Now is the winter of our discontent..

The weather seems to be echoing the mood of most Forest fans I talk to as they contemplate this weekend’s trip to Derby to face our in-form rivals. I know they say that the form book goes out of the window for local derbies, but frankly even if it did it would probably only mean a one or two goal defeat rather than a complete shoeing.

I’ve been perusing English championship betting odds at William Hill and as I type it has us at 17/5 and Derby at 8/11 – all in all, it’s a pretty depressing read and the bookmakers rarely get these things too far off. I can still remember going there last season and daring to have some kind of optimism that we might get a result which also seemed unlikely – only to bear witness an embarrassing capitulation that the Derby players and fans were probably too embarrassed to derive much enjoyment from, such a token resistance we put up.

And my expectations are even lower this year. Oh dear. This could be bad!

Whether Stuart Pearce’s job really hinges on this result is a matter for conjecture, but it doesn’t take a massive leap to imagine Fawaz losing his patience should something like last season’s debacle occur again. Indeed, whilst Pearce has my backing, I can’t help but think that if he weren’t Stuart Pearce would have be so reasonable considering the frankly awful performances we’ve been witness to? Have I always been in the past? I’m not sure.

The trouble with being such an infrequent blogger these days is that I can’t link back to past ruminations on Forest so readily – if I could then I’m sure there’d be an article prior to Pearce starting saying that whilst of course I was taken up with the general excitement I had reservations about him coming, partly because his managerial record isn’t exactly stellar before coming here – but mainly because inevitably the expectations of owner and supporters alike increasingly seem impossible to fill within the deadlines permitted would render my hero a failure.

It wouldn’t be the first time we’ve gone down the A52 half hoping that it might get snowed off or otherwise delayed, but let’s face it – bigger upsets have occurred in the past so we shouldn’t lose all hope. Just the vast majority of it!

Instant gratification..

It’s programmed into us seemingly, whether it’s the latest TV show to download, the latest album, the latest gadget to buy – facilitated ably by some kind of credit – we want it all, and we want it now.  I’m no better than anyone else really, I like to have the latest shiny thing, and certainly when we found ourselves atop the league table after a few games I instantly re-evaluated my more conservative pre-season aspirations in favour of something more grand.

That is the natural human thing to do.

Of course, quite a lot has happened since I last posted on here… (understatement!) – you only have to look at the site header or check the date on the post before this – we’ve had the joys of Eck, the return of the Wee Yin, a shambolic caretakership and the return of a legend to contend with, and it’s been tempting a few times along the way to log back in.

I’m not sure how frequently the urge will take me now, but listening to Matchtalk on the way home and skimming the forums and social media as I do there was that irresistible pull to try to remember how on earth to log in to the blog and post something (and check the email account for the first time in aeons – sorry about that if you dropped me a line!).

Before the season started I was ready to accept a steady build – ideally a play-off or better finish but possibly less, this is the Championship, it’s a competitive league after all.  And whilst I howl with anguish along with other fans as the early season promise (in results terms at least) seems to be falling away from us, I’ve decided in more rational moments to stick by that objective.

There is absolutely no denying that no wins from nine games is poor, and that even with the injuries (bloody injuries again!) we have, we should have enough in our locker to have picked up more points.  Furthermore, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to observe that in games where we have picked up points we might be considered fortunate to have done so.

However, we are also a work in progress – sure, we have acquired what I think are some exceptional players for this level over the summer, the cherry on the top of an FFP defying swoop for Britt Assombalonga I must admit did perhaps start to edge me to hoping for more than my ‘sniffing around the play-offs’ evaluation prior to his arrival – but even so, I still think it’s realistic.

I do worry that sometimes we seem to lack a gameplan, that seemingly we lack cohesion in defence, creativity in midfield and a cutting edge up front – and a relatively inexperienced manager (operating at this level at least) whose legendary status means that even reasoned criticism will inevitable cause embittered and often embarrassing divides amongst the fans.

Which is really why we need to be better than that.  And generally we are – the fans that travelled to Huddersfield in such numbers did a sterling job of staying behind the time even when there was no hope of getting anything from the game, and we need to see more of that – since the reclamation (or really clamation since it’s been an away area since pretty much day one) of the Lower Bridgford end has really improved the atmosphere at the City Ground too.

