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Friday, 11 February 2011

Forest Villains... Irving Scholar et al

In our latest new feature we will look at various people who somehow wronged the club, whether they are an ex-player, manager or in this case a former chairman.

There were more obvious choices to start a new feature called Forest Villains with. Kris Commons and Pierre van Hooijdonk immediately spring to mind, and in time we will come to them. However, I would like to go back to the 1997-1999 era and choose a man, well men really, but one in particular was the focal point, who I believe were key in not only our fall from grace, but also nearly bought about the end of Nottingham Forest Football Club.

1997 was an eventful year for Nottingham Forest on the pitch, relegation from the Premier League, signing Pierre van Hooijdonk, hiring Dave Bassett, these are all memorable events most fans can recall.

What isn’t in that list is the board level turmoil. An on off takeover bid had been rumbling since late 1996. Two rival consortia both bidding to take over the club, who had decided that the traditional member ownership system it maintained was outdated. The club had seen the first influx of investors in the Premier League; money was rife like never before, and if you can’t beat them, join them.

Sandy Anderson had been bidding for the club; he lost out ultimately to the consortium offering more to the club members. Not the better offer for the future of the club, but the best for their bank balance. The club was sold, and a new group came in promising the world. Irving Scholar, Nigel Wray, Julian Markham and Phil Soar were in charge. Irving Scholar was an ex Spurs chairman, in the Venables days. Nigel Wray and Julian Markham were London based business men, Wray being also the chairman of Saracens Rugby Club, and Phil Soar, he was something to do with books (Illustrated History’s of Clubs). One point on Scholar, and he lived in Monaco as a tax exile. And was an integral part of our board and decision making. From the Mediterranean.

Bare in mind Scholar has been banned from Spurs after he lost his chairmanship to Alan Sugar after he was largely made bankrupt by property price crashes. He had then made a deal with Maxwell to bail him out. There’s a legacy of an unscrupulous character. Furthermore were dodgy loans and promises made to secure the signing of Paul Gascoigne. For more on Scholars time at Spurs read this..Scholar Gascoigne Spurs Article

None of these men had any previous connection to the club; none of them were Forest fans, from Nottingham, nothing. Yet they had decided to pump money into our club. Why is this? Well football was just under going its great renaissance at the time. Money was everywhere; it was a brave new era. All problems could be solved with cash. The new board had a wondeful way to solve this. Float the club on the stock market. Yes we all look at this now in the future and know this never really worked at all. I can’t recall one of it being a success, but in 1997 it was still seen as a great method of raising capital.

This where things started to go wrong. The new bard had intended to raise £20million via this method. This was when £20million could get you a lot in football. Rather than now it might get you 3 journeymen African strikers. However, depending on whom you believe there was an integral mistake, the new board had overestimated and overvalued the club, and they only raised £2milion. Later Wray would blame the Nottingham public for not having the foresight to follow through on their great vision, and it was them who are to blame for what happened. Not gross financial mismanagement.

Needless to say this greatly undermined the share price for those that had bought shares, the values plummeted. This isn’t great news for any club.
But things on the pitch were going better after relegation. Forest were blossoming in the Championship, van Hooijdonk and Campbell firing us to glory. The team were playing some wonderful stuff at times, and if that failed, give it Pierre and he will batter it into the goal from long range. We rode back to the Premier League on the crest of a wave.

Then it all started to go wrong. Campbell was sold, the waters muddy somewhat here as to who blames who. Bassett claims to have known nothing about it. The decision being taken at board level by Scholar (who was in charge of the football side of management of the club, Wray the financial) between they deemed the£3million offered made sense, Campbell hadn’t been a success previously in the top flight, there were questions over his back, and so he was sold behind the managers back. Then Cooper was sold, a gentlemans agreement to sell him to his home town club, and we were in disarray before we had begun. Oh did I forget to mention out star striker had walked out the club after Campbell was sold? I didn’t need to specify that, we all know Pierre chucked his toys out the pram and decamped back to Holland. He does say he had an agreement to be sold to a bigger club, I am inclined after all this time to believe him, the way Scholar and Wray seemed to operate was lie lie and lie again.

That Premier Campaign was a disaster which not a lot of positives can be taken from. Record runs of games without a win, star players sold (Steve Stone left for Villa, Gemmill dropped on board demands) and we hadn't made any money. Oh this is where it comes down to. Because why else do 4 guys who have no connection with a club buy the club and float it? Oh to make a profit? Yes exactly, so after 18months or so Nigel Wray snuck out the backdoor, selling his remaining shares to Soar and Scholar.
Bassett was fired. Not to his face mind you. He found out from the papers. Then the genius idea of bringing Ron Atkinson came in. A legacy of mistake after mistake. They even allowed him to splurge £1mill on Carlton Palmer!!

Nigel Wray of course let’s remember was involved in Saracens. Saracens moved to Vicarage Road and I remember the very angry 18 year old self rants, basically this called into question whether he had vested interest in 2 clubs. This was a rule that was banned since the Maxwell days. So we were being investigated for him just being there. One quote from Albert Scardino, who was also bidding at the same as Wray to takeover, that sums up Wrays involvement is this.
"The club has squandered two years. This was a tragic lost opportunity to rebuild a great community asset. Nigel Wray was never very much involved in it [the club]. It's now much worse off then when he bought in."

After Wray went(with a £1mill loss), in came Eric Barnes, a local guy, and he in turn bought Doughty into the fold, who then invested his money in the club, kept the club running and bought up enough shares to take over the club. Except in what almost felt like a long term precursor to Liverpool’s drawn out take over the incumbent pair didn’t want to give up that easily it meant they lost money, and went to the courts to try and stop it. If this would have worked, Forest would have folded. Instead they then decided to only attempt to sue for the money back from Doughty. This all does rather seem familiar writing it now to what occurred at Anfield. The court case did reveal wonderful insights that most of the “gang of four” hated each other, Markham even bugged meetings as he was sure he was being conspired against him. He also revealed he didn’t like Soar. The case was thrown out.

The legacy of all this was the club was nowhere near the Premier League anymore and now felt the need to watch every penny. We haven’t been back to the Premier League since. We do have a board with the clubs best interests at heart. It also makes me laugh when people bemoan Doughty when you realise what we did have before. How short memories are of people. We genuinely did have a board in it just for the money. Doughty does have the club at heart. Clubs no longer float themselves. This isn’t just our legacy, Celtic and Sheffield United failed massively too. You just have the modern craze of rich foreign owners. I can’t help thinking if this won’t go the same way.

Maybe some will view this as harsh, but is underlines that anyone in football to make money is likely to fail. These people went into this with no regard for the football club, but purely their bank balance. That’s why they are the first villains. People talk of greed like Commons, well he is small fry compared to these guys. They nearly killed the club.

*2015 edit. Its interesting reading this back with the claims people have that Fawaz is the worst chairman we could have. Simply put a few ill chosen social media pictures and some wrongly arranged details on the loan of Leicesters sub keeper pale into comparison. These are trivial when you consider that we could have been wound up due to these guys actions. Fawaz has his faults. None of them come close to being as bad as these guys.



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