Archive | September, 2013

Give him a ball and a yard of grass

29 Sep

Saturday 28th September 2013

Nottingham Forest         1.0          Derby County


Cast your minds back to January 2009. A certain Billy Davies was appointed as manager of Nottingham Forest. A certain Nigel Clough was appointed manager of Derby County. I remember feeling slightly disappointed but relieved that Nigel had avoided the inevitable day when he would have been sacked by Nottingham Forest: I always thought he had too much sense to take the dugout seat opposite a huge stand that proudly proclaimed his father’s name.

What has surprised me over the last 4 years or so is the level of opprobrium between Nigel and Nottingham Forest. He was regularly baited by Forest fans with the taunt of ‘Non-league Nigel’. On the other hand, he gave the impression, whenever possible, that he had fallen out with Forest and no longer had any time for them. There’s the alleged kicking Billy Davies incident, the numerous touchline arguments and also, the annoying habit that Derby had of raising their game considerably and, to be fair, successfully against us.

This always saddened me. To supporters of a certain age, he will always be remembered fondly. It wasn’t just the goals he scored in the successful 80s team but also the dignified manner with which he carried himself. His style of play as a centre forward in his constant showing for the ball from midfield with his back to goal meant that he would regularly get clattered from behind. But he never moaned or stayed down. Instead, he would be on his feet again in no time looking for a quick free kick, usually to set up a marauding Stuart Pearce. Admittedly, he never had much pace – I remember the Forest fanzine ‘Brian’ summing it up best by pointing out that ‘Nigel looked like he hadn’t quite managed to take off his deep sea diving boots today’ – but his intelligent distribution more than made up for this. And of course, there was the fact that he seemed accepted and trusted by his team mates, even though he was the son of you know who.

Being manager of Derby County was always going to taint these memories. Perhaps Nigel felt a little bitter at the way in which the club treated him and his name: after all, it did take a while for the club to get around to renaming the Executive Stand the Brian Clough Stand. Maybe there were other grievances too. Or maybe, as manager of Derby County, it was his job to stoke the fires of rivalry.

Either way, it is my hope that he can now be remembered and celebrated for what he was by Forest fans: prolific goal getter with 101 goals and a goal to game ratio of 1 in 3, mate of Gary Crosby, Johnny Metgod and Stuart Pearce, son of Brian and thorn in our sides when it came to Derby games. Far be it from me to get into the debate about whether the decision taken by the Derby board was justified or not but from this side of the A52, it seemed like the club were making decent progress and ready to push for the play-offs this season. There are many a manager who have done a lot worse in 4 years than Nigel has. After all, 4 years of stability and not having to fork out for paying off sacked managers and backroom staff and not having to meet a new manager’s demands for new signings would be desirable for many other clubs. But, as I said, I only saw them raise their game periodically against us and when they did, they looked a decent side.

In fact, I am slightly surprised this morning by media coverage which seems to suggest that the result was fully deserved and comfortable: it seemed anything but from my vantage point. Admittedly, Derby created few clear cut chances but they looked comfortable on the ball and got to the edge of our penalty area with ease. So much so that this precipitated a Scottish guy behind me to vent his frustration on more than one occasion: ‘Majewski, yer a wanker’. ‘Reidy, yer a wanker’. I guess he just felt irritated and a little pent up.

Putting all else aside though, this was an important win which we needed to put a little gloss on the previous 3 games. Henderson and Mackie ran their socks off, Hobbs and Collins (yes, Collins) looked imperious, Lansbury was man of the match for me, Reidy is essential and I cannot understand some fans’ frustration towards him, Cohen was…well, Cohen: is it just me or did even the Derby players seem to afford him respect on the pitch today? On the down side, Abdoun needs to pulled aside and have the defensive side of the game graphically explained to him…and very carefully too. But let’s not forget that Moussi went off injured after 5 minutes – perhaps not the worst thing to happen to a Forest side but this did require a tactical and positional re-think.

Nigel, the nice young man with a lovely smile, from Forest fans of a certain age, this is for you:



It’s my blog and I’ll do what I want to. You would do too if…

25 Sep

Wednesday 24th September 2013

Burnley                                2.1          Nottingham Forest

(Ings 2)                                 (Derbyshire)

It is very tempting to approach this written entry with a commensurate amount of contempt that the club and management appear to have approached the League Cup and write a curt and off-hand piece, or even get someone else to write it for me. But that would be childish. And I’m nothing if not…right, well, moving on quickly.

