Engagement and involvement with the community is often the only way football clubs can maintain their identity in the modern era. Steve Wright suggests Nottingham Forest should strengthen its ties…
One of the things that I complain about with modern football is that clubs are losing their identities as they chase money and that football is losing its sporting integrity because of greed and a misguided focus on results. It is a ‘results business’, we so often hear, and yet to me it is not a business and results are transient.
So rather than simply moaning about things, what would I actually do about it? Here’s some quick thoughts under three key headings for putting a bit of personality, community and pride into the club.
1) Create a club museum
A key aspect around recognising and celebrating the club’s history for me is to create a club museum. By this I don’t mean anything extravagant, but I think as we approach our 150th anniversary this is a valuable and straightforward way to honour the club’s past. It is important to acknowledge that we are a club that goes back many years, and will hopefully go forward many more, and we have much to recognise.
We already have a historian, and many items of interest, and a formal home for them which could be visited as part of stadium tours and available to access for research would be a fitting tribute to history and link us formally into the football network of museums – which we also already feed by loaning items of wider interest.
2) Build community
The club should both be a community in itself and also be at the heart of its local community. Here are a couple of thoughts on these two aspects.
i) An integrated football club, the beginnings of which would be to fully bring the Ladies team into the existing club structures. This has already been done to some extent — and it was great that the Al Hasawi family formally brought the Ladies team into the overall structure of the club — so in a sense it is a bit of a bogus entry, but I think it is important to keep the integration in focus and to continue to develop it. For example, the girls’ teams made a clean sweep of cup competitions this year, alongside a whole heap of other successes, and it would be nice to see them congratulated at the City Ground at a senior men’s game.
A club dinner open to all members and supporters to recognise the achievements of the season at all levels (and across all areas, such as education and community, as well as football) might also bring the club together in one place to realise the scale of its impact and the value of its existence.
I think it would also be interesting to look at other aspects of the game too. A club should be about widening participation primarily and getting people playing football. Could there be a disabled and even a homeless Forest team?
ii) A festival of football. I see this as a charitable event to raise money for a local organisation whilst also celebrating the club past and present. It could include a day across the City Ground and Nigel Doughty Academy involving a series of showpiece games that fans can dip in and out of alongside other activities.
iii) The matches could be a range of things such as a chance to see some of our youth players in action, a ladies match, a veteran’s match and any of these could include invited guests from other clubs that are linked to us through history – Malmo, Arsenal, Valencia, Club Atlético Independiente and maybe now Al Qadsia.
Some of those other things to do could include attend talks given by staff members and former players, signing and photo sessions, traditional carnival activities and sideshows, visit the museum (!) and shop promotions. The whole thing could be rounded off by a sportsman’s dinner perhaps featuring a reunion of a particular team from our past.
3) Be visionary
i) Firstly internally, I think that a clear and measurable understanding of what it means to be Nottingham Forest can go a long way. What these values are is a matter for discussion for which a good starting point would be to consider the governance structure of the club and finding ways for supporter engagement.
Maybe that involves some sort of supporters’ committee which pulls together representation of a wide cross section of fans and feeds into the main board, a sort of critical friend that keeps the main club board focused on the long term vision and values. This committee might also include former players and staff who have remained close to the club and can be wise voices.
The club is owned by rich men and there are benefits to that but they remain stewards of something much bigger than themselves and some form of counsel from respected voices could add real value.
ii) And then externally, Forest has been an innovative and leading club in this country in the past and it would be good to see club officials taking a lead for ‘good’ based on some of those core values that might have been developed from the last item.
iii) The club should take its place in the wider game seriously and be prepared to take a stand on important issues such as governance, financial management, ticket pricing, sharing of TV revenues, safe standing, away fans, competitive integrity, cheating, racism, home-grown players and so on.
A club that knows what it stands for can be a beacon within the game, standing against the tide when necessary and keeping the interests of players and fans (the two essentials in football) to the fore.
You can follow Steve on Twitter: @mistrollingin
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