Regular columnist and Labour MP for Nottingham East Nadia Whittome shares her thoughts on the magic of football and Nottingham Forest's impressive FA Cup run...
When LeftLion told me that this month’s edition was on the theme of magic I was struggling to think of a relevant topic. But then I was lucky enough to get to watch Nottingham Forest play Liverpool at home in the FA Cup quarter finals.
I grew up a stone’s throw from City Ground, and while I’ve always followed Forest, this was the first match I’d been to since I was a teenager. As someone who was born after the glory days, the fact that this was their first FA Cup quarter final in my lifetime, on the day before what would have been legendary manager and socialist Brian Clough’s 80th birthday, was particularly special. Whether you’re an avid season ticket holder or just a nominal supporter, this was a huge moment for our city.
Football is a sport that, at its best, brings a local community together. Like music, football is a universal language that can transcend so many differences. The emotions and pride we feel about our team – whether it is the joy of a triumph or the grief of a loss - bring us closer together. We know we are collectively part of something bigger.
I am proud that in Nottingham, these feelings of belonging and solidarity with one another do not stop at the gates of the grounds. Nottingham Forest Community Trust was established in 2010 to channel football’s spirit of community into projects to support people away from the pitch, too.
Last April, for example, the Community Trust’s Robin Hood Fund raised over £20,000 to source and secure food and supplies to local food banks across the country. It also supports young people through social action programmes and creates opportunities for people living in disadvantaged areas to participate in sport and physical activity.
Football encourages us to dream big: whether we are proudly cheering our club on towards promotion, or when voluntary work shows us that, as a community, we carry each other
I also know how important it is for girls to see Nottingham Forest Women’s team thrive. The club is offering girls’ football schools which is an opportunity for local girls to train with Forest Women’s squad stars. Meeting these role models shows them that there are careers for women players in professional football too. Hopefully this will encourage them to keep chasing their dreams.
On the other side of the Trent, Notts County Foundation, who have existed for thirty years, also do some incredible community work. They are the largest provider of the National Citizen Service, a project bringing 15-17 year olds from different backgrounds together, in the region, for example, and their Joy of Moving programme inspires children in primary schools to get active.
While football is a great source of joy to so many, there are still some areas where the sport has a long way to go. Many players and fans continue to be subjected to racist abuse, as Chris Hughton, who is one of very few BME managers, has spoken out against. Over the summer, the England team took the knee in support of Black Lives Matter to be met with a minority of fans booing, which government ministers then defended. It is also a damning indictment of the sport that there is still not a single openly LGBTQ+ player in the Premier League.
The role of money in football is also a problem. With the war in Ukraine, Chelsea’s owner, Roman Abramovich, has been in the spotlight. Newcastle were also recently sold to close associates of the Saudi government, who have an appalling human rights record. Dictators and oligarchs should not be able to launder money or their reputations through our clubs.
I want to see football democratised, with a much greater say for those who have the best interests of their club at heart: the fans. I support the introduction of 50+1 model, similar to Germany’s. This would mean that club's season ticket holders would own a 51 per cent stake, with any big changes needing to be approved by a 51 percent majority. It would enable supporters to vote club investors out if they wanted.
As many people in our community depend on football for their livelihoods, we must push our clubs to be the best employers they can. This is why I’ve supported Nottingham Citizens’ campaign for Forest to pay all its staff at least the Real Living Wage.
Football encourages us to dream big: whether we are proudly cheering our club on towards promotion (fingers crossed for Forest!), or when voluntary work shows us that, as a community, we carry each other. Football makes hope possible - that is the real magic of clubs like Nottingham Forest.
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