The bewildering boardroom at Nottingham Forest
Nottingham Forest, so close to promotion last season, have returned towards the summit of the Championship table this term after a slightly hesitant start. The background to the Reds’ revival, however, has been an uneasy relationship between manager, board and supporters. Forest fan Pat Riddell takes a look at the soap opera in the boardroom.
Most football fans will tell you they would love their own Roman Abramovich or Sheikh Mansour. Those that don’t are lying. Some Nottingham Forest fans are convinced there are billionaires – and you need a ten-figure fortune to make a difference in football these days – queuing up to buy their club.
Take a look at Liverpool, West Ham, Blackburn, Everton or even Manchester United and tell me where the rich men with bags of cash are. And then take a look at the situation Leicester, Leeds, Hull, Charlton, Southampton and Newcastle have found themselves in. QPR are owned by Lakshmi Mittal, the fifth richest man in the world and, while they might be top of the Championship, they haven’t exactly bought their way there.
Nigel Doughty, Nottingham Forest chairman since 2002 and main benefactor since 1999, has made mistakes in his 12-year association with the club, but I’m strictly of the opinion “better the devil you know”. I don’t want the likes of Peter Ridsdale, Sam Hammam or Milan Mandaric anywhere near my club. Doughty had his fingers badly burnt during David Platt’s disastrous two-year reign as manager – I doubt any Forest fan will ever forgive Platt for what he did during his spell at the City Ground – and it’s been far from a ‘golden decade’ for the club, despite promises of Premier League football. But it has been a decade of sensible financial management.
Let’s not get in to the facts about the club’s debt. Primarily because I don’t know the facts. Neither do I know who does. Doughty has invested millions; he’s loaned the club millions; he’s out of pocket; he’s making money out of the club… who actually knows? What I do know, at least according to Chief Executive Mark Arthur, is that Doughty has “regularly put in over £5m over the last few years. Last year [2009-10], his commitment was £13.4million.”
It might be that Doughty has “invested more than £60million in shares and loans during the last decade” and that, ostensibly, any debt Forest have is owed to him. But as long as he has no plans of backing out – which he has shown no sign of doing – it’s a perfectly normal business model for football clubs’ main funding to come from chairman loans. Where Doughty doesn’t follow many chairmen is appointing managers and sticking with them. He backs them. How often can you say that about a chairman? Patience is not a virtue in football and it is very rare for a manager to be given a chance to build and grow a club. There is no magic formula in football – yet many people seem to think appointing whichever manager is, or isn’t, available and spending big will prove to be successful. Again, I point you to Leeds United’s recent past.
Here and now, Billy Davies is one of the best managers in the country. He is also one of the most volatile. And that has been the real problem despite his success. There appears to be some kind of truce between Davies and Doughty, particularly since Daniel Taylor’s Guardian blog last September, which looked like it would blow the whole thing out of the water. I seriously thought Davies would be gone by Christmas and it seems quite clear that assurances have been made on both parts. The lack of signings last summer was a complete fiasco that was an embarrassment to the club. And I truly believe if Davies had been a little more discreet in his outbursts then signings would have come – why spend cash on players for a manager whose days appear to be numbered?
Which brings us to Mark Arthur. The pursuit of Cardiff’s Peter Whittingham and Swansea midfielder Darren Pratley, and Arthur’s claims on BBC Radio that the pair wanted to come to the club, were a low point for the club last year. How can anyone forget the season ticket marketing campaign of 2004 – “we’re serious about promotion, are you?” The club has seriously tested its relationship with its supporters in recent seasons. Arthur is responsible for the day-to-day running of the club as Doughty’s right-hand man and if there’s a fall guy for the club’s failures, it should be Arthur.
That said, this is our best squad for a decade. This is our best chance at promotion for a decade. And the last-minute signing of Paul Konchesky on an emergency loan to solve the infamous ‘left-back problem’ is a huge statement of intent. This squad is good enough for promotion one way or another. Whether we have the strength and depth that Davies keeps asking for depends on injuries, suspensions and stamina. But there is a steely determination, a winning mentality and a togetherness at the club that is completely at odds with the Forest of recent years. The one that went a goal down and hung its head. Late goals in games against Barnsley and Portsmouth prove this is a team that does not know when it is beaten.
I’m not getting excited just yet. There’s still too much to play for. But come the summer, we can clearly judge both Doughty’s investment and Arthur’s decisions.