Might take a bit of getting used to…

It’s a rotten job but somebody has to do it. That just about sums up what it is like to be a Forest fan. Arguably, it also describes pretty accurately what it means to be Forest manager. The season has hardly begun but already our new manager is rumoured to want to jump ship. I would be surprised if he did; I am sure Mr McLaren has much more steel in him than that, but it is sad that this is the main topic of the day, this early in the season. And even more sad is the fact that, if there is any truth in this, it is again caused by transfers not materialising and the blame for that being thrown around the club. It is only September, but already the fans are divided. There is a large proportion who want to get rid of the chairman, saying he has never done anything for NFFC. Then there is the “other side” who thank Mr Doughty for everything he has done for the club, for the fact even that they still have a club to support. The first group right now are quite vocal in their opinion that the sacking of Billy Davies was a disgrace. The second think he had it coming and that no employee at no company would get away with constantly rubbing the bosses the wrong way as Billy did.

As you can probably guess from earlier blogs, I am in the second camp. I liked Billy Davies. I called him King Billy now and again. Why? Because he gave us something to be proud of, now and again. In his first full season, there was the incredible away form early on. In his second, it was home form. Both were amazing, featuring massive unbeaten runs. But that was offset by points lost elsewhere. The City Ground wasn’t exactly a fortress in that first season and then last season we were horrific away. Also, twice we were in a great position around February, March, only for it to go completely off the rails for some reason, with the manager unable to get it going again and Forest twice just scraping into the play-offs. There was a depressing run last season where we couldn’t seem to win a game to save our lives. And then there was Billy’s mouth. Always moaning, about transfers, about lack of support and loyalty. At the same time, he openly flirted with other clubs, most famously with Celtic, even saying he would consider any offer from any bigger club. Choosing to live in Glasgow and travel up and down didn’t help, even if I will not judge him for that, as we will never know his reasons. But a lack of loyalty toward your employers, coupled with up and down results, is not going to cement your position. So after another bust-up, it was: “Bye bye Billy.” I wasn’t surprised, I even thought it was overdue.

But now here we go again, apparently. Now Steve McLaren is said to be frustrated at the lack of signings and it is reported that he is thinking about leaving the City Ground already. It’s hard to say how much of this is true. We don’t know what is said inside the City Ground offices. We’re not there so we can only guess. Steve has said that the transfer period was a frustrating time. But whereas – with Billy Davies in mind – many choose to see that as unveiled criticism of the way Forest go about transfers, I think he isn’t just talking about himself. I think he means it has been frustrating for all concerned: for him as a manager, for the board, for the players and the fans, it has been frustrating looking at good players and some big signings not happening, for different reasons.

Let’s look at these big targets, then. There is frustration on the fora over the non-signing of Wayne Routledge. A Newcastle United player who did well on loan at QPR last season, he was a fantastic target and it looked quite good for a while until Routledge decided he would go to Premier League new boys Swansea instead. You cannot blame anyone for that apart from maybe the FA and UEFA. The gap between countries and, within countries, the gap between divisions has become so big that we cannot possibly compete with the pull of any Premier League club. Also, Swansea played some amazing football last season. Then there was the fantastic prospect of Wesley Verhoek, whom Forest wanted to sign for around 2M. Big one, that. Very good and exciting player, he was going to boost Forest in a big way. Everything was settled, Verhoek was in the Midlands for a medical and to sign a contract but then decided against it. Not something anyone said, not a lack of wages, nothing of the sort. He just got cold feet and decided he didn’t want to leave his home country. Massive bummer but fair play to him. Ashkan Dejagah, a winger from Steve McLaren’s old club Wolfsburg, was another target. He chose to stay in the Bundesliga, which we will all agree is a much bigger (and wealthier) league than the Championship. I’d rather play Hamburger SV and Bayern Munich than West Ham and Southampton. And Max Gradel of Leeds went to the old green giants of Saint-Etienne, a club which I incidentally see as possibly my second love in football. Nowhere near the passion I have for Forest but I always keep an eye on them and would love to catch a game once. I can’t blame Gradel for picking a top flight club in the South of France, with a massive stadium, fiery support and regional derbies with Olympique Lyon to look forward to.

Looking at all those, it is very hard to see how the board or the much-maligned Transfer Acquisition Pannel can be faulted. Routledge, Gradel and Dejagah went to or stayed at top flight clubs, Verhoek got home-sick and did the same. There is nothing anyone can change about that, unless the club employ a Luca Brazzi-like enforcer, to make the transfer targets offers they can’t refuse or they’ll sleep with the fishes. Sadly, it doesn’t work that way. More money, a bigger league, those are the things that we can’t compete with. The moment a player has to choose between a top flight club in England, France, Germany, even Holland, and Nottingham Forest, we lose out. We are not a big club anymore, sadly. We don’t pull. But for those names to even be mentioned in relation to Forest, shows ambition on behalf of our club. We were after four players who all went to or stayed in big leagues in the end. And that is exactly what many fans are saying the club doesn’t have: ambition. They should learn that ambition is in trying, not in succeeding. It was NFFC’s ambition to sign those players and I applaud it, even if it is frustrating when they go elsewhere.

