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Album Review: Allo Darlin – ‘We Come from the Same Place’

26 Oct

Sometimes the world seems like an inherently unfair place. People with little or no discernible talent are frequently rewarded with respect, sometimes awe and often, inconceivable financial reward. Nowhere is this more evident than in the hurly-burly world of the music industry. Against such a backdrop, it is easy to be cynical about modern music, especially at a time when nostalgia is king, especially for the late thirty/forty something whom promoters seem to target incessantly with the usual artists: The Stone Roses, James, Inspiral Carpets, Happy Mondays. Christ, even Northside will be reforming and ‘working on new material’ soon. Of course, it’s natural to retreat back to what you know in an often confusing and alien world. But it needn’t be like this.

Allo Darlin’s recently released their third album, We Come From The Same Place. Their debut album remains a gem. It would be a tad condescending to lavish such praise only to undermine it by adding the caveat, ‘in indie twee pop circles’. Sod that; it’s a bona fide modern classic. The sheer love and passion for music for music’s sake drips from each song, most notably on ‘Silver Dollars’ in which Elizabeth proclaims that ‘We do it because we love it.’ The ‘it’ here being making music, listening to music and wholly committing oneself to faith in music to make things better. Such a sentiment could easily be dismissed as slight but not when it is expressed with this level of sincerity. Indeed, their single, ‘Darren’, celebrates exactly this: the love of listening to music, in this case, the music of one time Hefner front man, Darren Hayman.

The ‘difficult’ second album (Europe) was a little shinier, more polished than its predecessor. Nonetheless, it has ‘Some People Say’ and ‘Tallulah’ in its playlist and so automatically deserves your instant respect. How anyone could not be moved by the lyric from the former: ‘So I go and see my good friend, the one who plays in the Riot Grrrl band, the way she dances on the stage, it is so awesome.’ Like most lyrics, it seems to lose its potency when typed or written down without the majestic voice and belief communicated in song. Just trust me on this and give it a listen.

Neatly, this brings us to the eagerly awaited latest album. It begins delicately and gradually with ‘Heartbeat’. Like all classic opening tracks, it establishes the tone and texture of what is to follow and offers the all-important contract with the listener. In this case, it promises a light hearted but sophisticated and grown up take on love, falling in love, being in love, growing up and pop music. Elizabeth’s lyrics are inflected throughout with that joyous feeling of meeting your future husband/wife. ‘Kings and Queens’ captures that moment when it’s just you and them and you are kings and queens of the small world you inhabit. The title track, ‘We Come From the Same Place’, subtly evokes the memory of the great Kirsty MacColl’s ‘He’s on the Beach’, just slightly slower. A criticism? No. If you are going to be in the company of other songs then choose wisely and such a song is an excellent choice.

Arguably, the emotional punch comes with ‘Angela’. This, along with Ben Folds’, ‘Picture Window’, Teenage Fanclub’s, ‘Did I say’ and the aforementioned Allo Darlin tracks, has the uncanny effect of making you check to see whether you have something in your eye and blaming it on dust. It gets you rifling through your record collection to see which song it reminds you of. It doesn’t though; you come up short. It’s just that good. But it’s not just maudlin beauty. ‘Bright Eyes’, although initially disappointing in that it’s not a cover version evoking cute and cuddly rabbits, is a slice of the very best male/female pop duets. Guitarist Paul Rains will surely get further opportunities to grab the mic. It swings along without a care in the world, reminiscent of the very best of Lemonheads’ work.

Admittedly, Allo Darlin is not the greatest name for a band, especially such a delightful one as this, what with its connotations of loud shouts emanating from market traders. But that’s really the only down side here.

Of course, this band is even more moving and delightful live. They are worth it just to catch the glee on bassist Bill’s face when he nails the riff in the middle of Paul Simon’s, ‘You can call me Al’ or when he is lost in the groove of traditional show closer, ‘Heart is a Drummer’. They are playing near you in November and if you go, you’ll leave with a tear in your eye and a smile on your face: just like a great gig should be. Make the world a fairer place, give these people the respect they deserve and in doing so, make your own world a better place. Buy the album and see them live.

See you there.

 

 

No More Heroes

4 Aug

It’s been another one of those days in the recent history of Nottingham Forest Football Club. Not in the sense of a promotion or relegation decider, but rather in the sense of transfer activity and signs of discontent behind the scenes.

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I have just listened to the interview with Stuart Pearce on Radio Nottingham and although I generally dislike doing such a thing, I have to agree with everyone else in the view that it is a pleasure to have him back at the club as he speaks with such honesty and candour. It is difficult to disagree with his vision for the club and one genuinely feels that it is in safe hands with his emphasis on the importance of the youth/academy system, scouting set up and the personality, as much as the ability of a player. It hardly needs stating that this is a world apart from the previous regime.

But…

And there’s usually a ‘but’ these days, a lingering unsettling feeling, a knot in the stomach, a bitter taste that creates an empathy with whoever it was to whom Lloyd Cole was referring when he wrote a song about ‘Mister Malcontent’ all those years ago.

