The man with Maradona’s shirt..

Steve Hodge was my first favourite Forest player as a young whipper-snapper.  At Primary school everyone was a Liverpool or Everton fan, with a few Forest fans thrown in – I was never that into football – but decided to have an affinity with my local team.  I could probably only name about three Forest players, Stuart Pearce, Nigel Clough and Steve Hodge.

Because the other couple of Forest fans in my circle of friends had picked the first two, just as I’d shunned the more popular teams in the playground, I went with Steve Hodge.  As I learned more about the side in the late 80s it turns out I didn’t make a bad choice – hardworking and dangerous both in creating chances, and snagging goals – and a local lad to boot!

Back then I used to fancy myself as a bit of an artist – I’d draw pictures of Forest players, and send them in the post to the City Ground addressed to Hodgey asking him to get them signed – they always came back, too – I’ll always have tremendous respect to him for that, it made my day as a kid to get my (looking back, terrible!) pictures signed.  So thanks, Steve!  I think they’re still in the loft somewhere.

This is quite rightly touted as a chronicle not only of Steve Hodge’s career – but also a tale of the last age of innocence in the world of football – before stupid money came in, before it was weighted in favour of the rich over the poor, when the underdogs could still ultimately prevail – it’s the era of the game I fell in love with before the Premier League came along and made it all a bit shit.

Naturally to us Reds the Forest career (over two spells) of Hodge is fascinating enough, but of course he had a career that took in characters like Paul Gascoigne, Eric Cantona and – of course – Diego Maradona in that game.  That was the game where he acquired the shirt – a proper relic of football history, what a great memento of an admittedly very painful day!

Written in a very engaging style you’ll fly through the pages – and thanks to his habit of diary keeping perhaps the recollections in here are sharper than many similar books which can feel a bit vague.  I’d thoroughly recommend giving it a read – a great chronicle of Forest coming out of one glorious era into their secondary spell of greatness.

For all that though there was a bit of a ‘never meet your heroes’ moments – it struck me that the tenacious midfielder whose play I so admired was pretty impatient when things went wrong, he seemed quick to bail out of clubs – including Forest – when he felt things weren’t going his way – indeed, he spent a long time being abused by Villa fans!

But well, Hodgey provided invaluable service to the Reds, and – in true Brian Clough style – we sold him for £450k to Villa, whilst we went backwards in buying him from Spurs for £550k (£100k less than they spent on him), we ended up selling him to Leeds for £900k – so we made a tidy profit, and of course Hodge got a league championship medal.

It’s only eleven quid on Amazon as I write – and I’d heartily recommend it (then again, I generally do for Forest books!).

The gauntlet is down for Billy..

Right then, we are where we are.  It’s time to start thinking about how the club moves forward in the short term.  The very best we can hope for is loan signings, which Billy has already said he doesn’t want – he wanted signings, he didn’t get them.  Whether it’s fair or not is irrelevant, the gauntlet has been thrown down and now it’s Billy’s job to get the side performing.

I don’t really have much of an issue with Billy’s press comments – indeed, in the words of the man himself – don’t believe 90% of what is written about him, and believe less than 50% of what he says.  Whilst I am sure, much like me, he’s disappointed to not have some new faces to work with – despite his public protestations about knowing nothing about prospective transfer news, I imagine he was well aware of the state of play.

Whilst a lot of support-wrath is being poured upon the board or the transfer-acquisition-panel (not surprisingly), it’s important we don’t lose sight of the person in the club who holds sway over our more immediate fortunes.  He has a challenge on his hands with such a compact squad, but that shouldn’t be a carte blanche for underachieving, and I’m sure for a professional such as himself it won’t be.

One person’s interpretation of stepping away from the blame is another person’s view that he’s deflecting attention or wrath from his players – Billy is a real Marmite character in the media.  Whilst I’m no fan of yeast-extract based spreads – I do like Billy.  And I really didn’t at first, I had an uncharacteristically irrational dislike of him upon arrival, but I am concerned that the transfer non-activity is deflecting attention away from on-the-field matters.

When we play Chambers at right back (indeed, when we play Gunter at right back too!) he needs to have the support from a midfielder infront of him.  Now, with Anderson and McCleary out that makes this somewhat tricky, but the lack of width in our midfield is alarming.  It makes the middle congested, it makes it very difficult for the likes of Paul McKenna – clearly unfit and underpar anyway – to find a simple outlet.

Of course, whether we should be playing someone – captain or not – who is clearly unfit and underpar is down to the manager’s discretion, I wouldn’t presume to pretend to know more than he does – but what has been clear is that our lack of width in midfield not only stifles our attacks by exacerbating us losing the ball in midfield, it leaves us very vulnerable to our opponents attacking us on the flanks – with the fullbacks often left with a tag-team of opposing winger and full-back facing them.

We might be limited on true wingers at the club, but I’m desperate to see them staying on the wings a little to ease our distribution of the ball going forward and give some protection to our fullbacks.  I certainly expect a little grizzle at the lack of players from the gaffer – but the challenge is now for him to deliver with the resources he has available – that’s his own description of his role, and I’m sure that’s what he has in mind irrespective of media comments.

Whilst many are smarting over the powers-that-be not delivering the signings we crave – now is the time for Billy to step up to the plate and justify his reputation as one of the best managers at this level.  I’m sure he’d read my views on some of our tactical frailties and laugh them off, which is fair enough – he knows more than me – but I really hope that the lack of signings isn’t picked up as an automatic excuse for not playing as well as we might.