Forest shirt 2011/12 - illustration by Adam Poole
It's been a while since my last article, for which I apologise. The time between articles can sometimes fly by in an instant and sometimes it can seem like 5 minutes. Sometimes Forest can be essentially in the same place as last time I wrote, and sometimes they can do things like throw away play-offs between articles. Never, however, has there been such a transformation of the club as there has been since I last wrote. It wasn't even that long ago, we'd just beaten Notts County and were having our usual slump to start the season with. That slump has got worse without results being too bad. I'll explain.
We started this season with a bit of optimism mixed in with a bit of trepidation. Steve McClaren was a divisive appointment, and before a ball was even kicked in this campaign there were chants of 'we want our Billy back'. We made 5 signings, though after Mark Arthur telling us that a left back was a priority, it seemed that we'd decided to fill the spot with Chris Cohen – possibly our best midfielder. Some players left, Tyson, Earnshaw, McKenna, a few others, but we've been over this. The upshot is that on paper we had a stronger squad than last year, just without left back.
Not the first time we've been without left back, and probably not the last, so we'll cope. A dull 0-0 with Barnsley and a lucky 1-0 win away at Doncaster have so far been the highpoints. Some absurd refereeing gifted us a point at home to Leicester after some much more absurd defending gave away 2 early goals. Forest v Leicester was supposed to be two of the promotion candidates pitting their wits against one another. Last season it was a playoff decider of sorts, this season it looked distinctly Sunday League. We were only saved by Leicester being a bit pants and the ref sending their goalkeeper off for mind games and time wasting. Leicester don't have a lot of look in the goalkeeper department at Forest.
Other results have seen us lose at Milwall, lose at Southampton and lose at home to West Ham on the Sky tellybox, conceding an average of 3 goals per defeat in the process.
After West Ham is became clear we needed something. New signings, new players, youth team, some inspiration just something, but nothing came. Nigel Doughty and his seemingly short lived love affair with Twitter (more on that later) seemed to mention Financial Fair Play at least 6 times a day. What does this mean? It's a new rule that says football clubs can't spend more than they make. It's not enforced yet, though that's not stopped us curtailing any spending. The decision to prepare for it, something other clubs haven't done as it will blatantly not come with any penalties, is something that only Forest have done. The clubs around us are spending as they have done before; we've cut the wage bill of a paper thin squad. Nigel has told us all about FFP, but then we've spent £2m on players, and had another £4m ready to go for the signings of Routledge and Verhoek – both of whom (ahem – allegedly) turned up in Notts and quickly turned around for whatever reason. We were also, according to some inside sources, prepared to spend £4m on Nicky Maynard. In total, £10m potentially available.
What I don't see is how these things could possibly fit in with the ethos of Financial Fair Play, and why here at Forest we can make £2m available for a player, but when we don't get said player decide that that £2m no longer exists. I also don't see how we can pursue at least £10m worth of players, and not one of them be the left back that we were told was the top priority.
I struggle to see how bringing in a successful manager, one who has lifted the Champions League trophy (albeit in a coach rather than managers role) along with top flight trophies and been selected by the FA to manage the national side, at the expense of an annoying, yet relatively successful within this set up, manager can have the desired effect unless he is given cash and autonomy to sign the players he wants. Surely someone like Steve McClaren is aware that a left back is a pretty basic position, and as such needs filling. A man who probably has David Beckham's mobile number, and certainly has Alex Ferguson's, must be able to obtain a left back. I could go onto the FA's transfer list now to find a list of players who we could get for free and I could find us a left back. Tom Cruise, a highly rated left back from Arsenal is on that list – FREE. Not only is he a left back, he is FFP friendly and is a former Arsenal player. A Top Gunner if you like. Sorry. The point is valid, though, why didn't we at least get him here on trial. Arsene Wenger thought he was good enough for Arsenal at one point, he later decided he wasn't, but that's not to say he isn't good enough for us.
It's obvious to the 20,000 people who have turned up to the games so far this season, and it will be obvious to the ever depleting numbers of people who will still go to games as the season goes on that we need a left back. It was obvious enough to the club that we needed one given that they said it was a priority position. Why didn't they do anything about it? Why not employ a scout specifically with the remit of finding a left back. He could scour the globe. I'm sure there's a decent left back somewhere in the world that we could sign. Go and watch some university football, go and watch some academy football, go and watch some Spanish or Czech or Polish football. We play in one of the most watched leagues in the world, I do not believe that a scouting network that brought us players like Findley, Moussi and Majewski couldn't find a left back playing in one of the leagues around the world? Is Alan Wright still playing? He was good. What about that Julian Bennett chap? Surely he could have had a go at playing left back for us, given he was a left back and played for us. Why did we let our only recognised left back go for free and then have to play someone out of position there?
