After being in the play-off positions for most of the season, and even threatening the top two at one point, Nottingham Forest have slumped into mid-table obscurity. David Marples is feeling a little melancholic — and it’s not just about current form…
You may well be a person of a much cheerier disposition than me but I’m really struggling to muster up any real enthusiasm for not only the forthcoming home fixture against Birmingham City, but also any of our remaining fixtures. My usual excitement for game days is somewhat tempered by recent results and a whole bunch of other factors. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping away and it might even be short sleeve weather for the remaining games. But… I’m just not feeling it.
Despite our current dire form, there really are reasons why we should all be feeling a little more positive about our beloved football team. And guess what? Here they are:
• We are safely ensconced in mid-table with no fear of going down
Of course, this feels like a crushing disappointment given how we have spent much of the season in the play-off places and even threatening the top two. However, many fans would happily swap our situation of meaningless games for their hellish dogfight for survival games. Step forward fans of Blackpool, Barnsley, Carlisle, Torquay and Northampton to name just a few.
• Our better players are slowly but surely clambering down from the injury table
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Kelvin Wilson and Henri Lansbury started the latest game against QPR. David Vaughan was on the bench. Chris Cohen may well start kicking a ball around very soon. Jack Hobbs can’t be too far away and neither can Eric Lichaj. And let’s not forget Andy Reid. With all of these undoubtedly classy players returning and looking good to get a full pre-season in, we really should hit the deck running come August.
• The returning hero: Mr Pearce
Although he’s not in the hot seat yet, Stuart Pearce will be in charge for next season. Even as I sit here and type this, it still seems a little surreal. One day in August, around 25,000 of us will loudly chant ‘Psycho’ and go all teary and emotional when he acknowledges this. Not only that but he is a coach of some distinction and experience who stands an excellent chance of bringing out the best from Henri Lansbury whom he has managed in his generally successful role as England Under-21s coach.
So, all in all, we really shouldn’t grumble. We have no divine right to be up there challenging, never mind competing in the Premier League. Furthermore, by avoiding promotion, we have all saved ourselves a shed load of money in ticket prices and weekly humiliation as we see even the likes of Stoke City battering us home and away.
Of course, that last sentiment, although containing a grain of truth, is a little tongue in cheek. Part of me is envious at the scenes of Leicester City fans celebrating and Wes Morgan leading them to the Promised Land. But we’re used to that by now aren’t we? We’ve had 17 years of seeing other teams’ fans celebrate promotion to the Premier League while we lurk in the corner of the kitchen reading the backs of lager bottles as if they contain revelatory secrets to the meaning of life.
But it’s more than that. The hurt runs deeper.
And here are some speculative reasons why:
• The never-ending failure to win a game of football
We aren’t just failing to win every week, we are getting hammered by some extraordinarily average teams. Furthermore, our run-in is a relatively gentle one too against lots of mid-table teams. If one could pick their run-in, one would surely choose opposition from mid-table over teams at the bottom fighting for their lives and capable of springing a surprise with the odd fixture against teams around you chucked in for good measure. At home too. This is pretty much what we have been dealt but rather than taking full advantage, as we sit and smirk behind our green visor and are gently cooled by girls with palm leaves, we have dropped our cards on the floor for all to see and have spilt all the drinks on the table. It’s all a bit embarrassing really.
• Nobody likes us
And unlike Millwall, I do happen to care. There was a time when we were everyone’s favourite other team (I exclude Derby County and Leicester City fans from this, obviously). Brian Clough’s legacy ran deep and neutrals or casual fans usually smiled at the name of Nottingham Forest as they remembered us as that team who played football on the deck, never argued with referees, were populated with smart, nice young men like Gary Crosby and occasionally won a trophy or two. But no more. We are now that niggly, slightly arrogant club who have tried, and failed, to buy their way out of the Championship when good old fashioned clubs like Burnley have done it the right way by using 14 home-grown players all born within an inch of Turf Moor. And as for that objectionable chap they had as manager and that dodgy chairman who fires all his managers. And that time they messed around that nice young man called George Boyd. And didn’t they ban all the press, including the good old Nottingham Post?
Yep. That’s us.
