Back To The Future

Describing a football club’s season as a “rollercoaster ride” is beyond cliché. And yet, it seems somehow, to be the best – only – way of describing the last seven months of being a Nottingham Forest supporter.

I was a massive fan of Sean O’Driscoll (as my previous post on the subject probably made clear). I wasn’t a fan of Alex McLeish, and was (probably unfairly) very much against his appointment. I didn’t like his reputation for dull, unattractive football; I didn’t like the implications of his appointment (a twelve-month rolling contract doesn’t sound like a chairman thinking too far into the future) and there was a certain amount of resentment I directed towards him for the fact that he wasn’t Sean O’Driscoll. He came to be a lightning rod for all my concerns about where Forest are heading and so I wasn’t exactly upset when he decided to bring his tenure to an end less than six weeks after his appointment.

“I surrender!”

Once the dust had settled, I began to feel a pang of regret for the fact that someone who had conducted themselves with quiet dignity and integrity had felt obliged to resign so soon. His actions also succeeded in wiping the slate clean as far as Forest and I were concerned; clearly he wasn’t a shameless Al-Hasawi puppet, brought in to field their players and shield them from direct criticism as I had suspected in my more paranoid moments.

And now we have the return of Billy Davies. I can’t begin to describe how pleased I was by this appointment – I surprised myself in fact. When he was originally given the boot by Nigel Doughty in May 2011, I was a little tired of his incessant gripes about lack of investment etc. and felt that he got what he deserved having backed himself and the board into corners and left only one possible solution available.

“I’m back!”

However, his appointment has reassured me in a number of ways. Firstly, I know he’s capable of success at Forest and on a tighter budget than exists now. Secondly, I don’t think he’d return unless he felt confident that he could succeed. Thirdly, I know he won’t take any interference from the chairman (if that is the chairman’s intention). Fourth, he seems to have a genuine passion for the club and wants to be here and to be a success. Finally, the players seem to like him almost as much as the fans.

It seems like the mood at the City Ground has changed significantly within the space of a week, and with Billy taking over in a much better position than he did last time, things are really looking up.

The Final Straw (postscript)

So, I was a little wide of the mark with my assumptions of innocence on the part of the Forest hierarchy and nefarious doings on the part of the agents. It would seem that Alex McLeish was the Al-Hasawis’ first choice all along and they were simply waiting for him to “recharge his batteries”. Sean O’Driscoll was on borrowed time before the ink was dry on his contract.

Ultimately, it doesn’t change how disgusted I am with Forest’s conduct over the last week, it merely focuses that disgust in the right direction.

The Final Straw?

Regular visitors will know that my patience with football is wearing thin. I’ve stopped playing because I didn’t enjoy the atmosphere in which many of the matches took place; I’ve stopped watching England because odious scumbags seem key to the whole setup and there is an unsettling air of nationalism whenever the England squad congregates; I’ve stopped listening to, reading about or watching football because I’m tired of the hype, the nonsense opinion portrayed as fact because some forty-something ex-international said it and the fact that every other person on Twitter is an aspiring journalist with an amateur (and amateurish) blog to promote. The saying about opinions and arseholes seems extremely appropriate.

The only thing that has survived this sea-change of opinion has been Forest and my affection for them. My enthusiasm may be diminished, the frequency of my visits too, but they still hold a special place in my heart.

Until now. Perhaps.

The sacking of Sean O’Driscoll, only hours after his side beat form-team Leeds 4-2, and its undignified execution (apparently the news was broken to him by the chief executive as he sat editing a DVD of the game) is a bewildering move from owners who seemed to be recovering from a shaky start to do a good job of running the club. Replacing him within 24 hours with a manager with a patchy reputation and a completely different tactical approach smacks to me of a naive owner conned by a crafty agent.

O’Driscoll was one of my favourite managers Forest have had. He talked calmly and intelligently about the game, avoiding the usual cliches about passion, hard work and results justifying all. He accepted that football’s random nature meant that results weren’t representative of the match itself but that by following the right processes the players could influence proceedings and thus increase the chances of a favourable result. He was building an intelligent, flexible squad committed to attractive possession football and laying long-term foundations. (This article is a fantastic demonstration of his approach.) The players – the few who were left from last season – asked for him as manager. He had had no pre-season preparation, inherited an unbalanced, demoralized squad and had to build a defence only days before the season began. Despite all this, Forest were only a point outside the playoffs when the axe fell, six months intoa three year contract. Even though the Al-Hasawis had recently changed the season’s objectives from consolidation to promotion he wasn’t doing much wrong. The only possible criticism that could be directed at him would involve the inconsistency of the performances which saw Forest win the difficult ties only to lose the easier matches a week later.

