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Wray ban
By Padraig McKenna
I am a fan of Nottingham Forest and I hope you don't mind me intruding into your world where optimism and success are prevalent. I am writing, as I believe that it may be useful for you to hear of our experience with Nigel Wray. Mr Wray does not, we are assured, actually have an interest in your club at the minute but he is on record as saying that he believes it makes sense in the medium term to merge Saracens and Watford. Our experience with Mr. Wray has not been a happy one to date and his involvement has not been good thing for our club.

Two years ago Nottingham Forest were in an anachronistic position whereby the ownership of the club was in the hands of 209 shareholders who had each paid £1 for their stake. The years of success under Brian Clough had laid a good foundation for the future but it was obvious that the club needed both an injection of finance and an overhaul of the way it was run. The Directors and shareholders at that time decided that they would be prepared to relinquish their positions if it were to be the best thing for the club.

Accordingly an advertisement was placed in the Financial Times inviting potential investors to draw up their plans and get in touch. The lure of potentially acquiring a major (?) football club at a time when "the city" was very much in love with football attracted several bids, some were comically implausible and a few were worth more serious consideration.

The directors of the club, at that time, had appointed Price Waterhouse as advisors to oversee the takeover process and to assess the relative merits of each bid. Once the chaff had been blown away by initial scrutiny of their proposals and resources they recommended to the directors and shareholders that they should accept the group known as the Nottinghamshire consortium. This was also the favourite of the fans, as it comprised long-term season ticket holders, who were also successful and wealthy businessmen. Though we were, at the time, in a bit of a pickle on the pitch, there was considerable optimism around the club. It was thought that a swift completion of the takeover would allow the team to be strengthened in time to prevent relegation.

However, lurking in the wings was one of the unsuccessful consortia, the Bridgford/Derwent group. They realised that a constitutional technicality could allow them to prevent the other bidders from gaining control and they could then bide their time and come in at the end to pick up the pieces. This was to be the bid with which Nigel Wray was later to become involved. They mustered support amongst the greedy and self-interested elements of the shareholders and used these acquisitive stormtroopers to prevent the acceptance of the bid of the Nottinghamshire consortium. This was achieved by offering the existing shareholders considerable personal gain as a reward for their one stake, in the final stages of the process it was fundamentally this payment to the shareholders, which separated the bids. One of this Bridgford/Derwent group, Phil Soar, later to become our phenomenally under-performing and over-paid Chief Executive, admits that at the time when they prevented the acceptance of the bid recommended by the club's advisors, they had no finance to back their own bid. This is where Nigel Wray came in.

It has since become plausible to assume that Mr. Wray was persuaded into his involvement by the alluring carrot of a swift flotation. Theoretically this would have raised huge amounts of cash at which point Mr. Wray would be able to walk away with his pockets bulging to his satisfaction.

When the group backed by Nigel Wray successfully acquired the club, he became the major shareholder, and he also has an involvement with some of the institutional investors who own the bulk of the shares in the club. Consequently, to his reported discomfort, Mr. Wray has widely been seen as the owner of Nottingham Forest.

Prior to the takeover they had promised that a flotation would take place within six months. This urgency may have been part of the carrot to the shareholders who could see an early return on their one stake, or it may have been part of the carrot which attracted Mr. Wray, or both. Either way, the timing was ill advised, or indeed if popular rumour is to be believed, it was specifically advised against. The markets no longer saw football as a good bet and locally there was considerable disaffection between the club and its fans and the local community due to the increase of 30% in the price of season tickets, despite relegation!

When the flotation went ahead, the shares were offered at a price of seventy pence each, and a minimum of five hundred had to be bought. It was commonly believed that he shares were grossly over-priced but nevertheless, some fans (including myself) bought shares anyway as a gesture of support for the club. At the time of the takeover the new board talked of raising twenty million by the flotation, which was to be used to strengthen the team, develop a youth academy/centre of excellence and to improve the ground. The flotation actually raised two million pounds. It is credible to see Mr. Wray losing his enthusiasm around this time. Currently the shares are worth thirty pence, i.e. 43% of their valuation at flotation.

The grandiose promises and pretensions of the takeover have been replaced by disinterested neglect and obvious contempt for the fans of this club. Mr Wray has attended few games, and has reportedly declared his intention never to return to the City Ground. In a recent interview Mr. Wray, when asked about the popular perception that the club is grossly underfunded, said that his conscience was clear and called the people of Nottingham hypocrites due to their reluctance to participate in the half-baked flotation. This did not improve his public reputation.

It is now rumoured that there are buyers waiting in the wings and prepared to relieve us of our disinterested owners, allegedly there has been a failure to agree on a price. All fans of Nottingham Forest would hope that Mr. Wray will sell up and leave, it should perhaps be of concern to you that he may be heading in your direction.

The takeover here two years ago was an opportunity for the club to build on a sound foundation and cement its position in the upper echelon of the game. That opportunity has been wasted, and now we are resigned to a long period of rebuilding. We have suffered the waste of two years and the loss of around 30% of season ticket holders, financially we are in a similar position. The only people who cannot sense the chasm growing between club and fans are the Directors. Mr. Wray has at least some collective responsibility for the failure of the Directors of the club, and it is probably fair to say that his dominant role, both in terms of share ownership, and as Chairman earns him a bigger share of the blame.

It is no secret that Mr. Wray's first love is rugby and Saracens, we feel that we have suffered because of this compelling distraction for him. I think that you have perhaps reason to fear your tenant has not only got his feet under the table, he is thinking of moving the furniture around and you should be wary.

See also: updated account