34 defeats). The passing style has worked well for a number of teams in recent years. Against Hull, there were signs that we might one day, reach the levels of Howe’s Bournemouth team, as 19 passes starting from the goalkeeper almost resulted in one of the all-time great Forest goals. Some people might want to see the ball played in the clouds. I don’t.
Add to that the treatment of our young players. After the Reading defeat, I saw fans slaughtering Jordan Smith on Twitter. Smith is a talented, developing keeper. His bravery, dedication and fantastic saves are a credit to himself and the Academy. The same goes for Joe Worrall. I am mystified why anyone would not want to back these two excellent professionals anything less than 100%. Yes, they have flaws, but what does this negativity aim to achieve? Even David De Gea struggled at first – but look what happened. Would people be happy if their careers fizzled out – and we replaced them with two shiny new signings on £35k a week? Is that the type of club we want to become?
The treatment of Ben Osborn is much discussed. For what it’s worth, I think some fans do overrate him a little. If he had the physique of Michail Antonio or Oliver Burke, a top side would’ve signed him – that is obvious. However, with support and good coaching, he could become the eventual replacement for Andy Reid. And while he improves, he continues to give 110%, never hides and creates hat fulls of chances. He admitted in a recent interview that he’s aware of criticism. What are people hoping to achieve? Do people want to see him sitting on the bench at Crystal Palace? Would that suit? It would be such a shame to see a player who has given a big part of his life to Forest end up playing against Forest for fans who appreciated him more – and it isn’t just Twitter that gives this impression.
As fans we expect the best from our players, coaches, manager and owners. But we must also give our best as supporters. Booing the players off after a scoreless first-half isn’t good enough. Writing off young players isn’t either. We can’t create an atmosphere that’s conducive to success like this. It just helps our opponents.
There’s no guarantee it will work out for Mark Warburton, or even this regime. Many clubs have been well run for years and we are playing catch-up. Other clubs have been gifted parachute payments to paper over their errors. However, I would get no pleasure from failing to support the club, just so I could say ‘I told you so’. I’d sooner play my role and be positive, even if it ends in frustration.
This doesn’t mean we can’t criticise a bad performance. But it does mean that we have to let go of the legacy of the Fawaz regime. As long as his ghost lingers around the club, progress will be just a distant dream as we play a part in the club’s demise.
Unfortunately in any group of people, when one person speaks, everyone hears their opinion, even if they don’t share it themselves. I think it’s time that realistic fans who want to support passing football, who are aware of the challenges and want to support homegrown players use their voice to create a more positive mindset and atmosphere.
In the heat of the moment, we all get it wrong at times. I know I have been too hard on some players and some performances at times and will be again. But let’s think before we boo the side off, call for the manager’s head, or sarcastically applaud a substitution. Forest is much more than a football club. It’s a community with a keen sense of right and wrong – so let’s fight for it.