The Loan Market (Coventry City – NFFC Programme Notes)

I woke up in a cold sweat last Sunday night, having watched West Bromwich Albion demolish Wolves in the Black Country derby earlier that day. I suddenly became anxious that if Mick McCarthy were to lose his job, the next Wolves manager may well wish to recall Adlene ‘Pep’ Guedioura and George Elokobi from their loan spells at the City Ground.

After extensive research I discovered that whatever happens at Molineux we will be keeping Guedioura until the end of the season. After his Zidane-esque performance against Watford, I’m sure this will be a source of great encouragement for Forest fans.

Another reason to be cheerful is that Danny Higginbotham, Scott Wootton and Greg Cunningham are also here for the remainder of the season. However, after 28 days, George Elokobi could well be recalled by his parent club. This is because we signed him on an ‘emergency’ loan.

Correct me if I’m wrong but, in this case, the use of the word emergency is probably something of an exaggeration. An emergency is when your head is rolling down a dual carriageway and you’re hopelessly chasing after it with a sewing needle in your hand. Last season, Cardiff City were signing ‘emergency’ players just to polish Craig Bellamy’s boots. It made a mockery of the whole system and, to some extent, the Championship itself.

And that’s not a dig at our Welsh comrades, but rather a realisation that the whole transfer system is fundamentally flawed. The emergency loan idea is simply a half gnawed tail bone that Championship clubs have been tossed to pave over the cracks left by the ill thought out transfer window.

It is a concept that helps Premiership Clubs unload unwanted or inexperienced players; reducing their astronomical wage bills and leaving a host of Championship clubs to fight for the scraps. Not to mention the fact that these loan signings can be hauled back to their owners at the click of the mighty Premiership Club’s fingers.

I personally think Forest should try and cling onto George, the colossal left back, regardless of the rules. Once the 28 days has passed, the club should reject all calls and hide him in the trophy room if someone from Wolverhampton pulls up on the car park. They can have him back when the 93 day emergency loan is completed.

93 days is an amount of time that has quite clearly been plucked out of the air and scribbled onto the back of the fag packet that the whole transfer system was written on. It means that clubs have to carefully manipulate the loans so that they are not left short either at the end of the season or during the playoffs.

All this means that the clubs who get promoted and relegated may not have a better team than their rivals; they may simply have the most loan players left available by the time the end of the season comes around. This, in my opinion, takes something away from the magic of Football.

So far – and we are only two weeks into the emergency loan window being open – there haven’t been as many ‘emergency loans’ as in previous years, but I’m certain they will play their part in both promotion and relegation battles before the season is out. Besides, ‘normal loans’ have been used as frequently as ever before.

This season, every single Championship club has signed at least one player on loan, and who can blame them? With Financial Fair Play regulations forthcoming and budgets tighter than ever before, being able to secure the services of a top class player, with no long term financial implications, is the perfect solution to a Championship club’s problems.

In terms of bringing loan players in, Forest are ahead of the game this season. With a potential restructure of the squad due to take place in the summer, it would have been foolish to panic buy during the January Transfer window when you can simply loan players of Premiership quality.

The impressive performance against Watford was largely due to the four loan players Steve Cotterill drafted in, and it could be these same loan players who keep us up. Guedouira, in particular, looks a class above this division. I would probably pay double for my season ticket if I thought he might be here next season, but in reality a player of that calibre is only available to us because of the existence of the loan market.

It may seem hypocritical for me to be slating the current system on one hand, and applauding Forest for signing so many loan players on the other. Unfortunately, whether we agree with it or not, the effective employment of loan players will be vital in the quest for Championship survival.

I think what I’m really trying to say is that we need to be realistic about what the Championship has become. The term ‘emergency loan’ is an attempt by the powers that be to dress up the fact that borrowing Premiership players is an integral part of Championship football. Furthermore, the whole idea has been invented because of the crippling restrictions that the transfer window creates.

And the result of all this is that Championship clubs will live or die by the strength of their connections, the whims of premiership cast-offs and the form of players who are only temporarily part of the cause. This does not sit well with me.


Nigel Doughty (Watford – NFFC Programme Notes)

A person’s life should be measured, not by length, but by what they choose to do with the time they are given – the things they achieve, the people they touch and the memories they forge. With that in mind, I think it’s appropriate to focus on the special life of Nigel Doughty, rather than the tragedy of his death on 4th February 2012.

Former Prime-Minister Gordon Brown was quoted as saying: “He will be mourned by many who never knew him or met him but were beneficiaries of his commitment to good causes.”

To Nigel Doughty, Nottingham Forest Football Club was undoubtedly one of these good causes.

I never met him but, like the majority of Forest fans in the stadium today, I will be eternally grateful for the contribution he made to this football club.

