Date: 31st January 2013 at 6:26am
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This isn`t another thread about whether or not the owners are legitimate / phoneys / rich / poor / geniuses / incompetent etc. It`s just my thoughts on the significance of communication at a football club, and what we – as fans – should reasonably expect. I am undecided on the Hasawis and won`t be coming to any sort of judgements until the summer, but what I do certainly feel is that they`ve made life unnecessarily difficult for themselves by the way they`ve chosen to interact with the fans, what they`ve said, and when they`ve chosen to say it.

I think we`re all agreed that communication – by whatever form it takes in this day and age – is very important. I still believe that we would be looking back very differently on Doughty`s legacy if there`d at least been a consistent line of communication between his regime and the fans. I never expected specific business details, I didn`t expect budgets and proposed spending, I didn`t even expect to hear about what players we were and weren`t in for? all of those things would have undermined the club`s position in the transfer market.

No, what I expected to hear was people at the club explaining a coherent and targeted plan of action. And if, at any point, that plan changed, I wanted to know why. I might not have liked the reasons, but I`d at least have understood them.

But instead we had silence – that silence coincided with the emergence of internet forums, and as insignificant as people in football clubs might think these things are, they`ve been a means of fans publicly filling in the blanks, fuelling each others` doubts and worries, and coming to their own (sometimes even more harmful) conclusions.

I don`t buy the “it`s his money, it`s his club, he doesn`t have to explain himself to anyone” line of thought – it`s churlish. Good business logic dictates that you keep your customers informed, mainly with what you want them to know; if you know what you`re doing, and you`re PR savvy, you can broach even the most negative or difficult news, and people will appreciate your honesty. Ray Trew – who I`ll get onto a minute – has recently given a masterclass in this.

But there was a transparent sense of disrespect and disinterest running down towards the fans from the very top of NFFC for over a decade, and I feel that in the end, it played as big a part (probably bigger) in breaking down that relationship to the point that it was irretrievable. By the end, the upper management of NFFC and the supporters just plain hated each other. It was that obvious.

Feelings will always be divided on Nigel Doughty`s ownership of NFFC – personally though, I feel that his tenure is always going to be characterised by misinformation, inconsistencies, the lack of a publicly understood business strategy, open disrespect towards the community of fans, and on occasion outright deceit and lies. Whether he was directly responsible for them or not, the buck stopped with him. In my opinion, the whole thing was an absolute catastrophe of public relations, from start to finish. The communication was non-existent.

And it`s for that reason that I`m wary of coming to a definitive judgement on the Hasawis, because I think the hangover from those dark times is still raging on, and I think that accumulated sense of mistrust towards ‘the owner` (whoever it might be, at any given point) is now informing the present. And I don`t think that`s wrong, necessarily – I think it`s to be expected. As businessmen like the Hasawis, you need to understand what it is you`re stepping into, and where it went so very wrong previously – the expectation of a ‘clean slate` doesn`t really stand up with something so emotive. It`s not a flick of a switch thing, as much as we (and they, I`m sure) would like it to be.

I remember when I first got together with my missus. She had a shocking time with her ex. And I knew that because of that, at the start, I was going to cop for a few things that weren`t necessarily my fault (and boy, did I ever). It was no use turning round and saying “well where the fook did that come from?” every time she did or said something daft? she was just transplanting eight years of shite onto someone else.

As Bruce Springsteen said – “you end up like a dog that`s been beat too much.” And as NFFC fans, I think that`s the point that we`re at now. Not that we`re the only fans who`ve suffered from crap ownership, and deceit, and years of going nowhere? I doubt there`d be many in the land that were genuinely happy with the club`s owners. But we`ve had a particularly rough time of it. And central to that was a lack of meaningful communication – it sowed the seeds for the way the whole wretched thing unravelled across the years.

So looking now at the Hasawis, I`m wondering what their best shot is at making this work, and developing a sincere relationship with the fans, which is vital. I don`t now expect us to sign anyone in this window (I did at the start), all of the forums are in meltdown, and there`s a lot of people wondering what`s going on. I have NO idea what the Hasawis are planning to do with Forest, or what they`re likely to spend in the long run? all I would ask of them is please, please, PLEASE make an effort to keep the fans informed. We will stick with you if we at least have a loose idea of what`s going on, and why.

