Date:
4th August 1999
Time:
16:00
Location:
The City Ground
Interviewers:
Steve Ralling; Kev Lockhart; Stanno

We were greeted by Mr. Barnes himself in the reception area at the City Ground.  We hope you find our questions interesting and would like to thank all of you who contributed. 

Steve


Steve:    "Firstly, thank you for inviting us here this afternoon. For our Internet viewers (or is it readers?) out there, all over the world, could you tell us... Who IS Eric Barnes? - can you give us a little bit about your background?"

Eric Barnes:     "I was born in Sutton-in-Ashfield... I moved to to Nottingham when I was 21 to join the then Furniture Division of Great Universal Stores. By the time I was 34 I was Managing Director of 500-odd furniture shops around the country, then about 1972 I became Chairman of that and a lot of the other retail businesses that GUS had. We began another business in Nottingham called Experian in 1980 and in 1995/6 we began to look abroad, and by this time we were employing about 1600 people here in Nottingham, which today is up to 2500 people, and we have another umpteen thousand world-wide as a result of acquisitions we made. Now I am Chairman of that Division as well as being Deputy Chairman of Great Universal Stores, the parent company of Experian. So there is me in a nut-shell!"

Steve:     "What about Nottingham Forest? When did you first develop a love for the Club?"

Eric Barnes:      "When I was too young to cycle to Nottingham, I used to cycle to Field Mill so my first league football was watching Mansfield Town and drinking what is rather poshly called 'Bovril' today, but was called 'Oxo' then, out of a little wooden hut. So I used to watch early games there at Field Mill, and by the time I was sixteen I was going to Forest and standing on the boards down at what is now the Trent End. Then when I came to work in Nottingham, when I was sort of 20/21... we always worked Saturday mornings in those days... it was 'out of the office' at one and into The Albert on Derby Road, for sandwiches and a couple of glasses of beer... and down to stand at the back of the Bridgford Road. Then I graduated from there and into the Exec Stand and more recently, with some sadness, I had to give up my seat there to come and be at this side of the ground..."

Steve:    "Were you obliged to sit in the Directors' Box, or would you have preferred to sit, like Mr. Doughty, saying 'I want to keep my seat here...'"

Eric Barnes:    "Nigel is doing it for a different reason... Nigel wants to let his son Michael, and his daughter, enjoy football like he was brought up on... just like I was! No standing on any false steps... you are no different from the person who is sitting next to you... I was reading last night somewhere, probably in the Telegraph, that this is still truly a classless place... the football stand is a classless place. I think that Nigel really is doing what I did with my daughter Helen, who is now 30... she sat with me since she was 12... apart from when she found out about boys and went and stood in the Trent End!! She still comes to every game, but now she sits across here with me. Of course, we love going across there, and if you're here on Saturdays, you'll see she and I sneak out and go behind the Trent End goal, because we can get into the Executive Stand that way and see a few friends and then get back here for ten-to-three."

Steve:    "So really, you're having to sit in the Directors' Box because you are expected to sit there?"

Eric Barnes:    "Well I think it's my job to sit there, and there are some very, very nice people that you do meet there!"

Steve:    "Do they shout? Do they sing?"

Eric Barnes:    "I told the story about the only time Nigel brought his child, Michael. I told the story, I think it was on 'Clubcall', that we scored (it was one of the few games we scored in last season!), and little Mikey jumped in the air and landed on his feet... standing on the seat, waving and shouting... but others don't - it is a little more restrained. It's quite difficult, I promise you! But they are a bunch of nice folk, and the visitors are all very, very warm people. I've only been Chairman for, I think, five games, but I was a Director from January and happily we won four of those five games! I love my football, but it is different... I have to put on a suit. One of the great things is that when you've been away all week, you come home and put on your sweater or whatever shirt you want to, but I can't do that now... I have to wear my suit and represent Forest in the way that a Premier League club should be represented... which of course is what we are."

Steve:    "One of the regular visitors to our internet site, Rob Raynham, was asking the question 'Now that you have got the association with Nottingham Forest, do you think there could be a possible change in sponsorship at some point with Experian or GUS perhaps taking over when Pinnacle finish?'"