But look at the players we have got in. Ishmael Miller, Matt Derbyshire, George Boateng, Jonathan Greening and Andy Reid are all very good signings. We’ll be OK. Steve will stay. I’m sure he has more backbone than to walk out when he doesn’t get his way. He’s not at a Premier League club that gets what and who they want. He will soon get used to that. He will get used to having to win over a number of fans who are still hoping that somehow the previous manager will come back. Those fans will get used to having Steve instead of Billy. The players will get used to him and each other. And we will see Forest in the play-off places at the end of the season. Just as we have been getting used to.

Exciting ins and a worrying possible out

I confess. Very much in touch with my inner child, I still play football games and management sims on the Playstation and pc. I find it strangely relaxing to put on some vintage Queen records (yesterday’s anniversary of Freddie’s death prompted a genuine marathon!) and try to restore Forest to their old glory of the same period, be it in a digital, parallel universe. And restore them I have. FA Cups, Champions Leagues, Premierships, we have won them all. In a childish way it feels great every time. One thing that strikes me about these games is how accurate they have become when it comes to assessing player qualities. When you have a really promising player in real life, his digital counterpart usually reflects that. I have often bought promising players in those games who later really came through the ranks in real life. I remember buying Andrea Pirlo, Samuel Eto'o and Matthew Etherington for Forest before I knew the actual players. (OK, the virtual Etherington worked out a lot better than the real one, but you get the general picture.) Certainly with Lewis McGugan, EA’s Fifa09 were spot on, starting Lewis off at a pretty good rating but making sure he quickly grew in stature because of his “elite” label. In the game I am currently playing, I have had offers for Lewis of well over £20M.

And look at Lewis now. Possibly the most exciting player in the Championship at the moment. Nine goals now this season, from midfield. And nearly all of them absolute belters. He shows vision, ability and skill worthy of the Premier League. And the Premier League seems to have taken note, with rumours recently that he is on the radar at Fulham, West Brom and Aston Villa. Now I honestly think Forest will not sell Lewis at this time. He is simply too important for us and the fans would go mental if he was sold. The good thing is, Forest do not have to sell and, in my opinion, will only do so if really silly money is offered. The rumoured 3M from Aston Villa certainly is not enough, especially when Gerrard Houllier has just said that Ashley Young is worth a staggering 80M to him. Surely that makes Lewis 20M at least…

I hope young Lewis doesn’t let the promise of big money and the Premiership turn his head. The best thing for him to do is to stay at Forest until he cannot develop any further here. He can help take Forest back to the Premier League in the form he is in. And if he stays, he can become an absolute Forest great if that form holds. He is a real hero at the City Ground right now and at a new club, he would merely be the new guy. It isn’t hard to figure out which status should appeal most to a young man of his age. But it all depends on the common sense of the player and his entourage. In Belgium we recently saw the fantastic (but sadly very exceptional) example of Romelu Lukaku of Anderlecht. The highly rated youngster is on everybody’s wish list but in August there was actual talk of a move to Real Madrid. Romelu’s dad earned my everlasting respect when he merely said: “That is all very nice, but Romelu has to finish school first.” Too many players have gone to waste by signing for a big club to early in their career. So please, Lewis, think long and hard.

Meanwhile, we will be missing Dexter Blackstock for a very long time after his knee gave out in Cardiff. It looked horrible when it happened and the news so far isn’t good. We wish Dexter courage and a speedy recovery. To compensate for Dexter’s absence, Forest have dipped into the loan market and come up with Marcus Tudgay of Sheffield Wednesday and, impressively, Aaron Ramsey of Arsenal. While we know that ex-D**by people generally do well at the City Ground and I am sure Marcus will be no exception, it is Ramsey who is the more exciting prospect. One of the most talented young players in the Premiership right now, Ramsey is sure to give the City Ground a buzz. It is a shrewd move by both Forest and Arsenal to get him in the Garibaldi for a month. Forest have six games in that period, in which they will want to hold on to the excellent home form and confirm away after the excellent win in Cardiff. But for Arsène Wenger as well, the move has huge benefits. At Forest, his player will get a lot more competitive football under his belt on his way to recovery. And with Chris Gunter and Robert Earnshaw, he will have some familiar faces around him from the Wales squad, so he can settle in quite easily. It is a perfect short term deal. It would be great to see a longer deal develop after this first month finishes, but we mustn’t be greedy. Still, getting Aaron Ramsey in, even if it’s only a month long loan, seems like a message of intent. We may well be on our way to a very interesting transfer window…


Yes Billy, but...

