MEDIA ‘BLACKOUT’ AT FORESTDANIEL TAYLOR, chief football writer for the Guardian and Observer, on Nottingham Forest’s attitude towards football writers
AN UNUSUAL development reminds me of Brian Clough's occasionally fractious relationship with the newspaper industry, and one story in particular, about the time the Daily Mirror sent a photographer to Quarndon to take a picture of his house.
Clough was so incensed he ordered the Nottingham Forest club photographer to drive to Derby, where the reporter lived, and bring him back a picture. "I wonder how he and his family will feel when I put a copy in the local post-office window," he wrote in his next programme notes. "They'll soon find out." Clough being Clough, kept his promise.
The story comes to mind because strange news reaches us at the Observer that we have somehow got on the wrong side of Cloughie's old club. Indeed, an email arrived a few days ago stating that we, and the Guardian, are now banned from the City Ground press box, with no possibility of getting back in soon.
We are not alone either. A freelance reporter, with 40 years of covering the club, has been banned after asking the manager, Billy Davies, on the final day of last season, why he was holding the post-match press conference before kick-off. The local BBC radio station is out of favour (though still allowed in). The Nottingham Evening Post has been ostracised. A media blackout is effectively in place and it is odd, to say the least, that the club do not want good publicity when they have started the season so well. As PR goes, it all feels a bit petty and ridiculous.
The issue with this newspaper is best described as bizarre. In March I requested a press-box ticket for their home match against Wolverhampton Wanderers. It is what a football correspondent does: watch games, meet people, see the managers, get information. Last weekend, I was at Stockport. On Saturday it was Old Trafford. Next weekend, the Manchester derby on Sunday and, all being well, a free Saturday to go to a Championship match, off duty.
Forest say it broke their rules to sit in the press box and not write a match report. They won't explain why it has never been a problem before. Or why, seeing as it is common practice, we are not banned from 30 or 40 other clubs. The Guardian's sports editor sums it up. "In 18 years of working in sports journalism, I've never come across a case of a writer being banned for going to a game." That was an email to Ben White, the club's media manager.
So what's going on? That's a difficult one to answer. But there's no point pretending it doesn't grate a little. The suspicion among the Midlands press corps is that Jim Price, who is effectively Forest's chief executive, is picking off the journalists he suspects of having ties with the previous regime, which sacked Davies and which he openly dislikes.
Price, a Glaswegian in his mid-50s, joined the club in February, when Davies was appointed. Intriguingly, he and Davies are cousins. He also doubles up as the manager's agent-cum-adviser. Yet Price's background is not in sport. He was previously a partner in Glasgow law firm Ross Harper, only for his licence to be suspended when the company shut down 16 months ago, owing £2.6m to clients. The Law Society of Scotland is investigating possible financial irregularities and Football League rules stipulate Price would not pass their owners and directors' test while he is suspended. As it is, the league can do nothing because Price is not a director.
On Twitter, he complains that Forest should get more media coverage and referred to one female fan as "babe". It's not easy knowing what to make of it all. But I think we all know what Clough would have thought of him.
THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED IN THE OBSERVER ON SEPTEMBER 15.