Eric Barnes:    "No, I don't think so... we have quite a warm relationship with Pinnacle. I was surprised with that, pleasantly surprised... it is a warm relationship and I've met the Managing Director and the Marketing Director on a number of occasions, they sit here, they come to a lot of our games and there's another year to run on that contract, and it looks well, doesn't it! Well I think it does... I don't see any reason for any change."

Steve:    "...I was just wondering if we were going to see 'Experian' on the shirts in the future?"

Eric Barnes:    "Experian is a world-wide brand... 75% of the business is in the United States, and they don't screen much of this in the United States... so it wouldn't pay-off in the United States... Experian are a big supporter - they have their box and they spend substantial money in Corporate Hospitality with the box."

Steve:    "Our next question comes from Dave Morgan, who was wondering about the merchandising within what he considered the Nottingham Forest catchment area... Grantham, for example. He is saying that it is very difficult to get hold of any Forest kit without actually coming into Nottingham itself. It would appear that none of the sports outlets in Grantham stock the Nottingham Forest merchandise..."

Eric Barnes:    "There's a very good mail order service that they do from here... I think, in common with most other football clubs, Manchester United included, there's been a diminution in the acquisition of replica kits, but it is still substantial business... I'm surprised to hear that you say that there are  problems and I will have the Commercial Department look at that, thank you for bringing this to my attention."

Steve: "Our next question is this... Recently, Century 106 have been granted exclusive rights to cover Forest's live games... whilst this is not wrong on the surface, media reports suggest that BBC Radio Nottingham had not been invited to the table to bid for coverage... despite this being the station of choice for many Forest fans. I'm aware that nothing will change on the subject for the next 2 years, but can we have your assurance that, in the future, the club will invite tenders from all potential service providers as well as taking into account the personal choice and preference of their grass-roots supporters?"

Eric Barnes:    "You can have my assurance that anyone will be allowed to tender for the facilities that we have."

Kev:    "Basically, I'm a bit jealous of you! - There you were, 5 months ago, to all intents and purposes, an ordinary fan up in the Executive Stand, and now here you are in charge of the Club... how does something like that actually happen? What process occurs?"

Eric Barnes:    "You're going to be surprised at my answer, I guess... Nigel Wray had some... pretty poor press, that I didn't know much about, but Nigel Wray asked Philip Soar to invite me to join their Board. That's flattering, but I wouldn't say 'yes' to that without knowing the people, and I met with Nigel, and I thought what a nice man he was, I know of his Companies... a few of his Companies, and in January, I accepted their invitation and became a Director. Nigel was finding it difficult, because he believed that the Club was missing on-the-spot management and association, and it was he that said 'Eric, would you take over from me as Chairman? I'll still retain 10% or thereabouts in the Company, would you take over as Chairman?' and I said I'd need to think about it and get to know the Club a bit better. What I saw didn't please me tremendously and frankly I had no option but to become Chairman... if I loved Forest and I loved the community in which I've lived all my life... Robin Hood, Newstead Abbey, Lord Byron, Nottingham Forest, Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club, Notts. County Cricket Club, you know, it's a small county and I'm fiercely proud of it and if I wanted to restore the Forest name, I felt I had to give a commitment and do some work here... I didn't realise how much initial work it had to be... I believe that I have got a lot of Nottingham people who thought 'I'm worried about what that Barnes is doing about this manager when we've got about 3 weeks before we kick a ball... is he going to manage the team himself, or get on with the business?!!'"

All:    "We were wondering! - We were getting worried!!"

Eric Barnes:    "I believe I was right, because in all the interviews I've done, I've said the one word that I will use in whatever anyone would ask me to consider at Forest, from the day of my appointment, and it is 'Excellence'. I won't consider anything unless it fulfills that one requirement of 'Excellence'. David Platt does... I just told you we've got a whole bunch of people working on things for the Academy, so that the Academy is not the Academy, but is 'Excellence'! The Study Centre, which you will see when you go out of here... have a look across there!

Stanno:    "We originally thought it was going to be the new Supporters Club shop..."

