July 13 – When Evangelos Marinakis took over Nottingham Forest five years ago, the fans were dancing sirtaki in the streets. Central England’s Midlands town, Nottingham, is stooped in history (and not only because of its role in the Robin Hood legend), just as is its biggest club, Nottingham Forest FC.
What the former Kuwaiti owner never managed to achieve – namely the respect of fans and players – Marinakis got in abundance from day one: there was excitement in the city and the phalanx of dedicated fans suddenly had hope that a Greek billionaire shipowner would make their club a success again.
He had a vision to bring the club back to “where we belong”, he said. And what he referred to was promotion to the English Premier League. Nottingham Forest, former back-to-back European champions, had experienced some dire times for 23 years. Stuck in the Championship (possibly the toughest league in England, to be frank), there was no saviour in sight who would have picked up the baton and run with it until they crossed the EPL finish line once again…
But that was then. Marinakis is now. The billionaire owner has properly entered the fray.
Since acquiring Forest in 2017, Marinakis made an immediate impact not only on the club but also on the City of Nottingham, by reaching out to the wider community with aid and support.
He made substantial financial contributions to the Nottingham Forest Community Trust and the local homeless charity ‘Framework’. In 2018, he helped stage a sleepout event at the stadium, which saw the charity raise over £50,000 ‐ a record for the charity. He also pledged his support to the local food bank charity ‘Hope’ by hosting food bank collection on matchdays.
One wonders whether his approach shouldn’t set an example to some of the US owners who now control half the English Premier League Clubs. But then, one remembers that most of them are only owners by default – the default being a faceless hedge fund or other, which has pretty different objectives than an entrepreneur who puts his own money – not borrowed funds that must be repaid with interest – where his passion is.
During the 5-year period under Marinakis’ ownership, Forest not only achieved its return to the Premier League as he had promised, but also Category 1 status for its Club Academy; the submission of a planning application for the promised redevelopment of The City Ground had to be recently refiled because Covid19 messed up the plans to start with the upgrade.
Marinakis’ NFFC integrated the Nottingham Forest Women’s Football Club as well and Nottingham’s Caribbean diaspora community was given a special treat in 2018 when the Reggae Girlz, Jamaica’s successful women’s national team, played their first ever game on European soil, before they entered the Women’s World Cup a year later in France.
Initially maligned and criticized with typical English media vitriol – if not worse – the Greek owner didn’t flinch: he had a plan and stuck to it. He hired the right people (eventually finding the right manager) and set out to replicate what he had achieved with Olympiacos
in Greece where he’s been the majority owner of Olympiacos since 2010. Under his leadership, the club have won 10 Greek championships, 4 Greek Cups and participated 8 times in the UEFA Champions League group stage and 3 times in the UEFA Europa League.
While one other club owner carried a side-arm to the pitch (and was promptly sanctioned: see our report here, Marinakis made sure that his club complied with UEFA’s FFP rules all along. And his CSR investments are worth mentioning. In 2013, Olympiacos entered into a major international partnership with UNICEF, which was renewed in 2017, financing the ‘100% Campaign’, the most important vaccination initiative for underprivileged children across the world, while the UNICEF logo featured on the club’s official kit.
Greek football has long suffered from two fundamental flaws: an incompetent and broadly dishonest FA leadership, and the endemic corruption that plagues not only football but has had a dire influence on the entire country as a whole for too long. Greek top-tier football has one thing in common with the English game, too: if you are successful, people will badmouth you and try to take you down.
When one of the world’s largest shipowners decided to buy one of England’s most traditional football jewels, the ‘news’ that came out of his homeland was quickly twisted and nastiness reigned: he was accused of all sorts of inane, if not insane, things but his legal advisers swiftly found the cause for the dismal attempts to smear him: two competing Greek club owners, and one in particular, had hired English journalists to mount a smear campaign.
Add to that a touch of dirty Greek politics, and the resulting poisonous potion would have keeled over many a man weaker than ‘The Greek’. Thing is, politics have a way of changing: new faces appear and new powers call the shots. What were biased and tainted prosecutors in his homeland before, quickly became clear when the tides of politics had turned, and Marinakis got his day in court, as he was acquitted of all the charges that had their roots in political rivalry and commercial jealousy. It is a different universe, Greece. It is not how things are done in Western Europe one thinks – although one might question a thing or two with what seems to be the flavour of the day in England these days: a government of lies and deceit that has traits of Anglo-Saxon Balkanisation more than anything else.
Thing is, Greece has made amends, moved on and is well on its way out of the abyss it found itself in by the grace of criminal foreign bankers and incompetent European and US politicians. What remained – throughout – is Marinakis and his determination to deliver in every segment of his multifaceted empire: today, his core business, the shipping lines, own 99 tanker and container vessels – of which 12 are brand new LNG carriers. Two of his shipping companies are listed on the New York markets, both the NYSE and NASDAQ. Their value exceeds $6 billion. No surprise then, that he’s been recognised by the influential ‘Lloyds List’ as one of the top 100 most influential people in global shipping for a decade in a row.
During the last few years, Marinakis expanded his interests outside global shipping, his family business: he is owner of Alter Ego Media S.A., a fully integrated media group with a leading presence across all markets (TV, digital, radio, press and audiovisual production). Alter Ego Media owns and operates Mega TV (the #1 FTA TV station in Greece), ONE Channel (a news and business affairs TV channel available on‐air via cable platforms and web TV), the most popular historic daily and Sunday newspapers (“TA NEA” and “TO VIMA”), a portfolio of magazines, a number of digital media (in.gr, ot.gr) and a radio station. Alter Ego Media S.A. owns the largest TV library in Greece (over 250 series and 12,000 production hours) and is also active in the rapidly developing audiovisual productions market through its 100% subsidiary Red Productions S.A.
Further diversifying his corporate portfolio, the Greek entrepreneur, with a multifaceted portfolio of ever-expanding business interests, became the largest individual investor of the ASE listed Terna Energy S.A. in 2021.Terna Energy is the largest investor in the renewable energy in Greece with a market cap of more than € 2.1billion.
While Marinakis is set to grow his businesses successfully, Nottingham Forest appears to be on very much the same kind of trajectory: so far the Greek entrepreneur has invested in excess of £60 million to secure new players from such clubs as Liverpool and Bayern Munich. He is determined to build a solid English Premier League contender and one shouldn’t dismiss the objective he’s set for club and management: to conclude the club’s return to the EPL at mid table. The fans are with him, if not to say the entire City of Nottingham – and beyond.
James Dostoyevsky was a Washington-based author until the end of 2018, where he reported on sports politics and socio-cultural topics. He returned to Europe in 2019 and continues to follow football politics – presently with an emphasis on the Middle East, Europe and Africa.