following is a short series of interviews with Paul Hart based on two longer sessions
we had with him.
The first session took place in November 2001, only a few
days before Forest's financial problems became apparent to the world with the
suspension of their shares. The second session took place on February 28 2002.
Thursday July 12 2001, after the sudden - but not unexpected - departure of David
Platt to the England U21 job, Paul Hart was announced as the new manager of Nottingham
Forest. The appointment was a popular choice with the fans.
the time of his appointment he was the much respected director of Forest's highly
successful youth academy and a lot of fans felt it was time he took his turn at
the head of the first team.
The press speculation
regarding David Platt's move to the England U21 camp had never ceased over the
summer. It became so intense towards the end that, despite denials from all parties,
it was obvious something was about to happen.
it did happen, did Paul Hart expect to be offered the job?
don't know about expecting to be offered the job," he replies.
I would have been very disappointed if I hadn't been asked, because, without wishing
to sound arrogant, I probably should have had a chance 2 years ago.
my point of view I think life would have been a lot easier then as we were in
a much better financial state than we are now.
"I've taken on a
difficult job at what I think is the best football club in the country at possibly
the worst time."
Had Paul been offered the job two years ago he
would indeed have found things very different to today. The club, despite just
being relegated from the Premiership, was in a much better financial state and
Paul could have found himself with a budget of between £10 -15 million to
spend on the squad.
"Well there's no doubt the money would have
been nice,"he says, with a broad smile.
sum of £10 million is a great figure but who's to say I would have spent
it anyway? The truth is, right now I would settle for getting the bank off our
Indeed, Forest's financial problems have been well publicised
since the start of the season, with Paul Hart taking the extraordinary step of
putting the whole squad up for sale in a bid to reduce the ever-increasing overdraft.
"Well the only thing I did out of the ordinary there is to tell the
truth," he continues.
"And the truth is
most squads are up for sale. Any club will listen to any realistic offer for any
of their players. Whether they accept it is a different matter. We are no different
- I'm very happy to be the manager of Nottingham Forest and when I accepted the
job I was well aware of the problems I would face."
The second-leg of the 1984 UEFA Cup semi-final
has gone down in history as probably the most controversial game Nottingham Forest
have ever been involved in.
At the time of the game
Brian Clough thought that the Spanish referee, Guraceta Muro, had been fixed somehow;
as did several of the players involved in the game.
of the less than generous neutrals at the time seemed to dismiss these remarks
as possible sour grapes, but in 1997 a man was arrested in Belgium on blackmail
charges and the story finally broke.
Paul Hart was,
of course, involved in that game. He was also directly involved in the most controversial
incident of the game when he scored the late goal that would have seen Forest
go through to a UEFA Cup final against Tottenham Hotspur; had the referee not
controversially disallowed it.
The referee died in a car crash a couple
of years later so has never been able to give his side of the story.
However, UEFA were not impressed by Anderlecht's claim that the £18,000
paid to the referee was in fact a loan, which had not been recorded. They found
the club guilty and banned them from European competition for 12 months.
Nottingham Forest and the players involved in the game that night, have started
court proceedings in Belgium to obtain compensation. However, since Euro 2000
things have gone very quiet, so what is the present situation?
interesting, that's twice in as many days I've been asked that question,"
"I was doing something for BBC TV yesterday and they asked
exactly the same question.
"I don't honestly know what the situation
is at the moment. As far as I know it's still with the Belgian lawyers.
"Initially there was a real push to get this through the courts. As the Euro
2000 tournament approached we thought it would galvanise it a little, to avoid
bad publicity. It actually had the opposite effect though and the case seemed
to be all but pushed under the carpet."
It was understood at the
time that Forest were financing both the club and the players actions. Bearing
in mind the club's present financial situation is that still the case.
"Well again I have to be honest here and say I don't know.
yes they were financing it. Though as you say, bearing in mind how serious our
financial problems have been and the fact that we have just sold JJ to Newcastle
to help ease that situation I would be very surprised if they were.
the players side of things Garry Birtles was the main driving force. I haven't
spoken to him about it for some time. And of course he has changed jobs and now
works for the radio station so he may not have enough time to devote to it.
"Phil Soar was driving it from the club side. I think it would probably
be best if you approached those two, they may be able to answer your questions
better than I can."
The day after the game the local press was full
of comments from players on the game. Hans Van Breukelen said in the Nottingham
Evening Post that he thought the referee was a coward and took the easy way out
over the penalty decision and the disallowed goal.
