The Carling Cup (Notts County – NFFC Programme Notes)

It was rumoured, only a few months ago, that Birmingham City had been forced to sell the League Cup for scrap metal in order to keep themselves afloat. They may be competing alongside the likes of Roma and Sevilla in the Europa League this season, but Rapid Decline and Inter Administration are the opponents they really need to watch out for.

These were the types of gibe that got bandied about relentlessly following Birmingham’s relegation to the Championship. I bring them up only to illustrate a sad truth … the importance of league status is now so great that the once proud League Cup has become a bit of a joke!

It’s probably fair to say that a large proportion of Blues fans would have chosen survival in the Premier League over victory in the League Cup Final. The financial impact of relegation from the Premiership is so devastating that no trophy can compensate. This filters down to the fans, who were left crying into their champagne buckets on the final day of last season. The Birmingham saga has placed the value of the League Cup under intense scrutiny.

Over the last decade the ‘big clubs’ have been sitting in their ivory towers, pouring scorn on the competition from on high. They bemoan the fixture congestion it creates and subsequently field weakened teams for the majority of ties. This has set a trend amongst the majority of other clubs, who see the cup as an unnecessary distraction from the all-important league. Once again this influences the views of fans, who greet the fixtures with a large degree of apathy.

The League Cup, which is sometimes referred to as ‘the Mickey Mouse Cup’, has been severely undermined to the point where nobody really cares about it anymore, but in my opinion its standing in the modern game can still be salvaged if clubs like Forest begin to take it seriously again.

What Birmingham City winning the League Cup did for the competition was ignite hopes of silverware for teams from outside the upper echelons of the Premiership. The last time a club of similar stature won the trophy was when Steve McClaren triumphed back in 2004 with Middlesbrough. If he achieves the same feat whilst managing Forest, I will happily name all my children after him, regardless of gender.

Realistically, I’m not expecting us to win it this year but I’d really like to see us have a go. The League Cup is an important part of Nottingham Forest’s proud history and I for one would be hugely disappointed if it lost its place within this country’s footballing tradition. Winning the League Cup is exactly the same honour as it was back in 1990, when we last won it; all that’s changed is that league status is now an integral part of a club’s business model, and cup success is not. Epic fixtures like tonight’s derby serve as a gentle reminder that football need not be all about money; perhaps there is still a place for the romance of the cup?

I appreciate that football is big business these days and that the main sources of revenue are the Premier League and the Champions League. While the FA Cup remains perched precariously on the mantel piece of English football’s lavishly decorated living room, the League Cup has been thrown into the garden for the dog to chew on! But it can be revitalised if just a few clubs adopt the philosophy that winning any trophy is the mark of a great team.

Call me greedy but I’d like to see Forest win every single game this season. I want to see our players ruthlessly destroying all opposition, whether it’s in the league, the cup or a charity match against West Bridgford Cub Scouts. I believe that developing a winning mentality is an essential part of becoming a successful team and if we can beat Notts County tonight it may well trigger a run of victories in the league. After all, winning is a good habit to get into.

The League and League Cup used to be such happy bedfellows and all that’s really come between them is money. It may be a foolish hope but I’d like to think there will still be a League Cup by the time little Steve is old enough to go to her first game; the thought of seeing Forest in a Cup Final at Wembley gives me goosebumps, irrespective of the prize fund.

Pre-Season Blues (Barnsley – NFFC Programme Notes)

I have been a deeply troubled individual since heartbreak at the Liberty Stadium on May 16th. I have tried to stay strong, for the benefit of loved ones, but not even an infinite supply of false smiles can conceal the fact that, as a self confessed football addict, I have been suffering from severe withdrawal symptoms.

Pre-season is always a soul destroying time to be a football fan, but it’s considerably worse when there’s no major international tournament during the summer. I’ve endured 82 days of cold turkey and it’s taken its toll.

I first knew I had a problem when my wife returned home from work to find I’d rearranged all the living room furniture to resemble the 4-2-3-1 formation, which I think we should play this season. She was even more disturbed to find I’d had to borrow one of our wealthy neighbour’s spare chairs to play at left back. Unfortunately, I have to give it back to him at the end of the season.

My wife thought that buying some pet fish would distract me from my pre-season blues but it only made matters worse. I named them Robbie Findley and David McGoldfish and spent the next week studying how well they interacted as a partnership. Their speed, movement and boundless energy got me even more excited about the new season.

Convinced that I could combat my addiction to football by hibernating for the entire summer, I went to sleep, in the vain hope that I would wake and the new season be upon us. Three hours later I sat bolt upright, a cold sweat glazed across my furrowed brow, having dreamt that Forest had re-signed Danny Sonner for an undisclosed fee.

That’s when I realised that football is even more compulsive when it’s not being played. As long as that infernal transfer window remains open, we football addicts are condemned to endure long sleepless nights, pondering what our squad will look like by the time the window shuts.

In the age of the internet, it’s no longer possible for fans to push the beautiful game into the background whilst sunning themselves in foreign lands. My summer days have consisted of refreshing the official website every three minutes and then scouring the internet for out-of-contract players who I think we ought to sign. It’s no life, I tell you.