Here we go again. Billy Davies has lashed out at the board once more regarding the lack of signings in the last two transfer windows. Davies said his job had been put on the line because of other people’s decisions and that Forest does not at present have a squad capable of a top six finish. Comparing our situation to Liverpool FC, King Billy added that a club needs “stellar signings” to get into the top six. Liverpool have not made any and look where they are, is the gist of Billy’s argument.

The thing is, that comparison doesn’t cut any wood. First of all, contrary to Liverpool, we have at no point in this campaign been in the actual drop zone. Second, we are not the subject of a massive sale or no sale situation which hangs over the club like a black cloud, with undoubted effect on team performances. (Also, Liverpool have just won a number of games on the trot and beaten the league leaders. If that is what Billy intends to do, I’m all for it, obviously…) Sure, some “stellar signings” would be fantastic. A good signing lifts a club, from squad to coffee lady. But the list of players recently targeted goes a long way towards explaining the problem. Billy aims high and rightly so. And the club have tried their best to get his targets to come to the City Ground. Pratley, Whittingham, Moses, Shorey, name them. But two preferred to play Premier League football, which you cannot fault them for. And the other two were not allowed to leave at their respective clubs, which is fair enough as well. We wouldn’t let Lewis McGugan go to a direct rival either. So unless you have some other options, a plan B, a compromise signing or whatever you want to call it, you can’t really blame the board for any of those. If the 10/10 players are out of our reach, try to sign some 8/10 ones. And stop being so stubborn about loanees. Just look at the number of goals scored in our division by players on loan from the Premier League. A decent extra striker on loan right now could make a massive difference. Oh, and by the way, Billy, we did get Majewski, who is a more than decent player.

Then there is the top six thing. The current squad (minus Bertrand) took us to third last season. And they have taken us to within a single point of the top six, so quite clearly they should be capable of finishing within that top six again, given that we have more than half a season to go. It’s only a matter of sorting out our away form. Because, dear Billy Davies, THAT is the real problem at this time. While you moan every time you show your face at the City Ground (which appears to be not very often), you should be trying to do something about that. One win in the last 22 away games or something in that region. That is nothing short of pathetic. And I cannot for the life of me imagine that it has to do with anything other than confidence. By now, the players must be shaking in their boots for every trip away from Nottingham. And it is a manager’s job to do something about that. If you can win nearly all your home games, surely you should be able to get some more points away. If we had got only three extra points from the away games this season (which is not a lot to ask given some of the opposition, with respect) we would be comfortably in the play-offs positions. Hey, if we had got some more points out of last season’s away games after January, we’d have been promoted.

I still have nothing against Billy Davies as a manager per se. I must really point that out. After all he did give us a fantastic season last year and got us as close to the top tier as we have been for some time. You have to love him for that. And I don’t even mind the fact that he speaks his mind. I am very much the same sort of person in that respect. But Billy has to open his eyes to a couple of key factors. First of all, he is an employee of the club and should at least try to act like one, rather than constantly attacking everybody around him in what seems like a nifty way to cover up his own shortcomings. Second, Nottingham Forest FC does not currently have the cash or the pulling power to attract the top players, not even in this division. They either want to play at a higher level or are not allowed to leave, as we have seen again and again. And the third thing? Timing. I mentioned a black cloud earlier. All this surely can’t help the dressing room atmosphere. With the next transfer window coming up, would it not be wiser and more constructive to sit down with the people he shouts at, and try to see what is what for January, rather than rake up their past disagreements and maintain and fortify the stand-off? Maybe it’s just me…

Why Winona cold-shouldered me and went for Johnny instead...

Ambition. Strange thing. It can be interpreted in so many ways. I used to be said to lack ambition because I never aspired to any managerial positions with big corporations. Instead my ambition lay in music. I wanted to make a living out of the only thing I really knew anything about. Not for me the company Audi or BMW, laptop or flashy and preferably long-legged assistant. I lived the dream for as long as I could. And yes, I can now see it was merely a dream but it was my own, personal ambition at that time. Just depends on where you’re coming from. I certainly had a lot of fun, but that is a completely different story.

Much in the same way, I and my FFF’s dream of the Premier League. Wouldn’t it be grand to be back among the big boys, fighting it out at the highest level, pushing for Europe? Would it not be fabulous to straddle the top flight and scare the living daylights out of Europe’s biggest clubs the way Chelsea and Man Utd can? Oh, yes. Clough, that would be brilliant. Right back where we belong… Who sang that again? But the question we have to ask ourselves is: do we actually still belong there? Right now, we don’t, in my opinion. We simply lack the budget required to have any chance up there. Nigel Doughty has put a lot of money into our club and he is a wealthy man, but he is no Roman Abramovic or Al Mubarak.