The fact remains that the club has done business without the permission and support of the manager, the guy who coaches the players and picks the team. I don’t for one minute think that it’s time to mobilise the troops and spend evenings scrawling on bed sheets anti Fawaz messages like, ‘DOWN WITH THIS TYPE OF THING’. Nor will I be tweeting my own views to Fawaz on the matter: this sort of thing really doesn’t help. Furthermore, as Stuart Pearce himself stated, he isn’t going to do a runner as a result of such occurrences, he strikes me as being quite long toothed when it comes to the dealings and machinations of a modern multi million pound entity that is a football club.

Although disappointing, I can actually live with the idea that we have sold two young players to a bigger club. This happens all the time and in some ways, it is a marker of success for the Academy that the club has done so; it’s maybe even something to be proud of. Also, lest we forget that, depressing though it may be, this is arguably the main function of the Academy at Nottingham Forest.

Now before knickers go and get themselves in to a twist, obviously I would much prefer it if Darlow and Lascelles were to reach the pinnacle of their careers with us. And obviously, I feel that the fee reported is lower than might have been expected, even if we get to keep them for a bit longer. Of course, the child in me kicks and screams and feels the injustice of it all and cannot comprehend why anyone would want to leave the club to play for another when we coached them, looked after them, gave them a chance and supported them. But only the mean could begrudge them such an opportunity in life. Like you, I’ve experienced the anger of favourite players being sold in the past (insert your own names here but Steve Hodge – on both occasions – was particularly painful). It hurts. It always will.

Selling players happens all the time. Selling young players that you have nurtured and developed happens frequently too. And yes, selling young players that you have nurtured and developed for what you feel to be for an unfair fee also happens. I can just about come to terms with this, especially at a time when a quick glance at the squad suggests that we are actually well resourced in the goalkeeper and defender areas. For me, it is the hint of disharmony and lack of unity between the owner and manager that concerns me. As any others have expressed tonight, there will only be one winner in a popularity contest between these two people – let’s hope this road is the one not taken.

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But whatever the outcome, contrary to the title of a certain Stranglers song, there are still some heroes out there. Take a bow, Stuart Pearce. I am, dare I utter this, feeling a sense of pride in supporting a club that has this chap at the helm.

Does the body rule the mind or does the mind rule the body? I dunno…

5 Jul

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The unmistakable sound of blunt knives being sharpened on stone resounded around the world last night to reflect the anguish many felt that Brazil had dared to dump those fun living Colombians out of the World Cup. How dare they?

It seems that the driving force behind this criticism is that they lack flair and imagination. The plan seems to be to get Fred to barge the opposing defence out of the way to make room for Neymar: that’s not good enough. They should play with grace and élan like those dudes did in the 70s, and what’s more, they should play in blue shorts. This team is besmirching my childhood by NOT looking and playing like a mirage from the past – goddam them.

Hang on a minute; let’s just take stock. They have edged past everyone’s favourite hipsters Chile AND Colombia yet are still hammered for lacking flair and an over reliance on Neymar. On the other hand, Germany’s ability to ‘get through’ is praised and respected. There seems to be a collective denial that Germany only squeaked past Algeria and that France decided to indulge in a bout of naval gazing for 90 minutes rather than, you know, attack or anything like that. Germany escapes the ire of most because ‘that’s what they do’. Brazil don’t since they seemingly should have scored shedloads of goals while playing total football.

This seems harsh. It is difficult to say whether this Brazil side has been at their best – maybe this IS their best. And if it is, so what? Why should they have to compete with the sides of the past? It would be an act of cruelty to compare, say, the current Nottingham Forest side with that of the late 1970s. I remain proud of that side’s achievements and don’t expect or demand that the current team live up to them (although that would be nice). What Brazil has done is remain resilient and exciting. Although many didn’t, I quite enjoyed seeing Marcelo hammer the ball out of his own half and into touch while being harassed by numerous Colombian players: this epitomised his sides’s spirit and will to win.

As for the referee, his supposed ‘leniency’ surely contributed to a fantastic, what you might call, ‘old school’ game of football. We’d certainly be moaning more if he was whistle happy and stopping the play every 5 seconds. Besides, James really did impede Neymar for the free kick from which David Luiz smashed it in. Get over it. The notion that James was singled out for ‘treatment’ by Brazil is also a little far-fetched; no more than teams have singled out Messi or indeed, Neymar.

Lucky Brazil? Maybe but it seems churlish to begrudge them that – all teams who progress this far are a little bit lucky. Besides, they’ve progressed this far with Fred in the side: if that doesn’t command your respect then you are a person with a heart of stone.

I can accept the notion that this seleção take a leaf out of the past. YES: they should sport blue shorts. But when it comes to assessing their progress, let the mind do the thinking rather than the body when it comes to Brazil.

How do you solve a problem like Gonzalo?

