Chief executive officer Dane Murphy used the phrase ‘true north’ during his first interviews at the club. But what does it mean for Nottingham Forest? And can it be the start of a new beginning at the City Ground? Gareth Watts ponders the possibilities
Prior to the first game of the season, there was an undeniable feeling that the checklist of things our club needed to achieve this summer had, slowly but steadily, been ticked off. Our Youth Academy had been awarded prestigious ‘Category One’ status. A sizeable raft of the players who joylessly toiled in our empty stadium last season had been let go or moved on. Exciting home-grown players are being given a chance to shine in the first team.
The recruitment policy appears to be coherent: we know that we’re looking to sign younger players and we’re determined to use a variety of tools, not least data analysis, to ensure we secure players with the right attributes at the right price. The days of clubs snapping our hands off to take been-there-done-it-already-high-earners off their hands seem to be behind us… we’re targeting young, quality players our rivals don’t want to lose.
Let’s not forget, despite some of the noise of the past few days, we still have a manager who’s a highly respected, eloquent statesman of the game. Chris Hughton can be trusted to keep a firm hand on the tiller and knit together the pace and creativity of young players with those who can provide the grittier defensive stuff too. The man personifies integrity. He also has a reputation for successful second seasons.
Perhaps the most significant catalyst for these positive steps is the appointment of a new CEO, Dane Murphy. For those of us who like a bit of poetry mixed in with our analytics, our young American did not disappoint: “there is a true north that everyone can work towards together”.
True north denotes a fixed point to aim for, not changeable in relation to the Earth’s magnetic field but something steadfast that does not move. Over the years the most stingingly accurate criticism of Forest has come from those who point to a lack of vision, a lack of direction, no true strategic thinking. We’ve followed whichever tactical or transfer trend will best serve us for the next six months, never for the next six years.
Such short-termism can serve for a hollow experience as a fan of the club – the ‘thing’ that is a dignified, successful club called Nottingham Forest can seem little more than a memory, a myth passed down through the generations – we buy the souvenirs of a bygone age but where’s the future for us to buy into?
Could it be ‘true north’? Is this just a well-chosen rhetorical flourish or a genuine vision for something better?
What’s pleasing about Murphy’s words is his insistence on the collective – his chosen pronouns in the first media round were ‘we’, ‘our’ and ‘us’. His clear desire for signing younger players makes obvious economic sense, that the club can start to live within its means financially; but it’s also important to shake off the humiliating sense that we’re a retirement village for faded second-tier glamour boys.
So, what does true north mean to me? This sense of the collective also puts the emphasis on us as supporters. If we are genuinely working towards something that’s greater than the sum of its parts, there are a few principles it might be helpful to bear in mind.
For me, true north is about accepting that mistakes will be made and that’s a good thing. Mistakes are the best clues for how to improve and if we truly want to see young, creative players thrive in the Garibaldi red we have to be supportive when they make those mistakes. Imagine 30,000 people passing judgement on you in your workplace when you were 19. How would that have felt? So long as we see learning and incremental progress, we need to be forgiving of the missteps along the way and make the City Ground a place that welcomes growth.
My true north is also about how we behave towards each other. It’s loving the fact that someone makes a joke about us signing Messi on Twitter. It’s loving the fact that someone else makes a joke about everyone making jokes about us signing Messi on Twitter. I personally love it when the club’s social media post an image of a portly businessman standing on the pitch shaking hands on a commercial deal and the first reply is ‘can he play left-back?’. I genuinely don’t think those jokes will ever not be funny. And after the 18 months we’ve all endured, the least we can do is cut each other a bit of slack online.
We don’t know what’s going through the mind of the other person on the end of the keyboard or smartphone, what’s going on in their lives or what role Forest plays in their personal wellbeing. Some of us will be neurodiverse and may take words more literally than others. Some might communicate entirely in irony. Remember that no one dies if a fellow-fan posts something a bit obvious or bland. Let them do so with your blessing. Hell, you could even give them a ‘like’ as a wee digital boost to their day.
My true north is about the power of the word ‘yet’. I won’t be surprised at all if we don’t get promoted this season. But perhaps a real test of Murphy’s vision will be whether or not we end the season with the word ‘yet’ on our lips… ‘we’ve not been promoted yet’. This will reflect a sense of progress made and hope restored. Think how potent that word ‘yet’ (and I know we don’t like to admit it) applied to Leeds in the couple of seasons before their promotion. Ditto Brentford. There was something inevitable about these promotions because those teams just kept getting better, no matter what setbacks, play-off heartache or player sales they faced along the way. I’d love for Forest to become the next ‘yet’ club in the Championship.
So this is what true north means to me. It’s not easy to articulate these thoughts, but it strikes me that Murphy’s words invited us to take a leap of faith and reflect on what the club really means to us and where it is we’d like to go together. I’d love to hear from others about what it means to them and for us supporters to work with each other to find this illusive place. I’m optimistic that, one day, we will.