The principal problem we face now is – familiarly – the identity of the injured players we have.  Whoever partners him in defence plays ten times better when Hobbs is in the side – and he’s a leader.  There is no player in the league with the vision and passing range of Andy Reid – and he’s a leader.  Our talisman and midfield dynamo (or indeed, left back since that area seems so troublesome) in Chris Cohen is also a leader.

So it’s kind of understandable that when we’ve hit a sticky patch as we have that that lack of on-field leadership is costing us because the players aren’t confident, and nobody seems to be ready to step up.  I’d really hoped that Mancienne or Lansbury might’ve taken on the mantle but the former appears to have let his head drop a fraction, whilst Henri has too often been a passenger.

As for Pearce, it’s far too early to be suggesting he should resign or be sacked for me – and that’s not just because I’ve idolised the man since my childhood, it’s because he needs time to sort out the problems, you can’t tell me he isn’t even now agonising over how best to turn our fortunes around – and whilst I can’t categorically say that he will succeed, I do think he deserves more of a chance to finish the work he has started here.

I still think Sean O’Driscoll’s removal was untimely – whilst I buy into the criticism he received, he was planning for sustainability, of course, he might have failed – nobody has a crystal ball, but certainly I think he’d have done better than McLeish went on to do – and without the fireworks and drama that seemed to me the inevitable conclusion to the ‘Unfinished Business’ saga which was doomed to failure.

The best comparison I can make is with Leicester City – sections of their fans called for Nigel Pearson’s head whilst he was still sorting out their club, and look at them now.  People point to Derby too but they’re a year ahead in their squad development than we are, we have some way to go – and a wholesale change of manager, coaching staff, vision and probably a raft of playing staff is only going to see is back at the start of a new journey – rather than a the few months we have into this one.

Instant gratification sure is a compelling compulsion – we all fall for it, we get carried away after shakily hanging on to top spot for a while.  It’s a psychological blow to have fleetingly ascended to where you want to be only to tumble down the league again – but it’s still relatively early, the league is still as tight as the proverbial gnat’s chuff, and if we can stay united behind the manager and owner who – for now at least – still seem to be on the same page – it seems to me that can only expedite a recovery on the field.

I can’t honestly hand on heart say that I think Stuart Pearce will ultimately lead us to the promised land – when he was announced as manager I was a little disappointed because I didn’t want the hero of my childhood to be diminished in what has proven to be a shaky position at best – but I do believe that he deserves more than a few months before being cast upon the metaphorical scrap heap.

I’d say that for any manager in the current situation, but I do admit I’m keen to avoid my memory of him as another managerial casualty rather than a bona fide club legend.  I was tempted to crack open Photoshop and update my laughably out of date header image, but I might hang fire for a bit just in case Fawaz decides to go all crazy on us again…

Get well soon Brian Roberts..

This is only a quick post to wish a speedy recovery to Forest fan Brian Roberts who suffered a stroke this week.

A Red for 55 years who had trials with the club as a youngster is battling this horrible illness. Sending best wishes and positive vibes your way, Brian, and I’m sure fellow Reds fans will be doing the same.

Thoughts to his nearest and dearest too who are rallying to help him recover.

Groundswell..

F*** you, you f***ing f***er! #nffc

F*** you, you f***ing f***er! #nffc

Is groundswell right?  Undercurrent maybe.  I’m not sure – but there’s a lot of disharmony about the place.  I’ve lamented before some of the less positive manifestations of the techno-literate football fan, and as I noted then, I’m tiptoeing the line of hypocrisy in critiquing it, but things seem to be coming to a head again on the ol’ #nffc hashtag of late.

Now I think it’s worth a quick reminder about where we’ve been as a club recently – when Nigel Doughty passed away we were on the brink of oblivion.  We’ve all been through the debates before about why that would be the case – certainly the late chairman’s own decisions played no small part in that – but regardless of why we were there, that’s where we were.

That was a matter of months ago.  Since then we’ve seen new owners arrive – undoubtedly in no small part thanks to the hard work of those left behind at the club trying to keep the ship from sinking.  They appointed Sean O’Driscoll and then oversaw a large influx of players, whilst cancelling the preseason preparations the departed Steve Cotterill had put in place.

So a new manager, a very different squad and no preseason.  That’s less than ideal preparation for a new season.  From my memory most of us seemed to be content that this was a season of transition, certainly that was my view.  An aim for a top ten finish perhaps with a sniff of sneaking into the playoffs – which is pretty much where we find ourselves now.