When he took over the club in 1999 we were on the brink of administration but, under his stewardship, stability was eventually restored. There were many highs and lows during his reign as Chairman (which included a relegation, a promotion and three separate playoff campaigns) but Forest are unquestionably in a much better position because of his continued investment and shrewd approach to the ever-changing business of football.

It was Nigel Doughty, the loyal supporter, and not Nigel Doughty, the successful businessman, who bought Nottingham Forest Football Club. His business brain would no doubt have told him to steer clear. His heart won out.

He did it to indulge a lifelong hobby. He did it because he cared so much for this football club and its supporters. He did it because he wanted to see the club, which had brought him so much joy over the years, become great again. He certainly didn’t do it for personal gain.

Only a fool would think that any money can be made out of buying a football club in the modern age … and Nigel Doughty was no fool! He was an intelligent and remarkable man with a hunger and passion to succeed. He wanted to make a difference wherever he could.

Away from football, Nigel donated generously to the Labour Party (another cause close to his heart), as well as contributing millions to the various charities he supported. He was a man who gave so much and asked for little in return.

Part of the reason for his huge investment in Forest was that he truly believed the club to be an integral part of the community. He could not stand idly by and watch it crumble, for he was a true supporter who loved nothing better than to be amongst his fellow Reds. Over the years he invested over a hundred million pounds into this football club; money that he never wanted back.

There are thousands of loyal supporters, who pay a lot of money to follow Nottingham Forest, but if any of us were lucky enough to become millionaires, would we give up our personal fortune for the benefit of the club? After all, being the major benefactor to a football club can be a pretty thankless task at times.

His death has brought into sharp focus the unbelievable impact this Forest fanatic has had on our club, and yet it’s only now that he is getting the gratitude he truly deserved.

One regret Nigel Doughty may have had is that he never took Forest to the promised land of the Premiership, a desire I heard him speak of with great zest on so many occasions. However, I would urge fans who think this a failure to consider where we would be without Mr. Doughty’s investment and leadership.

As we have witnessed over recent months, there are not a queue of people wanting to sacrifice their money for the good of a football club these days. Without Nigel Doughty, I dread to think where Nottingham Forest would be today.

Furthermore, I firmly believe that when we eventually return to the Premiership, it will be in no small part down to his influence. He has improved the infrastructure of the club, stabilised our financial future, and developed an academy that could well prove to be the greatest part of his phenomenal legacy.

I will echo the sentiment of many other Forest fans by suggesting that the academy ought to be named after him, for he believed that therein lies the future of our great football club. Though, in my opinion, no tribute would be too great for the man who saved that which brings us all so much joy.

Perhaps the most fitting tribute would be for us all to pull together in this time of great need and ensure that Nigel’s club moves forward in the right direction.

It’s true to say that when tragedies like this occur it puts our relegation struggle into perspective. But Nottingham Forest meant the world to Nigel Doughty and nothing would give him greater pride, as he watches over the City Ground today, than for his fellow supporters to be united and sing their hearts out in his honour.

Thank You for everything, Nigel. We will keep the Red flag flying high!


Reasons to be Cheerful (Burnley – NFFC Programme Notes)

After defeat to Leicester in the FA Cup Fourth Round Replay, I needed to cheer myself up. It was the kind of performance that made you question why you bothered getting into football in the first place. I searched deep within my soul to find reasons to be cheerful. Once I got going it was easy.

So here are ten reasons to sing loud and proud for the Reds tonight, and for the rest of the season:


The introduction of Sean O’Driscoll (a football purist with a formidable record for getting the best out of his players) as First Team Coach was a very shrewd move indeed. If his achievements at Doncaster Rovers are anything to go by then this move will be a turning point in our season.

He could prove to be the missing piece in the proverbial jigsaw of Championship survival; the ying to Steve Cotterill’s yang! I welcome him, and his football ethos, with open arms.


Although they are yet to feature heavily on the first team scene, some excellent prospects have recently emerged from the academy.

Patrick Bamford is just one example of the talent that we can look forward to seeing over the next few years. He has already made a name for himself as a natural goal scorer, netting five times during the 9-1 win against Wigan in the Fourth Round of the FA Youth Cup.


Portsmouth could well be docked points for failing to pay taxes, dragging them deep into the relegation quagmire. Rumours that a former Pompey manager tipped ‘Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs’ off are as yet unfounded.


I’ll freely admit that Forest have been pretty abysmal this season. I’d be a fool not to. However, luckily, you don’t have to be very good to win a relegation battle, because all the other teams you’re fighting against are rubbish as well.

We have only won one of the last ten games and yet we’re still only a couple of wins from safety.

If we were in a promotion battle we’d have to win the majority of our games just to stay in touch with the other teams. That sounds like a lot of unnecessary pressure to me!


Harry Potter was in a far more precarious situation than we are and he managed to prevail, against all odds. Even in the darkest times there is always hope.