Now some FFF’s blame our chairman for being too careful with his and the club’s money. They say it is his fault that Billy Davies fails to get the players he wants to join the club. In my honest opinion, they are mistaken. Let us look at four recent, high profile NFFC transfer targets. First there was Nicky Shorey, on loan with us at left back for the first half of last season. Billy (and us fans) would have loved for him to stay. Problem was, there was also an offer for him to join Fulham on loan. Given the choice between staying at the City Ground and the chance of playing on one of the biggest stages in the world and showing himself to a possible new club, Shorey did what we would all have done (if we weren’t avid Forest fans) and went to Fulham. Billy Davies (followed by many FFF’s) decided to blame the board and the acquisition panel, creating a negative atmosphere that was partly responsible for the spectacular drop in form in the second half of the season.

But let us look at that a little closer. First of all, can you really blame that sudden poor form on one player leaving? We have to be honest. Billy Davies has to be honest. At least part of the blame for a club dramatically dropping in form has to go to the manager. The buck always stops with him, after all. He cannot hide behind the fact that one player left the club. One player who only played in nine games, I must add. And did Billy himself not say recently that Shorey’s replacement, Chris Cohen, was much better at left back than in midfield? Surely he must have been an adequate stand-in for Shorey then, because we all know how good Cohen is in midfield.

But I mentioned four transfer targets. There was also talk, last season, of signing Victor Moses, then of Crystal Palace. Now first of all, Forest were far from the only club after Victor, who had just had an impressive run of eight games with five goals and was hot as proverbial faeces. Moses in the end went to Wigan for 2,5 million Pounds. Not only is that not the sort of money Forest easily pay, but even if we did have that kind of budget, Victor Moses would have been left with the choice between Forest in the Championship or Wigan in the Premier League. Bigger stage, bigger wages. No brainer.

This summer, Billy was at it again, blaming the board for not being ambitious in their transfer policy. Apart from the fact that he should not say those things in public, Billy was wrong. The fact that NFFC actually TRIED to sign his targets, shows ambition. They had the ambition to sign them. But… The two main targets, Darren Pratley and Peter Whittingham, were key players for their respective clubs, Swansea and Cardiff. Forest tried hard to pry them away from their clubs but failed. It was not disclosed how much was actually offered but some reasons could be pointed out why Cardiff and Swansea refused to let their men go. First, as mentioned, they are key players for their clubs. Second, it would be really bad business to let such key players move to a direct competitor for promotion, which Forest are viewed as. How would Forest fans feel if, say, Lee Camp was sold to Swansea or Cardiff? The only way to change the situation would have been to offer “silly money,” a practice which NFFC and Nigel Doughty refuse to get into, and rightly so.

And there lies the problem of perception we currently face. Many fans see the chairman's careful budgeting as a lack of ambition. In their opinion, the club should take what is seen as a considered gamble and splash out on some of the best players to get us into the Premier League. But that is exactly what Leeds United did about a decade ago, isn’t it? Gamble and throw money at getting to the next level? It proved to be a very expensive gamble, which at one point had Leeds on the brink of disappearing altogether. Now I, for one, don’t want the club I love to be put in danger like that.

I prefer another season in the second tier as a healthy club to a promotion bought with money we don’t actually have and the possibility of it all going horribly wrong. It’s not like we have a divine right to be in the top flight of English football. Nobody has. Our first ambition should be to confirm last season's performance. If we can get into the play-offs again, I'll be a happy Forest fan. Rome wasn't built in a day and all that.

The whole debate made me think of Winona Ryder. Strange? Bear with me. When I was about 17-18, I wrote a song for Winona. I had a massive crush on her. I recorded the song on a cassette and sent it to her through MGM. Lo and behold, I got a signed photograph back, with a little note saying she loved the song and thanks a million. Seventh heaven. Next thing I knew, she hooked up with Johnny Depp. Well, we can easily translate that to the sort of players Billy Davies and the club want to sign. We all want Winona Ryder. But her current boyfriend will probably not be keen on letting her go. And if she was single and had the choice, then the Premier League would be Johnny Depp and the Championship would be little, scruffy old me. It’s a simple as that, really…


Play-offs. Again.

At the start of the season, I said I would be very happy with fifth place and play-offs, not even expecting Forest to actually get anything out of them. Still in a way it is disappointing after the way Forest played up until January. If they had kept that form going, especially away, automatic promotion would have been a real possibility. Hey, even winning it all together wouldn’t have been a crazy notion. But something went wrong. After not losing away at all for the whole season, Forest only got one point away from home in nine games since January. Staggeringly poor form. This is made all the more frustrating by the fact that they won 12 home games back to back. If the away form had been only half as good as the home form, it would have meant, say, 15 extra points from three wins and six draws, putting Forest in second a point ahead of West Brom. Ifs and buts, of course, but frustrating nonetheless.