29 Jun

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Part of me was so proud to see Gonzo plying his trade at the highest level against the likes of Neymar and lining up alongside Sanchez. After all, he was one of ours and it mattered not that the commentary teams employed seemed oblivious to the fact that we released him this summer: the fact remained that we had a Nottingham Forest player as an integral cog in in a well oiled machine who gained as many plaudits as current press darlings Southampton.

Of course, there was a flip side.

Gonzalo Jara Reyes was beyond poor after Christmas: he couldn’t find a red shirt with a pass if his life depended on it and his body language stank the place out. Would the real Gonzo please stand up?

It was with a rubbernecking interest that I, perhaps like most Trickies, watched Chile make hard work of Australia. Despite a few misplaced passes, he excelled on the left of a back 3, (occasionally, dangerously close to a back 2) industrious in his closing down and comfortable on the ball, trusted with it enough to be a vital outlet to initiate many of Chile’s fast forays down the left side. Admittedly, La Roja were occasionally found wanting at the back due to a lack of height – a tactic exploited by Brazil in that epic knock out game – with Gonzo pressured into an own goal by David Luiz (no matter what FIFA may declare). But to apportion blame to Gonzo for this would be harsh even for his most vindictive antagonist. His lack of height is not his fault (unless he is to be held accountable for his distinct lack of eating of his greens as a child) and Chile’s goals against record in this World Cup stands up to anyone’s. And if you want to point the finger at him for missing a penalty then you have a fat black heart as cold as a Magnum with a slice of ice arrowing through its centre.

So why then is he no longer one of ours and currently flying home or a well earned rest before turning up for duty for pre season training facing a certain Stuart Pearce wielding a clipboard with a plan marked (in comic sans) ‘build a brave back 3 around Hobbs, Wilson and the small dude who played at the World Cup’?

After all, cast your mind back pre-Bramall Lane and Gonzo was quite a player: his pocketing of Jamie Ward very early in his career on Trentside under McLeish, his outstanding pass completion rate in key games around Christmas time when he and Reid bossed the midfield like…well…totally unlike Gerrard and Henderson in Brazil.

OK. Ok. I am glossing over his performances after this in which he matched Billy Bob Thornton for his performance as ‘The Man Who Wasn’t There’. But then again, he wouldn’t be alone in that would he?

Perhaps Billy Davies simply couldn’t work out what to do with this scurrying little fella. He tried him at right back and as part of a holding midfield pair but still we only saw glimpses of the Chilean shiny cog. It would have been, and would be, a brave man who built a whole defence around him to accommodate such a small player in the hurly burly occasionally very direct world of the Championship with its bustling Sam Vokes and Leonardo Ulloa. And even Billy’s most staunch defender (if there are any left out there) would have to admit that tactically, he ain’t everyone’s favourite James Richardson lookalike Jorge Sampaoli.

Maybe Billy was on a sticky wicket with him anyway. Although this is utterly unsubstantiated, he struck me as a man with few friends at the City Ground: not reviled but simply distant from his teammates. Respected without being liked. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that but if you throw in his apparent lack of effort from February onwards then maybe there’s little to support the argument that Billy could’ve handled him better and got more from him. But that’s difficult to do if said player is playing within himself or saving himself for the bigger fish in the shape of Hulk (see what I did there?) with whom he has to fry.

The Chilean team is clearly one that operates in a distinctive style in which each player performs a specific role, whether they play that same position at club level or not. As far as Sampaoli is concerned, Gonzo knows his specialized role and performs it admirably for him. Here’s a thought: if only certain other national teams put the collective above individuals and their supposed ‘right to play’ or employed a specific style of play that suited them rather than tinkering in order to nullify opponent’s threats or, accepted their limitations and focused on a system that maximized their capacity, regardless of personnel. But perhaps that debate has already happened and besides, I haven’t got the stomach or the enthusiasm for it.

As far as the Great Gonzo is concerned though, no doubt he’ll end up at some hipster of a football club such as Southampton or, more likely, Fiorentina or Napoli and establish himself as a top flight harrying defender. He certainly isn’t the first to save himself for a World Cup (step forward Oscar) and he won’t be the last. Nor is he the sole reason why our season disintegrated into a thousand shattered pieces post February. In many ways, he mirrors Billy’s second stint in that he was impressive at first but gave way to not giving a toss towards the end.

Does he deserve our vitriol? No. I for one wish him all the best and can now see what I suspected but was never quite sure of: he is a talented player who, given the right deployment, can be an asset to a team, even at the very highest level. ‘The Great Gonzo’? Not quite, but certainly ‘The Very Competent Gonzo’.

No alarms and no surprises

5 May

Saturday 3rd May 2014
Nottingham Forest 1.2 Brighton and Hove Albion
(Derbyshire)                          (Ward, Ulloa)

So the end is here and I face the final curtain. No alarms and no surprises from this game: all very predictable what with Derbyshire scoring early on and a second half capitulation that saw the opposition fans having a party in the Lower Bridgford, two soft goals and Danny Collins performing a rather mirthless impression of a Chuckle Brother with his ‘to you’ routine to gift-wrap Ulloa an injury time winner that gives the Seagulls an opportunity to face off against Derby County in the play-offs.

