Forever Home?

The City Ground: Should it be Forest’s “forever home?”

The uncomfortable conversation, that I would comfortably say, which most Forest fans were hoping to avoid for the foreseeable future, has now been brought up, but not simply by online fan forums, instead by Councillors & the club’s Chairman – raising the serious question: Should the City Ground be Forest’s “Forever home?”

What does the term “Forever home” actually mean?

Well, of course, it doesn’t mean that until the world is no more, the City Ground in its exact form, will be the home of Nottingham Forest. Instead, a hyperbolic term emphasising that the ‘world famous’ Trent side venue would be the home of the club for the long foreseeable, with the vision of simply refurbishing/developing as opposed to starting from scratch: an idea that Nottinghamshire County Council are keen to facilitate.

No club can realistically – at least from my perspective – keep the same stadium forever. Keeping the same ground area/location? Definitely. But the same structure? At some point a change will come, and I doubt any Forest fan is naive to the idea that one day, the City Ground will no longer be the club’s home. But the debate is simply whether that time is now, which, in business terms & likelihoods, would probably be in the next decade or so.

Why is the debate now so popular; what triggered that?

“We may have to consider other options.” – Forest’s chairman on the City Ground’s future.

This comment was the catalyst for a new debate over the future of the City Ground as the home of Nottingham Forest. Tom Cartledge, club Chairman appointed post-summer, succeeding Nicholas Randall QC, spoke to the BBC, describing negotiations as having “stalled” due to ‘incredible’ demands from Nottingham City Council – for whom run the land for which the City Ground situates – which would see the club’s yearly rent for the location increase approximately four-fold should they accept said demands, which is highly unlikely.

Since September 1898, the City Ground has bear witness into the thousands of Nottingham Forest games, but it was not the Garibaldi Reds first ground. The old “Town Ground” situated in the Meadows area, across the water, was used before a new venue built on the banks of the Trent, erected in the year Nottingham was granted the right by Queen Victoria to City status. However, well before that, Forest played originally on the Recreation Ground, the site these days of Goose Fair in Nottingham. The instances are different – football in the 1800’s was a different sport altogether; big leather boots, no real commercial backing, no Saudi-ownership, it was a “working class” sport. Now though, football is a commercial entity, and while of course the football is important, the business operation is slightly less, if not just as important as success on the field. Back then, there was minimal demand for ‘seats’ to watch Forest, but now Forest can pull in almost 30,000 fans a week, with some reports adding that at various stages of the season, should capacity have allowed it, demand for tickets exceeded the 50,000 mark.

Football now is a game of major emphasis on financial gain, and taking risks are commonplace, but if it doesn’t pay off, it can be a disaster. MK Dons, a fantastic example of upping ship and moving out: to a brand new state of the art stadium in a different town completely, lots of money invested – partly from retail giants – but still with club-funding, ending disastrously. The Dons continually fail to fill their stadium, and they haven’t grown with the ambitions that Chairman Pete Winkleman had for the future of the team. Dons sit in League 1 although doing ok right now, with a stadium far too big for them.

Forest are in a different position of course: a good ground holding 30,000 with the side now in the Premier League, financially much stronger than previous times, an economic powerhouse within the ‘City’. However, with little room to manoeuvre – the area around the City Ground is of course housing a river, homes, businesses, which all makes the pursuit of expansion of the City Ground a bit, well, awkward. Not only this, but even if they could afford the land surrounding – which is highly likely – the Council (Nottingham City Council) are a major stumbling block. Even with plans ready since 2019, now negotiations over the rent at the location are causing issues, leading the club to consider other options, for which they feel are viable, but not necessarily their first choice.

So, what exactly are the Council demanding from Nottingham Forest? And are talks completely “off the table”?

The Council’s demands, and why Forest are right to reject them, to an extent.

As of current, according to the BBC, Nottingham Forest football club pay an annual fee of £250,000 in rent to Nottingham City Council for the land that the City Ground resides on, due to the freehold being owned by the council. However, with commissioners now in charge of the council’s finances, one of the routes the council are exploring to raise crucial funds is by charging Forest more rent – a sum of around £1m, with an extended lease, has been reported by journalist Hugh Caswell, BBC, as the amount demanded by the council, currently lead by David Mellen, who this week [at the time of writing] has announced he’ll be stepping down from said position.