It is impossible to say what went wrong. Some blame the exit of our loanee left back, Nicky Shorey. I refuse to agree that a drop in form this spectacular can be down to losing one single player. Shorey was class and a massive addition to the squad, but one player does not a good team make. Paul Anderson hasn’t been playing for a number of games after picking up an injury. He has been of great value this season. But losing Paul McKenna to a knee injury in my opinion is a bigger blow. Having seen him run the midfield this season, it is easy to understand how the team can miss him. His energy and work rate have been phenomenal and he has been a real captain and inspiration to his team mates. Guy Moussi has only recently been able to begin to make up for McKenna’s absence. Incidentally, Radoslaw Majevski’s form has also been patchy recently. Forest have in this way lost a number of players who have been incredibly important earlier in the season.

The fact Forest have a small squad has also been mentioned. While George Boyd was an excellent acquisition - even if he seems to need some time to find his best form - many FFF’s have been frustrated at the lack of further transfer activity. Billy Davies was quick to follow with several comments about the lack of transfer activity, commenting that the system at Forest doesn’t work. I have to say, apart from a left back and possibly an all-round midfielder, there were no really pressing needs in the transfer department. The squad is not the largest in the division but it does provide cover for most positions. There have been comments that the players have had to play too many games but I cannot possibly agree with this. These are all young men playing the game they always loved to play and getting paid handsomely for it. And even then, Forest only played 20 games this year up to Easter Monday. That is 20 games in 95 days, with only 6 midweek fixtures. Surely a bunch of able young men should manage that? If not, they should stop being referred to as men. Brian Clough went through what can only be described as a very successful 1978-1979 season using only 16 players. That included the maximum amount of European Cup games in midweek, winning the League Cup and going to the fifth round of the FA Cup. That is a lot of games, a lot more than 20 in 95 days. Sure, those were different times but my point remains the same. My point remains that Billy Davies makes too many excuses. The transfer system at Forest does work, very well even. The players brought in over the last couple of seasons are proof of this. The targets are usually ambitious so it is only normal that not all end up actually getting signed. But then not even Real Madrid always get their man. Just one example: Victor Moses. Great target and it would have been a signing for the future. But when faced with the choice between Forest and Premier League club Wigan, he was always going to the top flight. Fair play to him and well done to the transfer panel for trying.

Billy Davies also has a strange knack of saying the wrong things. He was at it again some weeks ago, commenting on Paul McKenna’s injury. With a young team expected to make up for the absentees, Billy Davies’ comment when it transpired that McKenna would not be back this season, was clumsy to say the least. “I think we could have afforded to lose any other player in the side this season, apart from McKenna,” Billy said. While probably meant as an accolade for our esteemed captain, it is nearly impossible to not read it as a statement of utter lack of confidence in or support for any other player in the squad. They could all be excused for thinking: “Come again? You mean you wouldn’t notice if I wasn’t playing? Well, thanks, gaffer!” It is not the sort of comment that will instill energy and confidence in a young squad like ours. Sure, criticise a player when necessary, but this comment was uncalled for, labeling the whole squad as mere hangers-on if you want to make the worst possible interpretation. Not the best way to go into the play-offs, if you ask me. I have nothing but love and respect for Billy Davies but he has a knack of making excuses for himself at the expense of even his own players. Not good.

So, play-offs. While I am known to be very much an optimist when it comes to Forest, I must say that I am not certain they can do better than the last two times. More heartbreak could well be around the corner. That away form just isn’t good enough to say Cardiff, Swansea and Leicester - currently the “other three” - will be easily disposed off. Especially the sort of form Leicester have hit lately is a major worry. Whoever Forest are coupled with for the play-offs, an away game will need to be won. Failing that, the home leg will need to be won by a decent margin. Forest need to hold on to third place in order to have home advantage for the second leg. It somehow feels safer that way. Even if many first team players were rested, the Blackpool game again showed how vulnerable we are away from home. Having controlled the game in the first thirty minutes, it all crumbled when Blackpool went 1-0 up. If that happens in a play-off game, we face another year in the Championship. You need to get into the play-offs high on confidence. The most worrying thing is, if we reach the final, this will have to be played away from home, at Wembley. Exciting, but nervous times…

Be good!


From hero to zero. It seems the most accurate way to sum up the career of Jermaine Jenas since he left Nottingham Forest for Newcastle in 2002. Jenas made a big impression as a youngster at Forest before the club had to sell him in order to get some much needed cash in the coffers. His form since has apparently been up and down. If reports and comments on football websites are to be believed, he had good spells when he was new at Newcastle and later at Spurs, but then slumped to anywhere between lacklustre and downright invisible. His managers did maintain belief in him, though, and he never played less than 34 games in any of his Premier League seasons, scoring a total of 37 goals in 303 games. For a midfielder, that doesn’t seem too horrible, even if it isn’t great. Fabio Capello even capped him for his first game in charge, against Switserland. Jermaine promptly scored.