Like I said, all very routine on the last day of the season here at the City Ground.

Best moment

Nominations:
• Jack Hobbs’ header bulging the Derby net
• Abdoun’s dinked Panenkaesque penalty against West Ham United
• Andy Reid pirouetting like Nureyev to finish off Bolton Wanderers and ensure we started with 3 straight wins
And the winner is…
• Matt Derbyshire’s outrageous late scorcher against Leeds United to quell the celebrations emanating from Ross McCormack’s equaliser. Joy unconfined.

Worst moment

Nominations (stand by, there are a few of these):
• Yeovil away…all of it
• Sheffield United away…second half
• Burnley away…two specific moments: (i) hearing of Andy Reid’s injury while walking to Turf Moor from car (ii) that half time walk to the tunnel by Billy Davies
• Fawaz’s Fridges revealed as the sponsor
• Derby County away…all of it
• The incessant injuries that just kept on coming
• Charlton Athletic at home…all of it
• Photographer shenanigans at Millwall
• “The innocent shall not be harmed”
• Barnsley away
• “Watch this space”
• Chris Cohen limping off against Burnley at home
• Darius Henderson unashamedly celebrating a handled goal at Middlesbrough
• March…all of it
And the winner is…
• Stephen Dobbie’s late winner for Blackpool at the City Ground. Him again.

Moment you thought this was our season:
• A pulsating away draw at Watford. Fresh from 3 straight wins, we travelled to Watford to face what we thought would be a very strong team. We matched them toe to toe and came away with a point from a highly enjoyable game after which I felt that if we finished above Watford, we would be going straight up. We did finish above Watford. We didn’t go straight up.

Moment you realised it clearly wasn’t:
• Getting a spanking against Wigan Athletic in the first half and realising that we couldn’t quite compete with their fluent football and passing. We would have to do much better than draw away at Watford: there would be bigger fish to fry. And we didn’t have a fryer.

Players you’d want to keep in your sticker album:
• Andy Reid. Future manager in the way he organises the team on the field.
• Henri Lansbury
• Chris Cohen
• Jack Hobbs
• David Vaughan
• Jamie Paterson
• Ben Osborn
• Jamaal Lascelles
• Karl Darlow

Players you’d happily swap:
• Danny Collins. I’ve always tried to defend him but that moment against Brighton was one serious error too many.
• Dan Harding. I’ve always tried to defend him but…I hereby give up
• Gonzalo Jara Reyes. Seriously…what happened here? How did a player so initially impressive turn so bad?
• Radoslaw Majewski. You can only dine out on two goals (Derby at home. West Brom away) for so long.
• Danny Fox. Rarely have I seen a player so embarrassed like Burnley away.
• Greg Halford. It would help matters if he didn’t carry himself in the manner of someone who wished he was anywhere else but on a football pitch.

Why you’ll renew your season ticket…again:
• Stuart Pearce. Stuart Pearce. Stuart Pearce. Stuart Pearce. Stuart Pearce. Stuart Pearce. Stuart Pearce. Stuart Pearce. Stuart Pearce. Stuart Pearce. Stuart Pearce. Stuart Pearce. Stuart Pearce. Stuart Pearce. Stuart Pearce. Stuart Pearce. Stuart Pearce. Stuart Pearce. Stuart Pearce. Stuart Pearce. Stuart Pearce. Stuart Pearce. Stuart Pearce. Stuart Pearce. Stuart Pearce. Stuart Pearce. Stuart Pearce. Stuart Pearce. Stuart Pearce. Stuart Pearce.

Why you’ll spend your Saturday afternoons either mooching around B&Q or watching Soccer Saturday:
• Because football is rubbish and a waste of time and I hate it because we never win and even Wolves made League 1 look easy whereas we spent 3 seasons wandering around blindly in the dark down there before luckily discovering a secret passage out and Leicester City have gone up with Wes Morgan as captain and Derby County have finished 3rd with Steve McLaren in charge and Patrick Bamford up front and it’s just not fair.
• Season Ticket prices have risen.
• There is a risk that we will end up playing some turgid stuff, as dictated by, in some people’s eyes, a manager with a limited grasp of tactics who has little experience of club management and who once played David James up front. This all means that at some point, we will be expressing the unutterable thought that ‘Psycho Out’ is a chant that needs to happen. But I’m not starting it…no way….too scared.

Will you be doing it all again when you suspect, deep down, in the darkest of places, beyond Dante’s burning infernos, that there really must be more to life than spending a good proportion watching, writing about, thinking about and agonising over humans kicking a ball around a field?

Of course.

And that, dear reader, is that.

See you in August.

Is this it?

