Forest Through The Looking Glass Or: Reasons to Feel Confident About the Future

by Andrew Cove

Remember February 2020? The month started off in glorious fashion with a sensational win against Leeds United at the City Ground. Hunting around on social media for videos of fans celebrating as Tyler Walker smashed home the winner in injury time. Then a few days later watching Forest do a Forest and lose at home to Charlton Athletic. Ahhh, simpler times.

Most of us were well aware of the growing global impact of COVID-19 and its potential to get out of hand and as March steamrolled into view, the reality of the situation began to dawn on us all. A 3-0 home defeat to Milwall with the inevitable first half hattrick from human skyscraper Matt Smith kind of summed up the mood as an away fixture at Sheffield Wednesday looked like it might get cancelled, Forest owner Evangelos Marinakis testing positive for the virus and possibly infecting the whole Arsenal reserve team in the process. And of course, something very close to our hearts, Nashville experiencing a terrible natural disaster as a tornado tore through the downtown area on the night of March 2nd.

We’ll meet again…

Shortly after, MLS fixtures were cancelled, EFL games were cancelled and so with it was our plans for the 2020 NFFCNA meet up at the Tailgate Brewery. Rarely do you get so many things happening over the course of a year let alone a 3-week period. 2020 casually walks into the room, looks around and says “Hold my beer”.

Four months on and after a ton of soul searching, poignant reflection and more hours than we care to mention chasing our kids around for misbehaving during lockdown (families, you hear me right?) we can start to look ahead at what is to come, as opposed to what we will eventually be able to leave behind. Vaccine trials are showing promise and treatments for positive cases have also improved and of course, on a more personal note for a lot of us, professional sports are starting to return including our beloved Forest.

Can you hear the Wednesday sing, Noooooo, Noooooooo

So what’s with the whole Through the Looking Glass metaphor we’re peddling? For a few months now, probably even stretching back as far as last summer….. things have felt different at Nottingham Forest. Sure there’s the occasions where Forest do a Forest and grant Jordan Rhodes or Matt Smith the freedom of the city allowing them to destroy Forest before we’ve even had a chance to fight over the last pie at half time, but there’s also been games that buck the trend and show that maybe, just maybe, we’re watching something new and something potentially very special.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and for right or wrong and not in any way taking sides, the appointment of Martin O’Neill was a divisive one at a time when we really needed the fans to come together and unite after the promise and later disappointment of the Aitor Karanka era. One thing that the sacking of O’Neill provided and be it through good luck, good judgement or a bit of both, the appointment of Sabri Lamouchi has turned out to be one of the best managerial appointments the club has made in decades. J’adore.

Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more

When we get the right manager and the (mostly) unilateral backing of the fans, the club very often goes on to do good things. Billy Davies in his first spell was a galvanizing force and led the team and supporters to the play offs after fending off relegation only a season or so before. Paul Hart took a group of rag tag youngsters and molded them into a Forest team for the ages playing exciting, expansive passing football and again, only missing out on the Premier League after getting beaten at the last gasp on a forgettable night in Sheffield.

Fans, en-masse, seem to like Lamouchi. He has a relatability to him. His interviews seem to speak a language the fans understand and respect. Describing the first half away at Charlton as “shit” probably echoed the feelings of most supporters that night. He’s also made us difficult to beat. The emergence of Joe Worrall as a future Forest captain alongside Tobias Figueredo and the experience of Michael Dawson, coupled with the best full back pairing we’ve had since Gunter and Shorey. Our back line is great. Lest we forget the man mountain between the sticks Brice Samba….. OK, hands up, when we signed Samba Sow, Yuri Ribeiro and Brice Samba over the summer, who thought any of them would amount to anything. Sure, some of us are prepared to give them a chance but the reality is, some of our summer signings have excelled far beyond anything we could have predicted. Not without its duds – Muric, Mir, Diakahby, etc. but for every one that didn’t work out, we’ve had one or two that most definitely added a whole other level to the team. And that’s what feels different, we seem smarter, leaner, better than we have for a long time. We’re through the looking glass in Forest terms.

