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TRCH David Suchet

Left Brian: March

31 March 14 words: Richard Crouch
"So, Billy Davies. What has he actually ever done?"
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Illustration: Adam Poole

Ayup youth.

In 1865 Nottingham Forest were born. A fledgling team making their way in a relatively recently codified sport. A pastime, a hobby, something for the working man to enjoy on a Saturday afternoon. 21 years earlier Karl Marx referred to religion as “the opium of the masses”. What he meant was that religion was something to keep people subdued, something to keep them from thinking too much about the wider consequences of their actions in the world, something to stop them from really understanding what was going on.

I’ve long thought that religion can be substituted for football in the modern era, where we focus on it so much. It’s no longer about the ninety minutes on a Saturday afternoon; it’s a 24/7 business that feeds us drama and soap opera storylines through Sky Sports News, internet forums, and the odd online article.

As our obsession with every facet of the game develops, we scrutinise more and more. Most fans can name their club’s owner, CEO, and chief scout. We know, and care about, the actions of those responsible for the club’s representation outside of the white lines. Indeed, to continue the misappropriation of Marx’s work, perhaps now the off-field activities of a club go some way to subduing us from caring too much about what happens on the field.

As I sat down to write this, I knew I wanted to talk about Billy Davies, I knew I wanted to talk about Fawaz Al-Hasawi, and I knew I wanted to talk about how the club is currently being perceived. I also know that we’ve been horrendous on the pitch recently. Excluding Saturday’s 1-1 at Ipswich, we’ve scored two goals since we last spoke, one of which came in a thumping at home, and one was handled into the goal to give us one of only two points we’ve gained from the last six games.

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The dugout remains empty at the City Ground

 

It felt like we were spiralling out of control. We could barely string a pass together, let alone muster a shot on target. The team we saw climbing the table had become a team playing like relegation candidates. As Derby slotted home their fifth goal in a game so one-sided it prompted our owner to levy criticisms on our performance reminding us we were playing Derby, not Barcelona, it felt like the end of an era was upon us. Indeed, the end of an error, to borrow a phrase from Robin Chipperfield.

In the run up to the Derby game we had been poor. We had not shown any form or class – temporary or permanent – in any of the games since the last column. We capitulated, we moaned, we blamed each other, and ultimately the man for whom the word ‘divisive’ is the understatement of the century finally united the majority of the fan base as he was sacked to the soundtrack of a cacophony of boos turning to indifference. The chants of “Billy Davies is a Red” gave way to murmurs of “What is he doing?”

At times, I quite liked Billy Davies. I thought sometimes he got us playing attractive football. He was keen to win and whenever his goals were congruent with those of Nottingham Forest we did well. The problem – the same problem as last time – was that when Billy had to choose between himself and this club, the club never stood a chance.

I want to follow up on the results before I delve further into this. Following the sacking we welcomed Charlton to the City Ground for caretaker manager Gary Brazil’s first game in charge. As first games go, a home game to a relegation candidate would be optimal; a side, and I mean this with zero disrespect, that our reserve side should be able to beat. As it looked increasingly as though we wouldn’t be able to break them down, they went and scored a goal that led to fisticuffs between some of our own players and further howls of discontent from the crowd. Just what is going on?

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Blue sky thinking required

 

Early in the game Jonathan Greening found himself involved in a bit of a skirmish with a Charlton player. Nothing serious, just the usual handbags. What was telling, however, was that as three other Charlton players ran over to support their team mate, every Forest player walked away. Now, I’m not advocating that they should have run in for a dust up, but it just seemed to show how the players don’t seem to care for one another at the moment. Has Billy divided not only the crowd but the dressing room? Is there more going on behind the scenes than we’re being told?

Disappointingly, we lost the game. Much like we lost to Barnsley and should have lost to Doncaster. That would be three relegation threatened teams that we’ve dropped eight points to. As we sit two points outside the playoffs, it’s difficult not to think that we should still have a cushion despite a poor run of results.

So, Billy Davies. What has he actually ever done? He’s taken us to two playoff semi-finals, both of which we seemed to roll over in. It always felt a little like Billy didn’t want to win those games, especially the second at Swansea. We’ve had some decent games, but as anyone who has seen us travel to an away game under him, we’ve given a tiny handful of decent performances on the road. Some proclaimed him the messiah. For me he was little more than a naughty boy. A naughty boy keen on nepotism and self-preservation.

During his second spell, his messiah complex reached new heights. He banned the media, refused interviews to Sky, blackballed a journalist who questioned why he’d do a post-match press conference before the game, and set to work on presenting his side of things through Forest’s in-house media channels as though we should now call him Kim Jong-Bil. Further to this, Billy seemed to have a sympathiser in BBC’s East Midlands Today presenter Natalie Jackson. While the club were banning the media from asking questions, it was as though they used Ms Jackson to push their idealised PR image on the beeb, fielding soft questions which always felt like they’d been written by Billy himself.

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No media zone

It looked to me as though Billy was beginning to have a breakdown. He seemed to believe he’d achieved more in the game than he actually had, perhaps even more than the top end of the ‘personality managers’ like Mourinho and Ferguson. When Mourinho acts up a bit he can point to his trophy cabinet as validation of his neuroses. Billy has no such luxury, beyond one lucky promotion to the Premier League. Why was he given the dues reserved for a successful manager?

As this emerging madman started to believe his own hype more and more, the question arose as to whether Natalie Jackson and East Midlands Today were complicit in the blackout? The bottom line is that, while not supporting their shunned professional peers, they gave him a platform that other managers have to earn. Where was the solidarity one would expect from a heavily unionised profession? Why were certain members of the press allowed to be persecuted while others went on trips to Kuwait? I firmly believe that the football club belongs to the supporters. The owner, manager, and players are merely custodians. The media are there to ask the questions that we, the fans, want answered. They’re there to represent us and ensure we’re not taken for a ride by people to whom we give our support. The media blackout prevented that, and it’s my firm belief that East Midlands Today enabled it to happen by giving him the platform for his one-sided take on things.

As I write this, there is a plethora of managers ruling themselves out of the job. The second I write a name down, he pops up on Sky Sports to tell the world he wouldn’t come to this club. Warnock, Zola, Pearce and Mackay have all followed Mick McCarthy’s lead from last year and said they couldn’t work in the conditions here. Has Billy burned Fawaz’s fingers to the point he now feels he needs to interfere? Has Fawaz been picking the team? Surely he wouldn’t put Halford up top while Djebbour sits on the bench.

To close, I have to say that it really hurt to see Stuart Pearce turn us down. This is a man who would tackle a brick wall for this club and yet has walked away from the opportunity to save us. Just what could be so wrong at the club that someone like Psycho wouldn’t want to be here?

What are the odds on Fawaz taking charge?

Hopefully we’ll soon know the answers.

In a bit, youth.

Lost That Loving Feeling

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