It was the greatest achievement in the history of Nottingham Forest during what has become known as the years BC – Before Clough. Yet the Guardian has learned about an extraordinary legal wrangle involving the club, their former owner Fawaz al-Hasawi, and a replica of the 1959 FA Cup that has gone missing from the City Ground’s trophy cabinet.
In another sign of the deteriorating relations between the club’s current and former regimes, the two-times European Cup winners have brought in lawyers to write to Hasawi saying their information is that he removed the FA Cup at some unspecified point – and stating that they want it back.
Hasawi’s counter-argument is that the trophy was commissioned when he was the club’s owner – at a cost, he says of £23,000 – and he believes that entitles him to think of it as his own possession.
Initially he displayed it in the trophy cabinet of the boardroom he named after his father, Mubarak, giving it pride of place alongside all the pieces of silver the club collected during the Clough years. Hasawi, by his own admission, then decided he would rather have it on show at his house in Mayfair, and that was the last anybody at the City Ground has seen of it.
The trophy commemorating Forest’s 2-1 win over Luton Town – a Wembley final best remembered for Roy Dwight, cousin of Elton John, scoring and then breaking his leg – has been at the Hasawi residence ever since, despite a number of requests for it to be returned. Forest’s position is that the trophy is the property of the club and their supporters and that it is not a question of costs, more the integrity of the matter. The club do not accept that Hasawi has any right to regard himself as the trophy’s owner or keeper. He has received a legal letter along those terms and, speaking to the Guardian, the Kuwaiti appeared ready to back down.
“If this is an issue I will bring the cup tomorrow to the club,” Hasawi said. “And I will give it to them for free. I bought this with my own money. I am the one who put the money in the club. And I am the one who gave the authority to bring the cup. I will bring them the cup tomorrow. The cup is not an issue. It’s only £23,000. I am the one who ordered the cup and I am the one who took the cup.
“With all respect to all the previous owners – I don’t want to mention any names, I wish them all the best and I respect all of them who owned that great club – when I came to the club [in 2012] there was no cups. All the previous owners took the cups. I didn’t make a big scene about it. There were many missing cups. I didn’t say a word.”
Hasawi’s chaotic period as Forest’s owner led to fan protests and, two years since the Greek shipping magnate Evengelos Marinakis completed his takeover, the latest dispute comes at a time when the two parties are locked in a separate legal battle about the terms of the sale.
When Hasawi relinquished his position in 2017 the newly appointed chairman, Nicholas Randall QC, talked about inheriting a club that was “in intensive care” and “not fit for purpose”, with plummeting crowds, a skeleton staff and a team that had avoided relegation into League One by goal difference.
Under their Greek ownership, Forest posted their highest average home attendance for 40 years in finishing ninth in the Championship last season and are working on plans to redevelop the City Ground into the largest football stadium in the east Midlands.
However, a high court judge last month ordered the club to pay Hasawi £4.2m relating to his claims that he was still owed money. Forest have subsequently won permission to take that to an appeal and the club announced last week they were “disappointed with the aggressive stance” of their former owner.
As well as filling a conspicuous space in their trophy cabinet, one of the reasons why Forest have been so keen to be reunited with the FA Cup is because of a scheme they recently launched, entitled Dream Big, which involves taking the club’s most precious items of silverware into Nottingham’s schools. Until now, it has not been possible to include the 1959 replica but that may soon be about to change.
“When I bought the club from the [Nigel] Doughty family, this cup wasn’t in the club,” Hasawi said. “The cup is not an issue for me. If they want the cup tomorrow, I will get you the cup. I have it at home. I can take it back, no problem.”