Its not just the team, there have been so many things this season that have felt, in the best possible way, very un-Forest like. Our ability to absorb pressure from teams that have great possession stats. Fulham away at the start of the season not only producing a great performance and victory despite an onslaught of pressure for the 7 minutes of injury time we had to defend at 2-1, but also possibly the goal of the season, a passing move that touched all 11 players before Grabban slotted home the cross from Robinson forcing even the most ardent of Fulham supporters at the game to applaud its quality.

To return to a subject from earlier, look at Leeds at home at the beginning of February. Admittedly we tend to do well against one of our big rivals and frankly, they must be sick of the site of us by now, but leading 1-0 going into the last 20 minutes of the game and having Brice Samba heroically punch the ball off the goal line with millimetres to spare and then having to defend a free-kick lumped into the box in injury time (yes, I know, Derby also happened) before rampaging up the other end to cast aside any doubt in the result with Joe Lolley unselfishly squaring the ball to Tyler Walker to send Forest fans worldwide into, well….. Limbs?

The Walker family now have 2 members who are in the Injury Time goal at the City Ground club!

5 years ago, Lolley would have shot, the keeper saves, they go up the other end and score. Probably. Or at least, the scary thing is, you wouldn’t have been surprised if that had happened. Forest doing Forest and all that.

We’ve had a 20 goal striker for the first time since 2003, Sabri Lamouchi was named manager of the month not once but twice, we’ve had a home fixture postponed because of the weather for the first time since 2003-04 (Gillingham at home – if I’m wrong, let me know!!!). We’ve also managed to wrestle results out of teams we typically get nothing from. Brentford, Bristol City, Sheffield Wednesday, Preston are a few teams that feel like we typically don’t get much or anything out of the game. Admittedly we only took a point off of Wednesday this season but the 92nd minute equalizer probably wasn’t a reflection on the game as a whole. Then there’s our good friends down the A52. Remember March 19th 2016, when Marcus Olsson scored a 2nd half winner that gave Derby the Brian Clough trophy… Well it took a whole 1,073 days before Forest would finally get a win and bring the trophy back to Nottingham. That was in February of 2019. We’ve held it ever since and will continue to do so until at last the next time the teams play be it next season or in the cup (if we’re no longer in the same division 😉). FYI, that’s over 500 days and counting.

Mistake by Bogle…….

There are so many reasons to be positive as a Forest fan right now. We have solid ownership who are prepared to back the club and manager and importantly are happy to engage with the fans (see Jake, Brian and Nick Randall as evidence). We have the prospect of a new Peter Taylor stand. We have young talent coming through the ranks with Alex Mighten, Tyler Walker, Brennan Johnson and no doubt many others BUT without the fear that they will need to be sold to balance the books – or at least if players are sold, its not because of mismanagement, but because of FFP and the club trying to do things right as opposed to selling the City Ground back to the owner for a pie and a shandy.

So as the 2019/20 season draws to a close, consider that Sabri Lamouchi has the 2nd highest % win rate for any forest manager (where they have been in charge for more than a handful of games), consider that if we do finish in the top 6, it will be the first time in almost a decade that we have done so and that the season after we did finish 6th (and lost to Swansea in the play offs) we were blessed with the McClaren era of Nottingham Forest managers and subsequently went on to finish 19th.

It’s like watching Brazil

It probably goes against every instinct you have as a Forest fan to feel positive about the future, expecting, nay, knowing that there is to be inevitable disappointment just around the corner – and this season could yet still present us with that, be it blowing a chance at getting in the play offs by losing spectacularly to Barnsley and Stoke. Or we could get to the play offs and be soundly beaten by Brentford on xP before even getting to Wembley for the showpiece game. But even if those disappointments do come, think about the future, think about how much better the team will be with Lamouchi having what will likely be an abridged pre-season and summer to strengthen his squad and instill his ideology even further into the mindsets of his players. Worrall will be a year older yet carry twice that in terms of experience into the next season, Lolley and Cash, Sammy and Yuri, Silva and Grabban, Worrall and Figs. And all this before we even sign anybody else. Things are looking so much better Trent-Side, that pretty soon, and if not this year then maybe the next, we’re all going to end up in Wonderland. It’s inevitable.