I maintain, as I have done throughout the season, that we still have very talented footballers at this club. It is a source of great frustration to me that the potential of our squad is yet to be actualised this season.

However, it is also a source of encouragement that we have players in our squad whose seasons are yet to truly kick off. There is still a chance for them to be heroes.


The all important Emergency Loan Market could be a saving grace, should we still need players once the transfer window is closed. Loan signings become more important with every Championship season that passes.

It could be one exceptional loan player who helps us to find the cutting edge, which we seem to lack when we’re not playing Ipswich.


At least we won’t have to suffer the heartbreak of the playoffs at the end of the season. I don’t think I could face another year of such anguish. If we’re going to be in the Championship next season we may as well do it in style, surviving on the last day and finishing 21st.


If Chris Cohen returns before the end of the season then that in itself will be a reason to celebrate.

He is an absolute model professional and will thoroughly deserve the rapturous applause he’ll undoubtedly receive on his return to action.

I genuinely believe that we wouldn’t be in this mess if Chris Cohen hadn’t been sidelined by injury.

Whether he returns this season or next, we all have something to look forward to when he does. He’d be the heartbeat of any team and it’s no wonder we’ve missed him so greatly. Get well soon Chris!


You simply have to!

The fans are the core of any football club. Players, managers, chairmen and owners all move on, but the fans remain … and as such they are the most powerful people at the club.

We have the power to generate an atmosphere; to elevate the players out of their current lull. We have the power to change players’ mindsets and to change games. We have the power to suck the ball into the opposition’s net and to make the City Ground a fortress once more. We are the twelfth man.

At times you might feel like the players, the management or the board don’t deserve our applause or encouragement. This matters not. Do it for selfish reasons; do it because you want Nottingham Forest, bigger and greater than the sum of us all, to succeed.

The survival march is on … if you want it! Come on you Reds!

Comebacks (Southampton – NFFC Programme Notes)

With Paul Scholes casting aside his pipe and slippers to rejoin Manchester United for the remainder of the season and Thierry Henry re-signing for Arsenal, in order to help counter the losses of Chamakh and Gervinho to the African Cup of Nations, the return of Marlon Harewood to the City Ground has been somewhat overlooked by the national media.

For those too young to remember, Marlon, a product of the Forest Academy, scored more than 50 goals for us during his first spell at the club, building up an incredible rapport with the City Ground faithful in doing so.

He is perhaps best remembered for his part in the 2002/03 season, when he formed a formidable strike partnership with David Johnson. It was a season in which Forest played scintillating football, under the management of football purist Paul Hart, reaching the playoffs for the very first time in our history.

Marlon became one of the most dangerous forwards in the league. His pace, power and skill made him a name that defenders dreaded seeing on the teamsheet.

I had the name HAREWOOD embroidered across the back of my shirt, despite the fact that they charged by the letter back in those days. BOPP would have been a cheaper option.

I have been flying that shirt at half mast since the day he left and I’m extremely excited that he’s finally returned. But are these things ever as good the second time around?

Let’s look at some examples from recent Forest history:


Nigel Clough – During his original spell at the City Ground, Nigel Clough not only scored 101 goals for the club, but was also an intelligent, creative and exciting player to watch. When he returned in the 1996/97 season, he still showed glimpses of his former brilliance but it was never quite the same. Nigel took on the role of Burton Albion manager before turning his back on football, in favour of a career in shepherdry. 6/10

Des Walker – Despite being 37 years old, Des Walker’s comeback has to go down as one of the greatest in Nottingham Forest club history. It’s rare that a defender can be as enjoyable to watch as Des was, but his know-how and exceptional tackling ability helped propel Forest into the 2002/03 playoffs. 9/10

Alan Rogers – After an impressive initial spell at the club, in which he earned the nickname ‘Tank’, Alan Rogers returned looking more like a Ford Escort with a flat tyre. 3/10

Jon Olav Hjelde – He’d hardly had time to unpack his suitcase before Joe Kinnear hauled him back to Nottingham. It was a largely uneventful comeback, with Hjelde only playing a handful of games. 3/10

Jack Lester – Much like Hjelde and Rogers, Joe Kinnear brought the ever popular Jack Lester back to appease fans in the midst of a relegation battle. Jack’s second spell at the club started with a sublime match winning performance against QPR but injury hampered his progress for the remainder of that season and Forest were relegated. He proved an important part of the squad during the subsequent League One campaign, before eventually being released again. 7/10

David Prutton – It was all going so well for David Prutton. Fans had begun to grow accustomed to his new ‘John the Baptist’ look, before he got stupidly sent off in the semi-final of the playoffs, against Yeovil, effectively losing us the tie. A disastrous end to an otherwise impressive Forest career. 5/10

Andy Reid – When Andy Reid left Forest back in 2005 he was at the peak of his powers. He had been the first name on the timesheet and, at the time of his transfer to Spurs, he was our sole source of creative inspiration. Although he’s produced some match winning displays since his comeback, Andy has not been as involved as we had all hoped upon Forest re-signing him last summer. But he has lost none of the finesse and ingenuity that made him such a joy to watch all those years ago. Throughout the season I believe he has looked the most likely to make something happen in the final third and I’m thrilled to see him back at the City Ground. 7/10 … so far!