In terms of fan perception, though, something seems to have gone wrong. While Spurs are enjoying something of a renaissance, currently lying fourth in the Premier League, comfortably ahead of Aston Villa and Liverpool, with Jermaine playing 17 and scoring one so far, he does not seem to have many admirers left. For the last year or so, comments from Spurs fans have been seething, calling him a waste of space and wondering what is the point of Jermaine Jenas. In today’s transfer news section, football365.com wrote the following in relation to Spurs’ and Birmingham’s negotiations about the transfer of Russian star Pavlyuchenko: “An amusing aside from that Pavlyuchenko story in the Mirror is what apparently also came up in the negotiations. The paper reports that: 'As part of Birmingham's negotiations with Tottenham they have also been offered midfielder Jermaine Jenas.' It's a bit like someone coming round to buy a bookcase, then being offered that vase that just sits there in the corner not doing much.”

While this is, of course, hilarious, it is also very painful, both for a player who was regarded as a massive prospect, and for us Forest fans who know what Jermaine “JJ” Jenas is capable of and were (or still are) sad he had to go. We used to love JJ and wouldn’t mind seeing him back at the City Ground, where he belongs, or so we feel. Now, aside from the transfer bid Forest have put in for striker Victor Moses (what a name!), there was talk about an interest in a “big name” player. Is JJ considered a big name player? You could argue that he is in Nottingham. Could we afford him? Would he want to come back? Could Billy Davies get him back to playing the sort of football we know he can play? I personally think he would be a great addition to an already strong squad; a versatile, creative midfield player. And surely, when he looks at the way Forest are playing, he must sometimes think about being back home? If football management sims are anything to go by, it would be a great move. As Forest manager, I always get Jermaine back as soon as I can and he invariably does very well, indeed…

Be good!

Margaret Leyden

It is strange sometimes how the passing away of a person can touch you, even if you never really knew them. I remember being very sad when George Harrison died and utterly depressed when Freddie Mercury was taken away so young. It is probably because of what those people share with us that we feel connected to them, almost as if we knew them. Through their songs, words, opinions, we get a clear picture of who they are or who they are in the image we form of them in our head.

Yesterday morning, the sad news reached us that Margaret Leyden had passed away. Margaret was by far the oldest member of our Nottingham Forest mailing list and one of its most frequent posters. Her mails were knowledgeable and on the ball, even if we didn’t always agree on everything. Now and again, Margaret would drop in little stories of the old days. That really means the old days; she had been watching Forest since long before I was even born. She must have been at hundreds of football grounds. Her accounts of away matches at ill-equipped stadiums with no facilities for the elderly and handicapped were real eye-openers at times. It is amazing how such stadiums still exist. Still, she told her stories of freezing cold, torrential rain and lack of hospitality with real wit and a good touch of irony, never once complaining as far as I can remember. And she kept going.

When our first son, Thomas, was born, Margaret wanted to know our mail address. She had designed a Forest badge which she sent off for every newborn on the list. That was just who she was. Forest through and through and sharing that passion. I would have loved to have met Margaret and was hoping to do so this year. It felt as if I was planning to see an old great-aunt. Through her posts, I and perhaps many more on our list felt like we knew Margaret. That is probably why, when the news came in of her passing away, I felt like we had lost someone dear to us, even if many of us never actually met her.

Margaret will have died a happy Reds fan, with our run of unbeaten games and the way we threaten to get back into the Premier League. It’s a shame she can’t be there to celebrate with the rest of us when or if it happens, but I feel Forest now have an obligation to clinch it. Mrs Devil said yesterday that Margaret may be up there with her own grandfather, who passed away not too long ago and was an avid football fan himself. His favourite club is currently doing very well in Belgium. We pictured both of them watching the WBA game on Channel Heaven 17 or whatever they have up there, commenting expertly on the game.

Rest in peace, Margaret Leyden, and say hello to Cloughie for us!

Arséne calling Mick black...

There was some commotion over the past couple of days about the squad put out by Wolves manager Mick McCarthy to face Manchester United in the midweek Premier League game. Deeming next Saturday’s game against Burnley more important than the away game at Old Trafford, McCarthy chose make ten changes to the team used in the last game and field a side that looked like a reserves one. Outrage! The Premier League wants to speak to Mick about this and Arsène Wenger is fuming.

It’s all a bit daft. Wolves are not the first club to do this. In fact, all the big clubs have done it, both in the Premier League and the Champions League group phase. Not that long ago, Manchester Utd even pulled out of the FA Cup altogether, to play in the World Club Championship. It would be incredibly unjust of the football authorities to issue any punishment at all in this particular instance. That would simply prove what some are already saying about the big clubs: that there is one rule for them and another for the rest.