Hence finding this discord rather puzzling – or at least the thoughtless abusiveness from some quarters.  Sure, it’s fair to offer a critique of performances – the Ipswich and Hull games in my view were below acceptable (and in the case of the latter at odds with the manager’s comments), but people calling for his head?  Well that’s just silly.

Fellow bloggers Rish and Rahoul over at eighteensixtyfive have decided to put their website on ice in the midst of personal abuse and threats in response to their excellent posts and podcasts.  How on earth can we as a community of supporters stand by and be content that this is how a minority of Forest supporters choosing to portray themselves online?

Underpinning all this are the torrent of random crap so-called fans send to our players or even owners on Twitter.  Whether they really are Forest fans or other clubs’ supporters trolling is unclear – but it could be damaging.  Indeed, at least a couple of Reds players have been moved to delete their Twitter accounts in the last couple of days.

Increasingly I find myself rarely taking to the social media channels – a cursory search of the Forest ‘fan pages’ on Facebook, the #nffc hashtag on Twitter, or the numerous forums scattered around unearths an ugly broth of negativity, thoughtlessness or just plain abuse which isn’t helpful to anyone.

It’s a real shame – because there’s a place for different opinions and healthy debate, but it seems to get tainted by the chronic lack of ability some fans have to do this without resorting to a torrent of abuse (or ‘banter’ as seems to be the current buzz word for this) when presented with an alternative point of view.

Few of us are trained football managers or transfer negotiators – plus the subject we love so much doesn’t really have any right answers, so we ought really to be prepared for folks having very different views and accept that peaceably whilst putting our own counterpoints across.  If we can’t do that then we ought to shut up.

It’s a shame Rish and Rahoul have opted for the latter – I hope they’re back in action soon as I for one (and I’m sure many more) will miss their insightful views.  Again, I might run the risk of hypocrisy here – but it would be nice if we could have a think before we took to the Internet.

Vivit post funera virtus..

It’s been a strange few days for Forest fans in the aftermath of the untimely passing of Nigel Doughty. The elements intervening in the weekend’s game gave a welcome break from contemplating our on-the-pitch troubles and time for reflection – time that many Forest fans have put to good use in raising over £3,000 for ChildLine as a small tribute to the memory of our owner.

This is a really great example of scores of kind-hearted souls combining to make a real difference to the lives of children in the name of Nigel Doughty’s memory.  I’m sure he would heartily approve of this – with ChildLine being a charity he personally backed heavily.  Fans can also leave a personal tribute in the book of condolence that Forest have opened at the City Ground – this is available in the main reception behind the Main Stand between the hours of 9:30am and 4:30pm.

But.

The wheels of the world keep on turning – it’s been confirmed today that the game at Derby will be contested on 13th March – a Tuesday evening, giving us Derby away, Leicester away then Leeds away inside a week.  Ouch.  As well as many fans potentially having the problem of not being able to make the rescheduled game it’s highly unlikely we’ll benefit from the TV money either.  Not ideal!

A leveller like we’ve seen this week has perhaps softened my resolve towards the coaching team and the players.  I haven’t changed my opinion of where they’ve fallen short in the past, but I’m hoping that we might also see a change of attitude on the field, as such I’m prepared to relax the level of criticism and remember that I’ve a role to play as a supporter, and maybe I could have been doing that better both in person and certainly on the blog.

It might be in vain but I do think the least we can do is get as many Reds in to the City Ground on Saturday as we can against Watford and try to spur the lads on to change our fortunes.  Usual preview to follow later in the week, but events have left me in a more contemplative mood and whilst football is all of our passions, Bill Shankly was wrong – football isn’t more important than life and death.  It’s a pity it sometimes takes an awful event to make us realise.

Without wanting to go all Jerry Springer to end with, maybe the mostly-filled-with-goodwill mood around the Forest online world could perhaps be maintained – I always think the world is a much nicer place when people are courteous to one another, even in disagreement.

Westley’s dilemma..

Westley. Considering departing the sinking ship.

Westley worked his way up from a youngster in the organisation, his reputation for a great work ethic showed from an early age. Rarely unable to work through illness or injury, he established himself as a key member of the staff over many years. Always modest, and never one of the shining stars – he was the kind of solid and dependable team members that any organisation depends upon.

Through his many years he’s been through performance issues with the business, he’s seen massive changes in personnel. He’s continued his fantastic attitude and workrate whilst surrounded by those less committed than himself, he’s done this whilst under austerity measures of wage restrictions that see him rewarded less well than his contemporaries at other businesses.