As with all of the examples above, part of the reason Marlon is back is because of the success he had during his initial period at the club. Unfortunately with this comes a degree of unrealistic expectation from the fans.

I believe, at the age of 32, Marlon still has a lot to offer in the Championship but, as the evidence above shows, things are never quite the same the second time around. Marlon is not the same player and Forest aren’t the same team.

However, that’s not to say that Marlon, much like Andy Reid, can’t have a massive bearing on the rest of our season. And I’ve got a sneaky feeling we may yet see a few moments of Marlon magic before the season is out.

Jim Rosenthal (Leicester City in the FA Cup – NFFC Programme Notes)

With Christmas gone and a New Year upon us, I think it’s a good time to reflect upon some of the highlights from the festive period. As fond as I am of baubles and pigs in blankets, my favourite part of Christmas this year was the annual Secret Santa draw.

I donned my smartest suit and tie, wrote all the relevant names on ping pong balls and got my wife to draw them out from a velvet bag. As the names were drawn, I said a few words about each person’s history in the competition, announcing if any of the combinations were repeats or reverses of previous years. I even said the words “and that concludes the draw” before conducting a brief analysis of all the matches. This may well paint me as some sort of socially challenged individual, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to emulate a legend of sports media.

He may bear an uncanny resemblance to ‘The Count’ from ‘Sesame Street’ but, when it comes to FA Cup draws, Jim Rosenthal is certainly no muppet. With his slick statistical nuggets about all the competing teams and an inexhaustible book of ball innuendos to call upon, the charismatic ladies’ man has finally found a role he can call his own … but ITV doesn’t make it easy for poor old Jim.

Take the special guests, who act as Jim’s assistants, for example. It seems the days of former FA Cup winners picking the home and away teams has passed. Nowadays, the powers that be seem hell-bent on finding the strangest available celebrities to perform the draw – usually two people who have no connection to the FA Cup or to each other. Rumours that Nelson Mandela and the Chuckle Brothers are doing tomorrow’s Fourth Round draw are as yet unconfirmed.

But it’s the random guests and tangible awkwardness which make the FA Cup draw so uniquely special. A more professional and thought-out operation would just be too bland.

The FA Cup Third Round draw is widely perceived to be one of the highlights of the English football calendar and I would argue that, as long as your team is in it, the draws get more enticing as the rounds go on. Though it has to be said, not all football draws are quite so captivating.

If you want to watch the FIFA World Cup draw in full, you need to book the day off work. I’ve wasted so many hours of my life watching men on stilts operating exotic bird puppets, whilst Sepp Blatter explains all the different connotations of the draw, in fourteen different languages. By the time the actual draw starts, I’ve usually forgotten which country I come from. Give me three suits with a bag of numbered wooden balls any day.

Of course in most other competitions there are all kinds of complications, such as seeding, that have to be taken into account. In the Champions League or World Cup, the draw is engineered so that the favourites don’t meet each other until the final rounds. The rules of the FA Cup are such that any team can play any other team, home or away, from the third round onwards. That’s what makes the draws so thrilling.

There are mixed views as to whether today’s East-Midlands derby was a good draw or not. I personally think it has all the ingredients of a cracking cup tie, but when you consider the fact that the two teams are in the same league and have already played each other at the City Ground this season, it does take a little of the gleam off the occasion. Unfortunately, as exciting as the draw itself may be, the ties produced often leave fans disappointed.

The chance of drawing one of the ‘big teams’ is slim and anything other than this is often met with melancholy grunts by fans of clubs the size of Nottingham Forest or Leicester City. For me, should The Reds progress today, the best draw would be a home game, either against an exciting team, like Arsenal or Manchester City, or against a lower league side who we have a good chance of beating (in theory.)

Unfortunately, unlike my annual Secret Santa draw, it can’t be fixed so that everyone gets what they want. Imagine the controversy that would ensue if Jim started meddling with his guests’ balls during tomorrow’s live show … just because he fancied a romantic cup fixture between the current champions and some non-league giant killer.

Whilst the draw remains fair, the majority of teams who progress will be left disappointed. Only a few will get that dream fixture, and therein lays the magic.

If Forest get knocked out today, I won’t forsake tomorrow’s draw for the ‘Eastenders’ omnibus. Instead, I’ll watch on as those mismatched dream-makers pluck numbers from a glassy goblet of hope. I urge you all to do the same.

