Nottingham Forest, The End of History and The Last Fan

Luke Murphy
11 min readApr 26, 2024


Image “Shine 2010 World Cup”licensed for reuse by Creative Commons

The Spanish have a saying. “I kill a dog and you call me a dog killer.” As fans of Nottingham Forest find their club themselves labelled “Rule-Breakers”, locked in the stocks and stripped of their points for overspending during the last accountancy window they may find the ironic phrase useful. Now ‘Rule-Breakers’ precedes their name as if it is something connected to their identity forever.

Perhaps there is also a Greek phrase that sums up the club’s owner Evangelos Maranakis’ doomed charge into the English football establishment. The club’s wild tweet minutes after the defeat to Everton on Saturday afternoon was a smear against the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) for being a Luton Fan and therefore making anti-Forest decisions, as paranoid an accusation as labelling a co-worker a Communist in 1950s America.

Pandora’s Box has been opened. But it wasn’t opened by Forest’s tweet. What has changed is that football has entered a new world where what happens on the pitch can be challenged off it, making football less important.

And there is a feeling behind it all that elite football has evolved beyond the gentrification of the 1990s and 2000s to enter an inevitable final state from which it will not come back. Elite football now belongs to dictatorships and banks who use it to wield power and extract money. Because of this, the fans have entered a state of hypnotic resignation. They continue to enjoy the sport. But more and more fans now stare at their clubs as if one might stare at the permanent scars of a loved one after invasive plastic surgery.


In 1992 the Premier League was created. The same year the writer Nick Hornby published his memoir ‘Fever Pitch’, about how he followed Arsenal from the late 1960s onwards. Hornby wonderfully evokes the nature of football and connects it to the wider social state of Britain at the time. In doing so he also condemns the bad old behaviour of violence and the world of un-safety that was part of the football experience. The book brought the sport closer to the world of art and literature, the middle classes and money. These modernising forces were also behind the creation of the Premier League which would go on to be the most successful sporting product in history.

1992 was also the year a completely different type of book was published. It was called “The End of History and The Last Man” by Francis Fukuyama. Fukuyama wrote that since liberal democracies like Britain and America had defeated totalitarian regimes like Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, civilisation had entered its final evolutionary stage.

Yes, historical events will continue, said Fukuyama, but the ideas of how we should govern ourselves will always revert back to liberal democracy and we will not invent anything better. The ‘Last Man’ does not refer to a final person, but instead to everyone who lives in these liberal democracies who will become increasingly bored and low-key depressed at reaching this permanent state of comfort. The Last Man is a concept borrowed from Nietchze who contrasts it with the Super-man (Uber-Mensch), who is the ideal person.

Fukuyama’s view was and is controversial. But the ideas are useful for observing the way football is going, or, better yet, staying. This Premier League season now ending has seen a new blending of the courtroom, social media, remote refereeing and disgruntled fans.

Sporting Sanctions for Non-Sporting Offences

This year, the Premier League sought to achieve short-term marginal gains and avoid the creation of an independent footballing regulator, like Ofcom or Ofsted. Traditionally, unless in serious cases like bankruptcy, administration or failure to fulfil fixtures, the punishment for breaking rules connected to business, spending or accountancy was a transfer embargo.

The most recent precedent was in 2019 when Chelsea were found guilty of 27 counts of rule-breaking regarding the registration of under-18 players. For years Chelsea pretended they were ‘only’ trialists when they were really academy assets that needed registration. Chelsea also had to pay a fine.

You don’t hear much about the transfer embargo these days. That’s because the Premier League wanted to show the government they could continue with the marking of their own homework. So they came down hard on Everton who incompetently bungled and misled in their accounts over the difficult period of building a new stadium during the pandemic.

Then they came down hard on Forest who incompetently bungled their accounts over the overwhelming period of being promoted without 11 senior players to their name. Both teams have spent money unwisely and ironically might have actually learned something from a transfer embargo. But with Forest in particular they have not spent as unwisely as it is often bantered about.

Most clubs outside the Premier League survive on 3 types of player: loanees, academy graduates and journeymen. The idea that most of the teams in the football pyramid use money to purchase football players and hold them as assets which they can use to improve the team or sell for profit is not as common as in the top tier and a half.