A Tale of Two Joe’s and a Splash of Cash

Over the summer, after the turbulence of the managerial change settled and we could start looking forward to the football as opposed to dreading the headlines, there was a noticeable lack of certainty surrounding a number of players and positions at the club. Spoilers hidden in the titles aside, Worrall, Lolley and to a degree Cash, were all the subject of a lot of discussion and not in the ways that we maybe should have anticipated.

Lets start with a broad sweeping statement… Once Martin O’Neil left and the then unknown figure of Sabri Lamouchi was quickly introduced as his replacement, the level of expectation for the season dropped a few notches to something that probably should have been the baseline anyway were it not for our hopes and dreams of Forest finally regaining our perch in the promised land getting blown out of any reasonable proportion (as is the norm).

A change in system from O’Neil and probably a general system of play better suited to the Greek ownership and their familiarity with European football over the more nostalgia tinged British method of manager, assistant and good old-fashioned work ethic. Things from that point on were naturally going to be a bit different.

Some new players arrived to bolster the ranks, some we’d heard of and most we had not. Some would surprise us and immediately become household names and be amongst the first names on the team sheet. Some are Rafa Mir (still hoping he can get a run and find some confidence, all is not lost young Jedi).

But some of the loudest discussions and concerns over the summer centred around 3 players. The retention of Player of the Season Joe Lolley, who could easily have been tempted away by the lure of Premier League football at his boyhood club Aston Villa (not to mention the obvious wage hike that accompanies such a move). The return of local lad and Forest fan Joe Worrall after his loan spell at Rangers the previous season and the likelihood (based on pre-season) that Matty Cash would be used as a defender and not a midfielder as we had come to expect. None of those stories – or the expectation on those players has quite panned out as we had expected or predicted over the summer. Well, it has and it hasn’t….. Lets get into it with what I think is one of the more inaccurate viewpoints… Who are you and what have you done with the real Joe Lolley?

Come at me bluenoses!

Lolley’s form is always near the top of any post-match discussion list. With his undoubted talent on the ball and ability to “foot like a traction engine” it in from all of 35 yards, people come to expect game defining performances from young Joe every week. Lolley’s goal ratio this season is slightly down, sure, we can all see that, numbers don’t lie. But should that one statistic allow the hundreds of normally peaceful and objective Twitter commentators the right to call him out on it? Also, more specifically, what is IT? What are we calling Joe out on?

Sure, watching games on TV doesn’t give you the bigger picture of being at a game and seeing every nuance of an individual or a team performance, but from afar, it has been noticeable that Lolley’s work rate, specifically tracking back and his defensive game, has greatly improved on the last season(s). Standout attacking moments against Birmingham City and Blackburn Rovers also helped to easily remind us of Lolley’s ability to single handedly have an impact on a game in a split second – not many other players in the current squad possess that and lastly, bringing us on to the other half of that right sided partnership, there has been the Matty Cash factor to consider.

Blackburn Rovers 1 – 1 Lolley

When Cash burst onto the scene initially as a central midfielder and later being shoehorned into a right sided midfield / wing back squad role, some things were very clear right away about the sort of player we had developed through the Nigel Doughty Academy. Cash was direct, quick and athletic enough to largely keep up the same intense level of energy throughout the majority of the 90 minutes. Hence why he fitted into the ill-fated wing back role briefly while we flirted with a 3-5-2 formation back in the good old days.

Cash has been a revelation this season and you can chalk most of that up to the kid’s natural ability and personal drive to be the best player he can. Adapting to less familiar role but drawing on his attacking tendencies has been a perfect fit for the Lamouchi system and Cash, now adding the occasional goal to his repertoire, has taken to the new challenge like a fish to water. But let’s not ignore the Lolley effect on Cash. It has been noticed quite widely that the link up play between the two has been on point, Cash has a number of assists this season…. When was the last time a full back was a genuine threat at teeing up strikers with goal scoring chances… Lolley’s work rate to cover the defensive duties (along with a better defensive back 7 if you include the two holding midfielders roles) down the flank has allowed Cash the freedom to become the attack minded full back he now is. Cash’s multiple inclusions in the EFL team of the week says a lot about Cash, but it also says a lot about Lolley…


It comes down to what is tangible and what is hopeful… If Lolley could get close to his goal scoring tally from last season without any cost to the function and level of performances that Cash has brought to the table, great, I don’t think anyone would be against that idea…. But the opposite side of the coin could be dropping Lolley for the likes of Adomah, Ameobi or Johnson and losing that spark that has made the right side of the Forest line up so much of a threat. Careful what you wish for?

