Remember the halcyon days of football before the Premier League? Freelance journalist Ian Edwards started his career back in the late ’80s when Brian Clough reigned supreme…
What’s your earliest Forest memory?
I was given the job of covering Forest for the Nottingham Evening Post ahead of a pre-season tour to Sweden. There were no plans for me to go on the trip with the squad until the legendary Post photographer Trevor Bartlett, who had covered Forest through the two European Cup wins, told the sports editor that he had swung it with Cloughie for us both to go on the tour.
I was instructed to meet the team bus at the City Ground at 6.30am and had not previously met BC. I climbed aboard the bus with my head down and heart beating out of my chest to hear Cloughie shout a fond hello to Trevor.
“Morning Brian, this is Ian our new Forest reporter, hope it’s ok for him to come on the trip,” said Trevor.
“It’s a bit bloody late to ask now. Ian sit down and shut up,” said Cloughie.
I swear he could see me shaking with nerves. I didn’t speak until he asked me, over dinner later that evening, how many O-Levels and A-Levels I had!
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What was your first Forest game?
Covering my first Forest game would have been on that tour of Sweden, but don’t ask me to remember the opponents.
The first Forest away game I attended was the Hillsbrough semi-final, when I went along to assist the then Forest reporter and my sports editor Trevor Frecknall.
My memory is sketchy on the first game I ever attended at the City Ground, but the first time I attended in a professional capacity was when I was asked to write a feature on the Trent End, before I had started covering Forest and was still working as a news reporter at Evening Post towers.
The game was against Liverpool and if memory serves me correctly Toddi Orlygsson tried to nut-meg John Barnes just in front of the Forest dug-out and Liverpool broke away and Ian Rush scored. Pretty certain the Orlyggson substitution took place before Rush’s shot hit the back of the net!
My first season covering Forest started in August 1990 and the first game I covered as Post reporter was a 1-1 draw at The City Ground against QPR.
Favourite Forest player — past or present?
This is a tough one and there have been several. As a Black Country boy, I loved the two seasons a certain Stanley Victor Collymore had at the club and at the time he was the best all-round striker in the country.
I also spent plenty of time in the company of Stuart Pearce, ghost-writing his EP column and he was great fun and a deep thinker about the game. He was also someone who was misrepresented in national newspapers because he did not really speak to them. So they just wrote him off as rude, cold and arrogant. He could be all of them, but he was also hugely funny, fearless and made the most of every ounce of ability in his body. If only Stan had done the same.
Wow, there are some classics to choose from. Lars Bohinen at Sheffield Wednesday, SVC against Wimbledon at home in the Premier League, Stuart Pearce’s free-kick at Old Trafford after Italia 90 and all the abuse he suffered for “losing the World Cup”. The nonchalant way he walked back into his own half was amazing.
Ian Woan in the FA Cup against Newcastle at St James’ Park. That was pretty special, but one really sticks out for me for other reasons. It came at the old Roker Park against Sunderland. Des Lyttle threw the ball into Stan inside his own half and Stan turned round, ran past about four red-and-white striped shirts and lashed the ball into the top corner from outside the box. All the reporters in the North East stood up in the press box and applauded! The local Nottingham contingent had become used to it by then.
I loved the thrashing of Sheffield Wednesday and the 7-0 win over Chelsea at home in 1991, but the game I enjoyed most was the win at Peterborough under Frank Clark when Stuart Pearce almost had his head kicked off with that diving header and Nottingham invaded London Road to celebrate a return to the Premier League.
There are two. Sheffield United at home to relegate Forest and precipitate the departure of BC. Sheffield United at Bramall Lane in the play-off semi-final. I hate Sheff Utd.
Your favourite Cloughie anecdote?
There are so many, like the time I was in his office and he had his flat cap — given to him by Eric Morcambe — and was throwing it over my head and trying to hook it on his hat stand. Every time he missed I had to go and collect it.
The awful night travelling back on the team bus after losing 6-4 to Coventry in the Rumbelows Cup and, after asking BC “too many stupid questions”, he said to Liam O’Kane: “Do you want to punch him Liam, or should I!”
Him telling me to take the shopping trolley back to a supermarket in Sweden after I had pushed it over cobbled stones to the team hotel, full of soft drinks for the players’ rooms.
The night after the 4-1 win against Burnley in the Rumbelows Cup and I had the temerity to suggest it was a flattering scoreline (Burnley had a player sent off, if I recall correctly and Forest scored late goals). Cloughie bounced across the car park towards the Jubilee Club where I was chatting with John Robertson.