I can, of course, see the point of the travelling Wolves fans; they have paid for a (probably expensive) ticket, travelled to Manchester and dedicated their evening to watching their team take on one of their biggest opponents of the season. Big day. Then they get to watch a reserves team roll over and play dead while Man Utd stroll to an easy 3-0 win. I can perfectly imagine being incredibly cheesed off if Forest pulled a stunt like that. McCarthy has put himself in a difficult position as well. Wolves are now under immense pressure to win the game against Burnley. If they don’t, the manager will have thrown two games and six points away. In case Wolves are relegated at the end of the season, this may be looked as a decisive moment. Then again, if they stay up, McCarthy may be called a genius for thinking this up.

I can also see the point of those who say that this sort of thing kills any real competition, that Man Utd now play 37 games rather than 38. But then some perspective should be applied. Even with the injuries in the United camp, what are the odds that Wolves were going to beat them at Old Trafford? How many teams go there and come away with anything?

I cannot, however, agree with Arsène Wenger’s comments. I have a lot of respect for the man. Apart from King Billy, he is top of the list for me at the moment. What he does at Arsenal is impressive. But for him to have a go at Mick McCarthy is hypocrisy. Only three days earlier, Arsenal did exactly what Wolves did at Man Utd. Silvestre and Walcott were the only players in the squad for that game with any first team regular credentials. Predictably, Olympiacos won 1-0. This made the other game in the group irrelevant. With an Arsenal win, Standard de Liège from Belgium could still have progressed if they beat their Dutch opponents AZ. They were playing well but you could actually see in this game when Olympiakos scored. Thanks, Arsene. Thanks very much. This could have been really good for Belgian football. But still, fair enough, Arsenal have a right to do this. But they should also have the balls to accept the same tactics when they’re on the receiving end of them. Very disappointing from such a great man…

Be good
Red Devil

(Written 17/12/09, forgot to publish. Meanwhile Wolves did comfortably win their game against Burnley, thus lifting themselves out of the drop zone. Well done Mick McCarthy, then, for showing the "big four" that two can play that game.)

Sir Paul and King Billy

I went to see Paul McCartney in Holland last week. A mind-blowing concert. I saw a fantastic musician, singer and songwriter. I saw know-how, to use a bit of horrible business terminology. I saw great passion still to play those old songs. They sounded fresh, almost new, even if we knew them well enough to sing along to nearly every word, all 30,000 of us. Careful as I am when I have a ticket to see a legend of this magnitude, I had said to myself that this may very well be a case of old glory, that it would never live up to my massive expectations. But it wasn’t, and it did. It was phenomenal. Easily the best concert I have ever seen. Nothing about it suggested any “former.” It was all glory. Paul played and sang for nearly three hours. Didn’t miss a note. The man is 67. To think he once wondered if we would still need him when he’d be 64! Younger bands should watch a show like this once a year, to get some perspective. That is you, Chris Martin. And you, Bono. You’re not fit to polish Macca’s guitar. I went home a happy man. I had spent nearly three hours a mere 12 metres away from a Beatle. Cloud Nine! Even if that is a George album. I have been playing Beatles, Wings and Macca albums ever since. I just can’t bring myself to put anything else on.

I have the same feeling about Forest at the moment. While the past eight to ten years often felt like we were supporting a team whose greatness was very much in the past, this season it seems much more about the here and now and even the future. Of course first hand I can only judge by the footage I can see on the BBC League Football show, but my opinion is largely backed by the reports I read, the forums I check and the mailing list that I am part of. We are playing some great football at times. Flowing, passing football that is a joy to watch. Robert Earnshaw’s first goal against Leicester was a prime example. The attack had everything. Pace, speed, vision, a dummy, a shimmy, and a fantastic finish to boot. It was almost like watching Arsenal. And at the back, we hardly give anything away, either. It’s been 13 games now since we last lost. I can’t possibly say how long we’ve had to wait for a run like this.

At first, we protected ourselves from euphoria by saying that it was only smaller teams that we were beating or getting points off. But then we beat Newcastle and drew Middlesbrough and Cardiff, both actual competitors for promotion, both away. Then followed a 4-1 demolition of Doncaster. They are a fair bit lower in terms of league position, true, but 4-1 is a big result. And it got even better last week. When number four plays number three, you can reasonably expect a tense affair, with not too much in it. But Forest brushed Leicester aside like they were playing the reserves team! 5-1 was not the result anyone expected. The bookies would have looked at you like you were a raving madman if you’d put a fiver on that one. We’re so good right now that the 0-0 in Sheffield against the Blades felt almost like a let-down, even if a point away at Bramall Lane is a more than decent result. We didn’t play well, some even said we were a bit rubbish, but we still got that away point. And if we needed proof that we don’t need to play our best football to win games, this duly came last Saturday, when a single David McGoldrick goal dispensed with Swansea at their place. We soaked up a lot of pressure and, admittedly, Swansea were unlucky and a bit careless in finishing, but again: job done. Another massive result that got us to within two points of the automatic promotion places. Where our away form was a big problem over the past seasons, it is now simply impeccable. We haven’t lost away. All season.