Big love fella. Big love!

Which brings us nicely onto one of the other major topics of pre-season… Joe Worrall….

Before a ball had been kicked in August, the vast majority of people would have had a fully fit Figueredo line up alongside Alex Milosevic in the center of defense. Maybe a shout for a fully fit Dawson to replace one of the two but with question marks over his ability to stay fit for extended periods of the season, Figueredo and Milosevic seemed like the obvious pairing to shore up the defensive frailties that have plagued us for so long. So when Dawson and Worrall were named on the opening day against West Brom, people were naturally going to question it… Aside from Dawson’s injury woes, it hasn’t worked out too badly so far has it!

One of our own

Were it not for the supersonic rise of Matty Cash, Worrall would (and still is) a shout for the best player of the season so far (along with Brice Samba – all defenders, funny that!). Worrall has been like a new signing. Such that when fan favorite Milosevic parted ways with the club, what would normally trigger a Twitter wide meltdown, yielded nothing more than a handful of people wishing him well and ruing the loss of a talented squad player – but that ultimately, in the same respect as the Osborn transfer, that it was probably best for both parties… Now imagine the same scenario with Joe Lolley, Lewis Grabban or João Carvalho departing… Probably be a somewhat different reaction.

Milosevic leaving and the subdued reaction to his departure is a testament to how good Joe Worrall has been. Captaining the side to victory against the Sheep in the Carabao Cup one of many high watermarks that young Joe has set this season, but largely, for the first time in what feels like forever – and again in no small part to having a decent keeper behind him – we feel pretty strong at the back but importantly not at the cost of being fun to watch (sometimes!).

Joe Worrall holding the Brian Clough Trophy. (pictured). Richard Keogh getting owned by ground staff (not pictured)

Worrall is a Nottingham lad. He’s a Forest fan. It would be foolish to think that his main ambition as a footballer is anything other than to play for Forest in the Premier League. If Burnley, Newcastle United or Leicester City (or whoever) end up signing Worrall, we should all be very worried because as long as Joe Worrall continues to wear the Garibaldi, it should show to us that he still believes that it’s possible and that the current plan, strategy, owners, vision, whatever label you want to call it, is possible. So long as Joe Worrall believes, so do I!

October Preview

Keogh, start the bounce……

Well October kind of snuck up on us there didn’t it!

The unbeaten run from game 2 in the league remains intact, we bowed (not so) gracefully out of the Carabao Cup and on the whole began to get a genuine sense that there was a plan and that it was slowly but surely coming together.

Sabri Lamouchi, Brice Samba, Alfa Semedo…. Just a few names who were new to us only a few months ago but who have quickly become cult figures amongst us fans. Joe Worrall, Lewis Grabban, even the ginger Pirlo himself Ben Watson have impressed in their own ways. It’s probably Ok right now to feel a little bit positive about the way things are going on the pitch.

Sabri Lamouchi

So what does October bring with it. Well, due to my own tardiness on getting his preview out in time, we already know how October 1st and October 5th went. Blackburn away (always a tricky place to go) saw a tired looking and almost lethargic Forest team scrape through to a 1-1 draw on the back of a worldie from Joe Lolley. The unbeaten run was preserved and damage limitation was completed. Saturday saw a more consistent performance against an always tough Brentford side who (as with every Brentford side for the last 250 years) are very comfortable on the ball and press very well.

Safe Hands

And so another international break is upon us allowing Sabri some time on the training ground to fine tune the machine. Possibly the most interesting aspect of the whole season so far is that with a couple of exceptions, it doesn’t feel like we’ve really gotten into our stride yet. Sure, Fulham and Swansea set high watermarks for away performances and our Carabao Cup demolition of the sheep set a good tone for home matches but overall, it feels like there’s still a lot more to see from this group of players and this manager.