26 Apr

Saturday 26th April 2014

AFC Bournemouth 4.1 Nottingham Forest

(Kermorgant 2, Grabban 2)    (Osborn)

Football fans, eh? We really are a rum bunch at times. If our club loses, feet get stamped, food gets thrown and before bed time there are a considerable amount of tears. AND I’M NOT TIRED!!

It doesn’t seem to matter at what level our crumby team is competing: even in the Evo-Stik League watching Stamford Daniels take on the mightily titled Blyth Spartans, the level of opprobrium remains akin to that dished out from the A Block or Trent End towards the unfortunate referee or the opposition (or occasionally, one of your own players). Poor old Gonzalo Jara Reyes and Greg Halford really got it today. But they are in good company: the lino and the Spartans winger got dog’s abuse at Kettering Road in Stamford.

200 miles or so away, Forest were dejectedly limping towards the finish line in the manner of a stroppy teenager being dragged along on a family walk in the Peak District.

“But this is boring. What’s the point? Do we have to? I hate walking.”

It wasn’t just the inept performances of some players that got goats going. It was the fact that Cherries fans had a celebration on the pitch at the end of the game too. Insults were bandied around like cake at a kid’s party, with the words ‘tinpot club’ being thrown willy-nilly.

But let them have their fun. It’s their final home game of a very successful season in the Championship and they’ve just swept aside a club that spent considerably more than them.

Of course, that anger needs an outlet or a target and if someone is having a good time at a party while you stand there in the kitchen admiring the microwave oven, you start to resent them. (Nobody else? Just me? Oh.)

The play-off bus has departed and as it sweeps around the corner, we stand there gazing wistfully at it, partly relieved that we missed out as it would have been a rubbish party anyway, partly in annoyance that we weren’t in the limousine that picked up two others prior to the bus and partly in disbelief that we were allowed to even queue up for the goddam bus anyway.

But leave without us, it undoubtedly did.

Coals will be raked over, naval gazing will be done and blame will be apportioned. Anger will be vented and sadness will be forthcoming. This is what happens at the end of a season involving Nottingham Forest.

This is indeed, as far as 2013-14 is concerned, it. No glorious play-off failure. No late surge to survival. Just mid table mediocrity. Standard Fare. Average. Mean. Median. Could be worse. Should have been better. Lessons to be learned. That was indeed, that.

Hope is a liar, a cheat and a tease

21 Apr

Monday 21st April 2014

Leeds United 0.2 Nottingham Forest
(Derbyshire 2)

The most pleasing aspect of this result?

Derbyshire’s wholly unexpected scoring spree?
The re-ignition of our faint but tangible play-off hopes?
The clean sheet?
The fact that it was at Elland Road against dirty Leeds?

All very pleasing but for me, the faith in youth exhibited and the eagerness and desire from these players was particularly satisfying.

Ben Osborn is starting to make me worry that we’ll lose him before Stuart Pearce takes over; performances like the ones he’s turned in over the weekend will get the big boy vultures swooping. Stephen McLaughlin marked his debut with an assured performance and an assist – nice work. Dimitar Evtimov also made his first appearance between the sticks and despite a shocking first kick, recovered to make a vital contribution. Furthermore, Jamaal Lascelles looked more composed and back to his old self after a dodgy patch of form. And let’s not forget that Jamie Paterson is already one of our key players.

It started to feel like we could be proud of something once more: proud of the emphasis on youth. Their young little legs ran around a lot: the desire to make things happen and the absence of fear were in abundance. Regardless of the result, it felt good to see these lads gaining valuable experience for the future.

Of course, the result mattered too. The faint whiff of the play-offs is in the air, much to my surprise. Maybe, with the pressure off, the players are playing without fear and are focusing on the performance rather than the result – and with good performances, come good results. Maybe the sweeping changes in team selection, with the binning of serial underachievers such as Cox and Jara is making the difference. Maybe the poor quality of the opposition in the last two games has enabled us to chalk up some much needed wins. Maybe the footballing gods finally took pity on us and decided that we’d suffered enough. Whatever it is though, hope has been restored.

Hope.

As Ben Folds sings in ‘Picture Window’:
“You know what hope is?
Hope is a bastard
Hope is a liar
A cheat and a tease
Hope comes near you?
Kick it’s backside
Got no place in days like these.”

I refuse to allow hope to surface.

I will simply enjoy the feeling that a win provides.

…until Saturday…and then I might allow hope to sneak in under the crack at the bottom of the door.

5 things we learned from our first victory since February 11th:

20 Apr

Saturday 19th April 2014
Nottingham Forest 1.0 Birmingham City
(Derbyshire)

1. There’s life in him yet.

Just when you think that it’s safe to once and for all safely discard Matt Derbyshire onto the ‘once promising but ultimately limited English footballer scrapheap’ alongside Francis Jeffers, Michael Ball, Michael Ricketts and Seth Johnson (feel free to add more to this list yourselves) he turns in a performance like that. Although the goal was nicely converted, it was his work ethic and hold-up play that was particularly impressive. The sound of hearts sinking and resigned sighs exhaling were audible on publication of the team line-up when it became evident that Derbyshire would be leading the front line. He has always looked simply too lightweight to maintain possession and bring others into play while a hulking big centre back breathes down his neck. However, he appeared to have eaten 4 Weetabix today as he managed to retain possession long enough to bring Paterson into play on a regular basis. He even won a few headers too. His willingness to put himself about and eye for goal have rarely been in doubt but his overall effectiveness has been less than impressive in more matches than not. Today though, he had us all wondering whether he was worth just one more run of games in a Forest shirt.

