Why I hate football journalists; the case of the Al Hasawis

Even by the standards of this rollercoaster season, the last few weeks have been truly remarkable for Nottingham Forest.  From ‘King’ Billy Davies’ messianic message ‘I have returned’ promising to ‘bring back the Cloughie days’ Forest dominated a 1-1 draw with Bolton and have since won our last 6 games to surge into the play-off places.  With the same players who had been mired in mid-table mediocrity under the dour management of Alex McLeish.  Further proof of the importance of the manager in a league as fiercely contested of the Championship.  Right now, it feels tremendous to be a Forest fan; every day I scour Forest Player for new highlights or interviews starring this fantastic team.  After the Mark Arthur-inspired shambles of the last 18 months, my pride in the Reds is (in an astonishing lack of co-incidence, just like Billy) well and truly returned.

 

Yet, although I’m not allowing it to tarnish the ecstatic nature of the last few weeks, there is one issue that continues to frustrate me; namely, the nature of the media coverage we have received since the start of this season.  It is a symptom of being a football fan that we believe that the media, like referees, are always against us.  We certainly cannot accuse the media of ignoring us; I’ve seen more reports on the BBC website and other newspapers than virtually any other club outside the Premier League.  The Kuwaiti Revolution at the City Ground has not gone unnoticed, which should be the case given the history and standing in the game of a club like Forest.  But the tone and content of these reports have taken me aback.

 

The first 8 months of our Kuwaiti Revolution have been tremendously successful.  Inheriting a club languishing after 13 years of Arthur as CEO, which barely escaped relegation last season under the incompetent stewardship of Steve Cotterill.  Unable to retain those players whose contracts had expired, we found ourselves without a defence.  Entering this mess, the Al Hasawi family sanctioned around £6 million to be spent on new players, an upgrade of the re-named Nigel Doughty Youth Academy, and 2 new electronic screens for the City Ground.  At the time of writing, we find ourselves 5th in the table, with the Premier League firmly in our sites.  By any measure, this has been remarkable progress.  Without desiring excessive coverage, I would have expected the national media to acknowledge our assent and welcome back the good times at a historic club, while the local media salivates about the prospect of Premier League football finally returning to Nottingham.

 

This hasn’t happened.  Instead, relations between the club and the local radio station are so strained that Billy refuses to conduct the usual post-match pitchside interview; the first time this has happened in my near-15 years following the club.  Shortly before Billy’s return, most media (both national and local) were lambasting the premise that the Al Hasawi ownership even had been a success. ‘The new Venky’s’ ,‘a laughing stock’, ‘bringing football into disrepute’ are phrases I remember.  The Daily Mail even ran a piece claiming that the Al Hasawi family were responsible for ex-players choosing not to go into management.  Since Billy’s return, it has become plain to see (as it was at the time, in all honesty) that this was spurious nonsense.  On last night’s Football League show, the fact that we have become the first Championship side to win 6 consecutive games was not even mentioned.  Steve Claridge ungraciously mentioned that our success was down to ‘having a big squad.’  Actually, Steve, our squad is smaller than Leicester’s, who are in freefall.  Also, in our current winning streak, 9 players have started every match (and the other 2 have missed out on this due to suspension or injury), so a policy of rotation has been non-existent.  Based on current trends, I expect the current media apathy to continue until we next hit a bad run of form, at which point attention in the club will again escalate.

 

So what is the origin of this hostility?  In the local case, it is fairly clear.  There is an ongoing battle from Billy’s last time at the club; Billy’s advisor, Jim Price, claims that Arthur decided to brief negatively against his most successful manager in a decade. Price states that Billy’s interviews from Radio Nottingham were twisted into criticisms of the board, thus fanning the flames in his dispute with Arthur and the now-notorious Transfer Acquisitions Panel.  Anti-Billy opinion pieces have been frequent in the Nottingham Evening Post since Billy’s departure.  Billy, consequently, has been far less co-operative with local media outlets second time around, bar a loyal journalist from East Midlands Today, Natalie Jackson.

 

On the national level, however, motivations are different.  Virtually every correspondent for a national media outlet that covers Forest spent their entire January tweeting unsubstantiated nonsense about the Al Hasawis, to be replaced with total silence now we’re winning games again.  In common with many Forest fans, I took exception to this.  I decided to ask them why they were writing this or told them to stop smearing the club with inaccuracies.  Most did not bother to respond; of the two who did, neither bothered to defend their reporting.  Pat Murphy, BBC Midlands correspondent told me that he ‘would not ignore my vitriol’.  Vitriol? I didn’t swear at the guy, abuse him or issue threats.  But it’s obviously easier to play the ‘big man’ on social media rather than defend his own unjustified assertions.  So, if the men (and it is all men) themselves won’t tell me, I’ll have to try and decipher for myself where I think the source of their anti-Forest prejudices lie.