What remains of October brings with it 3 fixtures, the first being an away trip to Wigan Athletic on a Sunday afternoon. At least 3,000 Forest fans will be in play backing the team and based on both our recent away form and our new found ability not to underperform against teams in the lower half of the table, it would be foolish not to be a little optimistic that Forest can get something from the DW Stadium. Expect it to be a tight game, these type of matches usually are but we have started to show more resilience at the back coupled with being considerably more efficient up front.

Star man. Right. Dynamite.

Following on from Wigan we face Hull City at the City Ground on the following Wednesday night. Hull seem to be one of our many bogey sides at home. Harking back to a then fit Matty Fryatt scoring the only goal of the game back in 2011 to put an end to Billy Davies long standing (36 game) unbeaten run at home. Admittedly last seasons 3-0 hammering looked good on paper but it wasn’t until King Carvalho smashed one in from outside the box (on his birthday of all days) to break the deadlock 72 minutes in that things really opened up. Games against Hull are usually quite tight and you can almost guarantee a sold out away end making a ton of noise. Even if its that stupid “You’re getting mauled by the Tigers” song. All said, you’d back us at home against a team in the bottom half so like Wigan, it would be wrong not to go in expecting all 3 points.

Matty Fryatt

Speaking of sold out away ends at the City Ground, it’s probably not wide to expect Reading to add to that list in our final fixture of the month. As before, another team currently low on confidence and form, Reading should on paper also present a solid opportunity for 3 points. The house that Gunter built are currently sat in the bottom 3 but after the sacking of Jose Gomes will be expecting an upturn in fortune from their new manager bounce.

Speaking of bounces…. All 3 of Forest’s opponents are currently sat below our neighbors to the west so using that as a barometer we should be walking (not driving) out of October with 9 comfortable points in the bag. Book the open top bus lads, its time to start getting carried away right?

This years “Twitter” winner.



September Preview

Standing Tall or Fall-ing Down

Its September…. And with a blink of the eye summer is gone and we can get down to the serious business of the football season as it kicks on into a higher gear.

It’s a commonly repeated saying that the season can never be won in August. Truth be told, realistically, so long as you’re still in the mix in January / February time, you’ve got as much chance at rising to promotion through a barnstorming end of season run and cheeky 6th place finish as you have in being in first on February 28h and losing to Reading on the final day to eventually finish 8th (see 2014-15 season for hilarious details).

September’s fixtures at least have some degree of form behind them, allowing us a small basis to preview and predict how they will pan out. But before we get into tomorrow, lets take a look back at the day before and briefly summarize how August’s games panned out and what, if anything, we have learnt.

Those first 10 minutes against West Brom… Felt good didn’t it? There was a pace and fluidity about our play, the way we were opening up a team that had narrowly lost out in the play offs barely a few months previous culminating with the build up to and execution of Matty Cash’s thunderbolt to open our account for the season. Get Silverdale on the phone and have them wax and polish the posh open topper ready for May, right? Then within the space of a few minutes, the house of cards came crashing down (and possibly but hopefully not – marked Ari Muric’s back for the season) with first what was admittedly a poor goalkeeping error followed shortly after by a fluke hole in one off the toe end of the 3 Iron. You know how the rest plays out, this is Forest.

Muric attempts to punch Worrals head into A Block

But then something happened. Sure, we got battered by Leeds in most of the meaningful statistics you’d care to mention but cemented our name once again in the footnotes of the dictionary term “shithoused” as in Forest have shithoused a point off of Dirty Leeds. Despite barely having the ball, let alone a look in on goal, we came away with a point which better still, came about due to a wonderful inversion of the previous years controversial Leeds equalizer wherein Lewis Grabban’s shoulder claimed a point near the end. The one other meaningful statistic read Leeds 1 Forest 1. And it felt like a victory.

Grabban’s shoulder overtakes Ben Brereton in the scoring charts

Then after what felt like a typical, almost routine narrow victory against a tough tackling, hard to beat lower league team in the Carabao Cup, we came to Birmingham City at home. The first game anyone realistically should have “expected” us to get something from. And we duly delivered with the 3-0 score heavily flattering the bluenoses. There really isn’t much else to be said. It felt good. It felt right.