• It should have been us
Comparing yourself with others isn’t always the wisest of things to do. But when I see Wolves making light of their time in League One, compared to our three long and arduous seasons there; Hull City competing in the Premier League and looking forward to an FA Cup final; Swansea City winning over the neutrals with their distinctive brand of football; and Southampton enjoying the delirium of the nationwide press and Burnley (them again) on course to spend another season in the Premier League, I get a little jealous and question why any of those clubs couldn’t be us. Even Sheffield United have enjoyed a trip to Wembley and what have we had in the last 20 years or so? A few successful seasons in which we reached the play-offs but ultimately fell short, a few seasons struggling against relegation to League One, three seasons actually in League One and no cup run of any note whatsoever. The high point? Probably the dramatic clinching of promotion from League One on the last day of the season against Yeovil Town thanks to Doncaster Rover’s inability to beat Cheltenham Town. Hmmmm.
• The returning hero: Mr Pearce
That giddy excitement is slightly tempered by the thought that at some stage, someone somewhere is going to express the thought that he isn’t the man to lead us back to glory. Unless he really is the messiah, our trigger happy owner is one day going to call Mr Pearce into his office and explain how, ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ that results in our legend walking to his car carrying a brown box with a small plant peeping over the side. The fear of that very scenario lurks menacingly in the background.
• I’m not a number, I am a man
But according to the powers that be at our club, we aren’t: we are a number which regularly provides money. Now this complaint is clearly not limited to our club and is applicable to fans up and down the land and it would be arguably naive to expect to be treated in any other way by multi-million pound businesses. But that doesn’t stop it hurting any less. A ticket for an adult for the home fixture against Birmingham City starts at £28 and rises to £32 for the final fixture against Brighton. Does the fact that it’s the final game of the season merit an increase in price? Will this game be longer than the others or £4 more exciting than the Birmingham City game? Or is it just a plot to get more money from a game they think will be better attended based on it being the final game?
Neither have I forgotten the disastrous ticketing strategies dreamed up to allocate away tickets for, most notably, the cup tie at Sheffield United. Lessons to be learned for the season ticket holder: (i) avoid travelling away to Blackpool as you’ll miss out on an opportunity to acquire tickets for an eagerly anticipated cup tie; (ii) those client points you’ve acquired for attending away game? Forget about them: they mean nothing.
And whatever happened to the discount extended to season ticket holders in the club shop? That quietly died a gentle and quiet death while we were bamboozled by the extension of the club shop.
Furthermore, not all season ticket holders live locally and therefore cannot take advantage of getting to the club shop early to claim extras like limited edition shirts.
Also, as I type this, I have received a thoughtful email from the club reminding me that I can take advantage of the ‘early bird’ offer which allows me to renew my season ticket for next season at a reduced price before it rises after Friday 2nd May. Of course, this seems to neglect that fact that season ticket prices are rising regardless of whether I take advantage or not and that with the holiday season looming, my money may well be spent on holidays for my family rather than a plastic seat.
But thanks anyway for giving me a tight deadline to spend more on my season ticket than last season.
• Financial Fair Play
Perhaps the reason why my money is so urgently required is to avoid fines and transfer embargoes arising from the introduction of FFP. I don’t pretend to understand the nuances of this new agreement but in short, it seems like a reasonable thing for clubs to abide by and if they don’t, punishment seems logical. I hope that our club has a plan to meet these regulations but without the instalment of an experienced pair of hands at the helm, I fear we might come a cropper. It matters not what title they carry (director of football, chief of operations or even spreadsheet whizz) but someone who knows what they’re doing when it comes to negotiating contracts and overseeing the purse strings seems a requirement.
This all seems like I’ve rather given up on my club doesn’t it?
I haven’t. I’m just feeling at a low ebb at a time when we should be entering the most exciting part of the season. Maybe we’ve been spoiled in recent years with seemingly each season climaxing in either a relegation battle or a play-off challenge. It would be foolish to pretend that our recent wretched run has nothing to do with the miasma surrounding our club but it really is only part of the narrative. Although Portsmouth lurk ominously close to the foot of League Two, I suspect their fans feel a sense of pride about their club as they own a part of it and have played a part in coaxing it back from the brink of death and have developed a wider perspective about what it means to see your club play football.
But of course, it gets us all in the end. Now excuse me while I renew my season ticket.