As Fawaz Al-Hasawi sat in his expensive suit, on his comfortable chair, in his plush London home, he was told he had to sell Nottingham Forest. All of it.
He couldn’t hang on to 20% of the club, remain chairman and take a salary that could rise to £1m per year, as he initially thought he would.
There were around ten people in the room, where a huge television showed sport, and a few advisors were helping Al-Hasawi decide what to do next – with Forest slowly imploding.
Once again, the Reds were just a couple of points clear of the Championship relegation zone, there was talk of another manager – Philippe Montanier – being sacked, the Director of Football Pedro Pereira had walked out, and winger Oliver Burke had been sold – seemingly against Montanier’s wishes.
The genial Frenchman had told me after a home match against Leeds on 27th August 2016 that Burke would not be sold.
There was no beating around the bush by Montanier – Burke was going nowhere.
On 28th August, Burke was sold to RB Leipzig for £13 million.
Forest had won every home game in August, meaning they took nine points from the first five matches. Very respectable.
Burke had scored four times in those three home games and after his sale, the Reds won just one of their next 12.
The downward spiral had begun. And it was with that backdrop that Al-Hasawi was told it would be best for the club if he sold up and severed all ties.
Greg Nugent was the man who delivered the blunt message. He was an unpaid, ad-hoc advisor to Al-Hasawi – his phone rang whenever the club was in difficulties, whenever there was fan pressure, whenever a manager might need firing.
His phone rang quite often.
Previously, he’d told Al-Hasawi that the club needed stability and that he must appoint a Chief Executive to run things.
Nugent had been a Forest fan since he was a young child, a regular on the old Trent End.
A man with Nottingham very much in his heart, he’d gone on to work for LOCOG, helping to deliver the London Olympic Games, had been Head of Marketing at Eurostar as they moved into the fabulous St Pancras railway station, and worked in political campaigns in both the USA and UK.
His company (Inc) had sponsorship deals with Forest. What I’m trying to say is that the advice was coming from the heart and the head.
I’d first met Greg at the Olympic Games in 2012. At BBC Radio Nottingham, we decided that we would want to co-present our Drivetime Show from outside the Olympic Stadium (I might say ‘your’ Olympic Stadium!) and talk to people from Nottinghamshire as they arrived, as well as Nottingham folk who held a position of note.
It was on that day I got to interview Cliff Richard – but that’s another story for another blog in another decade.
I’d sent out a tweet a week or so before, asking if anyone from Notts was lucky enough to be there.
Greg replied with “let me know if I can help with that,” so we got into conversation, I interviewed him on the programme and we’ve kept in touch ever since.
He’d been an occasional guest in the Forest boardroom on matchdays and was introduced to Al-Hasawi as “Mr Olympic,” which he was always referred to by the owner and his friends.
Nugent is in no doubt that Al-Hasawi’s heart was in the right place – that he genuinely wanted to help Forest become successful again, and it had become difficult for Fawaz to let go.
But as so many can testify, running a football club is very different to running any other business.
It was a balmy Thursday evening, and he was cooking dinner for his wife in their North London home when the phone rang.
Nugent was asked around to Al-Hasawi’s Mayfair home to offer advice about the future. What should the Kuwaiti do next?
After some negotiation with his wife, Nugent got into a cab and drove to swanky Mayfair – there’s a reason it’s the most expensive property on a Monopoly board.
In the taxi, Nugent worked on some figures and what he was going to say. He made notes about their current plight in the League, the sacking of managers, what the vision of the club was, and where the leadership had gone.
As he got out of the taxi on an Indian summer’s evening in London, there were people drinking outside a nearby pub – a drink on a bonus final balmy night of the year adding a delightful buzz to the sounds of the capital.
But, Nugent had to pinch himself. Here was a Forest fan, driving to the home of the club’s owner, to tell him he had to go.