Ain’t no Lolley, like Joe Body

Our early season 4 day vacation to London bought opposite ends of the scale with the first half at Valley Parade seing us dominated by a keen Charlton Athletic showing the more naïve side of both a new group of players and a new manager learning their way and continuing to settle in to what they need to do to compete. Thankfully, Sabri Lamouchi has endeared himself quickly to most fans with his honest assessments (Forest being shit first half versus Charlton where it all began) to having a plan B to fix tactical oversites and players not performing. Of course Don Goodman would have had the fight stopped after the first 15 minutes but by the end, there was a sense that Forest had done enough to deserve the point earned by Uncle Albert Adomah’s late equalizer.

I’ll fetch the suitcase from the van. Uncle Albert. New cult hero.

Then came a sunny afternoon at Craven Cottage. And boy was it a little bit special. Aside from the time immediately after Fulham had clawed a goal back and the unbearable tension of 8, count them, 8 minutes of added time, we looked good, comfortable even. We held strong defensively, were clinical in front of goal when required with all of that coming together so nicely, were able to pull off one of the results of the season so far. That along with the quality (in their own ways) of each of our goals was refreshing to see. What better momentum do you need to take into a midweek cup tie under the lights against your biggest rivals.

Grabban attempts to punch a tiny colleague standing in the goal.

Fielding a young side, reserve side, average age, blah blah blah. We whooped their asses. Lets just leave it at that and silently bask in the glory that the Brian Clough trophy never looked close to leaving the City Ground that night!

Grabban found the one bit of ice on the City Ground pitch

Preston are always a tough team. A current generation bogey side who we never tend to get a result against and true to form this season continued that trend. The positive to take very clearly that Lamochi’s ability to adjust in game a have an effective plan B came good again with Uncle Albert once again coming to the rescue with a late equalizer.

I’ve got a Barney in me poclet. Uncle Albert strikes again

And that was August. 1 defeat, 3rd round cup tie away at Arsenal, bragging rights against the sheep. Generally the camp seems to be a happy one. So now, let’s take a quick look over what’s to come in September…

The first international break always puts a sudden halt to the start of the season. So much so that the first league game of September comes almost half way through the month on the 14th with a trip to the deepest darkest corners of South Wales and the Liberty Stadium where Swansea City play hosts. Ironically, having had what everyone perceived to be a tough start to August against two play-off semi-finalists, we now come up against this seasons’ (kind of) surprise package with the Swans sitting in 1st place and currently unbeaten in the league with 5 wins and a draw. The international break may well have come at a good time for Forest. How often can half time kill the momentum of a team playing well? Hopefully the same affliction hinders Swansea’s march to the top and we come back refreshed from the break and having had more time to gel on the training ground. Optimistically you might think we will be stronger and the break will make Swansea weaker (even if only in momentum being slowed), these tend to be the kind of games we do well in so a hopeful shout for a repeat of Fulham and a cheeky away win would do nicely.

Barry McKay cant afford adequate lighting now he’s no longger at a big club

A week later we entertain Barnsley, a side languishing near the foot of the table with only a smash and grab win against Fulham on opening day to shout about, this is a game most fans will likely expect us to win. These have typically been the types of games we struggle in before so it will be a good measure of how this Forest team cope with the pressure of expectation. One expects if we are set up right and we take our chances, this has the makings of another Birmingham City.

A few days later comes the next round of the Carabao Cup. A trip down south to the capital and a first visit in the clubs history to the Emirates Stadium, home of our fellow Garibaldi wearing (and cohabitants of NFFCCHI’s home The Globe Pub) Arsenal. Holding the most recent example of Forest performing a newsworthy shock (for the right reasons) in any cup competition, we probably shouldn’t expect a repeat of a few seasons ago and the Eric Lichaj / Ben Brereton masterclass that led to a 4-2 thumping. It will largely come down who turns up and performs on the day, Arsenal’s second string or Forest’s Cup team. Anything could happen so best thing is just to enjoy the game, see how the players stack up to a big occasion and hope nobody gets injured.