I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that Jim makes an inappropriate comment, live on air, or that the Chuckle Brothers spill the balls all over the shiny studio floor. My everlasting hope is that, one day, the guest responsible will leave a stray ball in the bag and no one will realise until the draw is complete. Jim’s reaction would be worth paying the licence fee for.

January Transfer Window (Cardiff City – NFFC Programme Notes)

With the opening of the January transfer window imminent and the rumour mill already in full function, I can’t help but think how different our season might have been if all clubs were free to trade throughout the season, as was previously the case.

The motives behind the restrictive transfer window system are sound enough; FIFA wanted clubs to adopt a more calculated approach to buying and selling players, encouraging the development of young home grown talent and discouraging reckless short-term expenditure.

Unfortunately its implementation has not had the desired effect within the English League. We currently have fewer young British players emerging onto the scene than ever before and, furthermore, clubs’ approaches to transfers are no more calculated than they used to be, just more congested within a smaller time frame.

When Steve Cotterill was appointed as our manager in October 2011 he would have wanted to restructure the squad to suit his managerial ideology. There are probably a couple of players who he deemed surplus to requirements and I’m certain there are quite a few players who he’d be keen to bring in. Unfortunately he can’t even begin this process of restructuring until January 2012 (three months into his managerial tenure and halfway through the season.)

Unwanted players are left in a proverbial no-man’s land; starved of first team football and unable to move to greener pastures. The manager is unable to fulfil an integral part of his core purpose, i.e. shaping his squad in the way he sees fit. And us fans are driven mad by the vast amount of rumours that circulate the internet while we wait for January to arrive.

Frank Clark has made it clear that the club will adopt a frugal transfer policy going forward, with Forest looking to conform to the forthcoming Financial Fair Play regulations, also imposed by FIFA. However I believe that the transfer window system will make it difficult for the club to take the necessary steps to balance their books and adapt to the changing football landscape.

Once the window is open, Frank Clark and Steve Cotterill will have a month to make the necessary adjustments to the squad. Both may have a very clear vision of what they want to achieve, but there will be a number of obstacles facing them.

There may be a lack of interest in the Forest players that are made available, and even if clubs are interested they may have to wait for other deals to be tied up before they can act. Equally, Forest may have to wait to sell players before they can buy; they may be reliant upon a number of other deals going through before they are able to become active in the transfer market.

The time frame that teams have to operate in is too short and, unless willing to severely compromise on the value of the transfer fee in question, the stalemate often remains past the closing of the window.

Often very few transfers will take place amongst Championship clubs during the January transfer window, because if one deal falls through then a whole host of other deals will inevitably be scuppered. This leaves Steve Cotterill much like a man in a straitjacket trying to shuffle a pack of playing cards.

Of course there is an exciting side to the January Transfer Window. Sky Sports News is bursting at the seams with juicy transfer gossip, dramatic contract twists and shocking last minute deals. I’ve always thought that if I was an international footballer I’d spend transfer deadline day driving to and from all the Premiership grounds … just to send journalists into a confused frenzy.

The problem is that the majority of business is done by ‘big clubs’ with ridiculous amounts of money to spend. Take last year as an example … Chelsea felt they needed more firepower and spent £50million on Fernando Torres … Liverpool needed to fill the gap left by Torres and signed Andy Carroll for £35million. A year later and both players have proven to be massive flops. If anything the window encourages owners to panic buy and take huge risks … something that clubs like Forest simply can’t afford to do.

Under the old free flowing transfer system Forest would have been able to buy and sell players as the need arose. The ‘imbalance’ within the squad, which Steve Cotterill has openly spoken about, would have already begun to be addressed.

Of course I understand that the old system had flaws of its own and I know the argument is not as simplistic as I have portrayed. What concerns me is that under the current transfer system our club may find itself strangled by circumstance and unable to move forward. We may have a frustrating month ahead.

Dexter Blackstock (Peterborough United – NFFC Programme Notes)

First and foremost I’d like to take the opportunity to wish all at today’s game a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I’m sure most of you would agree that for all the wonderful trinkets and gizmos you’re sure to have received, no present will be as welcome as a Boxing Day victory.

There’s no denying it’s been a dreadful season so far but there are, I believe, genuine reasons to feel optimistic about the rest of the season and the future of our football club. One of these reasons is the return of Dexter Blackstock, after over a year on the sidelines.

In what was a frustratingly fruitless encounter with Crystal Palace, the appearance of Dexter as a second half substitute provided a cold and cloudy day with a much needed silver lining. The rapturous applause that greeted his comeback is testament to the huge amount of respect and adoration the Forest faithful have for him.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of viewing players who you haven’t seen play in a while through rose tinted spectacles, and it’s sometimes the case that players who are out injured are suddenly perceived to be ten times better than they ever were in reality. However, I simply don’t think this is the case with Dexter. If anything I think fans may have forgotten what a fantastic footballer he is.

