Nottingham is blessed by having two football stadiums and a Test cricket ground within a short walk of the city centre. Not for long if Forest’s board have their way. Brian Clough is spinning in his grave and Al Needham has smoke coming out of his ears as he explains what passes for logic in the east midlands
The village of Gotham in Nottinghamshire is famed not only for inspiring an early name for New York, but for being full of mad people. Legend has it that when the locals heard that King John was making a detour through the village (thereby forcing the creation of a royal highway that the villagers would have to pay for), they went on an orgy of mentalism – drowning eels in a tub and painting green apples red – in order to scare the monarch away.
Nine hundred years later, and the Wise Men of Gotham are in danger of being comprehensively out-madded by Nottingham Forest. This summer, they announced a move out of the 30,602-capacity City Ground (the club’s home for 109 years) to a 50,000-seat mega-stadium four-and-a-half miles away in Clifton, smack on the doorstep of Gotham.
Bearing in mind that a) Forest are still in League One, b) they’ve only just managed to scrabble their way out of debt, c) although they have the highest average attendance in the division, it’s still 10,000 or so short of capacity, and d) they never managed to pack the ground out even when they were European champions, you may be wondering what the name of God they’re gibbering on about. So am I.
“It would say that Nottingham is a forward-looking, dynamic city that has confidence and self-belief,” announced Forest chief executive Mark Arthur, as he waved about artist impressions of something that looked like a massive toilet bowl with a red seat at a press conference in June, pausing every now and then to submerge another eel’s head under the water. “There are many [Arsenal supporters] who didn’t want to leave Highbury, but anyone who has visited the Emirates Stadium will say ‘wow’. What a place to watch football. And perhaps we will go for a slightly scaled-down version of that.” Well, Mark, it would be nice to visit stadiums like that a couple of times a year, but we can’t. Because we’re in division three. Which is a massively scaled-down version of the Premier League.
You would understand the enthusiasm for a move if the City Ground were a dump, but it’s not. It’s a short walk from the train station and a stone’s throw away from the home of the oldest professional club in the world and a world-famous cricket ground, making it one of the most concentrated areas for sport in the country. According to Arthur, that’s not good enough for go-ahead, vibrant, eclectic Nottingham: “If the World Cup were to come to England in 2018 or 2022, then this would be a stadium worthy of staging the tournament’s matches.”
Ah, yes. I totally forgot that the FA were on the verge of claiming the World Cup. And when that absolute 100 per cent cast-iron certainty happens, Nottingham will have a 3-1 chance (with Leicester and Derby – who announced stadium-expansion plans on the same day) of hosting the east midlands’ games. Never mind the fact that Nottingham’s participation in Euro 96 involved a swathe of empty seats.
If the World Cup does come to England, and Forest’s new MegaToilet beats out Pride Park and the Crisp Bowl, what then? How are Forest going to double their gate in a decade, when it’s obvious that the football boom is not going to get any bigger? More important, how can anyone predict with any certainly that Forest are going to be a top-flight club by 2018, when recent form shows that they’re just as capable of being forced to contest local derbies against Hucknall Town in the Conference North next decade?
It’s only when you look past the bluster and the glossy brochures that you realise what’s going on. The council own the strip of land backing on to the Trent as well as the freehold of the City Ground. Listen to the words of Ray Valenti of Nattrass Giles chartered surveyors without wanting to pause to wipe the drool off your fingers: “750,000 square feet of floor space with a value exceeding £250 million… could attract a medium-sized food store operated by a premium brand such as Waitrose… this could be the location for the five-star hotel Nottingham has so far failed to attract… The demise of soccer at the City Ground will be celebrated with a new Trentside landmark that even Ol’ Big ’Ead would be proud of!” No, mate, he would have smacked you in the teeth.
Nottingham, like every other moderately-sized factory city that doesn’t have factories any more, is going through an identity crisis and reacting to it by chucking money up the wall on building projects and hoping one or two stick. The Forest move displays the depressingly familiar deluded logic that states that, if you build another Top Shop five minutes’ walk from the old one, you’ve suddenly created a retail Mecca. And if you’ve spent the last few years building “executive apartments” in the hope that there’ll eventually be industries here that actually have executives, or erecting loads of hotels in the hope that people will come here for more than stag dos, why not build a 50,000‑capacity stadium out of the way in the expectation that Forest will eventually become a Big Club and sell it out every other week?
The people of Gotham had a method to their madness. The people who run Nottingham Forest seem to be just mad.
From WSC 247 September 2007