The team selection featuring another 11 changes from the side picked for league games can be either seen as a show of our strength in depth or an experimental reserve side that can be sent out without too much fear of recrimination should it go wrong.

If we beat Derby on Saturday, this game will be quickly forgotten. If we don’t, a worrying dip in form will be evident.

A good cup run would be nice though. We haven’t got anywhere near a sniff of even a quarter final for ages and it could be argued that a decent opportunity to achieve this was passed over last night.

Still, at least we can concentrate on the….*smack myself hard on the chin for not only contemplating but actually getting halfway through the king of clichés*

Do you remember the first time?

22 Sep

Saturday 21st September 2013

Doncaster Rovers                            2.2          Nottingham Forest

(Macheda 2)                                                      (Cohen, Reid)

In many ways, life is defined by firsts: first kiss. First day at school. First pay packet. On Planet football, you have the all-important first game attended or if you happen to be one of the gifted few, debut for the first team.

Some payers have a knack of making their debuts just that little bit more memorable. Take Tony Loughlan: He made his debut for Forest against Wimbledon on 30 March 1991 and scored after just 36 seconds. However, he would make only one further league appearance before injury blighted his progress and was released at the end of the 1992–1993 season, before carving out a successful career as a coach serving under Roy Keane. Of course, there is also the unfortunate Jonathon Woodgate who not only scored an own goal for his new employers in the shape of Real Madrid, but also managed to get himself sent off.

And then there’s Federico Macheda. Remember him? He’s the dude who came off the bench to make his debut for Manchester United against Aston Villa and marked it by curling one into the net from the edge of the box in injury time to turn the game. The boy’s got form.

To be fair, this wasn’t quite his debut for the Rovers: it was his home debut though. In the red corner, a young Nathaniel Chalobah was making his debut for Forest after agreeing a loan spell from Chelsea after an eye-catching season long loan at Watford.

The Keepmoat is not one of our favourite grounds. Since it opened, we had only scored there once to claim a one all draw. I also remember a particularly cold afternoon spent watching a dull goalless draw and then enduring what seemed like an eternity to make the short distance to the M18 in crawling traffic. Happy days.

This didn’t deter around 4000 fans filling the away end in anticipation of a glorious debut for Chalobah. I think everyone forgot about the more experienced debut-maker Macheda. By all accounts, we had the better of the play and were denied a ‘stone-wall’ penalty. (But isn’t each and every single club denied a ‘stonewall’ penalty every game?) Once again, we had to go behind in order to rouse ourselves into life – this is becoming a worrying and exacting pattern over the last 3 games now. It’s a good job we have Reid and Cohen to dig ourselves out of our holes and perform admirably each week.

The end of the world? No. A disappointing run of results post international break? Yes. Pleased with the start to the season overall? Yes. Looking forward to the Derby game? Not really. Going to ask any more self-indulgent and annoying rhetorical questions? Guess not. Not anymore. Sorry.

That’s the thing about debuts; they only happen once. At least Macheda can’t do it again against us.

Love will tear us apart…again

18 Sep

Wednesday 17th September 2013

Nottingham Forest                         2.2          Middlesbrough

(Derbyshire, Henderson)                             (Kamara, Friend)

For those of you who aren’t aware, Billy Davies has not spoken to the local newspaper (Evening Post) or the local radio station (BBC Notts) for a while now. In fact, it transpired that the chief football writer for The Guardian and The Observer is now banned from the ground. He happens to be a huge Forest fan who has responded to the situation by giving his version of events on a respected Forest fans’ website. Billy Davies’s favoured means of communication is via Twitter in a Friday night via his adviser’s account.

There appear to be two opposing schools of thought on this issue. In one corner, those that point to the low quality of the aforementioned media outlets and their supposed criticism of Billy Davies regarding his first spell in charge. Besides, they claim, what does it matter as long as the team is successful? Leave the manager to get on with doing what he does best and focusing on matters football related and not wasting energy and time giving out cliché ridden thoughts pre and post-match. Furthermore, a beneficial side effect is created by this stance: a siege mentality is created that will be beneficial to team spirit.

