In 1999 Nottingham Forest was in turmoil. Struggling to cope in the post-Clough years, Foresthad descended from being one of the proudest, most established and well decorated teams in the country to one that was readily labelled a ‘yo-yo’ club. More menacingly a darker cloud than diminishing pride lurked in the shape of impending bankruptcy. There was a very real threat that a club that had conquered Europe and won hearts the world over may cease to be. And then in stepped a giant of a man, with pockets to match – Nigel Doughty.
A working class man from Newark, Nigel Doughty didn’t need to step in and save us, and I’m sure there were times when he was writing cheque after cheque that he wishes he hadn’t, but he did and without him we can only speculate as to what Nottingham Forest would or wouldn’t be. While from a humble background he set his sights high. He moved to London and roomed with my friend’s uncle (another Nigel) where he started every morning by blasting out Bauhaus’ ‘Bela Lugosi’s dead’. I wonder how many other football club owners have done that in their time.
In business Nigel mapped his path in private equity with not only calculated precision but also with a clear sense of his origins. Establishing the Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility at his former University, Cranfield, and sticking firm to his Labour roots by investing not only masses of his personal wealth but also his valuable time and energy in his role as Assistant Treasurer for the Labour Party. It seems painfully evident that despite regularly exercising fierce business acumen, he balanced it with an overwhelming sense of generosity for whatever was close to his heart.
There was a very real threat that a club that had conquered Europe and won hearts the world over may cease to be. And then in stepped a giant of a man, with pockets to match – Nigel Doughty.
Having bought his boyhood obsession for £11m, he went on to plough just shy of £100m into the club – a staggering figure in any walk of life. While his success in the realms of business was undeniable, he found it hard to replicate his efforts where he so yearned for it most with Forest. Ultimately the goal was for Forest to return to the promised land of the Premiership - somewhere that after years of mediocrity Forest fans realise is something that has to be achieved rather than being a divine right, as other clubs seem to. Nigel was never able to complete his mission but he got close. Under his two best managerial appointments Paul Hart and Billy Davies, Forest reached the play-offs three times, stumbling at the penultimate hurdle on each occasion. The biggest criticisms Nigel was to receive would ultimately come as a result of these near misses as both fans and managers were baffled at the seemingly reluctance to invest that little bit more at the right time to push us over the finishing line. The much maligned Transfer Acquisition Panel, installed after he had his fingers and pockets burnt by David Platt and his insistence on buying three duff, over-priced Italians, hung around his neck like an albatross.
Unlike Platt in both Davies and Hart he had managers who had reinstalled pride, passion, flair and a measured success in the way we played but who were just a player or two short of the final product (although Davies’ insistence on trying to buy Gareth Bale every week was rather over-ambitious). What could he see that we couldn’t? Why wouldn’t he make that tactical gamble that we were all so sure would pay off? The answer, I feel, was that Nigel wasn’t in this for a stampede and retreat to the Premiership, he wanted Forest back there for good and with that his goal required structure.
After being told that the City Ground was too difficult to develop in fitting with his vision, he explored the possibility of building a 50,000 capacity ground capable that would be the Midlands’ proudest offering to England’s World Cup bid. That dream died with the bid but his eyes remained focussed on the future, nowhere more so than with the youth academy that he so tirelessly and passionately developed and that early indications suggest will be fittingly named in his honour.
In the summer of 2011 Nigel made two of the most significant decisions he’d ever made as Chairman – he sacked his sparring partner of the last 3 years fiery Billy Davies and installed mild-mannered Steve McClaren as his replacement. As with every decision Nigel made, he did it because he thought it would benefit the club. It didn’t. It all went horribly wrong.
Ultimately the goal was for Forest to return to the promised land of the Premiership - somewhere that after years of mediocrity Forest fans realise is something that has to be achieved rather than being a divine right, as other clubs seem to.
After a calamitous defeat to Birmingham in October, the unprecedented happened as both manager and chairman resigned. While stating that he would remain as owner and continue to honour his financial commitments (yet another commendable feat) Nigel sited that as the decision to replace Davies with McClaren was his and his alone that he would take full responsibility. The interview he gave with BBC Nottingham was frank and deeply emotional. Here was a man that had only ever strived to “Put the Nottingham back into Nottingham Forest” but who was clearly hurting from the mistakes he, by his own admittance, had made.
In the car park before and after the game there had been modest protests aimed more squarely at the universally hated Chief Executive Mark Arthur (the man who dreamed up the slogan ‘We’re serious about promotion are you’ the year we got relegated to League 1). As protests go, it was more than modest with only a clutch of a couple of hundred airing their views. In amongst there was unbelievably a ripple of discontent for the man who had kept the garibaldi red on the player’s shirt for the last 12 years. The sad death of Nigel Doughty and the realisation of how reliant one man we were might show those that protested how misguided they were. In all honesty I think Nigel had an eye on all handing the reigns over sooner than we thought, not through lack of love or passion but he wasn’t achieving what he wanted and that was tearing him apart.
Nigel never attended a Forest game again. Imagine throwing the gross capita of a small country at something you loved so much and receiving abuse for your efforts. Still clearly in love with football but in self-imposed exile from what he invigorated him most, he swapped Trentside for Crawley where his son, QPR’s Michael, was playing on loan.
He was one of us. He was a Tricky Tree.
In amongst all the tributes from Forest fans, players, staff and politicians there was one that summed it up best of all. Fittingly it came from Patrick Bamford, the 18 year old goal machine, recent £1.5m Chelsea, personal friend of Michael’s and product of the Forest Academy that Nigel took so much in pride in (and that will doubtless be named in his honour);
“I don't understand why of all the people in the world, the ones who do the most good, have the best intentions and set a good example are taken from us :(“
The future of mine and Nigel’s beloved Nottingham Forest is now probably the most uncertain it’s ever been. One thing is for sure, when the Forest fans belatedly sing “Nigel Doughty’s Red and white army” at the next home game, the man that the words matter to most won’t be there. But he’ll be watching with Cloughie and, like us all, his enormous heart will be sullen, his throat will be dry and his eyes will be streaming with both sadness and pride as a unified City Ground recognises him for what he was. He was one of us. He was a Tricky Tree.
Thank you Nigel Doughty. God bless Sir.
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