And now he has been replaced by Alex McLeish. Replaced too quickly for my paranoid liking. 24 hours is not enough to go through the whole above-board recruitment process of advertisement, application, interview and selection. The fact that someone as mediocre as McLeish has got the job suggests that he was the only candidate all along and by extension I can only assume that in the last week or so his agent has exploited the complementary weaknesses in O’Driscoll’s record and the Al-Hasawis’ experience to full effect and for the benefit of their client above all else. If I am correct, then in some ways one can only admire the ruthless handiwork albeit with horrified eyes peering through shocked fingers.

Of course there is always the possibility that I am wide of the mark and the whole move was instigated by the Al-Hasawis alone, though that would raise questions about appointing O’Driscoll in the first place and backing him so heavily. However the disparity between the styles of the former manager and his replacement would indicate people with little understanding of the links between personnel, style, performances and results.

But that’s probably enough talk of an episode in Forest’s history about which the full truth will probably never be known. A lot of talk about the distant cause and little about its immediate effect on me personally.

For the first time in nearly two decades, I am considering severing my ties with Forest. I have no geographical or familial links with the club; they are mine by conscious choice and conscious choice alone. My support has long had an idealistic underpinning and now that too is being eroded. I have always wanted to believe that regardless of results there was something about the club itself, a soul, an ethos, a moral standard to which we held ourselves which somehow validated my support for this distant and otherwise unremarkable club. It is this which is no longer apparent. With the death of Nigel Doughty, the club are no longer in the hands of an owner who was a fan first and filthy rich investment banker second; a man determined to run the club prudently and to put the Nottingham back into Nottingham Forest. Now we are much like any other club: the ego-polishing plaything of a foreign millionaire and wholly subject to their whims. We are in danger of becoming indistinguishable from the likes of Chelsea and Man City – a ruthless corporate machine, chewing up and spitting out managers, players and fans alike in our never-ending drive to be bigger, better and more efficiently monopolistically successful – and worse still is the prospect of becoming another Blackburn, run in a slapstick fashion as a vanity project by people whose only defining characteristic is their unerring ability to seek out bad advice from a range of different sources and attempt to follow all of it simultaneously.

I don’t care if we’re crap, if we fail, as long as there is something distinctively Forest about what we do. But should we lose our individuality then the greater part of my reasons for supporting Forest ahead of all other clubs are gone, and if I might as well support anyone then I might as well support no-one and spend my time, energy emotions and money elsewhere, on something more rewarding.

Quitting football

Anyone who knows me knows that I love football. It has been my main interest since I was about 9 years old. If you look back through the posts on this blog, you’ll see that the largest category is ‘Football’ and many of the posts are about Nottingham Forest. Given the rollercoaster season (Copyright, National Bureau of Press Clichés) they have just endured, why is it that my last football/Forest related post was back in September, before the proverbial really hit the fan?

The answer is simple, even if its reasons are not. I am falling out of love with football.

There are many reasons for this, and some carry greater weight than others.

I want to play football, but the team I currently play for is probably the worst I have ever represented (no offence guys). In a year of playing for them, we have yet to avoid defeat. Sometimes, we struggle to field enough players for a five-a-side league. As a result, our defeats are pretty heavy and even if you aren’t the kind who needs to win, this wears you down after a while. Add in the fact that many of our opponents are less than gracious victors, and some make no attempt to hide the fact that they see matches against us as a great opportunity to boost their goal difference, stir in a little unecessary aggression from time to time, sprinkle with idiots who take the whole thing far too seriously and bake in an oven pre-heated to gas mark confrontation-over-mildly-clumsy-challenge, and you have recipe for footballing unhappiness.