 

Firstly, there is more than an element of latent xenophobia at play.  It seems the press absolutely love a ‘foreign owners are ruining football’ story, ignoring that in this case, it is completely contrary to the facts.  This is confirmed by the number of stories that have lumped Forest together with Venky’s and other cases of foreign ownership gone wrong, despite the clear differences between the clubs.  It’s fascinating how there was no media interest in how Forest was being run while Arthur was CEO, during which time the club spent 3 years in League One, 0 in the Premier League, and both managers that threatened to return us there were summarily dismissed.  Co-incidentally, Arthur is a white Englishman.

 

Secondly, journalists were finding that, under the Al Hasawis, their friends (and probable sources of leaks) at the club were being sacked.  The Al Hasawis kept the old staff on for 6 months before opting to replace many of the personnel.  This met with an apoplectic reaction in the media.  How dare these foreigners dare to sack the people that had presided over the worst 15 years of the club’s history? Don’t they understand the value of ‘stability’?   Personally, I found the Frank Clark sacking harsh.  But with most of the others, the fuss caused was incomprehensible.  I have never known such consternation caused by the sacking of a Press Officer (Fraser Nicholson).  The departure of 2 managers was vociferously criticized, irrespective of the fact that Alex McLeish chose to down tools because we (only!) signed 5 players in the January transfer window.  The Sean O’Driscoll coverage entirely ignored that the man had never finished in the top half in 3 seasons at Championship level, and that tactically he was negative and unambitious in the extreme.  (Anyone remember Gillett 1st choice over Guedioura?)  With the talent he had at his disposal, it is simply unacceptable to change your formation almost every week to adapt to the opposition, or to hope things would come right in 3 years.  He was portrayed as having a long-term vision; yet the facts show he gave debuts to 0 youth team graduates (despite one of the most promising crops in years) and the only player he signed from the lower league was a 32-year-old on loan.  The extent of the fury leveled at the Al Hasawis, and the praise lavished on O’Driscoll, who has subsequently (at the time of writing) maintained Bristol City’s position at the bottom of the table, can only be explained with reference to his friends in the media.  Arthur, too, appears to have been successful in cultivating journalists.  How else could it be that 13 years of failure under him is shielded from any criticism, and giving him his (in my opinion, long-overdue) P45 attacked?  While the owners that have done more for the club in 8 months than he did in 13 years are insulted?

 

If I believed that the Al Hasawis were harming the club, I would be the first to say so vocally, as I have with Arthur and his cronies for too many years.  My loyalty is to Nottingham Forest Football Club, not their temporary custodians.  However, the recent media criticism is so obviously untrue.  I only wish I knew more about the links certain journalists have with ex-employees of the club.  But, having considered sports journalism as a career myself, the last few months have convinced me that it is a world inhabited by those I’d rather avoid.  It comes across as a murky world where connections and sensationalism, not the truth, are what matter.  I was naïve not to realise this earlier, and it must be said that football clubs are as much to blame for this culture as the journalists.  Nevertheless, it isn’t for me.  I can do better.  And there will surely be more baseless stories ahead, as our winning run can’t be maintained forever.  Sod it.  If we can fulfill the dream I’ve had since I had my first season ticket aged 9, to watch my team play in the Premier League and Wembley, I don’t give the slightest damn if that upsets some failed footballer and self-appointed moral arbiter of football.  It’s time to rally round, support the best manager (and some of the best players) we’ve had at our club this millennium, and do our best to help them secure what is now tantalizingly close to our grasp.  At a rocking City Ground, A-block in full voice, we can achieve anything.  Come on you Reds!

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20 Responses to Why I hate football journalists; the case of the Al Hasawis

  1. Dave Garner says:

    What a fantastic,informative & eye opening article,a must read for all Nottingham Forest supporters and followers who are still unconvinced about the return of Billy Davies and the ownership of the Al Hasawi family,many thanks.

  2. Daniel Hawkins says:

    Best article all season bar none! Well done!

  3. forestjosh says:

    Thanks for the positive comments, much appreciated! If you liked the article, please share and check out the rest of the blog!

  4. cheeseburger says:

    Some reports such as the credit card bouncing story were sensationalised but certainly not baseless.

    They’ve appointed almost the only man they could to get the large majority of fans on side after Boyd-gate and other silly shenanigans.

    Now many who had been hurling disgusting abuse at the chairman are now begging him for a follow on twitter and defending his corner at all costs, some almost bullying any fan or journalist that still has reservations and labelling them shitstirrers, a cringeworthy masterstroke.