“Hey s**thouse, how dare you tell me it was flattering. I’ve won two European Cups you know!”
Robbo was laughing behind me and Cloughie turned and bellowed: “Robbo put that bloody fag out!”
Robbo stubbed it out and Cloughie shot off, leaving Robbo sat with his head in his hands. “I’m 30-something, married with kids and I’m still scared to death of him,” said Robbo.
Your most prized Forest possession?
I have a wedding present, a signed picture of Cloughie on which he has scribbled, “I hope you make a better husband than a journalist!” I also have a signed autobiography from BC and a picture of my then four-year-old daughter in the shirt Nikola Jerkan posed in the day he signed for Forest (maybe that is not in the prized category!).
Did you always want to be a football journalist?
Not really. I was at university studying sociology and writing for the student rag, when the idea first came to me. I loved sport and enjoyed creative writing, so it was a bit of a light bulb above the head effect in the refectory bar one day. Until that point I had no idea what I wanted to do professionally after I had finished uni.
I wrote letters to so many different weeklies, regionals and free sheets trying to get in. The Post were the only people to invite me for a “chat” and took me on as a trainee sports reporter for the princely sum of £6k per annum!
How has reporting the game changed since you started?
Reporting the game remains pretty standard stuff on match days. For Saturday games, all the Sunday newspapers carry match reports and quotes from managers and Monday newspapers scuffle around for player quotes to take the match in a different direction. Evening games are pretty formulaic too. Watch the match, write about it and then a re-write for later editions with quotes.
Day-to-day stuff has changed. Twenty years ago, a £2m transfer was back page news in nationals. Now it’s a two-paragraph newsline. The gulf between players and reporters is wider than ever. Newspapers have created the new rock and roll with football and all the glamour. Clubs have made players rock stars with the bloated contracts and a car for every day of the week. I hate to sound bitter, but there is no real bond between players and journalists now. They used to be the norm, now it is the exception.
I remember driving Roy Keane, Ian Woan and Steve Stone around Nottingham many years ago and going for a drink with them. Now it is all VIP areas, bodyguards and mobile phone changes every other week. Journalists are not blameless either, especially when news reporters splash kiss-and-tell stories about high profile players and drive a further wedge between players and sports writers.
What’s your relationship with the club been like since you became a journalist?
My relationship when I was at the Post was fine. I was allowed access every day and many of the players would stop and chat. Interviews were a little difficult to come by in the early days, because they all used the excuse that they were worried what BC would say, but it became easier over time, especially when BC allowed Nigel to write a weekly column for the EP.
I don’t really have a day-to-day relationship now. Their PR has been rightly panned over the last decade and they have not done themselves any favours. Hopefully that will change now.
Do they cater well for the press?
Catering throws up images of food and that is something Forest fail on in the press room, which is like an old store cupboard stuffed with junk. It is not a good working environment and the press box is always filthy and covered in dust. The whole ground needs a makeover and to be made to look as if people actually care for it.
Many fans are critical of the news (or lack of) that has come from the club in the past — do you think Forest are bad at releasing information or fairly typical of most clubs?
As mentioned earlier the PR of the club has been awful for over a decade and they have rarely taken the fans into account at any stage, other than trying to sell them a pipe dream or two. “Are you serious about promotion!”
The press office is adequate, but they can only release information they have been cleared to release. Much of that was down to the reluctance of Nigel Doughty and Mark Arthur, but hopefully things will change now the new owners have arrived. They appear to fully grasp the need for communication and publicity.
In the light of the recent takeover, how should the club progress?
Slowly. There is no need to throw stupid money at this. Their plans look solid so far. I want to see clear plans in place and sensible plans and funding.
Do you know much of the Al-Hasawis? Or their plans?
Not really, only what they have revealed so far. There has been little chance for anyone to get to know them intimately, but they obviously have a firm desire to take the club to the Premier League and hopefully they will be able to deliver.
What (realistic) hopes do you have for the future?
With a decent manager and excellent coach in place in Sean O’Driscoll then there will be a return to the kind of football Forest fans require. Anyone who saw his team during the early days at Doncaster will know what to expect. Promotion at some stage in the next two seasons should be a target.
Should Forest stay at the City Ground?
Stay, stay, stay. I don’t want a soulless pre-fab new home built in the middle of a shopping centre. Walking over Trent Bridge to the City Ground always gives me goose bumps. I can’t imagine the same sensation walking past a Frankie & Benny’s.
Dream scenario: where do you see the club in five years?
Back in the Premier League and back at Wembley winning trophies.