The obvious answer would be to hire a sports hall and arrange an informal match between a dozen or so of your mates. However, experience tells me that that just doesn’t work. Try gathering ten or more of your friends together at the same time and you’ll see what I mean. Now try arranging that every week. Initially, people are full of enthusiasm, and then the novelty wears off and the numbers dwindle until there are only a handful left, paying £10+ each for the privilege of a 2-a-side game with lax rules.

Then, there comes the professional game in general. This year in England alone there have been several incidents of racist abuse, a couple between players and then a few between fans and players. It’s hard to unequivocally love a sport which manages to behave with so little dignity.

There’s something about the way the professional game is going which fills me with a sense of disillusionment. The introduction of Financial Fair Play rules is something which should be encouraged to an extent (anything which stops clubs getting into ridiculous debt and then walking out of it having paid the players in full and screwed over their suppliers and the likes of St John’s Ambulance can only be a good thing), but when combined with the impending Elite Player Performance Plan it all looks like the rules (inadvertantly) will merely reinforce the status quo and are essentially authorising the big clubs to pillage those further down the league pyramid in order to reinforce their own positions and make even more money all in the name of producing a better England team. My attitude is simply this : what is the point in investing emotionally and financially in a sport which is no longer really competitive? Many would say it hasn’t been truly competitive for years, but I get the feeling that (unless I have missed something major) English football will become even more predictable and contain even less hope for those of us not at the top table.

The last thing which has disillusioned me in some ways is my own interest in the game. Now if that sounds a little cryptic, let me explain. I am very interested in the theory of football, tactically, physically and so on. As a result, I have found several websites and publications which satisfy this appetite (such as Jonathan Wilson, Zonal Marking, and The Blizzard), but unfortunately they have had an unexpected backlash. Many of these sources make it very clear that English football is living in the Dark Ages and that we should be heading towards the likes of Spain and Barcelona tactically in order to compete. This has left me feeling ever-so-sightly guilty for enjoying a typical blood-and-thunder English Championship match with both teams playing direct, physical football and going at each other hammer and tongs, and for finding the admirably patient football of Spain a touch dull at times. It’s hard to reconcile what you enjoy the most and what you are being told is the best when there is such a disparity between the two. I end up disliking myself for being so easily pleased with unsophisticated football, and then disliking myself more by being so easily persuaded into such intellectual snobbery.

Britain’s Gay Footballers

I watched most of the BBC’s documentary, ‘Britain’s Gay Footballers’ on Monday night, and while I’m not going to go into great depth, here are a few thoughts I had during and after watching the programme.

  • John McGovern didn’t cover himself in glory with his interview. He deserves a certain amount of credit for agreeing to appear in the documentary, but he was clearly uncomfortable towards the end of the short piece, and his claim that he was unaware of the meaning of “poof” is ridiculous. I felt that the presenter was being slightly unfair in that she was implying that McGovern and his team-mates had discriminated against Justin Fashanu and/or bullied him for being gay even though the events took place ten years before Fashanu came out publicly (though his team-mates could have been aware of his sexuality long before that). Maybe I’m just getting defensive though because it’s Forest and a Forest legend under scrutiny.
  • Forest perhaps slightly let themselves down in that Amal Fashanu went all the way to Nottingham, and had been asking professionals for interviews, and yet nobody seemed keen to kill two birds with one stone.
  • Millwall did a little better, with three of their players talking briefly about the issue. However, given the sequence before, in which the players were clearly reluctant to talk to her, I wonder if the club agreed to the interviews, the players shied away, and  – off camera – a few of the more senior (and hopefully more mature) players were pushed into doing the interviews so as not to let the club down.
  • When discussing Gareth Thomas’ coming out, she didn’t address the issue of the different fan cultures in football and rugby. Given that most of the people she had spoken to so far had said that they didn’t think the hypothetical gay player’s team-mates would have a problem, and she had also seen the homophobic chanting of the fans, it seemed a little odd that she didn’t explore this avenue, as logic would suggest to me that if a gay player wasn’t worried about coming out to the dressing room, then the fans must be a major part of what holds anyone gay back from coming out.
  • Finally, she seemed very keen to find a gay player. While I can understand that she might want to ask why no-one has come out in the last two decades, she doesn’t seem to consider the fact that maybe the gay players around want to keep their private lives private simply so that they remain private rather than because they fear the public’s reaction.