    There is no doubt about some of the Al-Hasawi’s superb work such as most signings and contract renewals. Hopefully this period of success on pitch is giving them an opportunity to amend many of their more bungling shenanigans off it.

  5. ForestPete says:

    Superb article. Hits many nails on the head. Its a shame these so called sports journos can’t write pieces as good as this.

  6. Martin Stephens says:

    Great piece!

  7. trentEndRed says:

    Brilliant article,but I don’t argree with your comments about Steve Cotterill – he took over a ship that was sinking faster than the titanic with problems arguably worse than portsmouth and kept us up and the change in performance happened before o’dismal arrived (and had to handle the cancer of the club’s management plus the emotional shock of ND passing). But that aside I fully agree with all the points. The Al Hasawis have actually managed everything very very well.

    They didn’t come in and make wholesale changes for changes sake. That 6 month period before the clean out enabled them to suss out everything. Then they realised they needed to rip the rotten guts out the club, the old boys club, the closed network of arthur & co.

    You’re spot on with the press, I tweeted to chippers that a phone in once was making me sick it was so pro-O’driscoll. And they are now reaping what they sow, they were complicit in preventing us succeeding when Billy was last in charge by stirring gossip. But Billy did fall into the trap!

    Well, thankfully Natalie Jackson managed to retain professional standards and is now reaping the rewards with a few awesome bits of journalism. Let this be a lesson to journalists covering (local) sport – don’t bite the hand that feeds you!

  8. Mark says:

    Some of the criticism of the Al-Hasawi’s has been undeserved and over the top, but some of it has been completely worthwhile. Whether you agree with the decisions or not is another argument, but their treatment of George Boyd, Sean O’Driscoll, Keith Burt and Frank Clark was nothing short of disgusting, not to mention his absolutely nonsense interviews about third stars. He comes across as a man who knows what to say, but he has nothing at all to back it up, and fans have lapped it up because he’s told them what they want to hear. I have no faith that Billy Davies will spent one whole year at the club regardless of what division we’re in next season. Even now he comes across as far too impatient and even if we go up, the fact that 5 of the last 9 managers promoted the Premier League have been sacked mid-season, with more than not being outside the bottom 3, Fawaz has done absolutely nothing at all to suggest he won’t be as trigger happy as the rest.

    As for the bit in the article regarding Sean O’Driscoll, it’s incredibly harsh. He never finished in the top half even though every season he was managing one of the smallest three teams in the division iso therefore he’s not that good, by that token Roberto Martinez is a poor manager because he’s never lead Wigan to a top half Premier League finish. He’s also improved Bristol City no end, 17 points from 12 matches (1.42 PPG) compared to 22 from 26 before (0.85 PPG), they’ve also kept five clean sheets this season, all five have been kept since So’D has been manager. They might still be in the same position has when he took over, but the fact they’re still in contention to stay up shows how well he has done.

  9. forestjosh says:

    Thanks Pete and Martin. cheeseburger, you raise some valid points, thanks for mentioning Boyd-gate and the credit card bouncing story, for reasons of space I couldn’t include everything! I disagree that they constitute ‘shenanigans’ though. In hindsight, I’m delighted we didn’t sign Boyd. Although he’s a good player, looking at our midfield of Guedioura, Lansbury, Reid and Majewski, I can’t see him getting a regular place. At the moment, I’d rather play McGugan than Boyd, given the impact he’s made off the bench recently. So, for Boyd’s sake, Hull was probably the better move. Plus, my instinct tells me not to believe the official line about the eye-test. I think it’s far more likely that the plug was pulled due to the deterioration of the relationship between the manager + owners. Fawaz didn’t want to spend good money buying McLeish’s players when he didn’t know if he’d still be there next week. Sensible decision in my view. (although I admit I didn’t think so at the time!)

    With regard to the credit card bouncing story, you’re right that it wasn’t baseless. But every single media piece I read on this was apocalyptic in tone; they’ve got no money, the club’s in disarray, blah blah. In reality, I’ve seen no evidence that it was anything more than an administrative error that was put right very quickly. Is it such a big deal that players’ wages were a few hours late? That’s certainly happened to me before!

    Also, I disagree that Billy coming in was to win back the fans. From what I’ve seen of Fawaz, his overriding goal is the Premier League. He appointed a man who shares that dream and whose record suggests that, if he’s backed, he will deliver. I suspect he would have been appointed earlier had Arthur not still been around. It’s ambition that, in my view, makes a refreshing change from the last 15 years.

    Anyway, I’m not saying the Al Hasawis haven’t made mistakes. The credit card bouncing is a clear example of that. But that was inevitable given that they’re coming into a new culture with a new language. I’m amazed that hasn’t been given more consideration and understanding. Overall, in 8 months, they’ve done far more good than harm. And that needs to be recognized.

