Serial whingers Nottingham Forest must forget VAR conspiracies and fix their own failings first

Relegation-threatened club are likely to be charged by the FA for bringing the game into disrepute

Richard Jolly
Senior Football Correspondent
Monday 22 April 2024 14:18 BST
Nuno hits out at referees and VAR after Forest 2-0 loss to Everton

If the two highest points in Nottingham Forest’s history occurred in Munich and Madrid in 1979 and 1980 respectively, one of the lower moments occurred at Goodison Park in 2024. Two-time champions of Europe in the days when they were known for Brian Clough’s wit, now serial whingers in a season of constant complaining, Forest reacted to defeat at Everton by tweeting: “Three extremely poor decisions – three penalties not given – which we simply cannot accept. We warned the PGMOL that the VAR is a Luton fan before the game but they didn’t change him. Our patience has been tested multiple times. NFFC will now consider its options.”

In the days when they were the club of Clough, their manager didn’t want the Forest players to show dissent to referees. Now Forest are moaning about the VAR, Stuart Attwell, even before the game as well as after. The FA, understood to be furious, are likely to charge Forest with bringing the game into disrepute. But even before that, Nottingham Forest have brought Nottingham Forest into disrepute.

And if identities evolve as times and personnel change, is this what Forest have become? Winners four decades ago, whiners now, writing letters to PGMOL, bringing Mark Clattenburg in to address the media in the mixed zone at the City Ground, a club with a persecution complex.

Nottingham Forest had three penalty appeals turned down
Nottingham Forest had three penalty appeals turned down (Reuters)

A tweet may have been an extreme example, but it was not a one-off. Forest have been repeat complainers, testing many others’ patience multiple times with their petulant response to losses. They are not, even if they choose to pretend otherwise, the guardians of refereeing standards: alleging bias on Attwell’s part long before kick-off scarcely renders them impartial analysts of his performance. The three penalties manager Nuno Espirito Santo claimed they deserved were nothing like as clear cut as he suggested. “It is not only this game, it has been a while for poor decisions against us,” said the Portuguese. Presumably selective interpretation prevented him from mentioning whichever poor decisions went in Forest’s favour.

“I would just like to understand the why; why we have always been on the end of bad decisions,” Nuno added. Which, once again, implied an agenda against Forest. Such things can play well in a Trumpist culture: seeking to weaponise the more gullible among their fanbase to foment a sense of outrage about officials will find a receptive audience among the conspiracy theorists.

When their supporters sang “Premier League, corrupt as f**k”, it reflected on a club who, without using the same language, have scarcely discouraged them. It is to be hoped that others of the Forest faithful can be embarrassed by their club’s pathetic behaviour.

The more flattering interpretation is that these are just intemperate outbursts from Forest, rather than a concerted campaign to undermine referees. But Forest have an owner, in Evangelos Marinakis, who was given a five-month ban in Greece for verbally abusing officials. His other club, Olympiacos, are no strangers to over-the-top reactions; they have previously labelled former Premier League official Steve Bennett “corrupt”. Presumably no evidence has emerged to support that defamatory claim.

And assuming an FA charge emerges for Forest, the presumption is that the governing body will not merely be indicting a potential 12-year-old manning the social media accounts but the club as a whole. There is a wider problem, and official statements about referees are all ridiculous.

Nottingham Forest have lost 18 games this season, more than any club not in the bottom three
Nottingham Forest have lost 18 games this season, more than any club not in the bottom three (Getty)

But Forest have become the face and voice of the game’s toxic obsession with referees and VAR, with their inability to attribute defeat to anything other than officiating. They drove a bus through Profitability and Sustainability Regulations, breaching them by £34m, and then had the gall to appeal their four-point punishment. They have won three of 36 Premier League away games and seem to believe the answer is for PGMOL to submit their matchlist to the City Ground to see if they approve of which referees are assigned to their games.

“It is not an excuse but we are not comfortable with the referees,” said Nuno. And yet it is an excuse. Forest are less than the sum of their many, many parts. With Ryan Yates benched at Everton, they started with a full 11 signed since promotion – or around a quarter of their recruits in that time – and, with a more talented team, subsided meekly, claiming penalties instead of scoring goals.

They have one win in nine league matches, one clean sheet in 23; perhaps the PGMOL should warn Forest that, thanks to their footballing failings, they are in grave danger of relegation; perhaps PGMOL should warn them about the names on their own team sheet and the damage they could do.

Or perhaps they should realise they have become ripe for parody. Fresh from thrashing West Ham, Crystal Palace posted on Sunday: “Five extremely good goals –two goals conceded – which we simply have to accept.”

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