At what point did
you and the rest of the players think there was something more sinister going
on than simply a referee having a poor game?
Paul gives a laugh as he
says: "It's funny, but I thought we'd have trouble with the referee before
"Cloughie called us in to a team meeting on the day of
the match. He was not a fan of Spanish referees and had been saying a few things
in the English press about them.
"I recalled in that meeting how
18 months previously I had been playing for Leeds in a pre-season tournament.
We were playing Real Madrid and the Spanish referee sent off two of our players.
The game was very much geared towards Real winning it.
"As we walked
out of the meeting there he was, the same referee that had been in charge of the
Real game. I knew then that we might have a few problems".
night Forest went into the game as favourites, holding a two-goal lead from the
first-leg at The City Ground. I guess even though you had previous experience
with this ref you couldn't have been that worried about it.
no. I thought we might have problems but not the way it turned out.
"The truth is they had not played well in the first leg at The City Ground.
We knew they could play better and expected a game when we got to their place.
"On the night they did play better. Don't forget they scored two legitimate
goals, but the Kenny Swain incident, that was never a penalty and as for my goal,
that was as clean as a whistle.
"The gaffer was very upset afterwards,
very quiet, I'd never seen him like that. He really felt we'd been turned over,
he just wanted to get out of there.
"We went to Stoke that Saturday,
drew 0-0 and everybody was down, flat."
The goal Paul scored that
night is shown on TV occasionally, but the quality of the tape is very poor. However,
despite the low quality of the tape it has been dissected several times by various
TV pundits and nobody has, as yet, come up with a legitimate reason for the goal
"Yes that's true," continues Hart.
"I've only seen it on that bad videotape. But you watch the goalkeeper, watch
his reaction as the ball goes into the net.
"He's looking to blame
someone, he's not looking for the ref claiming there was something wrong.
"To me it's amazing, the Anderlecht players have all accepted it's a
goal, then the ref blows his whistle.
"He never explained why he'd
"He couldn't even look us in the face as we left
The referee never explained his decisions, he didn't
have to, and to this day referees are not obliged to explain any decisions they
make during a game. Do you as a football manager, feel there's a case for referees
being made to explain decisions?
"Well it wouldn't be a bad thing.
There are plenty that mystify me.
"Take the tackle on David Johnson
at Walsall. We didn't even get a foul, yet a tackle like that and he's the last
defender. That's supposed to be a sending off offence.
be nice if they did explain what they saw and why they made the decision. But
I don't think they ever will."
Now that the Anderlecht story is
out in the open and we know that a referee was bribed in a major European match
is there the possibility that it could ever happen again.
tricky. I don't think it could but you never really know.
in Britain and Europe it would be very difficult, if not impossible," he
"The number of TV cameras covering every game would make
it just about impossible. It would be so easy to spot something with all the coverage
"Just to finish off the Anderlecht thing though, going
back to that game, in truth I would have preferred not to know the referee was
"You can accept it if you didn't play well, or they were the
better team, etc. But
. to know you were cheated - that's bloody hard to
As Forest slipped out of the
Premiership at the end of the 1998-99 season and Ron Atkinson hung up his famous
raincoat in retirement, the board at Nottingham Forest announced their new manager,
David Platt, and a two year plan to 'gain and retain' Premiership status.
Now, two-and-a-half years later, David
Platt has gone to manage the England U21
squad and the two-year plan lay in ruins.
are the rewards of the Premiership that Forest were willing to gamble everything
to get back there. It didn't work and Paul Hart now faces the unenviable task
of rebuilding a club crippled by debt.
It was obvious to all that a huge sum
of money had been spent during Platt's
two-year reign. However, we only started
to see just how bad it really was when,
only a few weeks into his new job, Paul
Hart took the extraordinary step of putting
the whole squad up for sale in a bid to
reduce the ever-increasing overdraft.
"Well the only thing I
did out of the ordinary there is to tell the truth", he says.
the truth is most squads are up for sale. Any club will listen to a realistic
offer for any of their players. Whether they accept it is a different matter.
We are no different.
"There are only half-a-dozen or so clubs in
this country that don't have a debt problem. What we have done is admit it."
It seems to me, as someone watching from the outside, that selling players
to make money, with the exception of JJ going to Newcastle, was not your priority.
It was more a case of getting rid of the high earners.
main task has been to reduce the wage bill, which is far too big for a First Division
"We had a lot of players at the club who had been up in the
Premiership and, two years after leaving it, they were still being paid Premiership
wages. The club just can't afford it anymore".