Talk on the mailing lists and forums is no longer about impending doom in the form of relegation. We now talk about what will happen if we make it into the Premier League. Are we ready or not? Would it be better to stay in the Championship for another season and keep building gradually? Or would the money be good and in any case, we would get the parachute payment if we went back down? It’s a whole different mind set. And it feels a lot better.

Just like Paul McCartney managed to ignite all those old songs with a spark and make them sound brand new, Billy Davies seems to have instilled a new energy, a new sense of purpose in Nottingham Forest FC. I was a bit cynical when he first came to the club, mainly due to his record in the Premier League with our neighbours The Unmentionables, and a nagging little voice in the back of my head still says we can’t be sure he can manage in that top flight, but right here, right now, King Billy is the man for the job and I doff my hat to him. I cannot remember feeling this good about our club since the last promotion season out of this same division, then still called, inanely, the First Division, which it blatantly was not. Proud, always, but it had become a sort of blind pride, against better judgment at times. But this feels utterly, utterly great. The same sort of great as standing a small pub’s length away from Paul McCartney. Long may it last.

Be good.
Red Devil

Thierry Henry: the new God?

Ever been up against someone or something and felt that it wasn’t a fair battle because the other party was bigger, richer, more powerful or had more influence where it mattered? It can be extremely frustrating. I have just been in that situation after I accidentally rode the bus in Antwerp without a valid ticket. It was a mistake, a administrative mix-up on my part. I explained as much and went to get a new three month season ticket the same evening. I have been a loyal, paying customer for ages now, in spite of severe lack of service now and again. Still in the end I had to pay €76.60 in charges, which equals a three months season ticket. Anything I said in my defence was swept under the mat. Sometimes you can try as hard as you want but you can’t win because the opposing forces are too powerful. “It is not fair,” a little black duck once famously said, “they are big and I is small.” That little duck was, of course, Calimero. And most of Ireland will feel exactly like him this morning.

I feel very, very sorry for Irish football fans. After their country’s national side played a fantastic qualifying group, then a great play-off game against France, to go out to such a controversial goal must be incredibly hard to take. Maybe the ref failed to see it, but his assistant should and must have. I don’t want to say the ref intentionally ignored the facts, but he may well have bottled a big dicision. In cases like this, you can easily forgive football fans to think there is a bigger picture. Belgium fans have felt this way only too often. But this time it all actually started a number of months before the game actually took place. FIFA’s sudden decision that the play-offs for the last four World Cup tickets would be subject to seeding, was a very strange one, to say the least. But then a look at the tables at that point was revealing. Apart from France, Portugal and Russia, two other big countries could have ended up in the play-offs. Both Italy and Germany still had everything to play for at that time. Suppose they had drawn each other and France would have played Portugal. That would have meant the loss of two massive names for the World Cup, and all the publicity, which equals money, connected to them. You can easily forgive the Irish fans for thinking that this was the only reason for the seeding. I even think they are spot on. I am not a fan of seeding in football in any case. It spoils the game and it is utterly unfair. But I will not get into that now.

Thierry Henry, meanwhile, has admitted to having handled the ball. In a way you can’t blame him. Who is to say that an Irish player in the same position would not have done so? I have always admired Henry, he is an incredibly skillful player and overall a very fair one. I came very close, even, to buying an Arsenal shirt with his name and squad number when Arsenal had that fabulous burgundy and gold shirt. (There are only two other players who almost made me buy non-Forest shirts. Both Juventus. Pavel Nedved - although I may have gone for that marvelous red Czech away shirt - and Alessandro Del Piero.) Thierry Henry is God. We now have conclusive proof of that. But joking aside, I hope he will not now be branded a cheat for the rest of his life. The other “hand of God” deserved no better. He had shown himself as a dirty player and a cheat before that goal and did so again on many following occasions. In fact he used his other hand in the following World Cup, palming away a flick-on from which the USSR would almost certainly have scored. God is ambidextrous. Henry is not that sort of player. The actual handball will possibly go into history as one of the worst moments in football. An act of blatant cheating that secured a ticket for what should be the greatest celebration of the sport. But hopefully the incident can be seen separately from the player in this instance. Henry does not deserve to carry the reputation of a cheat for the rest of his career.

To the Irish: chin up. And well done for giving both Italy and France a good run for their money.

Be good.

Red Devil