Of course, there is another corner. It matters. How the club is perceived both in the local community and beyond matters. Keeping journalists onside in an effort to provide a positive view of the club is an important part of any major football club these days. To alienate such media outlets seems churlish and doesn’t seem to be ‘playing the game’. Admittedly, there are a number of alternative platforms for fans to interact with the club besides the Friday night Twitter conversation: YouTube and Forest Player to name a few. However, not every fan has access to such platforms.

I could go on (and on) about this and thus far, I have tried to outline both sides’ arguments with fairness and facts. My main point here that this media debate is dividing fans and I would imagine that whatever reasons lay behind the media ban, this is not an intended outcome.

The club matters to all of us: it matters to some more than others but let’s not get into that. For what it’s worth, how the club is perceived matters to me too. A cynic would point to Fawaz’s appearance outside the supporters club wrapped in an anti-Derby flag and Davies’ appearance in the A block on Saturday as an attempt to curry favour with supporters. Another would see this simply as our two leaders meeting the fans and showing their appreciation for their support. I just wonder whether Twitter is the most appropriate way to communicate with fans. After all, not all questions get answered on Friday night and the control lies very much with the owners. Requests for signed T-shirts do get a response though.

Despite all of this, I did leave the ground on Wednesday night with a warm feeling. Yeah we dug ourselves out of a hole successfully and came within a Darius Henderson leg hair shaped whisker of completing a victory. Abdoun was exciting and we got a point while playing below par and from two goals down. All of this contributed to the warm feeling but not as much as once again, being told to ‘enjoy the game’ on purchasing a drink from the Trent End snack bar. Witnessing a foul throw from a Boro player also helped me raise a rare smile.

Courtesy matters. Speaking to people in the right way matters. I imagine that the woman who served me probably didn’t want to utter these words but under obligation from her employers, did the right thing.

“Hatch, if you run now, we lose more than a game, please Hatch” (Pele)

14 Sep

Saturday 14th September 2013

Nottingham Forest                         3.2          Barnsley

(Cox, Etuhu o.g, Henderson)                         (O’ Grady, Cywka)

Half time is like a stasis leak experienced by the inhabitants of Red Dwarf which is only occasionally punctuated by the truly bizarre. Today, two extraordinary events happened, the likes of which I doubt we’ll see again for a long time.

Firstly, a true star graced the City Ground turf in the form of a musical legend. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the all too briefly famous Sultans of Ping FC, revered in some quarters for not only their seminal ‘Where’s Me Jumper?’ single, which dented the UK charts at number 67, but also for their lesser known B-side entitled, ‘Give him a ball and a yard of grass’ which paid tribute to the ball playing skills of Nigel Clough. Nor was it Nottingham’s very own KWS who found brief fame with ‘Please don’t go’ in 1992, reaching number 1 in the pop parade and implausibly staying there for 5 weeks.

Who then? I hear you plead and beg in frustration.

Jake Bugg? We can do better than that. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Bill Medley: he of the Righteous Brothers. Obviously.

For those not in the know, Forest fans tend to belt out a chorus of ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling’ on the odd occasions that one of our players decides to put the round thing in the net thing. I can only conclude that dear old Bill has heard such a rendition and felt that it deserved a personal appearance. Alternatively, he’s got a show coming up for which he could do with flogging a few tickets. Anyway, the pleasure was ours. Thanks for coming.

The other legendary occurrence? Well, if we extend the notion of such happenings beyond half time to the match itself, it would be unfair to mention Simon Cox scoring a goal here. To be fair, Thomas Cywka’s goal for Barnsley might actually be worthy of a legendary event – almost as good as Johnny Metgod’s free kick against West Ham all those years ago.

Neither did a meticulously planned escape by an American goalkeeper (who doesn’t know where to stand for corner kicks) through the dressing room bath and under the tunnels come so close to fruition, only to be disregarded in the hope of winning the game materialise. Unfortunately, this only happens in films.

But, let’s not get side-tracked.

My customary half time order of a coffee and a hot chocolate was met with something rather bizarre. Rather than a look of mild disgust from a snotty nosed teenager, I was greeted with a question: “Are you enjoying the game?” What was this? Had no one told this girl that this brief period of a Saturday afternoon was functional and utterly devoid of small talk? Was she aware she was breaking a social taboo akin to that of crossing a picket line? How dare she?

Naturally, I was dumbfounded: “Errr. Yeah. It’s okay.”

Not only this but on handing me my hot water mildly flavoured with freeze dried ingredients that might have once briefly come into contact with anything resembling a hint of flavour, she demanded that , ‘enjoy the rest of the game.’

