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Nottingham Forest’s Simon Fotheringham on the Club’s Past, Present and Future

9 May 19 interview: Gareth Watts
photos: Fabrice Gagos

As both a die-hard fan and Nottingham Forest’s Commercial Sales Manager, it’s fair to say Simon Fotheringham is living the dream. For many people, he is the face of the club, and within a few minutes of meeting him, you can feel his infectious passion for the Reds. We got his take on Forest’s magnificent past, its faltering, promising present and, we hope, bright future.

I get to spend all day, every day talking about Forest. I left school with very few qualifications, but I’ve always been good at talking to people and selling. And the love of my life is Nottingham Forest. So, day-in, day-out, I get to combine my passions, all while sitting in the City Ground to do it. Why would I want anything else? My wife calls it my “hobby job” for that reason, but I work so hard because all I want is success for this football club.

Past
I was nine when we first won the European Cup, so memories are a little hazy, but I clearly remember Trevor Francis’ goal. What Brian Clough did for this football club completely transformed my childhood. I only met him once, at a book signing. I arrived to find an enormous queue and was told there was no point joining it. But I stuck it out at the back he signed all afternoon until he finally got to me. I said, “You’ve made my day,” at which point he looked up and said, “You’ve made mine, young man.” It’s one of those moments that I’ll take to my grave.

My greatest memories as a fan came at Wembley in the late eighties. We usually got one trip down there per season, and we often won. It was our second home for a while. Cloughie had spoiled us a little bit – we were established in the top flight, we were visiting Wembley every year and we never thought that we’d ever get relegated. My biggest regret is not making more of those finals because it almost became the norm for us. We’re one of the few teams in the country that have never played at the new Wembley. Maybe we should play the County Cup Final there next year.

Thinking of how successful we were during the Brian Clough/Peter Taylor era, it almost feels like a cloud that’s been hanging over us for the last twenty years. The fact that we’re not now is something I hear from hospitality customers all the time, because expectation levels are just so high, aren’t they?

Bizarrely, someone once told me that Brian Clough was the worst thing to ever happen to Nottingham Forest, because he raised us from a provincial club to one that performed on the world stage, winning back-to-back European Cups. Everywhere you go in the world, everybody knows who we are. For our players to live up to that is a lot of pressure; our fans are very quick to get on their backs when things aren’t going well, because somehow we’re still not used to it. We’re used to Stan Collymore picking it up on the halfway line, running fifty yards, beating ten men and sticking it in the top corner. But we don’t have that anymore.

Present
When Joe Kinnear arrived as manager in 2004, he removed all of the photos of Brian Clough, saying, “It’s gone; it’s in the past.” But when you go to the City Ground now, the club has really embraced the past. There are images everywhere of Brian Clough and the European Cup winning team, and that’s all been done in the last twelve months. The chairman and owner are embracing the fact that we’re a worldwide brand because of those achievements; that’s why they wanted to come to Nottingham Forest.

I think the way the fans have come back to us this year has been phenomenal. It’s been twenty years since we were in the top flight, and there’s an entire generation who have never experienced what that’s like. We’ve already sold 15,000 season tickets for next season and have had amazing hospitality sales and sell-out crowds this current one, which has been phenomenal.

The Monday morning after a defeat is the worst thing. It can be pretty grim and, while I understand why fans complain, I struggle a little bit with some of the things said on Twitter when it gets personal. I know the players and none of them go out there and deliberately have a bad game. I remember there was an incident with Kelvin Wilson a few years ago when he gave the ball away and got booed by his own fans. I struggle with that. I would never boo my own team, even when I was a season ticket holder.  

When you look at the last ten years of mid-to-lower-table mediocrity, I think we had an opportunity this year. I think I’m right in saying that our chairman, Mr Marinakis, saw an opportunity because of the three teams that came down from the Premier League, and the three that came up from League One. The fact that Sheffield United – who have done a fantastic job – are in and around the top three makes it feel like a missed chance. It’s not quite worked this season, but we’re not out of it yet. Let’s have another go at it next year.

Future
I was so excited when we announced the stadium development plans a few weeks ago. It wasn’t just that we were going to have a new Peter Taylor stand, but we’re also going to spend money on the Trent End, the Brian Clough stand and the Bridgford Stand as well. We’re going to have the biggest ground in the East Midlands with 38,000 seats, and it’s really going to be a venue that people want to come to. I got up at 6am on the morning of the announcement and began reading the comments that had already started coming in. The reaction was incredible - it was such an exciting moment.  

We’re going to talk to fans about what they want, and things like decent Wi-Fi/4G signal is already on our shopping list. The thing I love about Trent Bridge is that you can go to a cricket match and find various outlets selling different things; you’ll see that at the City Ground.

With these plans in place, I’d like to think that the new owners are here for the long haul. It’s hard to imagine that anybody would spend that sort of money only to leave after six or twelve months. I love the fact that Mr. Marinakis owns Olympiacos FC and wants to bring us to that Champions League standard.

I like to think that in ten years’ time we’ll be where Leicester are now – an established Premier League side. I don’t think Mr Marinakis will allow us not to be. It’s going to be hard getting there, and we’ve already seen that this year. Signing players like Lewis Grabban and Joao Carvalho show that the ambition is there, but the Championship is the hardest division to get out of. When we do, we won’t make the same mistakes as Huddersfield or Fulham; we’ll follow the Leicester model.

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