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Interview: Danny Taylor Author of Deep Into The Forest

30 July 05 interview: James Walker

"Without wishing to sound blasé, I no longer get excited or nervous about meeting footballers"

Danny Taylor has been a sportswriter for the Guardian since 1999, predominantly covering the (mis)fortunes of Manchester United and England. Although Danny is a devout red he is of the Nottingham variety and consequently dreams of the City Ground instead of Gold Trafford.

He has recently had a book published entitled Deep into the Forest in which he tracks down 14 of his favourite Forest idols. Unsurprisingly, none from the present eleven feature. 


So, how did you get into journalism?
The usual way is to study at university, get a degree and then start applying. Mine was a bit more unorthodox. I was on that extended holiday you get after A-levels and my mum came into me bedroom and flung a copy of the Newark Advertiser at me. It was about two in the afternoon and I think she was fed up of me cluttering up the house. There was an advert in the back for a cub reporter, starting off at £5,000 a year. My CV was a pack of lies really but I was lucky because the editor was a Forest fan and he liked me straight away. From there I went to Raymonds, which sounds like a bad hairdressers but is actually a Derby-based journalism agency and then I started freelancing in Manchester before the Guardian asked me to go full-time. I'd always wanted to do this.

If the late, great, Brian Clough was still alive, do you think he would find Malcolm Glazer uglier than Kenny Burns?
Without a shadow of a doubt. BC hated football club chairman and directors at the best of times, never mind a whiskery little oddball like Glazer. The man clearly knows nothing about football and Clough would have humiliated him. Nobody at Man United has said anything, which tells you about modern-day football and some of the people in the game. These days football managers seem to be paid to see little and say even less. With the exception of Jose Mourinho, of course. But even he wouldn't have got a word in with Clough.

On a more serious, albeit unrealistic level, would you welcome a Glazer-type takeover of Forest or do you think this is bad for the game in general, a Faustian pact if you like?

This is where my hypocrisy kicks in. I would love it if a sugar-daddy came along, made money available, wiped out the debt and made us rich again. I've always secretly hoped Sir Paul Smith would step in to rescue us. He's got the money and we'd have great kits, if nothing else. Can't see it happening though.

Was the book something you had always thought about doing, or something which came out of your occupation?
Being a football journalist, particularly at a newspaper like the Guardian, made it a hell of a lot easier because a) I had the means of getting hold of all the players and b) it counts for a lot in terms of getting a publisher. I'd had the idea for a few years and I thought it was a good time to do it. Nostalgia is the football fan's best friend, particularly when there is fuck all to celebrate of the present team.

Who was the player you most wanted to interview and why?
Without wishing to sound blasé, I no longer get excited or nervous about meeting footballers, even the people I regard as heroes. It was good seeing Nigel Clough, who's a particular favourite of mine, and ditto Stuart Pearce. But then again I see Pearce every week as part of my job anyway. That doesn't mean I didn't enjoy meeting them all, Larry Lloyd and Garry Birtles were particularly hospitable, inviting me into their houses etc. None of them was awkward, although John McGovern was a bit hard to nail down as he had just released his own book and Des Walker was, well, Des Walker. Distant and evasive.

Did they conform to your expectations?
Mostly. Trevor Francis and Archie Gemmill were nice surprises. For no particular reason, I'd got it into my mind that they would be awkward interviews, but they were great company. There was only Des who made life difficult for me. The others who agreed to be interviewed, Stuart Pearce, Des Walker, Garry Birtles, Kenny Burns, Larry Lloyd, Nigel Clough, Neil Webb, Ian Storey-Moore, John Robertson etc could hardly have been more generous with their time.

If you could bring in two extra players for the book who would they be? (Mine would be Johnny Metgod and Colin Walsh).
Martin O'Neill would be the first, just to prove that I still love him. A Scottish journalist mate of mine has told me that Martin was spitting mad when he found out I missed him out. I used to cover Leicester when Martin was in charge and he was absolutely top man. But he's also the hardest guy in the world to pin down and it was a question of him or Larry Lloyd.
Anyone who reads the book will probably agree that Lloyd was a great person to interview. He calls David Platt a dickhead, for starters. The second extra chapter would have to be Peter Shilton. I missed him out because I was unwilling to pay for memories and unfortunately that's not the way he works.
I used to see Mark Crossley down the Beechdale bookies having a flutter, maybe he will be charging for his memories one day as well? I can hear him now; 'Matt Le Tissier took 54 penalties and I was the only keeper to save one...' As Forest has a fine record of keepers were you tempted to opt for another?
If I had a goalkeeper in there it would have to be Shilton. Imagine the fuss if I had chosen Crossley or someone else. Mind you, I might have had a few questions for Barry Roche! Had it been a book about the best-ever XI I would have had no choice but to speak to Shilton and empty out my bank account but, as it is, the book features 14 of our best players. To call it 'Forest's best-ever XI' etc etc would have been a bit egotistical because who am I decide what their best team is?

My only criticism of the book was I felt the inclusion of Roy Keane slightly disrupted the format - which I think was its strong point. (Keane was the only player not to grant an interview). Was there ever a moment when you thought bollocks to you Keano, I'm replacing you with Brian Rice?
Quite a few. It's certainly divided people. Some say I was wrong to include Keane if he wasn't going to spare the time for an interview. Others agree with me that it nicely breaks up the book, and besides I wanted to write about how he once road-raged me. Keane's always interesting, isn't he?

I hear your girlfriend Zoe and her parents are Derby fans, bet Sunday dinners have been a bundle of laughs?
Her entire family support Derby, sisters, brother-in-law, friends, everyone. I shame myself. They take the mickey but they know when to stop as well. When Derby have thrashed us over the last two seasons and when Forest were relegated they kept a diplomatic silence. It was as if it never happened. Me? When Preston beat them in the play-offs I was hammering my mobile. I was hysterical.

How do you feel about Notts County vs Forest rivalry?
Is there such a thing? Notts County are a club for pensioners and small children. I never think of them. Forest's rivals are Derby, Spurs, Liverpool and sometimes Leicester. Oh, and Chesterfield this season.

How do you feel about Nottingham as a city?
Top place. So many memories. Can't believe what I keep reading about the crime etc. I've got mates in Manchester who think a night out in Nottingham is too dangerous, and I just think that's ridiculous.

What are Forest's hopes for the new season?
1) to keep their incredible fans 2) to win promotion.

Two of my favourite descriptions in the book were 'Pearce is the kind of guy who would have the national anthem played at his wedding, a man more patriotic than a flag store' and 'Birtles is the type of guy who would have You've Lost That Loving Feeling as his ringtone.' Are there any players at Forest at the moment who could perhaps invoke similar pride and determination?
Kris Commons, allegedly. We'll see when another club tries to sign him. Maybe Wes Morgan if he stays a few years..

If you could bring back any ex Forest player into the current team who would it be and why?
Stan Collymore. He is the best player I've ever seen in 25 years of watching football, home and abroad.

If you could sign any current player from the Premier who would it be and why?
Roy Keane. To show Paul Evans that 'hard men' should know how to pass the ball too.

Since we've been relegated I keep having dreams about winning the LDV and the title. Am I an idiot?
No. It's just part of the mourning process.

I really enjoyed the book and felt quite gutted when I finished reading it. How about a follow up entitled 'Down in the Forest' a quest to find the worst fourteen players of all time. Do you think this would take more or less consideration?
With David Platt and Joe Kinnear as joint managers, perhaps? It's a good idea, but I doubt the players would want to be interviewed. And I don't have a number for Silenzi.


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