This week Nottingham Forest appointed Mark Warburton as their new manager. He’s their third different boss since the start of the season, and arrived at the City Ground just over a month after the club confirmed youth team coach Gary Brazil would be in charge of the first team until the end of the campaign.
Warburton is Forest’s eighth permanent manager since current owner Fawaz al-Hasawi arrived in 2012, and as things stand they are heading for their lowest league position since returning to the Championship in 2008. They have, in fact, finished in a lower position in each of the five seasons that al-Hasawi has been in charge.
In January, al-Hasawi called off a takeover deal with an American consortium that reportedly had plans to remodel the stadium, bring in a proper structure to the club (for the majority of the current owner’s tenure, there hasn’t been a chief executive) and appoint Gary Rowett as manager. He remains broadly unpopular with the club’s support, and maintains a negative and even rather combative attitude to any criticism.
In short, supporting Forest has been a pretty desperate business in recent years. The danger has not been despair, but apathy. As the old vestiges of what the club used to be have been chipped away, there is a very real sense that enthusiasm is at an all-time low among the club’s fans.
Excitement went some time ago and anger has slowly dissipated, in its place a creeping sense of nothingness. It is a fairly bleak realisation to think that not only might your football club be dying, but that not many people would care that much.
But from the yawning void of apathy has sprung some positives. In response to the creeping ennui, a number of forces for positivity have emerged, not least the establishment of a supporters’ trust which aims to represent the fans in a more organised manner than before. There’s also Bandy and Shinty, a Blizzard-esque fanzine which has featured on these pages before. And then there’s Forza Garibaldi.
Set up by Forest fans Matt Oldroyd and Greg Mitchell, Forza is a fan movement designed to reignite some of the lost enthusiasm for Forest through fostering more of a community and a spark within the fan base. “It wasn’t just about losing football games,” says Oldroyd, “a lot of people had completely fallen out of touch with what it means to support Forest. Forza is our attempt, in our own small way, to repair that.”
This season Forza have organised an array of pre-game gatherings (Oldroyd baulks at the word ‘events’) around Nottingham and at a couple of away fixtures. These have ranged from simple get togethers in a pub, to a flotilla of fan-filled boats that sailed down the Trent before the win over Leeds in August. Just before Christmas nearly 350 fans turned up to a bar in the city centre for an event co-organised with Bandy and Shinty and the Trust, with live music and a general atmosphere of bonhomie.
The point of all this is not just to get leathered before a game, but to carry the good atmosphere into the ground. “This idea grew that we had to get people together to bring about more of a culture, not to sit back and moan and boo teams off,” says Oldroyd. “The idea is if we start something before the game, people carry it on into the ground. We did see that fans needed an inspiration – we didn’t necessarily see that as us, but we thought we needed to do something to bring this togetherness and spirit back.”
— Forza Garibaldi (@Forza_Garibaldi) March 4, 2017
Forza has tried to separate itself slightly from any protests against the current owner, something that has drawn criticism from some fans who see them as the perfect group to lead any resistance against al-Hasawi. Which isn’t to say that they agree with the current regime, rather that they just want to perform a different function.
“We’ve made clear that we think the owner should do what he can to sell the club and remove himself completely,” says Oldroyd. “But it would be a shame if we had to almost take away from what we were trying to do, which was the positivity and the spirit, to then also lead a protest movement. We didn’t think we were the people to do that. We would never try and bury our heads in the sand, but we want to keep Forza as a positive influence within the fan base.”
There’s no grand plan, beyond trying to continue what they’re doing and emphasise the good parts of supporting a football club, even one in such a parlous state.
Forza Garibaldi is part of a movement of fans trying to find positivity among the gloom, an enormously admirable and constructive way of supporting a football club. “We’re not saying we’re changing the world,” says Oldroyd, “but we are doing that little bit.”