So when Forest returned to the Premier League after 23 years they used the £150million you get to buy players as assets. Forest bought 43 players over three transfer windows since promotion in May 2022.

There is no sporting advantage to be gained from having so many players in the sense all teams can only register a squad of 25. What Forest tried to do, and were averagely successful at, was to create a stable of players that:

a) could compete in the Premier League

b) were generally young, would appreciate in value and could be sold for future profit

c) could be sent out on loan

d) were there in the likely case of relegation and form the basis of a Championship side

Only a few can be seen to be an expensive flop. Even Jesse Lingard had some clear value off the pitch and was a positive influence on the team morale that helped Forest avoid relegation in 2023. The club have since moved on Remo Freuler and in particular Orel Mangala for large profitable fees.

Famously, Forest then sold Brennan Johnson to secure its financial future but bungled the transfer by selling too late and receiving, unlike Chelsea in 2019, a sporting sanction that dropped them into the relegation zone.


Forest are now cast as the rulebreaking baddies against plucky underdogs Luton Town. Luton are indeed massive underdogs, victims of their ‘betrayal’ by football authorities after a giant 30-point deduction in 2008 for offences related to being in administration leading to relegation from the Football League. To return to the top flight after such a moment is miraculous.

Like Forest, Luton were promoted to the Premier League without parachute payments. But unlike Forest, Luton were promoted after two successive play-off campaigns, meaning they were promoted at almost the perfect time of squad cohesion and maturity, meaning they didn’t have to buy so many new players and could pocket the £150 million.

Whereas Forest finished 17 in the Championship in 2021 and were bottom with 1 point after 10 games in the next season. They were only promoted because of Steve Cooper’s own miracle-making. After the loans and journeymen left, Forest arrived in the Premier League with a 7-aside team on 1st July 2022 and were dead certs to go down for this very reason.

Forest spent lots of money. But over a five-year period they have spent about average for a Premier League club, generally achieving the goals listed above. Forest and Luton are both underdogs because both are trying to stay in the Premier League which is increasingly closed to outsiders.

This brings us to VAR.


In 2019, the writer Micahel Lewis (The Big Short, Moneyball) made a podcast about the idea of referees in society. The first episode ‘Ref, You Suck!’ Told the story of how the NBA in America tried to improve the quality of refereeing in basketball by introducing a version of VAR called ‘Replay Centres’.

The referee in charge of this, Joe Borgia (their version of Howard Webb), also brought in cultural changes like widening the pool of referees from a small old boys club to include different types of people. He also created new levels of accountability like publishing the mistakes the referees made in certain moments of certain matches.

Lewis concludes however that even though the reforms resulted in better quality refereeing in the sense of more correct calls — fans and the public at large perceived that it had got worse. Lewis’ theory, across the rest of the series which is not limited to sport, is that people in general increasingly consider all types of systems from the economy to politics to be rigged. The people, in turn, are increasingly able to voice their opinions on this through social media.

Some of this rigging is not true, but some of it is. In the UK we only have to glance at the decades-long Post Office scandal to see a clear example of incompetence and corruption mixing in an authority that demanded not to be questioned. For a long time, the system was rigged against the victims of the Post Office scandal.

Football referees are different. Like basketball, it is a sport with subjective calls and only with a foundation of respect and sportsmanship can players and clubs agree that the referee’s decision is final. Referees do not give post-match interviews for this reason. They don’t have to justify every subjective call, because if they did it would take up so much time nobody would get anything done.

Before VAR, if a referee made a mistake fans would chant that the referee was surely blind and needed to go to Specsavers. But you don’t hear that anymore. Now with the ability for the refereeing team to have as perfect information as possible, anything less than the correct decision is unacceptable and often explained as somehow mysteriously corrupt.


Football is in a much worse position than the NBA. The league, clubs, players and referees are all richer than ever. Yet the fans are increasingly left outside the gates and forced to find illegal streams to follow the club they helped to create.

Fans created the clubs not just with their time and money but as Nick Hornby explained in Fever Pitch:

Unless one stands on the North Bank, or the Kop, or the Stretford End, then one is relying on others to provide the atmosphere; and atmosphere is one of the crucial ingredients of the football experience…without them, nobody else would bother coming.”