I remember his home debut against Bristol City during the 2008/09 season. At the time we were precariously flirting with relegation and in desperate need of what seemed an unlikely win. Blackstock, who was on loan from QPR at the time, provided the presence and know-how, which we had lacked up-front throughout that season. It was his refreshing debut performance that triggered our survival charge.

It was 2-2 in the dying seconds of the game and Forest had the momentum. The ball was marooned into Bristol City’s penalty area and they were unable to clear the danger. The ball seemed to hang in the air for an eternity, flitting between heads before eventually coming back down to earth, just shy of the penalty spot.

There was Dexter … on hand to ruthlessly volley the ball into the back of the net. It was a moment to savour, and it’s part of the reason he will always be held in the highest regard amongst Forest fans.

But my faith in Dexter Blackstock goes far beyond nostalgic sentiment. Forest have been crying out for a striker who can not only score goals, but can hold the ball up and make things happen in the final third. They are in desperate need of a threat in the penalty area; a focal point for their forward play. Dexter is all of these things … and his return could not be more timely.

Throughout the successful Billy Davies era, Dexter was our first choice striker. Whether playing a 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 formation, he would always play in the important games. We all know how much Billy liked to rotate his strikers and yet Blackstock was always viewed as an imperative part of the starting eleven, right up until he suffered the horrific knee injury. I also believe that had he have been fit for the entirety of the 2010/11 season we may well have been promoted automatically.

I suppose there is always a question mark as to whether a player returning from a lengthy lay-off will be as good as before. We will only really know in the fullness of time, and it may well take time for Dexter to get back to his best. However the early signs are good and I think we should all take great encouragement from the fact that one of our prized assets is back in the proverbial melting pot.

I genuinely believe we have an excellent squad of players and, since Steve Cotterill has taken charge, the performances have greatly improved. I think we’re only a couple of players shy of having a team that can excel in the Championship. One of these players could well be on the books already.

We’ve been dominating, but not winning games, because we lack something that a player like Dexter Blackstock can provide. For all our possession, the centre backs of opposing teams have not had a torrid enough time this season. With Dexter back, there will be more purpose and menace to our attacking play. With Dexter back it won’t be long before we start scoring goals again.


Superstition (Crystal Palace – NFFC Programme Notes)

My dad, like me, is a season ticket holder at the City Ground. However he’s unable to attend Tuesday Night games (on religious grounds) meaning that, prior to the Ipswich game, he had not seen a Forest victory all season. This led him to the conclusion that his presence at games was bringing the team bad luck. In my experience, this kind of superstition, however irrational, is an integral part of the modern football fan’s struggle.

As irrational as it may seem, Dad had felt genuinely responsible for our poor start to the season. In fact, he felt so guilty about Steve McClaren’s sacking that he suffered recurring nightmares in which our former manager stood over him, frothing at the mouth and wielding an umbrella.

I went to see him before the Ipswich game and was shocked by the state he was in. During the international break, my usually clean-shaven father had grown a fearsome beard, the like of which you normally see on marooned sailors. I assumed it to be some sort of post-McClaren breakdown until he explained he was taking part in Movember.

Beard or no beard, he didn’t want to go to the game that day, fearing that his attendance would prove a bad omen for the players. But I dragged him out of the house, kicking and screaming, and we made our way to the City Ground.

As Marcus Tudgay headed in the last minute winner, Dad leapt around in a fit of unadulterated joy. The curse had been lifted.

But what had changed our fortunes so dramatically? We had done everything exactly the same as we had all season. On the journey home I became strangely captivated by the wild bushy hair that surrounded Dad’s mouth. And then it dawned on me … his beard had brought us good luck!

After a lengthy debate, he has agreed not to shave again until he sees us lose another game. This is in spite of the fact that he categorically hates facial hair of any type.

So, if you see a man who looks like a cross between Grizzly Adams and a Middle-Eastern dictator at today’s game, you’ll know he’s doing it for the good of us all. In many ways, he’s like a modern day Gandhi.

It isn’t just my family who believe these superstitions to be important. Whether it’s the shirt on our back, the turnstile we walk through or the Kris Commons voodoo doll we fold and stuff into our pockets before setting out, on some level most football fans believe that the result of games is influenced by supernatural factors.

The worst part is that as silly or inconsequential as a pre-match ritual may seem, if you ever forget to do it, your team will inevitably lose!

Whilst my dad has been unavailable on Tuesday nights, I have been taking my friend Wozz to the games. He’s a decent enough sort, but is renowned in the local community for being a big Mario Balotelli sympathiser. When he picked me up for the Middlesbrough game he was wearing his five-pronged Balotelli glove hat, insisting that it had always brought him good luck in the past.

