Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Capacity woes offer more grounds for concern

This isn't good is it? Here we are on the eve of the season, trying to get excited by the new manager and a fresh campaign, and we're presented with another off field mess.

It night be tempting to think that the reduced capacity of the City Ground isn't too big a deal. 24,357 is higher than most home league attendances (sadly) and, importantly, we won't have the farcical spectacle of the last pre season game and first league fixture having to be moved or played out in front of no-one.

Yet it isn't good enough. It makes the club look a laughing stock, and shows a further level of incompetence that brings the club's attitude toward safety into question. Frankly it's a disgrace that this has been allowed to get this far and Fawaz should hang his head in shame. I've always felt that he's a well-meaning owner - I still think that - and I'm grateful for the money he's pumped into the club. But a slapdash attitude to safety? That's poor, incredibly poor.

What message does this send to the casual fans, the parents thinking of bringing their child for the first time? The club's duty of care to the fans on match days should never be in question. We can all debate or argue about tactics, performances, managers and signings but at the end of the day it's a game and our safety when we turn up to watch shouldn't be a matter needing discussion. Despite what many of us might think about local councils, they don't - in my experience - take drastic action like this lightly.

I shan't stray into speculation, but the fact that Alan Bexon has been in, out and then back in the position as safety officer hints at an internal problem that has been allowed to get out of control. The fact that the council isn't yet satisfied that Bexon will be supported in his role and that it is yet to see some basic paperwork is worrying. Why haven't we made this a priority?

The supporters also deserve to know what an '80 per cent capacity' City Ground means in practice. Will it be sufficient to just not sell any more than 24,357 or do we need to shut sections of the ground? Are people going to be turfed out of their season ticket seats and shifted elsewhere because of this? Would they be compensated for this?

Sadly this isn't just one unfortunate cock up either is it? When seen alongside the transfer embargo and late payment of bills and wages, this just feels like the next episode in an ongoing farce. What next?

This also gets to the heart of the problem at the top of the club. It might all be a misunderstanding or a paperwork mishap but it shows a disregard for the detail of the day to day management of the club (over a pretty important issue). If the club can't handle this then is it any wonder it can't manage the difficult task of plotting a return to the Premier League? On field success is surely unlikely while isn't well-led. The current lack of an adequate safety plan has, in recent years, been mirrored by a lack of strategy for success on the field. We don't do plans, we don't do detail. As long as that's the case we almost certainly 'won't do' top flight football either. It's all linked.

You have to hope that change is around the corner. The appointment of a director of football is a positive step and you presume that other positions should follow, if and when the takeover goes through. If and when, that is, the FA makes a decision on the charges levelled against the would-be owner. The suggestion is that Fawaz would probably stay on anyway. If one of his first team managers had overseen a mess as bad as this, he'd have been sacked. Perhaps he should dwell on that.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Nottingham Forest 2016/17: Seven key tests to judge success this season


It's just two weeks on Saturday until the new season kicks off and offices and pubs up and down the country will be full of fans of rival clubs asking 'so, how are your lot going to do this season then?'.

How exactly do we answer that as Forest fans? I'm sensing a mild optimism among some of us about matters on the field (setting aside those alarming stories about the would be owner for the time being). Yet while that mild optimism exists there is also a sense that we're leaping into the unknown once again. Yes, we might like the look of our Phillippe, but we're stumped when it comes to knowing whether it'll all work out.

We've got a new manager who may or may not succeed when faced with the particular challenges of the Championship, uncertainty off the field with a still-to-fully-complete takeover and an 'unfinished' squad with some gaps left to fill. We're also in a league in which several big players hold a huge financial upper hand and many more have the benefit of several years of squad building under their belts.

With all of those variables, only the most super-optimistic of us could surely expect or demand promotion. I don't think that's negative and I'm not saying it's impossible to challenge for the top six, I'm just saying that it'd be unrealistic to set that as the only goal for the coming season and the sole way to judge success.

Here are seven ways that I think we can judge success instead:

Points and positions: Whether this become 'year one' of the Marinakis era or not, there is an immediate need to arrest the slide of the last four years. The first year of his reign saw us finish in 8th with 67 points, then 11th on 65, 14th on 59 and, last season, 16th on 55 points. Montanier has to reverse that gradual decline. A points tally and position that bettered the last two seasons would be a big step in the right direction. Context matters more than mere points and positions but 65 points and/or top 10 would be a decent aim.

Managerial stability: We've now been through five consecutive seasons in which we've ended with a different manager to the man in the dug out on opening day. If we don't end 2016/17 with Montanier at the helm then it's unlikely that the upcoming campaign will have been a success either. If he survives, it's likely to mean that things have been largely positive on the pitch.

Off the field turmoil: The club's reputation isn't helped by the threat of court action for unpaid bills, late payment of staff, Ben Hamer style transfer farces and the current situation in which the ground capacity has been reduced to zero. Whoever the owner is, whoever is pulling the strings, this has to stop. If the off the field operation of the club is quiet, no court action is threatened and all bills are paid on time it'll be a step up from recent times. The club also needs to reach out and do all it can to involve the supporters trust and at listen to the voice of fans (and not the Twitter mob).

Playing style: This is perhaps more subjective than some of the other points but is, nevertheless, a useful barometer of how the campaign can be judged. I'm not naïve enough to think that you can play like Brazil in the airport in that 1998 Nike ad every week. I want us to have a clear and effective style that helps us to compete, score goals and win games. That's easier said than done, but it's essential for success now and in the future.

Commercial: We need to be much more savvy about the way we make money. An investor, provided they are 'fit and proper', is to be welcomed but the club must do much much better at bringing in revenue to help it thrive in the long term. It's abundantly clear from going to away games or, in fact, popping over for a T20 at Trent Bridge, that others do this far better than us. Selling shirts, tickets, sponsorship (the kit sponsor is a step in the right direction) must all improve - as must the match day 'experience', as naff as that sounds. A simple thing such as having a better pint on offer would be a massive start. Some of the commercial side of football might make us feel queasy but we can't fight against the tide.

As the excellent Swiss Ramble pointed out in an epic post on Forest's finances:
Surprisingly for a club of Forest’s admirable tradition, their commercial income of £3.1 million, up from £2.6 million the previous season, was one of the smallest in the Championship in 2014/15, way behind Norwich City £12.8 million, Leeds United £11.3 million and Brighton £8.9 million. In fact, it was only ahead of four clubs: Charlton Athletic £2.5 million, Brentford £2.4 million, Millwall £1.9 million and Wigan £1.5 million.
That speaks volumes. The finances have to improve if we're to avoid future FFP-style penalties. For all the worries we might have about Marinakis, the smoother running of a football club certainly seems within his capabilities.

Signings: We need an end to signing mediocre players on big wages such as those we've had to offload in recent years and no more poor loanees coming into the club ahead of youth players who are better (Akpom ahead of Walker, Ebecilio of Grant etc). I've been heartened to see Montanier have a long look at some of the up and coming talent at the club in the friendlies so far. If they're added to  with smart acquisitions - be they cash signings or quality loanees - from Pedro Pereira then we can properly improve the squad. If this time next year we're having to buy in the same old positions to replace another batch of failed newcomers we'll know it hasn't been a successful season on that front.

Attendances: Linked to many of those points above is the worrying downturn in attendances experienced last season. While many factors feed into the number of paying punters through the gate, one look at the attendances at the end of the season will give you another useful measure of success.

Address all of these points and we'll be in for a heck of a ride. Big ticks against the majority should at least mean we've got something to smile about come May.