2. The kids are alright

Ben Osborn’s performance deservedly merited a man of the match award. He scampered around in the middle of the park fearlessly and drove forward purposefully at every opportunity. His touch was assured and he was so involved that it was difficult at times to work out whether he was meant to be stationed at the base of the midfield to break up play alongside the hugely impressive and welcome David Vaughan (incidentally, it appears that we have finally signed him up permanently tonight. Or have we? I thought we had signed Rafik Djebbour permanently too but apparently not. Oh well) or to support Paterson and Mackie in breaking forward. No complaints about that all action display though. Let’s hope he is in the same mould as previous Academy products like Michael Dawson and Andy Reid rather than the unfortunate Keith Foy.

3. It’s only Brum

But let’s not get carried away. After all, Birmingham City are in a relegation fight and were simply woeful in the first half. And we have learned all about woefully inadequate performances in recent months: we’re experts in them. In fact, we’ve achieved first class honours in the recognition of woefully inadequate performances and let there be no doubt about it THAT was one of the all-time classic ones from Brum in the first half.

4. Just because it’s tall, doesn’t mean it can head a ball

At the fulcrum of Birmingham City’s performance was a man known as Nikola Zigic. Never has a man so tall been so ineffective in the air. It would be lovely to use the cliché ‘good touch for a big man’ but…well, I can’t. Still, it’s not as if he’s claiming a reported £70,000 a week in wages from a financially insecure football club. Ah.
Maybe it’s a little unfair to judge him so harshly and some may say that he should be judged not on his height or his wages but on his effectiveness. A fair and admirable point.
Well I did and he’s still rubbish.

5. Alive and kicking

The fact that this win gives us even a remote chance of a play-off place after such a wretched run of form is frankly, rather incredulous and reflects poorly on those other Championship clubs vying for such a place. But the fact is that IF we win at Leeds United and again on the south coast at AFC Bournemouth and round the season off with a win against Brighton at our place, there is every chance we could find ourselves in sixth place by the skin of our teeth.
But read that last sentence again back to yourself and you realise that, in football parlance, it is a big ask. However, at the very least, this result has made the Leeds game live on Sky on Easter Monday a little bit more interesting.

Why does it feel so bad right now to be a Forest fan?

17 Apr

You may well be a person of a much cheerier disposition than me but I’m really struggling to muster up any real enthusiasm for not only the forthcoming home fixture against Birmingham City, but also any of our remaining fixtures. My usual excitement for game days is somewhat tempered by not only recent results but a whole bunch of other factors. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping away and it might even be short sleeve weather for the remaining games. But…I’m just not feeling it.

Despite our current dire form, there really are reasons why we should all be feeling a little more positive about our beloved football team. And guess what? Here they are:

We are safely ensconced in mid table with no fear of going down

Of course, this feels like a crushing disappointment given how we have spent much of the season in the play-off places and even threatening the top two. However, many fans would happily swap our situation of meaningless games for their hellish dogfight for survival games. Step forward fans of Blackpool, Barnsley, Carlisle, Torquay and Northampton to name just a few.

Our better players are slowly but surely clambering down from the injury table

Kelvin Wilson and Henri Lansbury started the latest game against QPR. David Vaughan was on the bench. Chris Cohen may well start kicking a ball around very soon. Jack Hobbs can’t be too far away and neither can Eric Lichaj. And let’s not forget Andy Reid. With all of these undoubtedly classy players returning and looking good to get a full pre-season in, we real should hit the deck running come August.

The returning hero: Mr Pearce

Although he’s not in the hot seat yet, Stuart Pearce will be in charge for next season. Even as I sit here and type this, it still seems a little surreal. One day in August, around 25,000 of us will loudly chant ‘Psycho’ and go all teary and emotional when he acknowledges this. Not only that but he is a coach of some distinction and experience who stands an excellent chance of bringing out the best from Henri Lansbury whom he has managed in his generally successful role as England under 21s coach.

So, all in all, we really shouldn’t grumble. We have no divine right to be up there challenging, never mind competing in the Premier League. Furthermore, by avoiding promotion, we have all saved ourselves a shed load of money in ticket prices and weekly humiliation as we see even the likes of Stoke City battering us home and away.

Of course, that last sentiment, although containing a grain of truth, is a little tongue in cheek. Part of me is envious at the scenes of Leicester City fans celebrating and Wes Morgan leading them to the promised land. But we’re used to that by now aren’t we? We’ve had 17 years of seeing other teams’ fans celebrate promotion to the Premier League while we lurk in the corner of the kitchen reading the backs of lager bottles as if they contain revelatory secrets to the meaning of life.

