Wednesday, 11 July 2012

The Kuwait is Over

This blog is a bit of a departure for me. As you'll see from previous efforts, my scrawlings have been mainly focussed on food, beer and musical theatre. This one is about another subject dear to my heart - Nottingham Forest FC.

Depending on how much you know about the recent history of Forest, the last few months have been either deadly boring or totally fascinating. Before delving deeper into these months, let's have a look back at last season.

After two relatively successful years of reaching the Football League playoffs but ultimately failing to get promotion back to the Premier League, Forest's former owner and chairman Nigel Doughty decided to dispense with the services of popular but abrasive manager Billy Davies and replace him with the ex-England boss Steve McClaren.

This decision polarised fans' opinions but was ultimately an unmitigated failure. McClaren flopped and resigned and, on the same day, Doughty himself stepped down as chairman. Over the following weeks it emerged that Doughty was trying to sell the club until - tragically - he suddenly passed away in February 2012.

A new manager had already been appointed, in the form of the unheralded and unfashionable Steve Cotterill - a manager with a reputation for working well with a small budget. The honeymoon period of good results had worn off and Forest had endured their worst run of form in several years. In the end, some astute loan signings and an upturn in results saw Forest avoid relegation and stay in the Championship - just.

In the background, the process of selling Forest had begun. Before his death, Doughty had appointed an investment bank to advise on the sale. This complicated process was made even more so with his untimely demise. Rumours of Middle Eastern and Canadian consortia came and went until, at last, a name was linked: Kuwaiti businessman Fawaz al-Hasawi. Not much was known about him, other than he was the owner of Kuwaiti club Qadsia, and that he'd made his fortune in refrigeration and real estate.

Al-Hasawi had given a television interview announcing his intention to buy an English club; a club currently in the second tier of English football but with a rich history. Fans of Leeds United assumed it was them - they fit that bill after all. But further investigation prompted the speculation that it was, in fact, Forest that were his intended target.

Thus started weeks of rumour and conjecture. The club said nothing bar issuing a statement denying any knowledge. Local press was silent. A couple of articles appeared in online publications, but still nothing concrete as they could've been written just by using Twitter posts. Then things started to ramp up. A spokesman for Forest's new main sponsor described the takeover as 'imminent' (though the Forest CEO denied this). A picture of al-Hasawi's daughter wearing a top emblazoned with 'Forest' further fanned the flames. Meanwhile players were leaving the club, unable to be offered new contracts. All the while the fans were in the dark. Something had to happen.

And then it did. Firstly on June 29th the club and al-Hasawi family issued statements, announcing they were entering exclusive negotiations. The next few days crawled by as rumoured completion dates came and went, and naturally-pessimistic Forest fans feared the worst. Then, on July 10th, Fawaz al-Hasawi himself tweeted that the deal had been done.

Local press had been caught on the hop again until, later that evening, it was confirmed that the al-Hasawi family had indeed completed their purchase of Nottingham Forest. A new era in the club's history had begun.

Now, to non-Forest and non-football fans the above probably seems as dull as hell. But anyone who has supported a football club for a while can hopefully understand what it's been like. A see-saw of optimism and despair. One day fearing the worst, the next day looking to a bright future.

So, what happens next? Firstly a press conference on July 14th to launch the new home kit, outline the plans for the future and meet the fans. Speculation has already begun about (much needed) new signings, possibly a new manager and, most exciting for me, a new stadium to replace the much-loved but tired-looking City Ground.

After that.....who knows? The new owners' statements about bringing the glory days back to Forest are music to fans' ears. The next few months and years will see if they prove to be true or not. Either way, interesting times are ahead.