Nottingham Forest had to come back again after Millwall took the lead twice in a 2-2 draw in which Billy Davies grabbed the headlines. Damian Bell offers a fan’s eye view from the Den…


In 1988, so the story goes*, the Nottingham Forest team coach slowed to walking pace amidst the Millwall fans meandering along the Old Kent Road towards the Old Den. Brian Clough asked his skipper, Stuart Pearce, to get the team off the coach and walk through the opposition fans to the Millwall ground. Having faced the very real and physical demons off the pitch, the verbal brickbats on the pitch would be a comparative cake-walk. A psychological stroke of inspiration that almost paid off: Forest went 2-0 up, only to draw after late goals got the newly-promoted, and high-flying, Millwall team a point.

I’m not using this to compare Brian to Billy, nor the ’88 squad to today’s: they’re different eras and literally leagues apart; it’s like comparing apples with oranges. What I am doing, however, is highlighting the differences in the stories that emanate; the history that is created and remembered. Cloughie regularly walked the fine line between apparent insanity and genius, but we remember the genius.

Davies increasingly strays into the strange and bizarre, particularly in his dealings with the media, the people who will ultimately define his story. Daniel Taylor, chief football writer for the Guardian and Observer has been banned from the City Ground; BBC Radio Nottingham and the Nottingham Post have strained relations with Billy; although his partner-in-crime, Jim Price (he’s definitely not a director), seems to have ceased their ill-advised Friday night Q&A session on Twitter.

Add to this list, last night’s angry ‘where are you from?’ outbursts at photographer Dan Westwell. (Or see the sarcastic #photogate on Twitter for more detail.) Maybe Billy’s a psychological idiot savant who has expertly deflected attention from another poor Forest performance via his strange, angry media and public relations style. However, I’m starting to feel he might just be an angry idiot, if only for his apparent personal vendettas and media mishaps, and for not following the first cliché of football fight club ‘let your football do the talking on the pitch’.

And so to last night’s sideshow to the BD one-man implosion: Forest went one down through a poor Lichaj clearance and well-struck Steve Morison shot. Andy Reid, returning from injury, provided yet another reason why he should be signed before he goes on a free this summer, with a piece of coruscating bolt-out-the-blue brilliance to level at 1-1. In the second-half, not dealing with a bouncing ball in the area allowed Woolford to wrap a foot around Lichaj and knock in to go ahead 2-1. An Andy Reid corner – that man again – allowed an unchallenged Chalobah to head in from six yards, levelling the match which finished at 2-2.

This isn’t a negative hatchet job on Billy Davies: he’s a good manager and has been backed to build a strong squad capable of challenging in the Championship. And yet tonight the players often looked disjointed, incapable of reading each other’s intentions and tactically inert. A series of injuries have forced him to shuffle his pack, but there’s sufficient depth to be able to adapt and adopt new styles with the personnel available.

How do you like the look of them critical media apples, Billy? Probably not much: it seems in Billy’s eyes all media needs to toe his party line and start looking like his own personally selected oranges and unfortunately, despite his predilection for Natalie Jackson of BBC East Midlands, oranges are not the only fruit.

*There’s no reason to doubt the veracity of this walk to the Millwall ground story: it was told by Stuart Pearce to George Best, and recounted in Best’s autobiography Scoring At Half-Time: Adventures On and Off the Pitch.

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