But it’s more than that. The hurt runs deeper.

And here are some speculative reasons why:

The never-ending failure to win a game of football

We aren’t just failing to win every week, we are getting hammered by some extraordinarily average teams. Furthermore, our run-in is a relatively gentle one too against lots of mid table teams. If one could pick their run-in, one would surely choose opposition from mid table over teams at the bottom fighting for their lives and capable of springing a surprise with the odd fixture against teams around you chucked in for good measure. At home too. This is pretty much what we have been dealt but rather than taking full advantage as we sit and smirk behind our green visor and are gently cooled by girls with palm leaves, we have dropped our cards on the floor for all to see and have spilt all the drinks on the table. It’s all a bit embarrassing really.

Nobody likes us

And unlike Millwall, I do happen to care. There was a time when we were everyone’s favourite other team (I exclude Derby County and Leicester City fans from this, obviously). Brian Clough’s legacy ran deep and neutrals or casual fans usually smiled at the name of Nottingham Forest as they remembered us as that team who played football on the deck, never argued with referees, were populated with smart, nice young men like Gary Crosby and occasionally won a trophy or two. But no more. We are now that niggly, slightly arrogant club who have tried, and failed, to buy their way out of the Championship when good old fashioned clubs like Burnley have done it the right way by using 14 home-grown players all born within an inch of Turf Moor. And as for that objectionable chap they had as manager and that dodgy chairman who fires all his managers. And that time they messed around that nice young man called George Boyd. And didn’t they ban all the press, including the good old Nottingham Evening Post?

Yep. That’s us.

It should have been us

Comparing yourself with others isn’t always the wisest of things to do. But when I see Wolves making light of their time in League 1 compared to our three long and arduous seasons there and Hull City competing in the Premier League and looking forward to an FA Cup final and Swansea City winning over the neutrals with their distinctive brand of football and Southampton enjoying the delirium of the nationwide press and Burnley (them again) on course to spend another season in the Premier League, I get a little jealous and question why any of those clubs couldn’t be us. Even Sheffield United have enjoyed a trip to Wembley and what have we had in the last 20 years or so? A few successful seasons in which we reached the play-offs but ultimately fell short, a few seasons struggling against relegation to League 1, 3 seasons actually in League 1 and no cup run of any note whatsoever. The high point? Probably the dramatic clinching of promotion from league 1 on the last day of the season against Yeovil Town thanks to Doncaster Rover’s inability to beat Cheltenham Town. Hmmmm.

The returning hero: Mr Pearce

That giddy excitement is slightly tempered by the thought that at some stage, someone somewhere is going to express the thought that he isn’t the man to lead us back to glory. Unless he really is the messiah, our trigger happy owner is one day going to call Mr Pearce into his office and explain how, ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ that results in our legend walking to his car carrying a brown box with a small plant peeping over the side. The fear of that very scenario lurks menacingly in the background.

I’m not a number, I am a man

But according to the powers that be at our club, we aren’t: we are a number which regularly provides money. Now this complaint is clearly not limited to our club and is applicable to fans up and down the land and it would be arguably naive to expect to be treated in any other way by multi million pound businesses. But that doesn’t stop it hurting any less. A ticket for an adult for the home fixture against Birmingham City starts at £28 and rises to £32 for the final fixture against Brighton. Does the fact that it’s the final game of the season merit an increase in price? Will this game be longer than the others or £4 more exciting than the Birmingham City game? Or is it just a plot to get more money from a game they think will be better attended based on it being the final game?

Neither have I forgotten the disastrous ticketing strategies dreamed up to allocate away tickets for, most notably, the cup tie at Sheffield United. Lessons to be learned for the season ticket holder: (i) avoid travelling away to Blackpool as you’ll miss out on an opportunity to acquire tickets for an eagerly anticipated cup tie (ii) those client points you’ve acquired for attending away game? Forget about them: they mean nothing.

And whatever happened to the discount extended to season ticket holders in the club shop? That quietly died a gentle and quiet death while we were bamboozled by the extension of the club shop.

Furthermore, not all season ticket holders live locally and therefore cannot take advantage of getting to the club shop early to claim extras like limited edition shirts.

Also, as I type this, I have received a thoughtful email from the club reminding me that I can take advantage of the ‘early bird’ offer which allows me to renew my season ticket for next season at a reduced price before it rises after Friday 2nd May. Of course, this seems to neglect that fact that season ticket prices are rising regardless of whether I take advantage or not and that with the holiday season looming, my money may well be spent on holidays for my family rather than a plastic seat.

But thanks anyway for giving me a tight deadline to spend more on my season ticket than last season.