Eric Barnes:    "You should go across, we have spent an awful lot of money... the Dept. of Education, the Nottingham County people have given us money... Experian have put in 50,000 of computing equipment... we put in some extra funds for a library over there... and it really is a first class investment. The students of our Academy will be able to use that... they didn't have the library... I said 'you can't do it without a library - it doesn't fit the word 'Excellence' - you have got to have a library!' they said 'but we haven't got 26,000...', I said 'You have now!'... it has to fit that 'Excellence' and you should look at it on your way out..."

Steve:    "That would be very interesting..."

Eric Barnes:    "The boys from the Academy will use it, local schools can use it and instead of opening it for 4 hours a day, we will be opening it for 12 hours, so that kids who perhaps aren't as lucky as you were, who can't cope with their equipment and can't get any help at home can come down here after school and someone will guide them and help them..."

Steve:    "That's superb!"

Eric Barnes:    "Well, that's what we're trying to do... it should be open on September the 9th, I think it is..."

Steve:    "I think our future lies with the youth academy, bringing young 'home-grown' players through into the first team, but what David Platt appears to be doing at the moment, buying in experienced players, is right for now but for the future, it would be good to bring some of our own youngsters through..."

Eric Barnes:    "... well hold on a moment... let's look who we have already brought through... Harewood... Chris Doig played..."

Kev:    "... Steve Melton..."

Eric Barnes:    "... we have some fine young players coming through and I think this is very exciting"

Steve:    "We are now looking to David Platt to deliver the goods for us and put us back where we belong... are you impressed with what you've seen of him so far?"

Eric Barnes:    "I would have welcomed him into Experian!"

Kev:    "Larry was saying the same thing - that he was very impressed with what David Platt has done so far..."

Steve:    "...moving on... Phil Soar has just resigned his post... was this a surprise or was it on-the-cards?"

Eric Barnes:    "Phil Soar has not resigned his post! When Phil came to see me last November (he was the one who came from Nigel Wray) he said 'Eric, I must be straight with you, if you decide to come, you ought to know I intend to return to Reading...' because his children are 15 or 16 and that's an important level of education and he told me that that was what he was going to do... I said 'well, that's all fine, I understand it...' when I was asked about the Chairmanship I said that I would take the Chairmanship but I would require Philip to agree that he would stay until at least December. He's agreed to that and he will stay as Chief Executive until December. We are obviously having to look for someone, and he's helping in that process. When we come to select someone, I hope they'll be able to join us October/November at the latest so that there can be a period of handover, but then Phil's encyclopedic about football matters... his knowledge of the workings of the industry are pretty extensive... he remains as a Director after he's retired as Chief Executive. He has agreed that he will be available, on a consultancy basis, for whoever we appoint because that's the knowledge that you can't buy... that's the truth about the matter... Philip Soar has NOT resigned and he would not renege on his word to me, and his word to me was that if I took the Chairmanship, he would undertake to stay until the end of the year."

Steve:    "Now that you're on the board, you obviously need to be more diplomatic about what you say about players etc. were you a bit more vocal in your criticism of the team and players like our Mr. van Hooijdonk when you were 'merely' a fan?"

Eric Barnes:    "... a funny answer for you again... I couldn't understand why the van Hooijdonk situation couldn't be dealt with... I'm sure I would have loved... we have a business in Holland... I would have loved the chance to have gone to see Mr. van Hooijdonk - I had no problem at all with the guy"

Steve:    "Do you think the reason it was not resolved as quickly as it could have been was down to lack of communication?"

Eric Barnes:    "I don't know... you've asked me whether I would speak differently to the players now that I am Chairman... I don't think there's any need for me to do that - we have David...". "Do I yell the same? - well I think that if you have an asset that you have paid about 2.5 million pounds for, you probably do!!! What I say to my God when I go to bed at night is one thing..."

Steve:    "Do you miss being able to speak your mind more now that you are in a more high-profile position?"

