The bewildering boardroom at Nottingham Forest

City Ground


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.


Also featuring Nottingham Forest:


The Seventy Two
The Seventy Two published an outstanding series of articles about the Football League between 2010-12 and was the brainchild of Leicester City fan, David Bevan. As well as collaborating with The Two Unfortunates on the Football League Blog Network and a mammoth 2011-12 season preview, the site featured a host of leading bloggers and David was rewarded with a nomination in the 2011 Football Supporters’ Federation awards. Latterly, he was joined as co-editor by Joe Harrison and TTU is happy to present this archive of the site’s output.

22 Comments

  1. Michael
    February 8, 2011

    Nice piece. After last season I hope you do manage to make it up.

    Reply
  2. Kenny
    February 8, 2011

    Good article. I am loving the quiet optimism around the city ground at the moment. Although Davies divides opinion with his moaning at times, there is no doubt that he knows how to build a successful football team. Roll on the good times, starting with QPR on Sunday.

    Reply
  3. Red Dog!
    February 8, 2011

    FOREST TIL I DIE!!!

    Reply
  4. Tim
    February 8, 2011

    Good piece, thanks. Doughty deserves the fans’ gratitude and in my house anyway has lots of it.

    That said, it would be very good news to hear of a loanee brought in to add numbers in the run-up. Moussi’s injury and Findley’s disastrous start have left us short of numbers compared to most of our nearest rivals.

    Reply
  5. ravinreg the pongo
    February 8, 2011

    Excellent article!

    Reply
  6. Chris
    February 8, 2011

    I have watched Forest for over 50 years and, apart from the period BC took gave us our first real taste of the ‘big time’, I can’t remember being so excited at the club’s prospects (or more specifically, the next 18 games). However, I recognise that I – and everyone else associated with NFFC – need to stay calm. Just because we’ve hit 2nd in the table, we are promised nothing. Now’s the time for everyone to come together to support the club we love or serve. The frenzy which people want to build up around Billy’s relationship with the board is unhelpful at this time. Billy is Billy (just as much as BC was himself a one-off) and he just needs everyone’s support, not distractions from the 18 games. I hope MA & ND can do more to support Billy with additions to the squad as the loan market opens up again, but what is said behind the closed doors at NFFC, for the next 18 games, should remain behind closed doors.

    Reply
  7. Rish eighteensixtyfive
    February 8, 2011

    Great article Pat. Glad to see someone who does not resort to hyperbole and does not claim opinion as fact. The mentality of the squad seems much more settled and determined this time around, let’s hope that we don’t suffer too many injuries and suspensions. Come on you Reds!

    Reply
  8. Mikey Bahamas
    February 8, 2011

    Good read.

    The Bristol City link was also a good read.

    Reply
    • theseventytwo
      February 8, 2011

      Swiss Ramble is THE blog for a financial perspective on modern football. Even better that the guy that runs it is open to covering lower league / foreign clubs in the face of so much Premier League focus elsewhere.

      Reply
  9. Kerry Moran
    February 8, 2011

    Great article, one thing I would like to point out is that at this point last season we were on the same amount of points from the same amount of games & were also 2nd. With this in mind we shouldn’t get carried away just yet as we all know what happened last season, but I do feel that experience may push us over the line.

    Reply
    • theseventytwo
      February 8, 2011

      Definitely worth bearing in mind, but from an outside perspective I am certain Forest look better equipped this season not to fall apart away from home like they did from February to the end of the season last time.

      Reply
  10. Gary
    February 8, 2011

    Excellant article, with the insight & knowledge that only a true fan could deliver.
    So much better than the run of the mill pieces in the Nottingham Evening Post, though I do not understand the title; as he seems to explain the situation quite well. This makes it not bewildering at all.

    Reply
    • theseventytwo
      February 8, 2011

      As I’m sure you realise, I added the title myself. I’ve often been confused by the way things work at executive level at Forest. I’m not saying Pat doesn’t explain it by saying it’s “bewildering”. That was partly just for alliteration anyway.

      Plus there still seems to be a fair bit that the fans don’t know (and arguably don’t necessarily need to, either).