I'll stop the left back talk before it turns into a rant. After everything, we were sitting not so pretty I the table, but as Billy Davies once said to me, it's not where you are in August, it's where you are in May that counts. I pretended to myself that he also meant September. Storm clouds gathered over the City Ground, both metaphorically and literally as our next game loomed. Derby County.
Storm brewing at the City Ground - photo by Alex 'Flagman' Ottway
A victory and we would probably paper over the cracks for a while and pretend that we were back. Defeat and things could get ugly. A bad start is one thing, losing to Derby is another. Billy helped us beat them 5-2 last season, although the only goalscorer from that night still at Forest was our new captain Luke Chambers. Derby had stolen Tyson from us, a player who had two good games last year (both against Derby) and famously waved a Forest flag towards Derby fans after we beat them a couple of years ago. I think we've missed him at Forest. We've missed his pace as much as he misses the target. We have strikers who are still missing the target, but they're not as quick so we don't get the excitement, Wes Morgan's lumped passes never reach a Forest player now as no one is quick enough to get to them after they sail on over the top and out for a goal kick.
The game started well, we seemed to be getting a helping hand. One minute in we get a penalty and they get their excellent goalkeeper, Frankie Fielding, sent off. We're one nil up inside three minutes, playing against ten men with a young inexperienced sub goalkeeper. What can go wrong? We probably don't even need a left back, which is just as well, as mid way through the first half our 'left back' is done over, injured and on the deck. No only do we no longer have a left back, we don't even have midfielder pretending to be a left back any more. While Cohen is writhing in agony on the floor Derby go up the other end and somehow mange to score from an angle so tight if Lee Camp hadn't lifted his leg the ball would have hit his foot and gone out for a corner.
Our lack of left back is dismal. We bring on some chap called Joel Lynch, probably a goalkeeper with a left foot deemed the answer to the left back problems, and we pray. It turns out, however, that this chap is a left back. Who knew? Turns out he's played for us for a while, as a left back, yet the manager decided that we didn't need to bother with putting left backs on the pitch to play left back.
In all seriousness, Lynch adds balance to the side, in much the same way when he has played left back earlier on this season. He's a decent player who might surprise us if he's given a chance. Speaking of left backs again, remember when Billy signed Nicky Shorey? Great signing that. We were in for two left backs, and had both of them, until one had to play for his club as the incumbent left back got injured. Anyone know who that is? I'll tell you at the end.*
So, the game is tense, it's 1-1 and we're not doing well. We're playing 10 men, and we're throwing it away. A draw at home to Derby is bad, especially given they have 10 men. Then a ball is lofted into the box. Camp should be claiming it, but Morgan heads it out to the edge of the box, where it drops for a Derby player to hit it into the corner of the net. We're 2-1 down and wondering how Steve McClaren blagged his way to the England job.
The game ends and we've lost. We're in the relegation zone, the only team we've beaten is Doncaster away, and we are in bad shape. The next few days have brought much soul searching, and lots of hyperbole. People calling Match Talk calling for Mark Arthur's resignation, then admitting they don't know what he does or why he needs to go, but he definitely needs to go. People want Doughty out, without thinking about the money he puts into the club, people want McClaren out (I'm leaning this way) and some people just want to protest. People are starting to abuse some communication channels, though. Nigel Doughty has been using Twitter over the past couple of months, though has been seemingly absent for the last 3 weeks. People have been saying things to him on there that no human being should say to another. If you want to read them search @nffc37 on Twitter. Then look even further and check out what some people have been saying to his son. If what people have said to Nigel is beyond the line, what people have said his son is beyond the pale. Some of the comments have made me ashamed to be associated with these fans.
As I write this Steve McClaren is still in a job, but every time I put Sky Sports News on I expect that yellow band across the bottom to tell me he's walked. While I would be sad to see another human being subjected to abuse from 'fans', I honestly wouldn't be sad to see us looking for a new manager. Until they appoint Brian Laws and I begin to yearn for the glory days of Steve McClaren.
* It was Gareth Bale, by the way.