This season a change in policy saw a lifting of wage restrictions and an ambitious drive to accelerate the performance of the business. Westley was excited, his current contract was up soon and he was looking forward to the opportunity to be rewarded for his dedication, loyalty and hard work, as new recruits came to the organisation on much higher salaries than had previously been allowed.

Unfortunately this new strategy proved a gross miscalculation.

With performance levels unacceptable a backlash of customer complaints saw the chairman step down, the general manager depart and leave the club in a very different financial climate of cost-cutting. Nobody had spoken to Westley about his circumstances for some time, and other organisations had noticed his dependability and his contractual situation, and registered their interest.

Whilst Westley had a great relationship with the customers of his company, was a valued colleague by his team and felt a fondness for where he worked, he couldn’t help but think about the opportunities that he could have in another organisation. Certainly he could earn more money to provide for his family, he might have a chance of developing his career to higher levels too.

The fact that Westley happens to work for a football team rather than in a factory or office doesn’t really change anything for me – I wouldn’t blame him at all for seeking to move on from an organisation that has not recognised his value or loyalty and the contribution he makes to their performance. Add in the kick-in-the-gut influx of sub-standard players on considerably higher salaries and that just compounds matters.

I would be absolutely gutted to see Wes Morgan leave Forest, the only club he’s played for professionally and our longest serving player, however, I wouldn’t blame him one little bit – and he’ll always get a good reception from me should he ever return. You’ll never beat Wes Morgan!

Making plans for (not having) Nigel..

They say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  I’m not sure who they are, or why they say that so much – but apparently they do.  It’s perhaps a succinct way to mark the departure of Nigel Doughty as Forest chairman after ten years.  It’s undeniable we’ve seen some disappointing times in the last decade.

I’m not going to engage in the sometimes disgracefully personal and willfully ignorant debate (from whatever stance you take) that goes on regarding his tenure – it seems fruitless.  I do think it’s fair to say that he took on Forest at a time when we needed someone to pick up a mess that ultimately our greedy committee members had left us in.

There’s little point in denying there have been plenty of mistakes along the way – an early one perhaps proving a significant barrier to making some bolder decisions in the future.  The final mistake in moving heaven and earth to acquire Steve McClaren was the straw that broke the camel’s back – when the Wally walked, Nigel fell on his brolly.

Whilst there’s lots of talk of takeovers, I’m not sure that’s likely in the current climate – but not impossible.  Doughty has put Forest in the hands of Seymour Pierce – an investment bank (who also have other clubs on ‘their books’ apparently) to handle any potential new-owner approaches.  I wonder if I’m the only one who absent mindedly fantasised about the owner handing Forest over to an S Pearce.  Oh, just me then!

Given some of the vitriol directed both his way and towards his family (both his kids use Twitter), I’m quite pleased for him that he’s taken a full step backwards.  I’m not suggesting fans shouldn’t have the right to register their dissatisfaction or protest – but only in an appropriate way, and as ever some folks seem to take it too far.

That he’ll honour his liabilities and leave Forest ostensibly debt free ultimately means that he leaves Forest in the league pyramid roughly where he found them – but in considerably better shape financially.  With the constant talk of financial fair play, however, it casts a lot of doubt over those players whose contracts will end in the summer and whether we will be able to offer similar terms for new ones.

With our aim to become self-sustaining this points to a number of factors we need to consider – we need to grow our revenue, which could be achievable through supporters (tricky) or perhaps player sales.  We need to reduce our outgoings – the bulk of which is player wages.  Reduced contracts all round?  Can’t see many players enjoying that too much.

Let’s hope the talk of the academy facilities bears considerable fruit – because it could be a pipeline of talent both on more manageable wages, and it might of course also provide us with saleable assets.  Ultimately we are very quickly needing to get accustomed to cutting our cloth to fit a business model that does not include an end-of-year book-balancing exercise.

So it’s a fond farewell from me to Nigel Doughty.  I completely agree that under his stewardship there have been some monumental errors, but there have been some good times too.  One of my acquaintances of a certain age always reminds me when I bemoan missing the glory years: “D’you know what? I celebrated that game against Yeovil with just as much joy and ferocity as the trips I made to Munich and Madrid back in the day”.

He meant the league game against Yeovil where promotion to the Championship was won, of course, not the play-off game!  It’s an interesting perspective, because y’know what – that was a magical afternoon.  He was right.  But let’s not go back down to the third tier to experience it again, that’s all I’m saying!