Even though I had to spend a large proportion of the evening pretending not to know him, the hat inspired Forest to their first home victory of the season. He wore it again against Reading, and we secured another midweek victory. I had finally found the winning formula.

I know what you’re thinking … what went wrong against Leeds? Unfortunately, some rural yokel mistook his hat for a cow’s udder and tried to milk him. The embarrassment forced Wozz to take the hat off and shortly after Robert Snodgrass scored.

Many will blame our comprehensive defeat against Leeds on the lacklustre midfield performance or the ball not sticking in the final third, but I know it was all down to the absence of the Balotelli hat.

As a rational human being, I know that none of these superstitions are of any real consequence. Forest won’t win or lose, depending on which half-time pie I choose. However, that doesn’t mean that superstitions aren’t important. As ridiculous as they may seem, and whether positive or negative, they help to channel the football fan’s emotions.

Pele (world’s greatest ever player/men’s health adviser) once gave a signed shirt away to one of his fans. He started playing in a new shirt and it resulted in a horrendous dip in form, so he ordered a friend to get the original shirt back from the fan. The friend duly obliged and Pele’s form immediately returned. Years later the friend admitted he had never found the old shirt and had simply forged Pele’s signature on the new one.

I believe that fans’ superstitions work in a similar way. It’s not really the details that matter; it’s the positive feeling that these superstitious comforts generate that is important. Having a bit of belief is half the battle; if every single fan can clutch onto some extraneous detail, like I have, then we might all start believing in our beloved Forest again.

Incidentally, I’m joined by both my Dad and my friend Wozz today so, despite the fact that our row will look like the substitutes bench for the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, I’m ultra-confident that we are going to grab all three points.


Stadium Sponsorship (Leeds United – NFFC Programme Notes)


One of the surprises of the season so far has been the impressive form of Newcastle United. After an embarrassing five years under the guidance of Mike Ashley, Newcastle fans had finally been able to wear their famous black and white stripes with pride again. But whilst the Toon Army launched triumphant fireworks, following a Guy Fawkes Day win over Everton, Mike Ashley was plotting to crudely douse their celebratory bonfire.

In case you hadn’t heard, the Newcastle United owner has undermined nearly 120 years of tradition by renaming the ground after his own company, in a bid to attract a long term stadium sponsor. St James’ Park will now be known as the Sports Direct Arena and, frankly, this doesn’t sit well with me.

Evidently, stadium sponsorship is a lucrative opportunity for football clubs – for Newcastle it is predicted to be worth around £10 million per year – but is any sum of money really worth losing a part of your identity for?

Perhaps some fans would accept a change in stadium name, if it meant a stellar signing every season or a price freeze on tickets. I worry that if we fans don’t stand against these money driven changes, we may be left with a game that is barely recognisable from the one we all fell in love with.

There are now twelve clubs whose stadiums have been renamed for sponsorship purposes. Although all twelve may be financially better off as a result of the decision, their grounds are soulless empty places, stripped of the richness of tradition, drenched in bitter tears of capitalist regret.

Maybe I’m being a touch melodramatic. Maybe football isn’t quite that bad just yet. But I’ve seen where the commercial path that football has embarked upon leads. I’ve seen the future of English football and it chills me to my very core:

All clubs will be forced to sell their heritage to the highest bidder in order to compete with those who have already done so. It will become the norm for grounds to be rebranded in line with sponsorship commitments and our beloved ‘City Ground’ will be renamed the ‘KFC Bargain Bucket.’

Graven images of Colonel Sanders, licking his greasy capitalist fingers, will be erected on each corner of the ground. Numbed by the greed and avarice that surrounds the game, we will all stand idly by while they tear down the Brian Clough Stand and replace it with the ‘Popcorn Chicken End’. Meanwhile, wealthy fat cats will reap the rewards of our misery, laughing from on high, as they pour cheap mayonnaise over us, like the proverbial zinger burgers that we have become.

And it won’t stop at stadium sponsorship. Imagine our famous red shirts littered with a plethora of logos; twenty or more advertisements per player; a patchwork quilt of commercial devilry. The famous tricky tree will be auctioned off and replaced with a Coca Cola bottle and the two European Cup Stars will be shunted out to make way for an aristocratic Russian meerkat.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the first football team sells its name to a sponsor by the turn of the decade. The 2020 FA Cup Final might well be contested between ‘Tesco’ and ‘The Carphone Warehouse.’ By then a ninety minute game will be split into eighths to maximise the opportunity for advertisements and the grass pitch will have been replaced by a giant horizontal billboard.