This is unacceptable and I hereby demand a return to the good old days when your scolding water be almost thrown at you by a surly temp while checking their cracked screen iphone.

It may be a sad and lonely existence being a half time football refreshments employee, or indeed, a paying punter dependent upon aforementioned football refreshments employee. But it could be worse. At least you’re not this guy…

This is how it feels to be lonely

10 Sep

Sunday 8th September 2013

Coventry City                    2.0          Colchester United

(Wilson 2)

So I have a mate who is a Colchester United fan who lives in London who suggested we meet up in Northampton to watch Coventry City play Colchester United. Got that? Good. I’ll proceed then.

1,789 turned up at Sixfields; Coventry City’s lowest ever league attendance. Two of those paying punters were only really there by chance too. A smattering of City fans stood on so-called Jimmy’s Hill to make their protest regarding Sisu’s ownership of their club. One rather formal bed sheet urged the FA to ‘Take Note’ of their plight; it’s good to see the use of such formal imperatives in such a protest. It seems that the gentrification of the game has ranged far and wide to even incorporate fan protests.

This few, this unhappy few diminished in their numbers and sloped off to the nearest Frankie & Bennys or Bella Italia or Showcase Cinema as the game progressed. I understand their frustration in that they don’t want to part with one more penny only to see it go to their current owners. I understand that they don’t want to make the 34 mile trip to this retail park to see their team play football.  I also understand that there is only a finite way in which supporters can make their voices heard in the modern game. Actually, that sentiment extends to modern society in that it seems that you can make as many peaceful protests as you like but the powers that be will do what they want regardless. But I also know that Rotherham United fans had to endure three seasons playing their home games in Sheffield but reluctantly turned up anyway. Now, let’s be clear here: I am not wading in with my rather dainty size 8 trainers to this highly emotive and divisive debate amongst City fans as to the rights and wrongs of going to Sixfields.  I simply wonder whether the best way of ensuring there is a club in the future is to support the club in their darkest hour and provide much needed revenue to both keep the club afloat and urge them on to league 1 survival as if they drop again, then it could well be curtains. However, I fully acknowledge that it is easy for the casual non City fan to make this observation; it’s not my club that is playing away from home every single game.

City looked good and should have won by a larger margin. United looked poor and rarely threatened. To be fair, the Us (that’s ‘Youse’) were severely weakened by injuries and suspensions but it was a sorry performance. On Monday 2nd January  2006, I saw an exciting Us side take Forest apart at Layer Road on the terraces in the Us end alongside this very same fan; this was an interesting yet at the same time, forgettable experience. Today was a far cry from that day.

Still, company, hot chocolate and a lesser spotted Boost bar was good. And I managed to write a whole article on Coventry City NOT playing in Coventry without punning on the whole ‘sent to Coventry’ thing.


You used to play for a big club

4 Sep

Saturday 31st August 2013

Wigan Athletic                 2.1          Nottingham Forest

(Moloney, Gomez)                         (Reid)

On the event of Wigan Athletic winning the FA Cup, I noticed that a friend celebrated this on Twitter by expressing his pleasure that a ‘proper’ club had vanquished those evil, corporate cheats at Manchester City. (To be fair, he didn’t label City as such but the implication was clear.) This sentiment seemed to capture most fans’ feelings at the time since everyone loves an underdog and Wigan encapsulated the classic ‘rags to riches’ narrative that we crave from The FA Cup, especially in the modern history of this competition which has been eroded by increased commercial/sponsorship deals, the fielding of reserve teams, continued hegemonic dominance of the ‘big’ clubs and well, put simply, ITV’s interference with kick off times and annoyingly poor highlights package. Their Saturday evening show makes you realise how much you miss the steadied and assured BBC treatment of highlights and at a time when Match of the Day features Michael Owen on the sofa, that is some statement. I will deal with Lineker and friends at a later date though. In short, well done, Wigan for showing us that even in a post Gareth Bale transfer and Moneyball era, the good guys can still win the cup and offer hope for other small and ‘proper’ clubs.

But are Wigan a ‘proper’ club and what constitutes one anyway?

Firstly, I wish to differentiate between a ‘proper’ club and a ‘big’ club. Defining a ‘big’ club seems to me to be far easier: factors such as average attendance, trophies won and annual turnover can all be blended into a magical formula like a cacophony of fruit and whizzed around in order to produce a pleasing and simple end product. Not by me, of course but by people who have a simple grasp of quadratic equations. Admittedly, finding consensus on such factors may well prove to be a little more difficult but defining the size of or standing of a club can be done.

A ‘proper’ club? That seems to be a little more esoteric. That seems to be more about history, tradition and doing things the ‘right’ way. The thing is though; this is all too easily equated with years of languishing around in the lower leagues and claiming a narrow defeat in the Quarter Final of the League Cup in 1971 as a high point. By this yardstick, there are a fair few ‘proper’ clubs kicking their heals about: step forward Rochdale, Bury, Grimsby Town, Leyton Orient, Brentford to name but a few. Of course, there is another way of looking at this: ‘proper’ clubs are, well, a bit crap really. But this isn’t getting us anywhere fast. Surely big and successful clubs can be ‘proper’ clubs.

The trip to Wigan on Saturday was a bit of an eye-opener. I remember back in the 80s going to see Rotherham United play at their old Springfield Park and standing in the away end on grass under a corrugated iron roof, huddling together with around 200 other unfortunate souls desperately trying to preserve some warmth while a storm-tossed-tempest deposited biblical amounts of precipitation on the already saturated ground. For any younger readers, the truth is that Wigan Athletic was, for an awful long time, not just a bit crap but incredibly crap. Ergo, them lifting the big sponsored cup at Wembley was a triumph for a ‘proper’ club. For any Wigan fans reading this, this is not meant to offend. You were undoubtedly crap for an awful long time and have now, after years of mediocrity, established yourselves as, if not quite a Premier League club, then very likely a Championship club to be reckoned with and quite possibly a club that may well go on to re- establish itself as a fixture in the Premier League. Good luck to you. But having endured crapness is not a necessarily a pre-requisite for being a ‘proper’ club. Let’s not forget either that the major catalyst that sprung Wigan from Springfield Park to silverware winners was a huge injection of everyone’s favourite avuncular uncle Dave Whelan’s money. For the footballing purist, this surely challenges Wigan’s claims to be a ‘proper’ club. After all, they bought their way up through the divisions through a generous benefactor and nobody these days claims Manchester City or Chelsea as ‘proper’ clubs even though they too were quite crap for a while in recent history before bucketloads of cash was poured into the hole of crapness.

My point then? I have many. First of all, good luck to Wigan – it looks like a lot of fun being a Wigan fan in recent years and to maintain it all on small attendances is a credit to them. In an ideal world, I’m sure Wigan fans would prefer to be playing in a smaller stadium more suited to their needs and in front of larger crowds but without the ground share with Wigan Warriors and Uncle Dave’s cash, they would probably be still languishing at Springfield Park and playing Grimsby Town or Lincoln City in non-league. The fact that such cash was required to achieve this transformation says more about the state of our game than anything about ‘proper’ clubs anyway. Secondly, clearly there is no such entity as a ‘proper’ club. You could maintain that being one of the founder members of the first league, small attendances, years of struggle and being Northern carries more kudos than Johnny-come-lately clubs such as Crawley Town. Perhaps it does but ask a Lincoln City fan or a Grimsby Town fan or an Accrington Town fan whether they take delight in being perceived as a ‘proper’ club. I’m sure they are quite proud to be associated with such a notion but would also probably express their angst towards the mismanagement of their clubs which has led to their current situation. They would probably wish that their ‘proper’ club was run a little more professionally, perhaps like Crawley Town or Wigan Athletic.

To any fan, their club is a ‘proper’ club.

I’ll tell you one more thing though, Wigan’s first half performance made them look like a ‘proper’ team. They were better than us and made some of our quality players chase shadows and look like mugs. Some may say that this is because we were below our best but I felt that it was more to do with them making us look poor. As we know though, football is a game of two halves and balls in the onion bag and suchlike and the second half was a different tale as their fans grew impatient and nervous as we piled on the pressure and generally camped in their half. The problem was that not a single decent chance was fashioned.

Disappointing for such a huge away following but not entirely unexpected – after Wigan’s dodgy start against supposedly lesser (‘proper’) clubs at home, I felt that they were going to get it together sooner or later and against one of the more ‘fancied’ teams like ours was always going to be a challenge that they would relish.

One final thing: Andy Reid is looking like a proper player at the moment.