If we're stuck on this ship and it's sinking, we might as well have a parade.
Words: Steve Wright
As we perch precariously above the relegation zone just a single goal difference (and a few extra scored) better off than Blackburn and two points adrift of Birmingham it might seem odd to even contemplate that this could be “the best of times”. It has been a horrible season that has been played out under the shadow of a failing owner flitting between trying to sell the club and protecting his own ego.
Three managers have sat in the dugout in a single season (again!), players have arrived in droves (again!), several of them without any meaningful contribution on the field (again!), someone must be benefitting from all of these transactions but it isn’t us. The team has lacked an identity, a consistent style, any sense that they know what the plan is. As fans we have seen our club continue its relentless decline, each year a lower league finish than the previous one under Al-Hasawi and a greater sense of detachment. Now we find ourselves staring over the precipice of relegation.
Yet as fans we have stepped up to the plate. It is not for me to blow the trumpet of Bandy & Shinty but I absolutely can applaud the efforts of Forza Garibaldi and also the creation of a Supporters’ Trust. We have not only shown that we can organise and unite behind our club, we have also demonstrated that we have a talented supporter base that can positively contribute in a whole variety of different ways to Nottingham Forest.
It is this combination of best and worst that makes this the time to say enough is enough!
We do not have to sit and watch as everything we hold dear about our club is dismantled. If we want to do something about it we can and this is now our choice. It is not the case that we cannot influence the way the club is run, if we combine all of the skills that we have in the stands and we speak with one collective voice we can have our say and make it count. All we have to do is decide whether it’s really worth it.
I do not say that flippantly though. It isn’t easy to run a football club and it won’t be easy even just to influence the people who run one. It will take our time and our energy, it will require us to sacrifice our personal egos for the benefit of the group as a whole, to find our place and be happy to do what we can alongside others who may be able to do more or less. We will need to share the load and work together, put aside personalities and conflicts. It will cost us all and no one should underestimate that, as if we try to do this through many disparate voices we will inevitably fail.
We are lucky that despite the poor leadership we have seen at Forest over the last few years we do still have some committed staff there holding things together. It is important that we don’t forget that or throw good people in with bad times and fail to recognise them. That doesn’t just mean football people like Gary Brazil, Jack Lester and their staff in the academy, but also those who have patiently stuck with it behind the scenes as colleagues have been pushed out or simply walked away. That commitment will stand the club in good stead and give it a route back from the mess it currently resides in.
So, whatever happens on Sunday and whichever league we find ourselves playing in next season now is the time to build bridges. As fans we need to come together and work out a collective vision for our club and how we can each contribute skills and time to living it out. We also need to reach out to the staff that are keeping the club afloat and the authorities and wider stakeholders who have a say in its activities and governance.
This work has begun within the Nottingham Forest Supporters’ Trust, but it can only do something worthwhile if everyone who has an interest is able to engage, contribute and shape its activities and (absolutely crucially) if once a consensus is reached we all commit to continue to work to that shared vision even if it isn’t exactly our own. We must find a vision that can inspire en masse and that will take both ambitious thinking and considered compromise. We will all need to speak and we will all need to listen and we must do so without rancour, accusation or abuse.
Football is a passionate sport but too often that passion is manifested in negativity. The example of Forza Garibaldi should guide us in transforming anger to positive, inclusive action so rather than rant and rave at what we feel is wrong we can actually progress towards the better club we want to be. It might be cathartic to shout abuse at an owner, manager or player who is perceived to be incompetent, failing or lazy but it doesn’t move us on, it just divides us. A genuine vision would hold us all to account not just “them”.
So, ask yourself what type of club you want to support and be honest about it because if all you want is to win no matter what that needs to be understood just as much as those who espouse a romantic Forest Way. When the dust settles some fans will feel like they don’t want to keep investing their energy in a football club, others might decide to take a break or try somewhere new, whilst some will be fired up to change this club.
None of those responses is right or wrong in itself, we all have our own stories and will make the choice that is right for us, but if we do decide to pick this club back up off the floor there is no point getting distracted by pointing fingers or apportioning blame, we need to describe a vision that can sustain us all through the times ahead, whatever they might bring.