It’s been a frustrating — and not unsurprising — week for Nottingham Forest. Despite months of chasing certain players, and Billy Davies’ declaration of the need for ‘four or five stellar signings’, there was no activity in the transfer market. None whatsoever. Zilch.
Let’s be clear. This is not a disaster. This is not the end of the world. Despite the sale of James Perch, and Joe Garner and Julian Bennett going out on loan, it’s essentially the same squad as last season. The same squad that finished third last season when most fans would have bitten their arm off for a comfortable mid-table finish.
Yes, the squad needs strengthening. Yes, we need more quality. Yes, the other top teams in the division have spent money and, in some cases, acquired rather dubious loan signings. And, thankfully, the loan window is still open and the 25-man squad rule in the Premier League might make things easier in that respect. We have, at least, gained one of the country’s brightest prospects in Ryan Bertrand, Chelsea’s England Under-21 left-back. Albeit on a six-month loan.
Those are the facts. The rest is unknown. What is really going on behind the scenes at the club? Is something rotten in the state of Denmark? Davies has been uncharacteristically quiet about the lack of signings, having mouthed off to anyone and everyone since he joined the club. It’s clear the much-maligned Transfer Acquisitions Panel is a sore point with everyone — except, presumably, chairman Nigel Doughty and chief executive Mark Arthur. An official statement, of some sort, from the club would be much appreciated by all the fans that feel let down.
Many are calling for Arthur’s head and demanding Doughty sells up and moves on — paving the way for a fairytale billionaire to step in and devote all his time and money to our club. It ain’t gonna happen. Arthur’s ‘tapping up’ of Darren Pratley and Peter Whittingham proved that he is as foolish as he looks — time to go Mark. But Doughty is being made out to be some kind of evil curse on the club.
Those looking to draw comparisons with Paul Hart’s reign and the season following play-off failure are ignoring Hart’s misplaced faith in youth and his bizarre decisions — notably, offering Marlon Harewood a new contract worth less than his existing one and demanding he sign it there and then. Harewood refused and was sold to West Ham the next day. Let’s not forget Harewood and David Johnson scored 50 goals between them in the 2002-03 season. As I said, bizarre.
Let’s face facts. We won the European Cup two years running over 30 years ago. We are still a ‘big club’ but only as big as Charlton, Norwich, Leeds or Leicester. Maybe we should be able to emulate Bolton, Wigan, West Brom or Stoke. But we don’t have a divine right to be in the Premier League — much as I wish we did.
There’s a recession on. Being a successful football club costs a lot of money. And there’s no money to be made in football. Just ask Liverpool — there aren’t billionaires waiting to snap up football clubs. Doughty might not be perfect but I much prefer him to the likes of Peter Ridsdale, Sam Hammam and Milan Mandaric. Just look at the situations Hull, Leeds, Newcastle, Leicester, Southampton, Charlton and Crystal Palace have found themselves in. Christ, look at Luton. Man Utd and Liverpool fans aren’t exactly happy with their owners either.
Doughty’s decade might not have been pretty — and I think he’d the first to admit mistakes have been made — but this is our lot. There is no magic formula in football. Did anyone think Blackpool would make the play-offs let alone win them? If we’d peaked in May rather than January could it have been us? Should we have strengthened the squad in January? Yes. Would it have guaranteed promotion? No.
I’m not going to defend Doughty. And, at the same time, I’m not going to attack him either. I don’t know the facts. I don’t know who does. He’s 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 is that Forest surfed the wave of Brian Clough’s success for far too long. We were one of the country’s top clubs throughout the 1980s. Our decline began at the start of the 1990s. Being relegated in the first year of the Premiership was by all accounts a disaster — the game was flooded with money from 1992 and we missed out, yoyo-ing between two divisions.
Worse still, the Forest constitution prevented anyone with money taking over the club culminating in the farcical takeover by the Irving Scholar consortium in 1997 and subsequent floatation — £2 million raised, £18 million short of target.
We were in debt then, Doughty stepped in and more debt followed with the disastrous appointment of David Platt. But it’s been a decade of sensible financial management. The Transfer Acquisitions Panel prevents those kind of mistakes. And, in case you’d forgotten, we signed nine players last summer. Nine. That’s practically a whole team. I think we have yet to see the best of David McGoldrick, Lewis McGugan and Joe Garner for starters and there are some promising youth players coming through.
Last season we had no expectations. This year, reasonably or unreasonably, we expect a decent bash at promotion. Three points from four games is just a slow start. Nothing more, nothing less. Let’s worry in a few months if the wins don’t come and Davies has gone. Until then, and until we know more about what’s going on at the club, let’s back the team. Protests without a purpose can only affect performance. And if we hit form, if we find that magic balance and confidence again, things will look very different.