Financial Fair Play

Perhaps the reason why my money is so urgently required is to avoid fines and transfer embargoes arising from the introduction of FFP. I don’t pretend to understand the nuances of this new agreement but in short, it seems like a reasonable thing for clubs to abide by and if they don’t, punishment seems logical. I hope that our club has a plan to meet these regulations but without the instalment of an experienced pair of hands at the helm, I fear we might come a cropper. It matters not what title they carry (director of football, chief of operations or even spreadsheet whizz) but someone who knows what they’re doing when it comes to negotiating contracts and overseeing the purse strings seems a requirement.

This all seems like I’ve rather given up on my club doesn’t it?

I haven’t. I’m just feeling at a low ebb at a time when we should be entering the most exciting part of the season. Maybe we’ve been spoiled in recent years with seemingly each season climaxing in either a relegation battle or a play-off challenge. It would be foolish to pretend that our recent wretched run has nothing to do with the miasma surrounding our club but it really is only part of the narrative. Although Portsmouth lurk ominously close to the foot of League 2, I suspect their fans feel a sense of pride about their club as they own a part of it and have played a part in coaxing it back from the brink of death and have developed a wider perspective about what it means to see your club play football.

But of course, it gets us all in the end. Now excuse me while I renew my season ticket.

This is the End

12 Apr

Saturday 5th April 2014

Nottingham Forest           1.2      Millwall                   

(Paterson)                                            (Malone, Martin)

Sunday 6th April

Roda JC Kerk                       2.2      AZ Alkmaar

(Powel, Hupperts)                                (Henriksen, Johannsson)

Tuesday 8th April 2014

Nottingham Forest           3.3      Sheffield Wednesday     

(Mackie, Tudgay, Paterson)             (Maguire, Buxton, Mattock)

Saturday 12th April 2014

Queens Park Rangers      5.2      Nottingham Forest

(Benayoun, Hoilett, Onuoha,           (Lascelles, Derbyshire)

Morrison, Zamora)

Football. Football. Football.

For the last week I have genuinely been eating, living and breathing football as I took a group of girls and boys on a football tour around South Holland. Prior to my departure, I wistfully wondered aloud whether I would come back to a situation which saw us collecting 6 points from two eminently winnable home games as we rode the crest of a wave of optimism.

We didn’t. And this season is all over bar the shouting now as we traipse off the Loftus Road turf dejectedly having been served a hammering from a very average team.

There seems little point documenting the ins, outs, frustrations and scapegoats from these last three games. At times, we look like we played half decent and have managed to score some goals but on the other hand…well…it’s not been good. Who knows what goes on behind closed doors and on the training pitch but from my rather simplistic viewpoint, it seems as if there are some serious falling outs going on behind the scenes. I deduce this not from scurrilous rumours on the interweb but from the player’s body language and unusual team selections. Ho hum. I guess it was ever thus at any football club.

If there are any positive points to be earnestly salvaged from the last week then they are that Mr Pearce has got a very clear idea as to what is required. The media has not lost an opportunity to denounce Stuart Pearce for not taking over immediately but I happen to think it’s a very shrewd decision on his part: he can sit back and observe without any pressure and has more to lose by taking over now and pricking that bubble of excitement. Paterson continues to look a very promising player and we are starting to get key players back on the pitch so that they will be ready for a full pre-season. Wilson looked composed today, especially given who he is sharing his defensive duties with and Lansbury looks like his usual bustling self (albeit a little less fitter).

Negatives…how long have you got?

Didn’t think so. Let’s leave it there then.

While in Holland, we took the opportunity to see a Eredivisie game between bottom of the table Roda and Europa League quarter finalists AZ. Roda HAD to win to maintain a slim chance of staying up whilst AZ had their minds on Europe in more ways than one: their quarter final against Benfica was looming (which they subsequently lost) and they needed to maintain their 7th position in the league to qualify again. The Roda fans were up for it and created a show of unity on kick-off:

Roda fans

The away support from AZ was disappointing to say the least: around 25 fans were counted. Admittedly, Alkmaar is right at the very top of Holland we were right at the very bottom (travelling time would be around 3 and a half hours) but they may well have actually come on a skateboard. Furthermore, half time saw 11 AZ youngsters take part in a penalty shoot-out and it is fair to say that a high proportion of these travelling fans might well have been composed of their parents. I suspect that Carlisle would take at least that amount to Torquay on a cold winter evening. AZ fans – take a long, hard look at yourselves.

AZ fans

Or maybe this just goes to show how mental and weird the whole away travel thing is amongst us English fans who regularly take note of how many our rivals took to a comparable away game.

Perhaps the most notable aspect of this game was the constant theatrics from both sets of players who took every opportunity to slow the game down and punch the floor in supposed pain at any contact from an opposition player. The quality wasn’t all that either and although both teams avoided lumping it long and always played out from the back, it was pedestrian in pace and lacking in quality. It is always difficult to compare but even we might give Roda a decent game.

A draw leaves Roda almost certainly doomed and AZ really should have converted at least one of the two excellent chances they crafted in stoppage time. Roda looked utterly devoid of confidence but at least they kept fighting till the end and played for each other.

If only this were true of all football teams.