We are delighted to bring you the report from our first meeting with Dane Murphy. This report was shared with our members before being uploaded to our website the following day. As you’ll see from the report, we enjoyed an open and frank discussion with Dane. Because it was an introductory meeting, we chose to concentrate on the big picture themes, exploring his vision for the strategic direction for Forest. We were impressed with what we heard, we hope you will be too. Thanks are due to everyone who took time out to send in questions, and also to the rest of you who, by your ongoing membership, give us support.
As part of our ongoing club dialogue, we were invited to the City Ground for our first meeting with new CEO, Dane Murphy. This was an introductory and informal meeting and the agenda, as ever, was set by our members who had been asked to provide questions and raise issues to discuss during the meeting.
The meeting began with an introduction to the Trust: its origins, structure, and central purpose, which is to give fans a voice in the influencing of the way their club is run. Dane indicated that wide fan engagement was key to the way he intends to operate, whether it be meeting supporter groups, media interviews or columns in the programme. He stressed the importance of being open, honest, and transparent in the process.
As this was our first meeting with the new CEO, it had been agreed that a general introduction and discussion around his vision for the club would be the focus of the meeting. We had received several member emails on this area and these helped frame the dialogue.
Initial impressions from the first ten weeks in the role
Dane described the first weeks in the job as “nothing but positive”. Obviously, that was tempered somewhat by the “frustrating start to the season” and the change in coaching staff, but he said he was not daunted by the challenge or the problems that need solving. He felt that the game at Barnsley was a huge turning point and that galvanised both him and everyone at the club.
He described his role as a “great opportunity” and told us how much he has enjoyed getting to know Nottingham in his time so far in our city. He went on to give some interesting insights into his experience of the global profile of Nottingham Forest. Growing up in the United States, Forest was a hugely well-known club. He believes that this profile can work to our advantage in many areas of operation, especially in attracting players and working with agents.
Vision for Forest
Dane sees his role as building on the last the few years, implementing a step-by-step plan to achieve ultimate success. In the short term that means moving away from the relegation zone, then moving up the league before aiming to establish ourselves as a competitor for the top six. The intention is that achieving promotion would not be the final step in this plan, the ambition is to establish the club in the Premier League and build on from there. Dane recognised this will take time to deliver.
Dane told us about the positive and frank discussions he has held with the owners and of their desire to work with him to turn results around. He made clear that this included continuing to be fiscally responsible and sustainable (something that many members have asked about over the past few years). When asked about FFP in the context of other problems at EFL clubs, Dane said the club remains in relatively “good shape” but continues to battle with the challenges of COVID and its’ implications. Financial Fair Play limits are the subject of ongoing wide discussion within the Championship due to the huge impact of COVID.
The Trust asked how this vision would be impacted by the dual challenges of FFP and parachute payments. Dane agreed that this was a real challenge for English football. He said that high-level discussions were being had with sponsors, broadcasters, and administrators, as parity between clubs is vital to the entertainment value of football. Dane highlighted that Forest’s chairman is now part of the EFL board and this is recognition of the club’s standing within the EFL.
Over the past year, player recruitment has been the focus of many members’ emails and we were asked to explore this in some detail with the new CEO. Dane started by pointing out that every club uses data in some shape or form. There are many data providers in existence, so the challenge is around how to interpret the data they generate and formulate it into a plan – and how to do this better than competing clubs. He explained that there are many different approaches, particularly around how analysis is mixed with ‘eyes-on scouting’ and how it is aligned with coaches at all levels of the club. Much of this approach comes from developments in US sport which have informed and influenced football hugely. Encouragingly, he is very familiar with this and has a very clear vision as to how it will be used to gain competitive advantage. He indicated that meetings are taking place between the first-team, academy, and recruitment teams to ensure things are “linked up” and that “the right people and general principles” are in place.
When asked around his autonomy in this area, Dane said he had full freedom to recruit the right coaches, staff, and players. Dane said that the focus was very much on recruiting younger players and balancing with players of character and leadership. We asked how his approach to data and scouting fitted into the need to bring in the right characters to the dressing room, and Dane explained that he found younger players tend to assimilate into the culture well as they wanted to seize their opportunity for a career in the game.
We asked how the successful academy would be weaved into his plans for the club. Dane started by saying that the academy was crucial in fiscal sustainability and would remain a central pillar for Forest. He highlighted the importance of the recently achieved Category One status and, while new sites for the academy are being looked at for the longer term, he indicated that he liked the tightknit feeling of first team and academy being on the same site and improvements at the Nigel Doughty Academy site are currently being made. We were invited to revisit the intentions for the site in future meetings with the club.
We discussed the issue of academy players being sold; another topic that has been raised frequently by members. The ongoing challenges of FFP were noted, recognising that it is inevitable that future sales of academy product players would be necessary. He did however say that the aim is to bring through a greater number of academy players to the first team so that some of these youngsters could be retained for longer, with the intention of giving the club a better chance of progression.
We also raised the issue that many academy players at clubs all around the country do not make it as professional footballers and enquired what the club was doing to help those facing that disappointment at our academy. Dane told us that Category One status mandated better educational provision and was an important part of the associated audit and guidelines. He said the club aimed to develop “well-rounded individuals” who would go onto have successful futures inside or outside the game.
The make-up of the board
Dane said he has undergone the EFL’s Owners’ and Directors’ test before starting the role. The NFFC board is comprised of Dane, Nicholas Randall QC, Jonny Owen and Ioannis Vrentzos – with the latter stepping back from day-to-day operations whilst acting as a conduit between Dane and the owners, though he also has direct contact.
Several questions were received on this issue. We explained to Dane that such a major structural development to the City Ground was very important and emotive to fans who are naturally eager to see progress. He responded saying that productive discussions are being had with the three councils involved (Rushcliffe, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire County Council) to resolve outstanding issues. It was explained that planning permission is a complex process, and it requires “every box to be ticked” to ensure successful approval. It was acknowledged that the “end of summer” timeline previously mentioned is upon us and it is hoped that a positive decision will be reached soon. Should planning permission be granted, it was indicated that a sporting and financial decision would need to be made as to when to commence building work as closing the Peter Taylor Stand would, of course, restrict capacity. The Trust will pick this issue up again in upcoming meetings.
Overall this was a really interesting introduction to Dane and his thinking. Obviously, we couldn’t cover every issue requested by our members in this introductory meeting, we resolved to pick up on some of these in future meetings with the club. We’d like to thank Dane for carving out the time so early into his tenure as CEO and also thank the members who got in touch to inform the agenda.