      Reply
  11. Terry Mellard
    February 8, 2011

    Well its a good article if you are a Doughty lover all the things he has done for us ? what like getting us 60 million pounds in the red like keeping us out odf the top flight for all these years ,yes we owe him a lot. We could have had more additions this january if there really serious about going up lets see

    Reply
    • Pat Riddell
      February 8, 2011

      Don’t get me wrong, I’m no ‘Doughty lover’. But I’ve yet to read any compelling or convincing argument that he’s loaded the club with debt on purpose and been totally incompetent for nearly 12 years.

      Yes, he’s made mistakes. But much of our troubles are beyond his control — the yoyo-ing between divisions during the 1990s; the farcical takeover by the Irving Scholar consortium in 1997 and subsequent floatation — £2 million raised, £18 million short of target; the collapse of ITV Digital…

      David Conn is a journalist who knows his onions and he wrote this in 2004: http://ind.pn/dKHUnz

      We were losing over £100,00 a week when he stepped in in 1999, we were losing over £100,00 a week when David Platt left in 2001. Football clubs don’t make money, they’re money pits. Take a look at the balance sheets of any of the smaller Premier League clubs and, to be honest, any Football League clubs. It hardly ever adds up.

      Equifax found last January that over half Championship clubs were technically insolvent while Deloitte’s annual report states Premier League clubs have over £3 billion worth of debt. To be honest, if we weren’t in debt I’d wonder what was going on… No, it’s not sustainable but we’re all chasing the Promised Land of the Premier League.

      I would have loved us to splash the cash last summer and during the January transfer window — and we definitely should use the loan window — but it’s a fool’s paradise to think spending money will get you promotion. If we don’t go up this season and Doughty and Arthur actually trust Billy to stay and do the job then maybe we’ll see some investment in the summer.

      Reply
    • Big Tim
      February 8, 2011

      Well said Terry,, i was thinking the fella that wrote it might have been MA or ND, if they were ever serious about getting us back to where we belontg they got a very funny way of showing it. Last january was the time to invest,, but nothing,, we fell apart towards the end, and im sure most Forest fans would agree. This total lack of intent carried on in the summer, and they have hardly broke any records this window.. Well done To King Billy (the very best we have had since BC),, and hes doing it with one hand tied behind his back.. Come on You Rds NFFC then now and FOREVER……

      Reply
  12. Y
    February 9, 2011

    Sorry but you point the finger at Marthur when if he was really doing wrong in the eyes of his gaffer, he’d be gone, he is basically Doughty by proxy, so that doesn’t wash with me.

    You also say spending doesn’t guarantee promotion, it may not but it bloody helps, look at last year. This time last season we were 5 points clear of 3rd place, WBA and Newcastle spent a negligible amount of money and sealed the top 2.

    Billy is no Saint, and I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of fans thinking billionaires are queueing up to buy the club, but we had a really good chance this January and we didn’t strengthen, we just replaced. Tudders > Dex, Konch > Bertie, Findley is injured.

    We need a destructive defensive midfielder possibly Michael Brown, a cover CB as Kelvin’s head isn’t all there and a left winger which will free up players to play in their natural positions. Will we get them? Time will tell.

    This is out best chance in years, yet I truly believe that Doughty can’t afford for us to go up, and is happy being a top end Championship club.

    Reply
  13. Mistrollingin
    February 9, 2011

    A really good piece. Doughty has undoubtedly made mistakes, the worst of which has to be Gary Megson, but he has worked his way slowly back and continued to put money into the club. It will not be until he leaves that we see whether the vast sums he has spent at Forest will be recouped or not but he has a long association as a fan of the club, as does his father, and we should be more confident in his intentions than someone unattached to the club.
    At the moment there seems to be a constructive tension between board and manager that is working. Obviously fans want things to happen quicker, which fans don’t, but we are bringing in good players and are competing at the top of the Championship, which is not a bad place to be. Let’s not forget what Davies did with his money at Derby where a January spending spree almost cost them promotion rather than securing it.

    Reply
  14. Colin Henderson
    February 9, 2011

    Nice article and I agree with a lot of it but been there with Paul Hart, and twice now with Billy not forgetting going nowhere with Calderwood. But on three occasions when we got into positions to get to the premier we havent supported the Manager with loans or signings Johnson broke his leg and last season lost Shorey at a critical time, new loanie left back was critical rest of season got to go for top spot. Come on Billy

    Reply
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