Eric Barnes:    "One has to be careful what one says publicly... you know, if I'm having a beer somewhere and somebody comes up, I have to be tremendously careful what I say otherwise I could give the fans the wrong impression... you know 'why didn't you sign Collymore?'... 'why did you let Collymore go to Fulham?'... but that's Mr. Platt's decision... who plays centre forward... having said that, I would love to see a striker arrive before Saturday!!! It was a pity about the guy from Chelsea, but he didn't want to move the children up here, so we had to respect his wishes. I'll tell you what - if we're talking about heart being in the right place... you can say what you like about Mr. Freedman, coming from Wolves for 900,000, I reckon he's got a Forest heart and it definitely in the right place... that's my opinion on Mr. Freedman. I think he'll get a lot of goals this season"

Steve:    "Changing the subject somewhat, as senior executive of one of, if not the largest, IT companies in the Nottingham area, what is your opinion on the Internet and Internet communities?"

Eric Barnes:    "Well, wearing my GUS hat, we have the biggest home-shopping business in the United Kingdom. We have, in Argos, nearly 500 stores and a 700 page catalogue... all that stuff can be dealt with on the Net. Experian is quite different, that is information of a different kind, that is selling information over the Net or providing means of doing it for others. I believe that the progress that we have seen here over the last couple of years has been small compared with what we have seen in the United States. I think we're beginning the gallop now in this country... I think it is being driven by a lot of bright guys, like you, having these abilities and providing capabilities for others to use the Net"

Kev:    "I attended the EGM last week, and there were a couple of occurrences in the meeting that made me think there was a slight animosity or paranoia about the Internet. I was wondering, from the Forest point of view, if I'd read that situation right. The first thing that happened when I arrived, as a shareholder, to vote and Steve had suggested that I brought my dictaphone to record the meeting to report some of what went off on the Internet, but I was pounced on by a couple of security guards..."

Eric Barnes:    "They must have been brave... can you give me their names!..." (Kev is a big guy - Ed)

Kev:    "... he said 'I can't let you take that, or your mobile phone in...' I said 'OK, but why?' and he replied that they had been advised that somebody was going to attempt to take a mobile phone into the meeting and broadcast it live over the Internet". "Then in the middle of Julian Markham's speech, he went on about being 'personally savaged' by someone on the Internet.."

Eric Barnes:    "...That's right, apparently it's run out of somewhere in Canada, but I understand that it's quite nasty about him and I don't like it. I don't think it's necessary to speak of people like that. With regards to what you were saying... it was a private meeting and I was asked if only shareholders could attend, but a number of press people asked if they could attend, so if the press can come in, so can any of the fans who are not shareholders... so that's why I made room at the back... I personally had the seats moved forward with our table squashed up at this end so that the 40 or 50 fans who turned up because it was Forest and they hadn't got shares and weren't allowed in the meeting... I used the fact that I'd let the press in, and so should the fans come in... but I was asked to ensure people were not broadcasting..."

Stanno:    "One of the things that's impressed me is that you appear to be putting the 'Nottingham' back into Nottingham Forest... you appear to be doing that and that's a typical example of the fact the you're the guys who support us through thick and thin..."

Eric Barnes:    "I switched the time back to one o'clock, had the meeting here, had all the employees take their cars somewhere else, so that anybody whipping down in their lunch-hour (a) could park and (b) come in for some of the meeting. Some of the guys who did that were not shareholders, but they'd gone to all that trouble because they care about the club, so I let them in. I know that's not strictly what I should have done, but it didn't hurt, did it?"

Kev:    "No, I thought it was an excellent meeting"

Steve:    "So, while we're on the subject of putting the 'Nottingham' back into Nottingham Forest, now that we've got Nigel Doughty on board, you must feel that you're a fair way to achieving what you  set out to do, in that we're bringing the focus away from London and Back to Nottingham... have you got any other moves afoot?"

Eric Barnes:    "David White has just joined the board and it's nice for me to have him there... I've known him for well over 20 years and it's nice for me to have that kind of support... of an independent mind, such as his... he asked me about shareholding, I said 'the beauty of you David is you truly can speak as a Director, but you don't have any shareholding interest and you're a great comfort for me to have you on the board'... so that was good... and then there's the Academy, and bringing in the local education community to help us with that... that's Nottingham... I want to foster a relationship with the other two groups: the County Cricket Club, and Notts. County... I went to their functions... I went as Chairman of Forest, not as Eric Barnes, to bring solidarity. I understand that has not been the case, I'm told, I'm the first Forest Chairman to have gone across there for 11 years... I've been twice already..."