  10. spain red says:

    whilst i agree with much of the article, i do have to point out that fawaz and co. made a few silly errors in the run up to where we are now:
    1. talking about iconic, then appoint SOD
    2. listening to people on twitter
    3. appointing mcleish
    4.Not sacking mcleish and bringing Billy in before the transfer deadline.
    5. trying to bring in under par kuwaiti signings.
    6.the boydgate debacle
    I was/am quite vocal on social media RE: Fawaz, but mainly because i got fed up with the “in fawaz we trust” at that time fawaz and co. had proved nothing, they seem to have turned a corner, and let the football do the talking, we are on the march, looks like playoffs at least and maybe even automatic is not beyond our grasp. If we do go up, and if we do it would be as big as winning the 2 european cups believe me, we need to consolidate first year and then push on. Within the next decade we could be one of the biggest clubs in the premier league.Lets all get behind the team, forget the past 8 months and get us back where we and most football fans believe we should be.

  11. cheeseburger says:

    Good answers.
    The credit card ‘bouncing’ was just the number being read incorrectly over the phone when ordering pizza or something. It is true that the nationals seem to smell blood and label is a massacre, the much criticised Paul Taylor was actually to his credit playing down the significance of the credit card bouncing when nationals sounded the klaxon.

    Agree on Boyd, not sure where he fits in current form!

  12. forestjosh says:

    Some more very interesting comments. Great to hear from Forest fans with a slightly different perspective! Mark, you make some valid points, I would disagree in a few places though. I would expect Billy to be here in a year’s time. My view is Fawaz and Billy share the same ambition and recognize that in each other, but that’s down to interpretation I know. Harsh to say Fawaz has done nothing to back it up, he’s spent £6 million on new players + got us to 5th in the league! I also don’t think that our treatment of Burt, SOD, Boyd etc. was disgusting. Fawaz has to do what’s best for the club, and nobody else. If after Boxing Day, SOD had been offered a job by a better club, he’d have taken it. (as he did to Crawley.) So why shouldn’t we look for a better manager? He’s left Forest with a very nice pay-off for 5 months’ work, and his reputation significantly enhanced. (remember after Doncaster he couldn’t get a manager’s job until Crawley a year later?) I think he’s actually done very well out of Forest. On Burt, I may be completely wrong here. But while he was Chief Scout, the only lower league gem we unearthed was McCleary. Our signings in the last few windows anyone could have recruited via the Football Manager database. Please correct me if that’s inaccurate, but I get the impression there’s far better than Burt out there.

    You’re right about SOD and Bristol City. I didn’t mean to suggest that he’s a bad manager. More that he was the wrong fit for our club. I wish we’d given him the job over Cotterill last season. I think his strength is to take over poor sides and make them hard to beat. That’s what he’s doing for Bristol, what he did for us last season, and Doncaster before that. But this season when the remit seemed to be; ok, here’s a budget, go out and get a team capable of having a real good go at promotion, I didn’t think he was the man with the necessary drive or ambition. Under SOD we only beat 2 top-half teams, and scraped a lot of 1-0 wins against the poorer sides! (If you scroll down the blog, I’ve elaborated my thoughts on this further in 2 articles, written after the Hull game and his sacking, I think.)

    SpainRed – ‘under par Kuwaiti signings’ – we haven’t seen any of them play yet! Give them a chance! Completely agree with your last sentence!

  13. forestjosh says:

    Good post trentEndRed. There’s a lot of people I know that hold that view of Cotterill, and there’s definitely a debate to be had there. I disagree though. When you think he inherited a squad that included Reidy, Raddy, McGugan and McCleary in midfield, and Wes, Chambers, Lynch and Gunter in defence, I think he should have been expected to deliver at least a mid-table finish. It’s overwhelmingly likely that we would have gone down if he hadn’t brought in O’Driscoll as coach, and the loan signings, especially Guedioura. We might have gone down even after that if Portsmouth hadn’t received a 10-point deduction! And I went to every game of that 3-month run where we didn’t even score a goal at home. So I’m no fan of Cotterill; notwithstanding that his radio interviews sounded so incoherent. Either way, let’s be glad that the horrors of last season are now well and truly behind us!

  14. El in Spain says:

    Great post Mark, brilliant comments and closer to the truth than anyone else ,I agree with everything you have said.

  15. anthony says:

    What a fantastic read, one of the best forest articles I’ve read In a long, thanks!

  16. Lee Hawkes says:

    Thanks for the eye opening that you’ve given a die hard red fan. Im glad someone else had picked up on the negativity from the media. Keep on trucking big guy and don’t let them beat you. Looking forward to seeing your next write up.

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