A Nottingham Forest blog with a concern for the wider game
Being fickle is an accusation that is often thrown at fans, whether it’s a segment within a team’s fan base or even a stereotype of a whole club’s support, but the life of a football supporter has a tendency to be fickle in its nature, so we shouldn’t really be surprised. One week your team makes you purr with the beauty of their sweeping moves from one end of the pitch to the other; quick, accurate passes rounded off with lethal strikes, defences cut open by clever movement and incisive touches. Yet by the next, the players seem to have forgotten having ever met their teammates, their boots weigh them down like lead and the ball bounces off them randomly.
As Forest fans, we have seen this pattern repeat literally week by week throughout the current season. Nine league wins and nine league defeats but no sense of a run of either at any stage of the season, just that stop, start, stop, start rhythm that leaves optimists and pessimists frustrated alike, with neither able to claim for certain that their case is made by the evidence in front of them. It puts us in a difficult position in this age that demands immediacy; immediate results, immediate responses, immediate action. A defeat draws an instant outburst and demands a response, but nothing reasonable can be done in such a short timeframe, only something drastic and too often that becomes the call. A cauterisation that might stop the initial blood flow but then leaves you open to dangerous infection.
So, how do you break that cycle and keep constant whether you win, lose or draw? It must surely stem from the relationship that you have with your football and with your club. Is football a business or a community? Are you a consumer of a product or a fan? What do you put in and what do you get back? These are all questions that we need to consider. They become harder when a club gets bigger and the number of people involved increases, but they remain relevant whatever the level. FC United of Manchester pledged not to have a shirt sponsor, but some fans questioned that when they started to struggle to compete. We should ask these questions and the club, collectively, should decide what matters to it most.
I have always been clear that most of all I want a club with values that I can relate to and be proud of, but a club of the stature of Forest operating at the level it does also has to understand how results can impact the different stakeholders that interact with it, there has to be balance. Asking an owner to put their money into your club inevitably changes its dynamic, asking a city to support you with your aims puts a broader responsibility on your shoulders and merely employing staff creates a duty of care to people whose livelihoods may well depend on at least a certain level of success. Yet, maybe all of those things actually rely more on the club being clear about its values and then living them out than they do on winning football matches.
Not for the first time I find myself reflecting back to Juanma Lillo’s assertion that although the result is everything, it is in reality just a statistic. When you venture onto Twitter in the aftermath of a defeat, it feels like that statistic really is the be all and end all. One isolated result can drive a level of emotional response that is startling even in people who have not seen the game, only the two numbers representing how many times a ball crossed two opposing lines. Do we really invest all of this time, energy and emotion simply on a statistic that can change on the whim of a distracted official or a freak bounce off an errant piece of turf? Maybe we do.
In reality, of course when you have a regular crowd around the 25,000 mark it isn’t easy to say that you all have a collective vision for why you are there. That shouldn’t stop the club from finding some common threads, however, finding ways to differentiate itself from the crowd and give a stronger purpose to its existence than the vagary of results. During my lifetime Forest’s identity has had two distinct periods, at first defined entirely by the leadership of one Brian Clough and then, following his departure, by the inability to cope in a rapidly changing environment and watching paralysed as others took up the challenge with invention and gusto.
The arrival of new owners this summer has created an opportunity. The slate isn’t exactly clean, the club is 150 years old, but for a long time no one has brought those elements together into a coherent whole. The time is ripe to consider what stirs inside us at the mention of Nottingham Forest, what characteristics define our personality, what values drive our decisions. We have rich traditions within both the club and the city to draw upon and tie us to the generations before us, whilst also looking optimistically to the future and setting a vision that will inspire those who will follow.