You’d think after everything that has happened to Nottingham Forest over the past 12 months, most fans would be relatively satisfied with the progress the club’s made so far this season — not so it appears. Jonathan Stevenson says get behind the team…
Confession: Saturday’s 2-1 defeat by Hull was my first trip to the City Ground this season. I went to Crystal Palace away in September, but because of work commitments hadn’t previously been able to make it home.
Watching on from afar, I must admit to having been quietly elated by what was happening. Since their first press conference in July, new owners the Al Hasawi family have been hugely impressive in both words and actions; immediately seeming to get the essence of the club, its proud history and the fact that it had been through difficult times for much of its recent past. Forest’s were wounds they wanted to heal.
The Kuwaitis, let’s not forget, were our lifeline when they bought the club. They immediately brought stability after a traumatic 12 months in which Billy Davies was sacked, Steve McClaren appointed, McClaren walked out, Nigel Doughty quit as chairman and put Forest up for sale, Doughty tragically died, and on the pitch there was an ultimately successful but desperately fraught battle against relegation to League One.
O’Driscoll’s appointment was met with optimism by the majority of fans. Here was a good football man who had got both Bournemouth and Doncaster punching above their weight for six and five years respectively, playing a brand of football that fits perfectly with the on-the-floor ideal Forest fans still expect.
O’Driscoll was named manager on 19 July, taking over at a club with no shortage of optimism but a drastic shortage of players. With just 25 days before the season started, he and the new owners performed admirably in the transfer market.
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Amidst all the excitement of incomings, something more important was happening at Forest: we started behaving like a proper football club again. When a player was needed by the manager (think Jermaine Jenas, Elliott Ward, Alan Hutton) they arrived with the minimum of fuss, a far cry from the days of bungled transfer deadline days and a manager at odds with the ‘acquisition panel’ that was supposed to aid him.
Communication began to improve too, with the calm, reasoned thoughts of O’Driscoll backed up by the excellent use of Twitter from Fawaz Al Hasawi, the owner announcing new signings with glee and showing his support for the team around matchdays too.
There was no ‘We’re serious about promotion, are you?’ propaganda, they never lured us in with false promises about stellar signings and reaching the promised land of the Premier League. There was a lot to do, and with time and patience it would be done.
So imagine my surprise when I rocked up on Trentside on a cold, crisp December day with my team sitting pretty in ninth place, only three points off the play-offs, to find an atmosphere more in tune with the relegation battles we have fought down the years.
Yes, we had come off the back of a disappointing defeat at lowly Ipswich, made to feel worse by the fact that three days previously we’d gone to Wolves and outplayed them, winning 2-1 thanks to two stunning goals from Billy Sharp and Adlene Guedioura.
But the inconsistencies of results this season surely lie in the lateness with which the squad was put together, the fact they had no real pre-season, injuries to crucial players like Greg Halford, Daniel Ayala, Sam Hutchinson, Jenas, Radi Majewski and now Simon Cox.
Only 19,472 turned up, the lowest home Saturday crowd of the season so far, and even before kick-off many of those that did — around me in the Brian Clough Stand, anyway — made it feel more like attending a wake than a clash between two teams who can count promotion as a realistic goal come May.
I could understand disappointment at a starting XI that showed only one striker, but surely O’Driscoll and the players deserve our faith for a little longer than the printing of the teamsheets at 2.05pm? Fifty-five minutes later when the whistle blew it was flat — I think we were about eight minutes and a few mumblings of discontent in when I first turned to mum and said: “I cannot believe what’s going on here.”
Somewhere down the line, the giddy rush of seeing Forest sign so many new players has made some fans at least confuse building a platform for the future with an assurance of free-flowing, passing football that ends in promotion back to the top flight.
We want success and we want it yesterday; it was less than half an hour before the first “Cloughie would’ve hauled him off by now”, by which time Ward was already being repeatedly chastised for daring to play the ball long.
I know, it happens at every ground in the country. Maybe it wasn’t the naysayers that took me by surprise, but the fact they had no competition for airspace from the optimists. Or supporters, to give them their proper title. And maybe it always seems worse at Forest — after all, the stick our fans use to beat the current incumbent of the manager’s seat with has got two replicas of the cup with big ears attached to it. Sometimes it feels like it’s weighing everybody down.
A disjointed first half was followed by a much improved performance after the break, but a costly slip from Danny Collins that led to a highly dubious Hull winner (Hand of Cod?) deprived Forest of a share of the spoils, and boos reverberated around the creaky old stadium at the finish, possibly some for an abject display from the match officials but also — around where I was certainly — some aimed squarely at O’Driscoll and his players.
I was embarrassed to be near those so-called fans. Was it a minority? Probably, yeah. Was it a one-off? As I don’t go often enough, I’ll let those better-informed make their own minds up.
It’s been discussed before, but what is the booing for? What effect is it supposed to have, what good can it do? Is it purely and simply a cathartic way to release some pent-up frustration after spending an afternoon watching your team lose a game you think they should win?
To me, it’s an entirely selfish pursuit. When the final whistle sounded Forest were still ninth, only four points off the play-offs with 26 matches remaining, with several big players to return from injury and probably a bit of cash around to bolster the squad further when the transfer window re-opens in less than a month’s time.
Yet you could’ve been forgiven for thinking the Al Hasawis had pumped cyanide into the Nottingham air, so poisonous was the atmosphere in our block of the BC. It didn’t take too long for Simon Gillett — who was admittedly below-par on the day — to tweet his frustration:
“The minority booing the team? What’s that about? Sitting 9th a few points off playoff places. We all want to win & give it our all every game… Not been in a squad that has more honest hard working bunch of players trying to play the right way. We’re all in it together-stick with us… And it will come we WILL be successful #nffc #uuuurreeddss.”
Come Monday, the vocal minority were at it again. A photoshopped tweet pertaining to be from Greg Halford did the rounds before the defender tried to clear up the confusion by saying he’d posted nothing of the sort (only to receive more abuse) while the accounts of Henri Lansbury and James Coppinger disappeared without trace. Tired of being slagged off?
Most distressingly of all, bloggers Rish and Rahoul at eighteensixtyfive announced they were closing the site because of the volume and nature of the abuse they were receiving simply for trying to engage with their fellow supporters.
So this is where we are. Nottingham Forest lie ninth in the Championship, still in with a shout of having our best season since we last won promotion to the Premier League in 1997/98 and already miles clear of the relegation zone we spent most of last season flirting around.
We have owners who are wealthy and buy into the heritage of our great club, a manager who behaves with dignity and has worked hard for everything he has been given and a set of players who are still getting to know each other and have the potential to achieve genuine success.
Yet a reckless minority of young fans seem hell-bent on causing mayhem in the social media sphere and a reckless minority of perhaps slightly older fans seem unwilling to show any patience when they arrive at the City Ground expecting victory every other Saturday.
I even heard a couple of people agreeing that O’Driscoll should be sacked in the aftermath of Hull.
Please, please, please, get behind your team. I know some fans think the atmosphere should come from the team playing well first, but it has to be a two-way street. Give them everything you’ve got, and it’ll be easier for them to give us everything they’ve got. If you don’t feel like offering encouragement, at least refrain from negativity. If they don’t feel like we’re on their side, people like Gillett are going to increasingly wonder what they’re doing it for. They might be well-paid young men, but they’re still human beings with feelings and emotions.
We are at the very start of what could be a fabulous adventure with the Al Hasawi family at the helm. Can we try not to ruin it before it’s even properly begun?