As the losses continue and the supporters’ frustration grows, what next? Steve Wright argues Forest fans should come together and contribute to the direction and vision of the club.
There will come a time in the future of Nottingham Forest when the club will have to find a way to unite. For so long now it has felt that there are different factions: the owner and the chief executive; a series of managers, of whom some were popular and others most definitely were not; and, most importantly, a fan base that so often cannot find a common cause and, especially, not a positive one.
Let’s be totally honest about the situation the club is in now. For the past 12 years we have been dependent on the financial input of one Nigel Doughty. We have lived beyond the natural means of the club, solely because of his financial ‘investment’ and whatever anyone thinks about how that money was managed we are now faced with a radically different level of income.
This is not the place to get into a discussion on the merits or otherwise of Doughty — it has been done enough, we all have our views — but it is, for the most part, in the past. He still owns the club but he has essentially cut all ties, playing no part in the running of the club beyond financing the pre-committed expenses of his time in charge.
The focus for us all needs to be on where we are going from here and we need to face the reality that what lies ahead is going to be at best mundane. We need to forget about big name signings and challenging for promotion to the Premier League and be prepared for a complete rebuilding that delivers something sustainable; and we need to play our part in a positive and constructive way.
That is not to say that fans should turn up, pay their money and quietly sit by without comment or criticism but that we need to find a way to engage with the club that goes beyond hurling abuse and accusation at those in charge.
Frank Clark made it clear recently that when Steve McClaren was appointed we didn’t just change the manager we blew a hole in the financial structure to attract certain players to the club. His priority is rightly to correct that and implement a wage structure and a cost base that fits with the club’s revenue and that will take both time and difficult decisions.
It’s a shame that Wes Morgan had to leave but we should not be surprised that those who have been with us through a period of relative wealth, high wages and promotion ambitions are struggling to adjust to this new world. Yet, Morgan left for a £1 million fee that when compared to the handling of Kelvin Wilson’s departure to Celtic in similar circumstances last year represents a considerable improvement. It also allowed us to recruit three additional players on loan as we fight relegation and we have come through the notorious January transfer window stronger as a result.
So, given that we are in the midst of an appalling run of form — in which not only do we not win but we cannot even score a goal — how do we respond positively to our club? It is not easy, I grant you. I share the concern of many that Steve Cotterill is not the man to produce a Forest team. I see much more to like about the new coach Sean O’Driscoll and would be feeling more confident about the future if he were in charge rather than in a temporary supporting role. But we need to find a way to break the destructive atmosphere that has taken hold of the City Ground.
Our rallying point has to be Frank Clark. He is a Forest man who has served us with distinction as a player and a manager and now, when he should be putting his feet up, he has come back to do what he can. We should honour his efforts with our support and put some trust into this most loyal of club servants.
It is clear from listening to him talk that he understands the game, the club and the mistakes that have been made in the past. He has responded to calls for better communication with fans by appearing in the media and has been honest about the decisions taken and the reasons behind them. The transition we face is not going to happen quickly, moving on the players you do not want is a lot harder than losing the ones we do and transforming a squad takes time. Clark deserves our patience.
We also have to look to ourselves and be neither bystanders nor hecklers. As fans we should be looking to contribute to the direction and vision of our club but we cannot do that by shouting angrily from the stands, however cathartic.
Perhaps the time has come for fans to form into an organised group that can communicate meaningfully with the club, not to own it but to contribute to it in a formal, respectful and coherent way. We need to express our feelings on what the values of Nottingham Forest are, what our realistic ambitions for the club are, what we expect from the club and what the club can expect back from us.
Fans are quick to complain about communication from the club but rarely have much to offer in return beyond personal insult and abuse. We can argue all we like about who has done what wrong and what their motivations might be but nothing will improve in such a negative environment. The club is at a crucial juncture in its history and we of all people should be looking to promote reconciliation and a shared future.
We can accuse and castigate and grind this club into the dirt with bitterness or we can seek to come alongside the club, open a dialogue and plot a way forward. How we do that is the first point of debate. Maybe we need a mass sign-up to the Supporters’ Club or maybe it is to follow fans at other clubs and create a Supporters’ Trust. Whatever the answer, we need an organised and viable means to play our part. Otherwise we risk abusing this club into oblivion.
Follow Steve on Twitter: @mistrollingin