Summer tends to go in stages doesn’t it?
From the initial emptiness following the end of the season and lack of anything football related to do on a weekend (unless we are fortunate enough to be in the bi-annual cycle of watching England crash out of a major tournament) to the transfer window opening with much gusto only to be met with days, even weeks of inactivity as clubs let players contracts run out at the end of June before pouncing like a leopard to snare its prey on July 1st (or shortly thereafter).
It usually coincides quite closely with players reporting back for preseason training, the first preseason fixtures are just around the corner and typically run in parallel to the new kit designs being released and modeled by current players, new signings and celebrities alike.
There’s updates on season card sales, international training camps and pre-season fixtures abroad allowing a few lucky ones to imagine what it must have been like back in the day to watch Forest in Europe.
There’s the tedium of blocking kids posing as ITK journalists on twitter claiming to have seen Peter Crouch at the McDonalds in Carlton – it’s really happening folks!
Then there’s the calm before the storm where we let our expectations soar and our optimism run wild. These signings, yeah, they look good… I mean, I’d not heard of half of them before Chippers tweeted about them but they look good on YouTube. And that player who’s always had potential but never really fulfilled it? He’ll come good now he’s at a real club with our stadium, history and support. It’ll click. It has to.
And then… It’s August… And it begins.
Often hectic in the same way only December can be, fixtures come thick and fast. League and Cup alike, there’s plenty to get stuck into in the first 4 weeks of the season before the international break arrives as a welcome relief from the carnage.
Starting at home this season, we welcome play off semi finalists West Bromwich Albion to the City ground for a lush 5:30pm televised season opener. You probably remember last season’s fixture well. Adlene put in one of his finest shifts in the Garibaldi, netting Forest’s only goal and nearly scoring a genuine contender for goal of the century and something that could finally surpass McGugan’s free kick as “the best goal I’ve seen at the City Ground” but it wasn’t to be and thanks to a late equaliser the game finished 1-1 and Albion went back to the West Midlands with a point. Despite it feeling like 2 points dropped, there was a tangible sense of optimism about what we’d seen. Memories like that can fade fast in NG2.
Next up is our “other” big rivals in the division and the team everyone loves to hate, Leeds United at Elland Road in another “moved for SKY” kick off time of 12:30pm on Saturday August 10th. Leeds don’t like us much, we tend to have a bit of a sign over them recently as well and were it not for some ludicrous bad luck with refereeing decisions in the away fixture last season, we would have taken 6 out of 6 points from them. Leeds biggest signing over the summer was in retaining the talents of Bielsa as manager. Someone in the hot seat who finally “get” Leeds and what it is to manage such a prestigious club with its great history and Premier League facilities and fan base (sound familiar). There will be a level of expectation from the home supporters this season after they too (like West Brom) lost in the play off semi finals to them down the road, much of their own making having been 2 up on aggregate approaching half time. Leeds always seem to be hindered by a lack of discipline on the field, if Bielsa can get them playing fair, they are going to be right up there again and coming off the back of playing an experienced West Brom side, amounts to two very difficult fixtures to kick off the campaign – not least with a manager at the helm who may need time to learn the league to get the best out of his “big spending” Nottingham Forest squad.
Next up is Fleetwood Town in the Cup at the City ground where 3-5,000 fans will watch our second string limp to a narrow victory against a courageous lower league club while half the Forest fans prey they nab a late equaliser to enable their hopes of a late summer reccy to Blackpool to watch the replay before realizing that on 90 minutes that it goes straight to penalties!
Rudderless Birmingham City follow at the City Ground and its anybodies guess who will be in charge for the Blues after the sacking of Gary Monk over the summer, I mean, it could be Pep Clotet but at the same time, it could be Harry Redknapp again. Nobody knows. On paper this is the first easier league fixture we have and with Che Adam’s threat having departed, we might be catching Brum at the right time while they steady their ship. Definitely winnable if we turn up.
Charlton Athletic and Fulham away on a Wednesday / Saturday shift gives some fans the dilemma of staying in London for 3 nights and catching both or returning home to work then crawling down the M1 again on one of those vintage Silverdale coaches. Charlton could do anything and thankfully (for them) having dodged the bullet of Fawaz Al-Hasawi ownership last year look to be this years surprise package as they carry momentum from their promotion last season. Fulham away is always a marquee fixture for fans with Craven Cottage arguably being the second prettiest ground in English football behind the world famous of course. Neither team has any tangible form to trace from last season into this so we’ll have to wait and see and hope that whatever team turns up, the one we put out has clicked by then and is better. Could be a big 4 days so early in the season especially if we’ve taken anything decent from the first 3 league games.
August concludes with a home game against Preston North End. A team that we never seem to beat as they always try to stifle any opportunities for decent, free flowing football that we try. If we have a plan B or C that can break them down then there’s everything to play for and Saturday games at the City Ground in August and September are usually fun times to watch Forest. Supporters are still on side with the plan, are optimistic for the season, are allowing the new signings and manager alike to “settle in”.
The glass half empty in me says those opening 2 fixtures are a step or two too far for a new manager getting to know the league, his players and the best system for them to play and that coming off the back of 2 difficult opening fixtures and what will inevitably be a battle against Fleetwood (and disruption to the starting XI as players rotate for game time) that Birmingham already could become a crunch fixture followed by 2 on the road where historically we don’t do well and then Preston who are one of this generations Walsall’s (read: bogey side) and that potentially every point in August is going to be a scrap.
The glass half full in me says the players we’ve signed feel better than those we signed last season and a home opening fixture against a team that will probably let us play football is the perfect opportunity to settle on a style, grabs some points and gain some momentum before going to a team that hate playing us and will suffer from an immeasurable amount of fan pressure to do well this season which will stifle them against one of their greatest foes. And everything after those 2 fixtures will be a walk in the park.
And we won’t have to worry about player fatigue later in the season when Fleetwood knock us out of the cup in Round 1 allowing us that much needed facility of being able to “concentrate on the league”.
Feels good to be back, doesn’t it!