Things started to
look really bad for Forest just before Christmas when trading in the club's shares
was suspended because the audited accounts had not been released. There was intense
media speculation that the club could fold at any moment. How bad did it look
from the inside?
"Well it was bad, we knew it was. But the board
were working on things to solve the problems.
"The stumbling block
was the court case. Nobody would be willing to invest money in the club with that
threat hanging over them.
"Once Scholar and Wray dropped the case
it meant the board were free to look for further investment."
are still waiting for information from the board on the Nigel Doughty bid so for
the moment the club must wait for his money. However, the JJ transfer money is
going to make a difference and you have reduced the wage bill significantly. Are
you seeing signs within the club that the financial pressures are easing yet?
"Well its going to be a very tight regime for the next couple of years,
there's no doubt about that," explains Hart.
"There has been
a more secure feeling about the place but look at the continual addressing of
the situation and how it is progressing and that will show you just what sort
of mess we were in.
"It hasn't finished, not by a long way, we
have to be very careful, we are going to try and improve the squad but it will
be within a budget.
"The club still has players on huge Premiership
salaries and I still need to get the wage bill down more.
"My brief from the board is simple
- reduce the wage bill."
reduced the wage bill, though you still have more work to do and Jermaine went
to Newcastle, which covered a large chunk of the debt. There is still a significant
debt to be sorted out though, so are any other departures imminent?
I can tell you is, I have only received one realistic offer for a player so far
and that piece of business has been concluded.
"We do get other
clubs, Premiership and First Division, ringing up but there have been no other
"At this moment I don't have to sell. So any
transfer would be my choice and it would be tactical.
"I'm not planning
to sell anyone at the moment. Even if I do choose to sell the player would have
to want to go.
"I agree the JJ situation was different due to the
financial problems. But it was never cast iron that he was going.
at any point JJ had said he wasn't happy or he didn't feel he could benefit from
the move then that would have been that, and he would have stayed here".
months of speculation it finally happened - Jermaine Jenas left for Newcastle
and Forest are £5 million pounds better off.
The speculation regarding
JJ's future started early in the season. The first reports appeared in the tabloid
press on September 9 2001, less than a month after the season had started.
The main contenders for the youngster's signature appeared to be Leeds United
At the time Forest were anxious to discourage unwanted
advances for their rising young stars and promptly slapped a £5 million
price tag on JJ's head.
The price tag may or may not have discouraged
the clubs, but it definitely didn't discourage the tabloid press, who seemed determined
to sell JJ at any cost.
Over the following months the rumours gained
pace to the point where one tabloid (The Sun) had JJ sold to Newcastle for £4.5
Million and making his debut for the magpies that Saturday. This, of course, was
many weeks before it actually happened,
The turning point in the JJ saga
came at the EGM in January. Forest were in serious financial straits and the club
needed to raise capital.
That week rumours linking JJ with Leeds and
Newcastle had started again. At the EGM Eric Barnes confirmed that the club were
in negotiations over the sale of a player.
Though he refused to confirm
it at the meeting, it didn't take a genius to work out that the player involved
was Jermaine Jenas.
Paul Hart, to give him credit, had fought very hard
to keep his young star, but the odds were stacked against him.
day came the fans, though upset, took it as well as can be expected under the
circumstances, accepting the inevitable. But how did Paul Hart take losing one
of his stars?
"Well it really hit home that Friday morning,"
"I did a few interviews, television, radio, etc. and I
think it's plain to see that it hit home then.
"We fought very hard
to keep him but the club is broke.
"You know, the problem is we
have been a victim of our own success. If we hadn't played the kids we wouldn't
have lost JJ.
"The fact that we played him, and there are more to
come is a testament to the courage that we have shown.
it could have been any one of three or four players going and I would have been
just as disappointed.
"It was inevitable, but it means the club
is still trading."
Shortly after the transfer things took a strange
twist when Harry Harris of the Daily Express printed an article saying that Forest
were to receive no payment for JJ now, £1.5 million in six months time and
a further £1 Million in staged payments in the future.
strenuous denials from both Forest and Newcastle, Harry Harris and the Express
surprised everybody by repeating the allegations.
Where did that come
"Not from this club, that's for sure.
certainly didn't have anything to do with it either; they were furious and talking
about taking legal action over the whole thing.
"I assume that some
third party must have put him up to it. But it was complete nonsense not a scrap
of truth in it."
