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.

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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.