The world turned upside down

by , August 12, 2013

“No man has any right to buy and sell the earth for private gain”
– Billy Bragg, ‘The World Turned Upside Down’

It couldn’t happen here, could it? Not on the banks of the Trent where the mist rolls in? Surely not. It could though, couldn’t it?

The thing is, all who inhabit Planet Football live in a topsy-turvey world at the moment. A world in which previously held truisms are being shaken. A world in which a hundred year old badge can be updated in the name of rebranding (step forward and hang your heads in shame, Everton). A world in which a team will change its colours, again in the name of rebranding (step forward, Cardiff City’s Vincent Tan). A world in which a club is felt to suddenly need an animal to make the club a little more sexy and less generic (step forward Hull City’s Assem Allam and his tiger). A world in which Coventry City play in Northampton.

Of course, the common denominator here is one mad owner or despot (or group of despots. I wonder what the collective noun is for a such a group: an ego of despots?) desperately trying to stamp their legacy on a club, or as they see it, their club. It must be conceded that some such people do have their heart in the right place and have overseen progression. John Madejski and Dave Whelan would have a strong case here. But for every good guy, there’s a Mike Ashley. In short, if you are under the control of a new owner, be prepared for anything.

It is just over a year since Fawaz Al-Hasawi took control of our club. Is he a megalomaniacal despot or a genuine guy with the club’s best interests at heart? The truth usually lies between such extremes. Interviews and those fluffy pieces on East Midlands Today certainly portray a Forest nut who desires nothing more than to use his money wisely to put us back where he remembers us from his youth: conquerors of Europe. He has certainly spent money on the team and ground. Wisely too.

On the other hand, he has well and truly marked his territory by stamping his name on our shirts. The deal to ensure this may well be a fantastic one for our club, but if you were looking for evidence of just another rich, foreign owner with an ego bigger than his bank balance, you’ve got a gift wrapped one right there on our shirts.

What else might he do? Rename us Nottingham Camels? Change our colours to blue? Redesign our club badge? I know, sounds preposterous doesn’t it? In fact, some might think the suggestions above offensive. No. I don’t think that he will. In fact, for this fan, he’s allayed my concerns and suspicions considerably since this time last year.

The notion of a new ground is something that rears its head from time to time. I guess it always will. There are always good reasons for relocation. Revenues can be increased with the right facilities and attendances tend to increase as previously hesitant fans from afar see it as a perfect time to pop along to see what all the fuss is about.

For me though, a ground relocation betrays years and years (centuries in some cases) of history. In some cases, the dystopian vision of whole stands of empty seats becomes a reality. Ask any Coventry or Darlington (remember them and the George Reynolds Stadium?) fan for their thoughts on ground relocation. Then stand back and watch a grown man or woman cry. And if history is important to fans of any club, let’s be honest here and admit that us Red Dogs do like our history and do like to remind everyone about certain trophies accumulated around the late ’70s / early ’80s. And rightly so.

Sometimes though, a new ground is essential for a club to even survive, never mind progress. Neither Doncaster Rovers nor Rotherham United would be thriving as they are were it not for recent ground relocations.

But this is all hypothetical and perhaps unfair to speculate since officially, it is not on the agenda. But it would be naive to think that Fawaz will not keep pushing and spending money to achieve his dream and, let’s not forget, to make his money back. He strikes me as too astute to keep on pumping millions of pounds in for no return. A deal with Al Jazeera regarding TV rights is imminent. Good or bad? Who knows? It is his club after all and it’s his party.

Trust in Fawaz? I am certainly less worried than I was 12 months ago. I am grateful as it is entirely plausible that without Fawaz’s investment, we may not even have a club. It’s just that in the current crazy upside-down world of football, anything and everything is possible. A club belongs as much to the fans as the owner. The recent initiative of balloting season ticket holders for their views on goal music is an excellent one that warms the cockles of my cold cold heart.

I just hope that he, unlike certain other football club owners, heeds the words of Billy Bragg.