Steve:    "A couple of final questions... if you were a betting man, who would your money be on for promotion and relegation this season?"

Eric Barnes:    "Promotion I can do...  I'm not allowed to bet... I don't think I'm allowed to bet... somebody showed me a sheet, and Forest were second favorites... Blackburn were favorites, Forest were second... I don't think I'd differ with that... I don't want to put any pressure on David!!!"

Stanno:    "Just leading on from that... I asked this same question to Dave Bassett: what would you call a successful season for Forest? - Dave's answer was 'to finish 4th from the bottom and beat Man. Utd. '... will you only class it as a successful season if we get promoted?"

Eric Barnes:    "I saw someone today, who'd just been transferred from his club, Craig Short I think, and he said 'what a joy it is for me!"... he'd gone from Everton where the ambition was to avoid relegation, and he'd gone to Blackburn, where they're 'punching for the sky' and I think that is the right attitude, and certainly that is the attitude that I've got"

Stanno:    "We've seen an article in the press, where Nigel Clough says that he hoped that Forest didn't achieve promotion first time round, and that they should consolidate in division one to get away from the yo-yo tag... you obviously don't agree with that?" 

Eric Barnes:    "I can't agree with that... if you look at what I've said and done from day one, I said '...for Forest to regain and retain Premier League status'... I don't want yo-yos... hence the word 'Excellence'... we can only do things that will take us to retaining Premier League status"

Steve:    "Just a couple more questions if we may... on the subject of the renamed Executive stand, there doesn't appear to be any recognition of Peter Taylor yet... is that going to happen, because he was a very, very big part of the partnership?"

Eric Barnes:    "Where we go in, there's a huge picture of Peter... and as a matter of fact, we've just been helped by a business called the Press Office, and Peter Taylor's daughter runs that, and she's helped us with some work we're doing on restructuring here..."

Steve:    "Are there any plans to name a box or a stand or anything after Peter Taylor?"

Eric Barnes:    "Peter Taylor's picture is out there and his daughter's worked with us... and if that's a nod to a blind donkey..."

Steve:    "One final question... I don't know if you're aware, but there is actually another Nottingham Forest team out there... the Nottingham Forest Internet Football Club that's been going for a number of years now, and they play their matches against supporters from the team that Forest are playing that weekend... for example, if Forest are playing Leicester, then the Nottingham Forest IFC will play the Leicester City IFC... they have a league going, they take part in a lot of national and international competitions and one of the questions they asked us to put to you is: currently a lot of the other teams that take part in the same league as them have kit supplied by the clubs that they support, but with Forest, for some reason or other... they have been unable to obtain sponsorship or anything in the form of a kit... they were wondering if we could actually mention the subject to you, because it is a charitable organisation, and they do it under the name of Nottingham Forest..."

Eric Barnes:    "... if you could see the number of letters that I have dealt with asking for assistance, for worthy, worthwhile things... then the response must ultimately be positive... that's very interesting, and since I've told you that I believe in the Net as a great instrument, then I'd love that to be the third point that you are going to give me to pick up after this meeting..."

Steve:    "That would be great... I'm sure they will appreciate it... after all, they are another Nottingham Forest Football Club, but unfortunately, at the moment they lack any form of sponsorship..."

Eric Barnes:    "I promise I will follow it through..."

Steve:    "Mr. Barnes... thank you for your time this afternoon, it has been most enjoyable!"

Eric Barnes:    "Thank YOU..."


The interview concluded at 17:05 and was followed by a photo session with Mr. Barnes after which we were introduced to the 3 new Italians...  what a day!!! 

I personally found Mr. Barnes to be a warm, friendly and congenial host and above all a Forest fan through and through... this man will turn Forest's fortunes around... just wait and see ;-)


 


e-mail: [email protected]