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Excite, Involve, Remember – Sketching Out a Vision for Nottingham Forest FC

It is easy to get caught up in short term decisions like who we should appoint as our Head Coach or Manager, but to get those things right we have to do some long term thinking. The starting point for that is our vision and values for Nottingham Forest Football Club, but what might that look like?

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Over the last number of years there seems to have been a striking absence of a uniting vision at Nottingham Forest. There has been a goal of gaining and retaining top flight status, which is an important goal for a club and city of our size, but there has been no real sense of what the club is about.

I have talked in the past about vision, strategy and structure and I believe that all of these things are crucial to developing a successful and sustainable football club. Obviously clubs want to win things and are often judged on the impressiveness of their trophy cabinets, but they stand for an awful lot more than silverware or league position. What sustains a club through barren seasons?

If we have a clear vision for the club and we know what we want to be then we can build everything else around that. When results are bad, as they inevitably are for all clubs sometimes, we can still be proud that we set out to be and do certain things and that we remain true to that vision. We can declare ourselves to be Nottingham Forest and know that it stands for something; win, lose or draw.

So, what might a vision for our club look like? Well, for starters it takes a lot more people and time than me and this brief article to put together. It should be a reference document that all stakeholders have played a part in and all can refer back to, own, enjoy and when appropriate amend. It is both a line in the sand and a living philosophy that should permeate all of the club’s decisions and actions.

To achieve that it needs to be easy to identify with and recall, whilst also containing enough depth to have integrity and meaning. A manifesto that we can all buy into with a pithy shorthand that captures the essence of what we want to be. To give myself something to hang this general framework to I thought I would have a go at an example vision and three defining ideas came to mind, which I then wanted to convert to words. After an iteration or two I decided those words should be actions rather than descriptions to make them more dynamic.

It is important to stress that this is not a vision for Nottingham Forest, it is my very quick stab at how we might frame a vision for the club. It is a few ideas to get people thinking about something that I think is important, something I would like to see both the club and the newly forming Supporters’ Trust consider as we move into the next 150 years of our history. Now feels like a good time to do a bit of collective self-reflection and attempt to unite all of the club’s stakeholders behind a meaningful and optimistic vision.

Excite                                    Involve                                 Remember

For me these three words felt like a starting point for why I go to games, who we are as a club and how we fit into 150 years of history.

Excite is about what we do on the pitch. We should always aim to entertain, encouraging our players to express themselves and use their skills, never seeking to use cheating and gamesmanship to get an upper hand. There was a time when Forest were everyone’s second team, known for the quality of their football and their character and we should embrace that reputation again. This can also apply to the way we support our team; is it positive, vocal, distinctive?

Involve is about all of the community that makes up the football club and how we engage with each other and the outside world. It is about increasing participation in the game and the club, incorporating for example how we support the women’s football team, whether we have supporters on the club’s board, how we engage with corporate supporters as well as individual fans from all backgrounds, including former players. It is our governance, our access, our structures and decision making and everything we believe about who we are as a collective.

Remember is to look back on all we have been and understand how it has shaped us, from our innovative founding fathers to our Miracle Men and right the way through to the present day. We all have our individual stories and together they make up our shared history. We should be creative about how we remember and record who we are and what we have been; whether it is Brian Clough and Peter Taylor leading us to European glory, or Marian Bestwick and her friend Margaret making a splash at the 1959 FA Cup Final, Colin Barrett putting the ball in the Scouser’s goal or Phil Juggins doing his Anniversary Waltz to remember his own family’s Forest heritage.

The vision is what gives us our DNA. In itself it may not seem like much, a little touchy feely for some perhaps with no clear impact on Saturday’s results, but it should permeate everything that we do. Our vision is where we look to understand the type of manager we should appoint, the way we will build our team, our interaction with Financial Fair Play, whether we pay our bills on time, how we make decisions and so on. From it flow our mission, strategy and structure, our long term planning and our short term actions, it is the first step on the road to a better future.

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We realise that not every fan wants to read about football club governance or wants to have a say in the running of their football club. And that's cool. But if you want to read more about such matters, these pieces might be of interest to you:

What does a well structured football club look like?

Trust in the Future - a first step on the road to recovery

Meeting and Formation of the Nottingham Forest Supporters' Trust