Yes, it`s your club. Yes, it`s your money. Yes, you have the executive say in what happens to it. But assuming you`re not supervillains here to run the club into the ground, you will find it SO much easier to facilitate your plans if you just keep us informed.
Twitter, in my opinion, isn`t the medium to do that – if you only pop your head above the parapets once we`ve signed someone, so that you can get an internet slap on the back, people will see through that very quickly. You can`t make yourself publicly accessible, and then just disregard or ignore all of the contentious stuff – it doesn`t work like that. It didn`t work for Joe Stalin seventy years ago, and it certainly doesn`t work today.

We live in an age where you can define and communicate with an audience more easily than ever. Nowadays, you can say what you want, to the people you want to hear it, and do it almost instantly. That`s one of the big problems with Twitter – one of the big issues is that you`ve got no real control over your audience. Whether it`s nutters or WUMs or Derby fans, you`re going to end up on the receiving end of a whole lot of abuse. It`s not very constructive. It also isolates (literally) thousands of people who`d benefit from hearing what you`ve got to say, but have no interest in using Twitter.

Now the fella at Notts, Ray Trew, gets all manner of stick from some Forest fans? but from the moment he took the reigns, he opened an account on Notts County Mad, and periodically he gives them all updates. He`s not summoned by the fans to explain himself, he does it as his own discretion, but he uses that presence to justify and explain some of the club`s more difficult decisions. He posted on there recently, for example, that he wasn`t going to make any more money available in the window, that he was disappointed with attendances, and that it had impacted directly on transfer monies for the team. You`d expect bedlam. And yet, despite the obvious disappointment, he was thanked by the overwhelming majority of fans for keeping them in the loop. Because they`ve got consistency in their communications (particularly on the back of Munto), their fans feel secure and involved.

I felt – and still feel – that this could end up being exactly what we wanted it to be at NFFC. But a club with the ownership and fans divided goes nowhere. There are typically 8-10000 empty seats on a given matchday at Forest – financially times are difficult, but at the same time I know a lot of people who after years of STs just lost the will and never came back. The division between the club and its fans still exists. The fans need to be conscious of not punishing this new regime for the mistakes of the old one, BUT the owners also need to be aware that there`s many bridges to be rebuilt before they can claim to have the fans fully onside again (which ultimately is what they`ll need, if they`re to have any sustainable hope of success). I`m not really getting a sense of that from either party at the moment.

Please, Fawaz, if by some mad chance you end up reading this, DON`T repeat the mistakes of the past. ND`s passing has softened the animosity somewhat, but it really wasn`t pleasant for the last few years? and, yet, as with yourself, there was a time when it wasn`t like that, at all. I think you`d be surprised how realistic the ambitions are in terms of most sensible fans, if you`d just communicate your ambitions to us.

Forget the ‘third star` bollocks. It`s cheap, and like the ‘iconic` comment, you`re giving people a grand stick to beat you with. Nottingham Forest aren`t going to win the Champions League again, ever. That`s not defeatism, it`s just accepting the fact that no matter what you do at this club, and whatever you achieve, Forest lifting the European Cup would also require a complete restructuring and disintegration of the current structure of modern football. To be blunt, when you do talk, don`t talk daft.

Stick to your principles, but please, get some help. Get a couple of people around you who understand the English game, and how it works – Doughty wouldn`t, and it ruined him in the end. But most of all, find a means of talking to us in more than one hundred and whatever characters, and USE it.

Public relations. Communication. However you decide to do it, make the most out of it, and providing that you`re not running us into the ground, you`ll have the fans eating out of your palm. If we`re being totally honest, and despite the determination of optimists like me to put a positive spin on it, it`s been a cack-handed month. There`s been a lot to learn from that would set you up well for the future – please do so. Rome wasn`t built in a day, but the lads on that job were probably still talking to each other whilst they did it

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One Reply to “Communication Is Key A Plea To The Owners Of NFFC”

  • No, too much damage done already. When people take on tasks, they are supposed to have an understading of the subject matter in the first place. Not use us as your practice ground. GO HOME!

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