"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?"
"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
"What about Nottingham Forest? When did you first develop
a love for the Club?"
"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..."
"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...'"
"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."
"So really, you're having to sit
in the Directors' Box because you are expected to sit there?"
"Well I think it's my job to sit
there, and there are some very, very nice people that you
do meet there!"
"Do they shout? Do they sing?"
"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."
"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
"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."
"...I was just wondering if we were going to see 'Experian'
on the shirts in the future?"
"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."
"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..."
"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."
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?"
"You can have my assurance that anyone will be allowed
to tender for the facilities that we have."
"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?"
"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?!!'"
"We were wondering! - We were getting
"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
"We originally thought it was going to be the new Supporters
"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..."
"That would be very interesting..."
"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..."
"Well, that's what we're trying
to do... it should be open on September the 9th, I think it
"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..."
"... well hold on a moment... let's look who we have
already brought through... Harewood... Chris Doig played..."
"... Steve Melton..."
"... we have some fine young players
coming through and I think this is very exciting"
"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?"
"I would have welcomed him into
"Larry was saying the same thing - that he was very impressed
with what David Platt has done so far..."
"...moving on... Phil Soar has
just resigned his post... was this a surprise or was it on-the-cards?"
"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."
"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?"
"... 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
"Do you think the reason it was not resolved as quickly
as it could have been was down to lack of communication?"
"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..."
"Do you miss being able to speak your mind more now that
you are in a more high-profile position?"
"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"
"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?"
"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"
"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..."
"They must have been brave... can you give me their names!..."
(Kev is a big guy - Ed)
"... 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.."
"...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
"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..."
"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?"
"No, I thought it was an excellent
"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?"
"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
"A couple of final questions... if you were a betting
man, who would your money be on for promotion and relegation
"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!!!"
"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?"
"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"
"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
"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"
"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?"
"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..."
"Are there any plans to name a
box or a stand or anything after Peter Taylor?"
"Peter Taylor's picture is out there and his daughter's
worked with us... and if that's a nod to a blind donkey..."
"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..."
"... 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..."
"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
"I promise I will follow it through..."
"Mr. Barnes... thank you for your time this afternoon,
it has been most enjoyable!"