The numbers requested are evidence of desperation from the Council/Commissioners in an attempt to secure funds for the Bankrupt council, but Forest aren’t budging – negotiations have completely stalled, and no new talks are underway as of yet. Mr Mellen stated in an interview that the Council “don’t want Forest to leave the City Ground,” despite talks being at an impasse, but has stated that he feels the demands from commissioners are “only fair” as they (Council) look to get the “best value” from their assets – the very reason for appointing commissioners.

While I see the point the council make, an increase from £250,000 to £1m – while I’m sure affordable for the club – isn’t necessarily proof of appreciation for the investment that Evangelos Marinakis is willing to make in the club, even with the uncertainty over league position in constant thought. Forest’s economic value for the City, and more so in the area of West Bridgford, is huge, and arguably the only reason that some businesses in the area can afford to operate.

The Council own the freehold, and perhaps when talks are back underway Forest could look to purchase said freehold, but at this time, it remains unknown. But despite not owning the land, Forest hold good ‘cards’, and have leverage – once again, the surrounding economy being a major strongpoint of the clubs location. Without it? The affects would be detrimental.

Talks are off at the moment, but both parties – the Club & Council – are keen to resume and find some resolve for the benefit of both entities. Thirty-three years remains on the lease, and while it may sound like a long time, it really isn’t. Forest wouldn’t be wise to invest £100m+ in a ground that would sit on land they no longer have rights to in thirty years, it wouldn’t make sense. Hopefully a sensible outcome can be found.

But, Forest do have alternatives, a “Plan B” if you will, should talks not work out at all…

Who is offering it, and where are the alternative sites being offered?

A “clash of council’s” would be a slightly trivial light to paint the situation in, but in a way, it is the reality of the situation, to a degree. Nottingham City Council want demands met on improved rent, and Nottinghamshire County Council are in the corner, Trench coat on, offering a new opportunity for the club: a move from the City Ground, to location/s that they (Notts. County Council) feel are viable for the club, if not slightly more so.

Land near Toton, formerly intended for use with HS2 – now scrapped – is land that the County Council feels is an opportunity for the Reds to capitalise on. Improved transport infrastructure, particularly with Trams, alongside far better expansion opportunities means that Forest would, technically speaking, have a better offer on the table based on those two factors. But as business works, two factors aren’t enough to influence a move of venue, particularly given the clubs iconic current home – plus, the financials of a move to Toton are not available publicly beyond speculation, but Councillors on the County Council, in particular Cllr David Martin, are keen to lure Forest into a move off of Trentside.

Other options could be available too, but as of now, according to the BBC, land near Toton is the only one being cited as a *potential* change of scenery for the club.

But that walk…could anywhere in Nottingham even remotely resemble/replace it?

“It will never be the same,” but should alternatives be considered?

This is probably the toughest part. I’ve been supporting Forest for the best part of 15 years, taking an interest at a young age, largely due to my dad’s enthusiasm to have a Forest supporting son, with my sister taking no interest in the club, nor the Sport. When times have allowed it, I’ve been privileged enough to make that iconic walk over Trent Bridge – a stone’s throw away from my family home – and bear witness to fixtures at the City Ground; former European Champions, Football legends, and Brian Clough – a bit of both – have walked on that turf, so if the walk over the bridge isn’t enough, if the view isn’t enough, just the history of the place is enough to make you feel like you’re in a special place.

The phrase “It’ll never be the same” [If Forest moved away] is used so often, and in fairness, it’s fair to see why. 125 years at the City Ground, all of my life, and every current Forest fans life has been spent watching games there, a change as major as moving away, especially to the other side of the City, is a truly unfavourable idea for many – including myself. But once again, I’m not naive to the idea that one day a move will happen, and the business reasons for that decision; whatever is best for Forest is best for me, as a fan, but naturally, emotional attachment to the City Ground and that truly unique River Trent location makes it a tough idea to accept.

Realistically, talks between the Club and those at the City Council are likely to resume, as the ground staying within the land owned by the City Council is beneficial for both parties – but guarantees on a new lease would be needed, agreements on rent needed, and perhaps even guarantees on future expansion needed – but this is all to be discussed, with further updates expected throughout the year.

Any alternative opportunity should certainly be considered, but as the club believe, and I affirm, it would be more of a “last resort” – staying at the City Ground and improving on what is already there would be the best idea, keeping the iconic scenery, matched with new exciting looks for the property would be excellent – a dream for most Forest fans.

At the moment, everything on the future is speculation – but fans want clarity, so hopefully questions will be answered sooner rather than later over the future of the City Ground.

*Article provided by Jamie Martin (Head Nottingham Forest Correspondent).

*Main image @NFFC the City Ground has been many people’s forever home.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *