Archive | January, 2014

That damp and lonely Thursday, years ago

31 Jan

Thursday 30th January 2014

Nottingham Forest         4.2          Watford

(Cox 2, Henderson, Mackie)           (Angella, 2)                             

Hands up who remembers the last time we played on a Thursday?

Happy to be corrected but I distinctly recall a young Jenas bamboozling a bunch of Bradford City defenders before nuzzling the ball home on a Thursday evening back in the halcyon unusual mediocre regrettable days of ITV digital. So Thursday evening with the mist very much rolling in from the Trent had a nice feel about it.

And then the team sheet was revealed.

I like Halford. He’s game, willing and can head a ball well (I didn’t say anything about getting it on target from  4 yards out, just that he can head it well). But I thought we were over the ‘Halford’ experiment. I thought that dalliance was over and that we’d wished each other well, expressed how much we enjoyed it but faced up to the fact that it was time to move on. Not so it seems.

The first half saw the crowd quieter than a secondary school library with murmuring discontent at the fact that we hadn’t scored 4 after 32 minutes. Halford missed, Angella scored, you saw it all for yourself from the stands or on the gogglebox.

The second half was going to be a big half for Little Billy. He was big enough to admit his mistake in starting with Halford but he soon rectified this. Fail to turn it around and he would have to face up to the fact that with 4 strikers on the bench coupled with his preferred option of a defender up top probably lost the game. I have it on sound authority that football fans have been known to be a fickle bunch. Apparently. Even after 11 games unbeaten.

And then we had a McGugan moment. I don’t mean a magic free kick but again, I ask you to cast your minds back to a cold night back in January 2008 when we were one goal down and a man down at home against Huddersfield Town. The charge for promotion was not just on the rails but nailed and glued using Solvite to the side bars. And then Cohen scored a somewhat fortunate goal (Cohen. Don’t you miss him? I know I do. Sigh) and then McGugan turned a Terriers defender inside out, left ways and right and put our promotion bid back on track.

A turning point.

A man whose name temporarily escapes me once said that football is a simple game. He was right, you know. Play strikers up front, give them good service and the chances are that you will more than likely score goals. If that sounds like a dig at Little Billy, it’s not meant to be and his identification of the Watford defence being vulnerable to crosses was spot on. So was ours too to be fair though.

Gonzo posted outstanding pass rate stats, Reid weaved his magic left foot, Harding galloped up and down the wing and Moussi was immense. Coming back from 2 down doesn’t happen very often but by my count, this is the 3rd time we’ve done this at home this season: once to draw against Middlesbrough, another only to lose against Reading and then this…to win.

There were lots of little moments that gave me hope too: Mackie’s celebration with the boss and the entire team, Moussi deciding not to hide after a torrid first half and revealing a previously well- hidden attacking side to his game and all three strikers putting the small round thing in the big net thing. And all this without Vaughan, Lansbury, Hobbs, Cohen and Wilson. Blimey.

This damp Thursday night might well be one to remember come May time.

It’s Friday, I’m in the pub

26 Jan

Friday 24th January 2014

Nottingham Forest         0.0          Preston North End                         

Well, a posh gastro pub owned by Darren Ferguson actually that serves very posh food in very small portions.

A few quick trips outside into the pouring rain to get a signal and consequent update merely confirmed that I was missing out on nothing. Nothing. Apart from cold and wet Forest fans bemoaning a military organised defensive display from Garner and friends.

Fair play to them.

I have got a sneaky feeling that Billy will revel in going up there and ensuring that his boys put in a very professional performance in order to get them out of this little hole they have found themselves in.

I had risotto. It was lovely. Could’ve eaten more though. Went home. Had cheese on toast.

I started something I couldn’t finish

19 Jan

Saturday 18th January 2014

Nottingham Forest         4.1          Blackburn Rovers                            

(Lansbury 2, Paterson, Reid)              (Marshall)

Remember a few years back when recycling was big? When you actually felt guilty about neglecting to use one of the millions of ‘bags for life’ that you had acquired as you acquiesced to the checkout assistant’s polite request as to whether you would like some evil dolphin killing plastic bags for your petty groceries. Nowadays they are happy to throw as many at you as you need.

But I don’t feel guilty about double bagging my shopping any more as this week, I am recycling.

Yet another game undefeated. Yet another game in which I wear my long sleeve t-shirt underneath a short sleeve t-shirt combo. This can be no coincidence. I also suspect that you, dear reader, have been or indeed are in a very similar situation whereby your sartorial choices are the factor upon which results are determined.  The thing is, I’ve been here before. Back in the mid-90s when we were really good and finished 3rd in the Premier League in our first season back (a fact all too often overlooked by many working in today’s sports media), I wrote an article for the legendary but sadly deceased fanzine ‘Forest Forever’, edited and seemingly entirely written by one cheese obsessed Richard Fisher. I was fortunate enough to be a contributor with an article about a lucky t-shirt. So, in the spirit of re-using and recycling, here it is an all its glory:

“Do you want to know the REAL reason behind Forest’s unbeaten run? It may have had something to do with a sturdy defence, a canny manager and team spirit. But it had more to do with my lucky shirt. I know we all have something we believe to be lucky and in it we place our faith. If it doesn’t work, we conjure up excuses: ‘Yes, I wore it but it doesn’t work on Sundays’.  However, this t-shirt is a bit special – let me explain…

I have been a devout tricky for 14 years and have had a season ticket more often than not despite living in Rotherham. Presently, I am at Leeds University and so matches are a little harder to get to due to geographical reasons and financial reasons. But even when I’m not actually able to get to matches, I’m always rooting for Forest in the forefront of my mind.

It all started on 1st April 1995. The date is etched into my mind as it was the day we smacked in seven at Hillsborough; particularly satisfying for me as in Rotherham, Wednesday are despised as much as Derby are in Nottingham.  Anyway, being a superstitious type, I made a note of what I was wearing and decided to wear it whenever Forest were playing. I don’t need to elaborate on what happened in our run-in to the close of the season. ‘We’re onto a winner here’, I thought.

So, onto the new season and the run continued. There was a slight hiccup in the first leg at Malmo, but the t-shirt still came up with the goods in the second leg and we went through. Thus when we lost at Bradford I wasn’t too worried – after all, the t-shirt would surely see us through in the home leg? However, for some reason I went out not wearing my t-shirt on this night and came back to a house of ridicule. Still, not to worry – after all, it was only the Mickey Mouse Cup.

Anyway, I think you have got the idea. Forest remained unbeaten whenever I wore the t-shirt. But then I went home to Rotherham and realised that I’d left it behind in Leeds. Needless to say, this was the weekend of the seven deadly sins at Blackburn (Just in case you can’t remember, our unbeaten record came to an inglorious end at Blackburn as we lost 7.1). One the same day, Rotherham also lost 7.0 at Wrexham and I felt incredibly jinxed. The t-shirt inspired unbeaten run was spectacularly over, yet my t-shirt continued to show its magical powers. We did go on to lose two more games in quick succession over the Christmas period at Newcastle and Liverpool, but during that time, I had managed to get a temporary job at Dixons – and was restricted from wearing my t-shirt by uniform regulations.

By this time, the whole thing was getting silly. When I wore my t-shirt, Forest never lost. When I didn’t, they did. All those last minute equalisers were put down to patience, determination and luck, but I knew the truth – they were all just down to my t-shirt.

Alas, on 20th January I wore my t-shirt yet amazingly we lost against Chelsea. I guess it was just as well really as I hadn’t washed it since 1st April, believing its powers may also be washed away.  So by this point there as a build-up of beer and curry stains. But fear not. They say that after falling off your bike you should get back on. This was the case as I managed to get to Trentside to see us turn over Leeds – in the t-shirt. I was a little apprehensive about wearing it though. What is if it was to signal a long run this time WITHOUT winning every time I wore it? Fortunately, at the time of writing (after the Leeds game), it seems that the future may well be bright again.

From the Sheffield Wednesday massacre to the FA Cup replay against Stoke, Forest played 39 games and lost 5. 4 of those times (Bradford, Blackburn, Newcastle and Liverpool) I wasn’t wearing the t-shirt. The only time I was wearing it was Malmo away, but as Forest won the tie overall, I will make an exception for this.

If I were you, I’d pray that I don’t lose my t-shirt. There have been attempts at sabotage – the main culprits being housemates Andy and Lisa hiding it until minutes before we were due to kick off against Aston Villa at home. It is incidents like this that really make me wonder. Could Stoney’s goal have been karmically linked to me turning the house upside down to find the t-shirt? Whether it is or not, I’m not going to take the risk of not wearing it on match days!”

Blimey. That brought a few memories come flooding back. It’s strange to think how nothing really changes: unbeaten runs, strikers not scoring (see front cover of fanzine), beating Wednesday at Hillsborough.

You should take some time to dig these fanzines out and have a read through; they really are things of care and genius.

The striker debate rolls on from 1995...

The striker debate rolls on from 1995…

How did we cope prior to 'copy and paste'?

How did we cope prior to ‘copy and paste’?

The current offending article in all its glory

The current offending article in all its glory

Are you ready? Are you ready for love?

16 Jan

Saturday 11th January 2014

Bolton Wanderers          1.1          Nottingham Forest        

(Mills)                                                      (Paterson)

In the week that Thomas Hitzlsperger revealed his homosexuality to the world and was rightly applauded in almost all quarters (including The Sun) for his coming out, one wonders when the day will come when a footballer still plying his trade in a high profile league will share similar revelations. One also wonders about the nature of the consequent reactions from players, fans and the numerous inhabitants of planet football to where we all scurry off in order to escape life’s everyday trials and tribulations. What if a current Forest player came out?

Football continues to get its fair share of blame for many of the current ills in society, and lord knows it deserves it most of the time. It is difficult to defend blatant diving, hounding of referees, racism, arrogant young men flashing their cash and the obscene amounts of money involved in the game. Actually, that last point isn’t so hard to defend. Of course footballers are overpaid and the wages earned are alienating and arguably distasteful and unjustified. However, if the market dictates it then that is the going rate. That is not to say that a footballer deserves more money than a nurse or a soldier or any other worthy occupation, it’s just to say that the global reach of football and the demand for the game from all parts of the world is difficult to digest; some of these players are not just superstars, they are worldwide icons. Galacticos is a word dripping with negative connotations of arrogance but in many words, it is a perfect wold to denote such players and their status which rivals the world’s most iconic film stars in terms of fame. In short, the amount of money surrounding the game at the highest level which comes into clubs as a result of such players and the demand for them should come as no surprise when wages are revealed. Deserved? Still no but they are a global brand in themselves. There’s no point blaming the players or indeed the game for creating and generating so much money. If you were to write a mega successful Christmas song which enjoyed hard rotation each year and earned you squillions, would you hand it back explaining that you don’t feel you’ve deserved it? Thought not.

But is there a case to defend football for its reaction within the game to Hitzlsperger’s revelations? After all, he has been praised for his bravery and all this after Robbie Rogers enjoyed a warm reception on his return to Elland Road recently after his own coming out…at Elland Road! Maybe we football fans are more tolerant than we thought. We’ll happily welcome and embrace anyone no matter their race or background as long as they produce the goods on the pitch. Think about that for a moment: in the world of football, you can be not only tolerated but revered, regardless of your race or background. What a social utopia this game of ours is: we don’t accuse Radoslaw Majewski of being a job stealing Pole, any criticism of Fawaz rarely alludes to his nationality, Guy Moussi’s wayward touches do not inspire a torrent of racist abuse.

Now, you may well know different from me and the picture I paint above may well be a totally alien one from the one you know. And let’s be clear here: racism and sexism are certainly not eradicated from the game and there is a long way to go. But it’s better than it used to be, isn’t it?

As for homophobia? We’re in undiscovered country regarding this. My attention was drawn this week to a piece in which Graeme Le Saux recounted his experiences while playing for Chelsea and pretty reading it ain’t:

 “Andy Townsend got on the bus to a game and saw me reading the paper, picked it up and said he wanted to look at the sport. He threw it back down a couple of seconds later. “There’s no f***ing sport in here,” he said. The rest of the lads laughed.”

And there’s more:

“Pretty soon, opposition players were winding me up about it. I was in my second spell at Chelsea when the real problems began. From the time the rumours first surfaced, I got plenty of comments from other players about being a “faggot” or a “queer”. Robbie Savage seemed to get a particular thrill out of it, but I guess that will not surprise anybody.”

The most insidious aspect to this for me is that both Townsend and Savage now enjoy high profile roles as pundits spouting their views as gospel to millions. It just goes to show what a closed shop this punditry malarkey is: of course you can have a job with us, you’ve played the game and although you are clearly an obnoxious bigot and simply describe what you see on a replay, you’ve got charisma and are outspoken and something of a ‘character’; have a job.

But maybe that’s just the way of the world and I should stop getting my frilly knickers in such a twist about it. It’s called banter and it happens in all sport at all levels. Even cricket. Especially in cricket. The only difference is that in cricket there’s a technical term for it: ‘sledging’, and it’s an art form which earns its best exponents plaudits and praise (and even a presenting job if your name’s Phil Tufnell; have a job).

But back to the question of whether football, footballers and football fans are ready for a gay footballer. I would like to think that it, they and we are. Think back to how football fans generally disregard a player’s baggage as long as he performs on the pitch. Now, you may be one step ahead of me here and are about to point out that it’s not home support of which we should be wary but how such a player will be treated by opposing fans……………..that pause there………….that’s me considering the abuse a gay player would receive away from home were he to take a corner kick or a throw in or, whisper it, dare to score a goal in front of the home end. Not pretty. It’s human nature to draw attention to someone’s most noticeable feature should we wish to belittle them; unfortunate but true.

Maybe we aren’t quite ready for gay footballers. Maybe we need to continue to work on racism and sexism in football grounds. Maybe I should take my Guardian reading self and my ideas and ‘do one’ since football has been gentrified quite enough over the years thank you to the extent that the proletariat is priced out of the football experience and generations of youngsters now go to the pub on Saturday afternoons to consume their football now since it’s cheaper, more enjoyable and you can buy decent beer there. I get that but I would like to think that supporters of the club would get right behind such a player and support him to the hilt and that might make up for the abuse such a player would face away from home. You never know, there might even be a gentle round of polite applause and recognition from a quiet corner of the ground from opposing fans.

Idealistic? Perhaps but although there’s still a long way to go, I certainly couldn’t imagine a player coming out back in the 80s whereas now, if I squint really hard, I can just about, through the fog, visualise a current player coming out.

 

Jamie…Jamie…Jamie and his magic touch

6 Jan

Sunday 5th January 2014

Nottingham Forest         5.0          West Ham United          

(Abdoun, Paterson 3, Reid)

A sky of battleship grey. A biting wind. A frost covering cars on awakening. A crowd slightly bloated from Christmas excess of pies, alcohol and cheese sporting sale sought winter wear. An undersized home crowd and a heaving away end up and down the country. Ah. This must be FA Cup 3rd round day.

We all have our own memories and special moments associated with FA Cup 3rd round day but these days, such a day entails Premier League managers talking up the importance of the Cup while at the same time, naming weakened sides, unusual kick-off times (even more so than usual), reminders of the importance of Mark Robins’ goal at the City Ground and its importance to the career of Sir Alex Ferguson, ITV managing to mess up their coverage of what should be a straightforward job and of course, an underwhelming tie for the garibaldi.

Big Sam named a youthful and severely weakened side. Little Billy named a strong and competitive side. He and we both sensed blood. Paterson jinked this way and that and ended up on the deck after bamboozling a Hammers defender. Penalty. Abdoun clutched the ball like a toddler hanging on to their favourite blanket. Despite the seniority of Reid and Lansbury in his face, he would not relinquish: not ever. He sensed a first goal. In the stands, strangers muttered to each other, ‘he’d better score this now’. And score he did…with aplomb. Panenka, Pirlo and now Abdoun. Take a bow.

At this stage, it was all a little too easy and yet very familiar. Reid and Lansbury dominated the midfield while Hobbs and Lascelles were imperious at the back. We kept the ball and camped in the Hammers’ half. We probed, passed, prodded but alas, without much penetration. West Ham must improve; they can’t be any worse, surely they’ll up their game in the second half and we’ll rue not taking advantage of our domination. That’s just what happens these days on Trentside and beyond. Those mini Hammers will come good and give us a run for our money.

And they did – for all of five minutes. But we stood firm and went on to produce a complete second half performance consisting of goals. Loads of ‘em. 3 for Jamie; the little whippet of a winger with a magic touch. Young Jamie has shown flashes of brilliance thus far but has looked a little lightweight and in need of a few pies in order to fulfil his potential; releasing the ball earlier might also have helped too but today, this boy was different gravy. His joy at converting his hat-trick was boyish and giddy – and good for him. With the game wrapped up, the team spent the rest of the half trying to tee up Lansbury for a goal. Alas, his shooting boots were left in the changing rooms. And then a most unusual thing occurred: some naysayers might suggest that unusual occurrence to be Harding coming on and having a decent game, or Little Billy speaking to the local press post game. Harsh. No, it happened and I saw it: Abdoun passed up a scoring chance and successfully squared it to Reid to convert. Amazing. The next time Abdoun looks to the heavens in despair as a team mate dares to pass it to someone else but him, I may even have a pang of sympathy for him and resist a wry smile to myself. Well played, sir. Although you were THIS close to being hauled off after a bout of showboating which believe you me, did not go down very well on the Forest bench.

Watching your team does not get much better that this: coasting to victory with no pressure; a rare time when you can sit back and simply enjoy the game without those constant ‘whatifs’ and secret deals you do with yourself if only this happens or that doesn’t happen as your stomach is tied in knots of anxiety. And against a Premier League team too. Admittedly, although this was a Premier League club, the team selected today was anything but. Big Sam was serenaded by both sets of fans regarding his employability on Monday morning: if the Hammers stay up and reach the League Cup Final, this will be a small footnote in their season. If not, this will be the moment that faith was lost in his leadership. The record books will simply state that Championship side Nottingham Forest hammered the Hammers of the Premier League 5.0. Not our most glorious moment as a football club but a most satisfying one for now.

Annually the value of the cup is discussed but ask the Rochdale fans or ask Jamie Paterson and you will be surprised at how much the Cup means, no matter that the ribbons are sponsored, no matter that  ITV insisted on referring to us as Notts, no matter that middling Premier League clubs send out weakened sides. It still matters; it’s just that perhaps we as Forest fans forgot what it was like to be involved or have such an afternoon as this. Of course we’ll undo all our good work by going out against Ipswich in the next round thanks to a David McGoldrick hat-trick and a Luke Chambers man-of-the-match performance in the next round and no doubt draw a blank at Bolton, thus re-igniting the demands for the lesser spotted 20goalsaseasonstriker. Pessimistic? Maybe but that’s more a reflection on myself than the team. But for now, that doesn’t matter. Reidy has signed a new contract, Hobbs wants to stay and we’ve got Jamie…Jamie…Jamie and his magic touch.

I put a spell on you

3 Jan

Wednesday 1st January 2014

Reading               1.1          Nottingham Forest

(Carr)                                    (Halford)

Have you ever stopped to wonder why we always seem to find it difficult to beat Reading? Ever paused to wonder how it is that Oldham Athletic persist in embarrassing us? It’s obvious isn’t it? (Isn’t it?)

If team Y produces a memorable and significant result against team X then team X will enjoy a sustained period of positive results against Y.

Allow me to elucidate: our League Cup final victory against Oldham is the reason for our continuing inability to beat them.  The fact that we attained a trophy for this victory (imagine that younger readers, an actual trophy at Wemberlee too of all places) accounts for the rather surprisingly prolonged period of dominance that Oldham have enjoyed and continue to enjoy over us. As for Reading, who can forget that memorable day on 26th April 1998 when Chris Bart-Williams created some space for himself in the box and fired home to guarantee promotion to the Big League and the title? Since then, bar the odd decent result for us, Reading seem to have their own way against us.

In fact, let’s stretch this out a little further and consider some other memorable and significant victories and the consequences arising. We certainly enjoyed our FA Cup semi-final victory against West Ham United at Villa Park in which we romped to a 4-0 win, aided along the way by Tony Gale’s dismissal. Consequences? Apart from the bizarre late win just after Sir Brian of Clough’s death, I can’t recall too many other decent results against the Hammers. Going further back into the mists of time, the reason why we neverever win at Anfield is down to us unceremoniously dumping Liverpool out of the European Cup at the first hurdle way back in 1978. One could also add to that our rather fortunate victory against them in the 1980 semi-final of the League Cup too. We’ve been paying for those for a while now. I also remember a particularly drab and embarrassing defeat at Kenilworth Road against the mighty Luton Town in the dark days of League 1: that’s for the other League Cup win.

I know there are exceptions and I probably should provide some damning statistics to support my theory but where’s the fun in hypothesising scientifically sound theories? All in all, Reading’s equaliser in the 94th minute and 50th second of injury time should, in retrospect, have been no surprise: I, along with countless others, saw it coming a mile off. The only difference being that while everyone else put it down to the inability to take guilt-edged (are there any other types?) opportunities alongside a tactical switch which meant sitting back and inviting pressure, I knew that the pleasure derived from Bart-Williams’ late winner back in 98 was yet to be paid for in full.

Unfortunately, questions still remain: like you, I can’t remember a memorable and significant victory against Walsall, Yeovil or Blackpool and so have no idea why we cannot record a decent result against them if our very existence depended upon it. As for QPR’s record at the City Ground, well…some things will forever remain a mystery – let’s just hope we avoid them in the play-offs. Them and, well, everyone else given our record in these blasted things.

2013 was emotional. I expect some more emotions in 2014. No doubt there’ll be some more hurtful last minute concessions, some life-affirming last minute winners, some unfair refereeing decisions that go against us (and some that go our way too), some games where we do indeed play like ‘by far the greatest team the world has ever seen’, some dog-eared and dreadful performances which genuinely make you reconsider whether it really is too late to get spotted by a scout while playing in an indoor 5 a side league and inevitably, some behind the scenes shenanigans which make us wonder whether it’s all really worth the time, money and emotional investment.

It is.

That’s football.

That’s why we do it.