When the European Super League was announced in 2021 fans took to the streets to block the move. It felt like a pre-revolutionary moment. But fans failed to organise and capitalise to seek low-hanging reforms like ticket price freezes, kick-off times that align with fan travel, and legal support for fans to own a share of their club. Fans were quickly bought off and distracted by their beloved clubs as the next season started.

Perhaps no set of fans have felt the ground of football shifting beneath their feet more suddenly than Forest’s. Their club has increased tickets for next season (maybe in the 2nd tier) by 24%, by definition ruling out those with the least disposable income in a city that is the poorest in England when measured by disposable income.

Recently, the entire football pyramid was angered by the scrapping of FA Cup Replays, a unique part of football culture and identity. This change was caused mainly by complaints from elite clubs that there are too many football matches — and the contradictory desire of the same elite clubs to play even more football matches in pre-season and the upcoming Club World Club.

The removal of replays may seem innocuous but it is an important, immeasurable detail that was loved and comforting. To fans, it is a loss as affecting as a person unsure whether to vote for Brexit but makes their decision after seeing their local pub demolished and replaced with student flats.


In 1984, Forest were the victims of a referee corruption scandal when Anderlecht paid the referee £27,000 before their UEFA Cup semi-final 2nd leg to make decisions in Anderlecht’s favour — which he did.

This is important information because as stated above we have created a new system of refereeing with near-perfect information for referees and higher-than-ever suspicion from fans and clubs who jump straight to conclusions. Since corruption is possible as the Anderlecht case shows, referees cannot be the old boys club they observably are today. They need standards of communication and integrity that are beyond question.

But referees fail to act above suspicion when they take money on the side to referee mid-week games in the UAE, the same country that owns Manchester City.

Mentioning Anderlecht and Manchester City in this way is not to make tribal points or cheap insinuations. It is to observe that radical change is needed to diffuse the crisis of legitimacy emerging in the Premier League.

Forest owner Evangelos Maranakis is a controversial figure who has had to answer several cases of corruption and criminality either in court or in the media. But in not being a government or a bank, he actually fits more the model of the traditional English club owner as tycoon, like Alan Sugar, Mike Ashley or Ken Bates.

Yet no matter how much money he has or even where it comes from, Maranakis might find himself, like the fans of his clubs, locked out of a game owned by institutions with unlimited power and capital that they use for their own short-term benefit.

The Last Fan

With soaring ticket prices and the removal of traditions like FA Cup replays, fans find themselves on the outside of a game they created. And so, more and more the conventional analysis of why the populism of Brexit and Trump occurred resonates in English football.

The sheer weight of the ‘disenfranchised’ and ‘left behind’ is becoming heavier. Richer than ever unaccountable authorities, referees as cliques who look out for each other, and poorly communicated decisions taken far away that profoundly alter what happens on the pitch are all mixing to infuriate fans who are getting poorer.

In seeing that the Premier League have moved the sporting and legal worlds closer together, and riding the jets of suspicion from the fountain of VAR and points deductions that drown trust and legitimacy in football, Maranakis is content to flex his muscles for his own benefit as the club’s inflammatory tweet shows.

Billionaire Maranakis would be an unlikely pioneer to uncover hypocrisy. Like Trump, he uses the rules to his advantage. However, an increasing portion of the football-aware public feels the system is rigged and more hypocritical than any individual or club. Nobody speaks for them…for now.

We are nearing the end of a decades-long journey to the likely football end state: what happens on the pitch is less important than what happens off it — and what happens off it is decided in secret by Dictators and Hedge Funds. Yes, we will watch football, enjoy great players and remember great matches, but it will only partially be football.

This vision of football’s future can only look back and down on the fans who may or may not decide one day to launch an effort to take back control of what was once more theirs than it is now. To do this football fans will have to leave their comforting infinite doom scroll of like and subscribe podcast-affiliated mainly Top 6 banter content and remember that football was created by a working public just like them who organised football matches at 3 pm on a Saturday because it was the most convenient time for them.

This type of movement can be dangerous. But it can also be exhilarating, positive and create something better. Until then, the many will gather outside the stadium gates and wait to know what has been decided by the few. We will argue about it and then ask, please, for more.