*Disclaimer: For any lawyers reading, this is entirely fictional…*
Marco didn’t quite know what to expect when the whole restaurant was booked for lunch on that day back in early 1996. Forest players, and even Brian Clough himself, were regulars at Trattoria Antonio on Trent Bridge but directors and chairmen rarely set foot outside the boardroom for meetings.
Today was different though. And it’s only now — 15 years later — that people are beginning to realise what happened that fateful day. The deal that was made. The utter Machiavellian genius of the plan that was concocted over lunch. The foresight that made a football club — by razing it to the ground.
Nottingham Forest could only survive, could only be great again, by destroying everything that it had become. While Rome burned, the protagonists fiddled.
The plan was simple. But the devil was in the detail. And the detail was fiendish. Despite finishing third in 1995, the club had been in decline since its defeat to Spurs in the FA Cup Final in 1991. Clough had retired and relegation reared its head but expectations remained the same. Fans and shareholders, the city no less, believed Forest was still one of the best clubs in the world. This belief of a divine right needed to be stripped, pared down to a basic realism; achievement can only be truly recognised when it is not expected.
A takeover by a sole shareholder was impossible so this clandestine group set about a 15-year plan to return the club to its glory days. Firstly, the club’s constitution needed to be changed. And they needed a stooge to see it through, someone to force through a takeover of this antiquated club.
Irving Scholar stepped forward to replicate his failure at Spurs and be the fall guy. Without someone to blame, someone to point the finger at, the whole plan was nothing. ‘Without enemies, there are no heroes,’ said Nigel Doughty, the venture capitalist who had brought the 12 men together. ‘And being relegated next season is the only way to truly see this through.’
A carefully managed PR campaign would ensure the successful execution of this part of the plan — Sandy Anderson agreed to front the failed local businessman offer — but the next part was harder. Fooling the public and shareholders was one thing, ensuring a failed floatation was more difficult. But Scholar knew how to fail on the stock market, he’d done it at Spurs — easy he said.
‘Remember,’ said Mark Arthur, noting those who doubted the level the club would be stooping to, ‘the only way to rebuild this club is to destroy it.’ Arthur knew his job would be one of the hardest — Scholar and Anderson would be out of the way soon, his face as the future thick-skinned, accident-prone chief executive would be a difficult one to pull off over a whole decade.
‘What about all the money wasted?’ asked Nigel Wray. ‘Where’s it all going, who’s paying for it all?’ Doughty smiled. It was all he needed to do, the other 11 present knew he was good for the cash.’There’s no need to worry about money,’ he said. ‘Just don’t be surprised when it looks like we’re heavily in debt; it’s all
‘But what about my reputation?’ said David Platt. The ex-England international knew he would be tainted. ‘We’ve got the England U-21s lined up for you Platty and by the time Mansour moves in on Manchester City, you’ll have a job for life,’ said Eric Barnes. His contacts would ensure Platt’s carefully managed ‘disastrous’ two-year reign as manager paved the way for the second villain and scapegoat in the plan.
Billy Davies looked up. ‘And how long do you expect me to wait?’ Davies wasn’t even managing Motherwell but his impatience was well known. ‘You’ve got about 12 years Billy,’ laughed Gary Megson. ‘Learn your trade, get the play-off trick working, ruin Derby and then come in for the hard slog. And get that horribly annoyed at the board look going on.’ Davies sneered. ‘You’re the one that gets us relegated,’ he replied.
‘Calm down please gentlemen,’ said Doughty. ‘Davies, we need Megson and Colin Calderwood to put together the basis of your squad so be nice. Obviously they’ll play them out of position so all you have to do is play the right formation and you’ll be declared a genius.’
Nigel Clough looked sheepish. ‘Do I really have to manage Derby?’ Clough was now at Manchester City, his playing career nearing an end. ‘Why I can’t take the job for life from the Sheikh?’ Adam Pearson grinned. ‘After we’ve run Derby into receivership, ensured the worst Premiership season in memory and installed the American owners, you’re the only one who can stay in the job. Nobody else will last long enough to finish them off.’
One man wasn’t convinced. Stuart Pearce had Nottingham Forest running through his veins. If there was one of the 13 assembled who was going to question this 15-year plan it was Pearce. ‘Let me get this straight… You’re planning to takeover the club, engineer a failed floatation, change chairmen twice, get relegated three times, appoint managers doomed to failure, sell our talent and destroy Derby in the process?’
‘Hang on?’ added Paul Hart, then youth team manager at Leeds Utd. ‘You’re selling the most talented bunch of players we’ve seen for years?’
Doughty rose before the 12 men he had gathered. A lifelong Forest supporter, he was also an incredible businessman. Not even 40, he had conceived the rebirth of a sleeping giant. But he knew everything had to change. Fifteen years was enough time to complete the job — dishearten the supporters, lull the opposition into a false sense of security, rebuild the club from scratch. He wasn’t in it for the money; he wasn’t even in it for the glory.
‘Gentlemen,’ he began. ‘This won’t be easy for anyone; you all have very difficult jobs to do. Many of you love this club like no other. But we have a chance today. A chance to create history. A chance to take this club to the bottom and back to the top again. A chance to build on the great legacy that Brian Clough created.’
And then he said it. The creation of the Premiership and the Champions League changed everything in 1992. But nobody — except Doughty — could have foreseen the incredible amount of money that was still yet to flood the game.
‘When we achieve promotion back to the Premiership in 2011, 15 years from now — and we won’t make it look easy, don’t worry about that — we will spend like no other club in history has. Hundreds of millions of pounds will be lavished on this club. The title, the Champions League, the world…’