How did JJ take it all, did it have an effect on
"No, JJ took it like he takes everything, in his stride,"
says Paul with some pride in his voice.
"Very little fazes JJ he
handled the whole transfer thing with real maturity.
a lot about it. I talk to all the lads, I keep them informed. I've always been
honest with them.
"When the enquiries started to come in for JJ
I kept him informed.
"I told him straight and told him that of all
the enquiries I though that the club that really wanted him, the manager that
really wanted him, the warmest feeling I was getting was coming from Newcastle
and Bobby Robson".
"JJ's biggest worry was that he would be
transferred somewhere and then get stuck in the reserves for a couple of seasons.
"Neither he nor I saw the point in that. But Newcastle made it obvious
that was not what they wanted for him and he would be playing in the first team".
Robson comes across as a nice man, someone who cares for both the club and
the players. Is that a fair assessment of him?
"Yes, I have had
a lot of dealings with Bobby Robson and he is a fair man. He does care about the
players, especially the youngsters.
"It was never cast iron that
JJ would leave unless he felt that he was going to make progress.
he didn't want to go there or felt his development as a player wouldn't benefit
all he had to do was say no, that would have been that and he would have stayed
He made a great start to his new life up north with his debut,
but they threw him in at the deep end sticking him the local derby.
"He did really well, excellent I thought."
It's not the same though is it? It's not nice seeing him in that black and
white shirt. Especially when you consider he's a Nottingham lad and a Forest fan
"Yes it makes it seem worse doesn't it. But he is enjoying
himself and taking it all in his stride.
"Robson and Newcastle have
a very good prospect for the future. We'll be hearing a lot more about JJ in the
Of that we can all be certain.
end of the 2000-01 season Chris Bart-Williams asked to be put on the transfer
list. His contract would run out at the end of the 2001-02 season and it looked
like he wouldn't be offered a new one so he wanted out.
So what happened
with Chris Bart-Williams?
"It's very simple really. Chris Bart-Williams
went on the transfer list at his own request.
"He never once came
in here and asked to be taken off it. That led me to think that he really wanted
to leave the club.
"We put two offers to him, one from Birmingham
and one to Southampton. He turned them down."
What was the deal
with Southampton, we heard he wanted to go on loan?
"Yes he did,"
"Nottingham Forest have financial problems and we
need to move people on, to get some cash for them where we can and reduce the
"We put offers to him and of course he was interested
in the Southampton one because it was the Premiership.
says he will go only if it is a loan deal. That way he keeps his options open
and can move on for free at the end of the season.
"The bottom line
for me at the time was that if I couldn't shift people like Chris out of the club
then I would have no choice but to get rid of someone else.
course the only players with any true value were the young kids.
said at the start of the season I wanted to build a team based on the youngsters.
"Then due to the precarious state of the club and Bart-Williams refusal
to leave I could have found myself forced to cash in on the very youngsters I
wanted to keep."
The problem for you at the time was that you were
going to lose Bart-Williams no matter what as he would walk out of the club at
the end of the season as a free agent under the Bosman ruling.
"We were going to lose him anyway and cashing in would
have helped greatly.
"Don't forget, he asked to be put on the transfer
list while David Platt was still the manager.
"Don't get me wrong,
but if you ask to go on the transfer list then you want to leave the club".
It looks like he played the situation very diplomatically and it seems to
have worked out for him.
Is that why you dropped him initially?
"No, definitely not," he says.
"I ask you to look back
at his performances before I dropped him.
"I drop players for footballing
On Tuesday Evening Nicky Summerbee got injured
during the Bradford Game.
He's been playing on a pay-as-you-play basis
since he joined us and obviously being injured means he can't play. How bad is
"He's bad," says Hart.
"He's had a scan and
I'm waiting for the results, but it's not looking good, he's likely to be out
for the rest of the season."
A newspaper article I read this morning
claims we offered him a contract but he turned us down. Is that right?
"Yes, in fact we offered him three".
"We offered to the
end of this season, the end of next season and two-and-a-half years.
"Nicky came to me and asked for time to think. He'd heard there was another
club interested in him and he wanted to think it over.
"In the end
the board withdrew its offer to him and then on Tuesday he got injured."
people would agree that Paul Hart's first season in charge has been anything but
Announced as the new manager less than a couple of hours
after the previous incumbent left (must be some sort of record). Fighting financial
ruin and forced to sell your best player just to keep the club afloat.