Famous 4 member Eric Lichaj celebrates becoming a new dog owner.
(Famous 4 t shirts available here > )

Septembers wraps itself on the 28th with a trip to the Potteries and Stoke City. The surprise team of the season so far in that they are literally making everyone else look better. We knew from the Rowett saga that something wasn’t right at the Britania and if prominent press journalists are to be believed, there’s a deep rooted dressing room problem similar to what we may have witnessed at Forest for a number of years. By the end of the month, City might have a new manager but the squad – post transfer window closing – will be the same and so far, they have stuttered and stumbled to sit at the foot of the table. The international break might see their fortunes renewed and the real Stoke City might start playing. One has to think that with our away form as it has been, this may also become another must win game if we have any ambition for top 6.

Murphy and Dias all tied up at 1 a piece in the latest round of rock, paper, scissors.

By the end of September we will likely know little more than we do now about our top 6 or even top 2 aspirations. The teams we are playing represent opposite ends of the scale. You’d be happy with 7 points for sure, 9 isn’t impossible, anything less than 5 would be very disappointing.

See you in a few weeks for another international break!

Across the Pond Part #1

What it’s like to be 4,000 miles away

Supporting Nottingham Forest is never easy. I guess if you’re of a certain generation that was lucky enough to be going to games during the first or second waves of Brian Clough’s successes, or even prior to that the great teams of the 1950’s and 1960’s (well done to you if you fall into that category) then you’ve enjoyed some level of success and enjoyment out of following the Tricky Trees either to Wembley, to multiple trophies and successes and even across Europe as part of the age that for right or wrong reasons, will continue to define our club for many years to come.

European Cup Final

For most, the closest they get to hairs standing up on the back of the neck, is recalling Colin Fray’s immortal words on Radio Nottingham, stating excitedly that Cheltenham has scored and were now winning (against Doncaster), edging us one step closer to escaping the pit of despair that was the 3 seasons we spent in League One. Lewis McGugan’s free kick v Ipswich, Man City away in the cup, Hobbs / Osborn / Oliveria / Yohan vs Derby, Arsenal at home in the cup….. I’m already struggling for anything else that even comes close to 6 trips to Wembley in the late 1980’s / early 1990’s, Frank Clark taking us back to Europe and the majesty that it was to witness Stan Collymore shine brightly yet so briefly in the Garibaldi or baring witness to league titles and European Cups. Like I say, for a generation or two, it hasn’t exactly been cupcakes and roses.

So where am I going with this? I was reminded recently of an old post I’d made on Facebook, a few months after I’d made the move with my family to live and work in the United States of America. Quietly reflecting on the times before the move, I read…..

In another life, I’d be parking up on George Rd and making my way to TBI for a pre match pint. It’s strange knowing I won’t experience that again for a while. Try and enjoy it yeah? Win, lose or draw, some of us just wish we could be there with you #NFFC #FTID #USA

Facebook, August 2018

To draw on an overused cliche, sometimes, you don’t really know what you’ve got until it’s gone.

Sure, that can speak to many things and at the end of the day football is and should always be something we can enjoy. Bill Shankly may have patriotically cried that Football is more than life and death to some people, but the reality is it probably shouldn’t be. There are levels that we can enjoy and by all accounts, they can quite regularly be dialed up to 11, but at the end of the day, it’s just 90 minutes on a Saturday, its just 22 blokes kicking a ball around a rectangular section of grass while a bunch of punters watch on hoping to be entertained and maybe see the team they are rooting for secure a victory. It can just be that, but it doesn’t mean even at that level that you don’t miss it when its not there.

The last picture I took at the City Ground before leaving for the USA 3 days later.

People often ask me whats the one thing you miss the most from home. Depending on my mood it often flirts between food (sausages, kebabs, chip shop chips and food that isn’t baked in sugar) or, in the least surprising declaration of the piece so far, Football. I miss Forest. I miss spending the time with my Dad. I miss going to the chippy on Radcliffe Road and scoffing a battered sausage before heading to TBI to watch the lunchtime game on a Saturday. I miss catching up with the people sat around with me, sharing updates on how my son Tyler is developing and revelling in pride that people associated with Nottingham Forest (fans, players and staff alike) actually know who he – and by association me – is.