This gave me my fix for a while; the problem was that Findley and McGoldfish appeared distinctly disinterested in my favoured starting eleven, so in desperation I got tempted into looking at fan sites and forums to see what all the other football addicts were saying. This was a terrible idea.

The forums have been alive with sinister plots worthy of Sepp Blatter’s diary this summer, but it’s the transfer rumours that torment the football addict most. First of all, there are the ‘prophets of doom’, who are convinced that the whole squad are to be sold, in exchange for five magic beans. Then there are the ‘fantasists’ who insist they’ve just seen Lionel Messi in Greggs, with a sausage and bean melt in one hand and directions to the City Ground in the other. But perhaps worst of all are the ‘inventors,’ who either try their hand at lazy journalism or simply make things up to relieve their boredom, in the absence of Championship football.

You can guarantee that as soon as ‘Sky Sports News’ announces a player has been released by his club, somebody will start a thread, claiming that the player in question has been spotted at the City Ground. Furthermore, having spent some time perusing the forums, I think I know the age, height and star sign of every available left back in the country. Predictably, as soon as Steve McClaren was named Forest’s new manager, we were being linked with every Dutchman from Dennis Bergkamp to Dick Van Dyke.

The internet is a huge part of football media nowadays but in order to separate truth from fiction you need a giant cyber sieve. I no longer believe we’ve signed a player until he’s played at least ten games for us.

It’s because Forest fans are so passionate about the club that pre-season is such a rollercoaster of emotions; personally, I can’t wait for the rumours and speculation to end and for the Championship season to begin. All the frustration and angst will fade when the whistle blows today, so let’s get behind them and make it a season to remember!

Steve McClaren (PSV Eindhoven Pre-Season NFFC Programme Notes)

He cut a forlorn figure as the rain poured down on Wembley Stadium, one November night in 2007. The press swooped down on the carcass of his career in international management like hungry vultures. Unlike previous England Managers, Steve McClaren was not so easy to vilify; he didn’t outrageously philander, hold controversial religious beliefs or have a head that was conveniently shaped like a vegetable. Instead, his cross to bear came in the form of an umbrella.

He could not overcome the inherent problems that all England managers have struggled against over the last decade and he was severely let down by his players, subsequently failing to make the impact required in the twelve matches he had been given to prove himself. These are my words, not his.

Following defeat at the hands of Croatia, McClaren offered no excuse, willingly accepting that the blame should be placed entirely on his shoulders.

Not only is the England job a chalice overflowing with poison, but it also bears no resemblance whatsoever to club management. I believe it’s the next chapter of Steve McClaren’s managerial career that Forest fans should take most interest in.

By June 2008, he had stitched up his international wounds and was on his way to the Netherlands. It’s a part of his story seldom told by a national media who have fallen out of love with tales of redemption.

In his first season at the helm of Eredivisie club FC Twente, his side secured an impressive second place finish in the league and reached the final of the Dutch Cup (only losing on penalties.) This had been Twente’s most impressive season in over 30 years.

The following season, Steve McClaren guided FC Twente to their first ever league title, cementing his place as their most successful manager of all time (a feat he also achieved during his time at Middlesbrough). His stunning comeback should have left cynical journalists impaled on their own proverbial umbrellas … but for some reason this never happened.

It’s only natural that without an in-depth knowledge of the intricacies of Dutch football, we all look to equate Twente winning the league to a hypothetical English equivalent. Unfortunately there isn’t one; the different dynamics of the Premiership and the Eredivisie make them virtually incomparable.

However, when you consider that the Dutch league plays host to such footballing giants as Ajax, Feyenoord and tonight’s opponents (PSV Eindhoven), McClaren’s achievements in Holland should be considered legendary.

This view was shared by the raucous mob of FC Twente fans, which I happened to run into during the World Cup last summer. They were campaigning for a statue of Steve McClaren (holding a trophy rather than a brolly) to be erected in the middle of Enschede, the city where FC Twente originate from. As one of the supporters waxed lyrical about him for over an hour, I resisted the temptation to incapacitate him with my vuvuzela, finally submitting and becoming a McClaren convert. Little did I know he was to become our manager just twelve months later.

Perhaps one of the main reasons that Steve McClaren’s momentous comeback has been overshadowed is that the man himself barely mentions it. In fact, he hasn’t taken any time out to wave his impressive CV in the faces of the Forest faithful; he has gone about his business with humble confidence, focussed entirely on the job at hand.

So what can Forest fans expect from Steve McClaren’s reign? I think we’ll see positive, ambitious football, engineered by a tactically astute manager, who comes highly recommended by those who have played under him. Forest will reap the benefits of his vast experience as a coach and manager, especially considering the insight he will have gained from working in two other European countries. He is also well liked within the game, something which could prove crucial when recruiting players, both on a permanent basis and during the all important emergency loan window.

I don’t believe that fans are obliged to put blind faith in anyone or anything … instead I believe that fans should put their faith in the reasonable assumption that a man who’s done it before can do it again. I think we can all afford to invest a little belief in Steve McClaren getting the most out of our talented squad. If he does, we may just have something to celebrate come the end of the season.