So after all that what is to come for Forest and Paul Hart now?
it's in a transitional state at the moment," he says.
moment I've had enough of this season. It's been unbelievably frustrating.
"Yet look at what we have achieved with the kids, we have made unbelievable
progress and we are viewed as the best passing side in the division."
You said at the beginning of the season that we needed to be patient and
let the side develop.
The youngsters have settled in nicely and we are
on target for a mid-table finish, a nice safe position, I don't think anyone is
expecting more this season.
"Hmmm. I think you're wrong," continues
"I think you're just saying that. I think there were times
before Christmas when you thought we could get into the play-offs and there are
times when you thought we were good enough to get promotion."
that's true. When the side is making significant progress and results are good
you are filled with confidence watching the team.
You see the play-off
places getting nearer and you hope.
"Exactly," says Hart.
"We are only 9 points off a play-off spot now, it's a very tight league.
"To be honest I'll be glad when this season is over, it's been very
"Admittedly it was made worse by the problems off the field.
Hopefully that is behind us now though and we can look to the future."
Talking of which, the products of the youth academy are the future for this
football club and you, probably more than anyone else, are well aware of this.
You must be very proud of the ones that have come through and made the transition.
"Yes, of course I am".
"But before we talk about
the youngsters don't forget the older players as well. The ones you've seen nothing
of for the past two seasons.
"I'm talking about Riccy Scimeca, Jim
Brennan, Matthieu Louis-Jean and big Jon Hjelde.
"They are having
terrific season, you've hardly seen anything from them for the past couple of
seasons but they are playing some of their best football ever and they are enjoying
it as well.
"But returning to the youngsters, I'm very proud of
them they have all handled the situation well."
Yes, I've noticed
that. I thought as the youngsters were introduced each one would take time to
bed in and adjust to the first team game. But to a man they've come in and settled
in straightaway, hardly a sign of nerves or anything.
part of their training. We introduce them slowly".
Of course some
of the youngsters, Prutton, Jenas, Williams and Doig had their introductions before
you took over as manager and they are now regular first team players.
Probably the revelation of the season though is John Thompson. He's done superbly
"Yes, he's settled in nicely.
"He came in when
we had a problem. Played well and earned himself the right to another game.
"Now he has settled in it is up to the other players to dislodge him
and get their place back.
"I think we've used 15 or 16 players this
season that have come through our Academy."
Yes, it's been great
to see especially the ones that have become first-team regulars and squad players
like Bopp and Cash.
Will we see people like Westcarr making the breakthrough
"Well he made his debut earlier in the season," he says.
"But he is still only 16. Players need time to develop".
"I like to give them a taste but I don't think a 16 year-old is ready for
full-time First Division football".
Moving on to the summer, what
about Chris Greenacre? He has been linked with Forest for a while now, but the
papers are also saying a lot of other clubs are interested as well.
I'm not saying we are interested in him and I'm not saying we aren't. That is
for the summer".
And still talking of summer, you have got rid of
several players now who were highly paid and leaving for free in the summer. Are
there any more players whose contract expires in the summer?
are a few yes, Andy Gray, Damien Lynch, Gareth Edds and Kevin Dawson, but none
of what we would, at this time, consider to be first team regulars, the so called
"The contracts for Jim Brennan, Riccy Scimeca, Jon
Hjelde and Jack Lester all run out at the end of next season."
just named what most people would consider the most senior and experienced players
in the squad and by default probably the highest paid as well.
be nice to know that come the middle of next season you have more money available
and are in a better position to negotiate with these players.
yes," he continues.
"Except that we have always had the option
to negotiate. The trouble is people seem to think that negotiation means an automatic
increase in wages.
"Consider the people that have left and the enormous
salaries they were on - all negotiated before I became manager.
was no way that players like Stern John and Bart-Williams could be given increases,
the club is still broke".
With that we ended
the interview with Paul and thanked him for his time.
the interviews have taken place and been written up several events have happened,
including David Johnson returning from his loan spell at Sheffield Wednesday and
immediately going out on loan again to Burnley; the arrival of striker, Adam Proudlock,
on loan from Wolves, and his subsequent recall by Wolves to cover for injury problems;
the youngsters going off to America to take part in the prestigious Dallas Cup
Competition - and winning it; and possibly the most significant for the future
of Nottingham Forest is the announcement, this week, of the EGM where shareholders
will vote on the proposed injection of cash from Nigel Doughty.
certainly been an interesting and eventful season for Forest, lets hope next season
is just as eventful and interesting but on the pitch rather than off it.