Sorry not sorry! Any excuse to show this picture of Tyler as mascot!

There’s something about being there. Being able to feel the wind as it creeps through the corners of the exposed corners of the Trent End. Feeling that tingle of excitement and emotion as the PA cuts out for the 2nd chorus of Mull of Kintyre. Feeling that rush of adrenaline when the net bulges and the City Ground erupts in a cacophony of noise. Only football does that to you and the intimate relationship between fans and the club you support just elevates it to a whole other level.

So how is it different? What are the big changes you notice being 4000 miles away?

Aside from the obvious distance and time zone, mostly its just a feeling of disconnect from whats happening. If transfer news breaks in the morning in the UK, I won’t see it until I wake up several hours later. Lunchtime kick offs or midweek fixtures? Forget it, either too early or during work hours. Sure you can try and catch some by carefully tilting your phone in the right direction in your cube at the office but whatever way you want to frame it as a whole, its disconnected. Its different. Its over there and I’m over here.

By this point we’re so far down the rabbit hole we’re almost touching Wonderland but fear not because although I’ve painted what no doubt feels like a very melancholy picture, its not all been bad. Not by a long shot.

Once you accept that things are going to be different, something I had come to terms with long before we boarded the one way flight to Chicago at Heathrow, you start to look at how you can make it work. Sure you can’t go to games but the internet has made the world a lot smaller place and now, via the magic of the internet and iFollow, I can watch home AND away games live. Midweek games take place while I’m at work and for the ones I can’t make alternate arrangements for, I can catch some by carefully tilting your phone in the right direction in your cube at the office! It’s all about perspective, figuratively and quite literally!

And that allows me to segway nicely into what has quite quickly and easily become far and away the most positive aspect of the move and the ongoing relationship I have with Nottingham Forest.

The summer 2018 issue of Bandy & Shinty ran a feature called “Forest All Over the World”, the first entrant in that section was a gentleman called Adrian Walters from Chicago. Some quick Twitter stalking and a follow / follow back later and something magical has been set in motion. I wasn’t the only one, a few others followed the same pursuit and within a few weeks NFFCCHI was born. Once social accounts had been set up and an internal communication channels established, we agreed to a collective blind date. On August 25th, the first (at least for a while and definitely the first in a more formal setting) NFFCCHI match day took place at the Globe Pub just north of Chicago.

We had a good turnout. Better than expected in fact. I recall a few conversations during the game as new friendships were forged where there was a genuine and pleasant sense of surprise as we looked round and counted 9 randoms all connected by this silly little thing called Nottingham Forest. (We expected around 5 or 6 at most if I remember correctly).

NFFCCHI Est. 2018

The game was what it was. Birmingham City jumped out to a 2 goal lead and after some inspired substitutions by Aitor Karanka (one may in retrospect question why Carvalho and Lolley were on the bench in the first place) we clawed it back grabbing an equalizer 3 minutes from time. It was glorious. It might not have been quite the same as being there in T10 jumping around and hugging random strangers as Murphy calmly slotted in the equalizer in front of a jubilant Bridgford Stand, but it felt good. Like we were all in it together and we’d found some way of beating the odds that 4,000 miles put in front of you and finding a way to feel part of something.

Daryl Murphy equalizing in the 87th Minute vs Birmingham City, August 2018

The game finished. I hung around for a while and chatted with some of the guys. Then when the time was right, drove the 50 something miles north into Wisconsin and back home.

There’s a lot more to cover so stick around. Part 2 will be written and published eventually, maybe on a Saturday morning while I’m waiting for iFollow to connect or maybe from some of our fellow NFFCNA friends. Here’s hoping that you enjoy the ride!

Far Have I Travelled. Much have I Seen. AC

August Preview

And then… It’s August… And it begins.

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.

The lads were invited to a fireworks display whilst holidaying in Greece

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.

Adlene “Foot like a traction engine” Guedioura

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.

Our first goal direct from a corner since the days of Duncan McKenzie!

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!

Mick Fleetwood Town A.F.C.

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.

Big Dazza Murphy with the equaliser back in August 2018

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”.

Coldplay, it’s like watching Coldplay…. Floodlight failure last season against Preston (H)

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!