Many of you will read this and think I’m a few Derby fans short of a flock, or that I’m hallucinating because of a fried chicken overdose … but I implore you to take a moment and look around the sport you love. Television, advertising and sponsorship already have a stranglehold over football. It’s absolutely everywhere.

Clubs are being frogmarched into securing as many revenue streams as possible in order to survive and compete. Sadly, there may come a time when all else but money is forgotten in football.

Maybe I’m naïve to think that the great tradition of English football should still exist in the twenty first century. Surely it’s a good thing that the game is getting money from other sources, not just supporters? If the clubs in question used their stadium sponsorship money to slash ticket prices or improve the match day experience for fans then perhaps the ends might justify the means. The reality is that the money secured in these soul-wrenching deals will be used on transfer fees and players’ wages.

Fans may well want to see the best players at their club and the people in charge of football clubs may well be driven by the desire to please fans, in this respect. The problem is that as football becomes more business orientated and revenue-driven, it is detaching itself from its own raw brilliance.

Stadium Sponsorship could well be the first step on a disastrous road for football. Those with power must be careful that, in the pursuit of gold, they don’t leave football a hollow meaningless shell.

Goal-Line Technology (Ipswich Town – NFFC Programme Notes)

2010 was a wonderful year to be an England fan. Having gone 2-0 behind to those darned efficient Germans, Frank Lampard revitalised our World Cup dreams by equalising just before half time. It was the sort of goal scabby-kneed children will strive to emulate, in playgrounds across the land, for the next ten years or more. He lobbed the German goalkeeper; the ball hitting the underside of the bar before bouncing down, clearly over the line.

England, having come back from two behind, went on to win the game. Galvanised by victory over the old enemy, the nation grew in belief, culminating in England being crowned World Cup winners for the second time in history. Wayne Rooney was knighted, a national holiday was declared, the recession was averted and the Queen, donning a novelty St. George hat, played the theme to The Great Escape on a trumpet in the middle of Trafalgar Square.

If you don’t recall any of this happening that’s probably because the Uruguayan linesman failed to spot what millions had seen so clearly on a television screen: the ball, following Lampard’s clinical finish, crossing the goal-line by a clear foot. In this technologically advanced age, with iPhones and Sat-Navs and Zumbathons, why can’t we decide whether a ball has crossed the line or not?

Sepp Blatter, recently re-crowned FIFA president following a landslide victory, has publicly stated a number of reasons why the introduction of goal-line technology would be bad for the game, but in my opinion all of these reasons are red herrings.

To hear his views on technology, one would assume Blatter to live in a remote thatched cottage somewhere in the Swiss countryside, smashing up computers with a sledgehammer in his spare time. I can just imagine him lighting his candles, getting a feathered quill and pot of ink out of his bureau and writing ‘destroy the machine’  a hundred times on some discarded brown envelope.

One of the main arguments the Swiss dictator uses to delay essential technological advances within the game is that “human error is part of the very essence of the game.” Blatter believes that taking the ‘human’ element of refereeing away would make the game less exciting and give supporters less to talk about. This is an absolutely ridiculous point of view. Football fans want officials to make fewer mistakes and be more consistent, so that they go virtually unnoticed throughout the course of a game. If this technology can help referees perform to a higher standard, then surely it has to be good for the sport.

Another argument used by the FIFA president is that football should be the same at all levels and implementing goal-line technology throughout the leagues would be impossible. Once again I find this excuse laughable. In every single respect the gulf between the elite leagues and the lower divisions is astronomical. Whether it be the state of the pitch, the quality of the officials or the standard of the facilities, football becomes a different game depending on the level you happen to be watching.

The final argument championed by Blatter is that the introduction of this technological advance would lead to more and more technology infiltrating the sport. Eventually, video technology will spoil the free flowing game that we all know and love. He is worried that if we tamper too much with the fundamentals of the game it may lose its identity. I would argue that the game has been constantly tampered with since its inception.

Back in 1890, Nottingham Forest were the first team to introduce nets to accompany goalposts. Prior to this, there was no way of knowing for sure if the ball had gone between the posts or not. I imagine a few fist shaking Victorians cursed the ‘new fangled goal nets’ but their necessary introduction moved the game forward. Similarly, the introduction of goal-line technology can improve our game without it resulting in an army of football-headed robots taking over the planet!

Football lost a lot of credibility after the 2010 World Cup and, as a result, it appears Blatter has finally buckled on the issue. Having initially dismissed goal-line technology out of hand, FIFA will now review the matter again in March 2012.

In reality Blatter is not the backward thinking Luddite that I have portrayed. He Sky-Plusses The Only Way Is Essex, whilst playing Guitar Hero in his moon boots, just like the rest of us. The real reason for FIFA’s deliberation over the issue of goal-line technology is money.

There is no financial benefit to its introduction. In fact the initial cost is estimated to be around £250,000 per stadium. I actually think the costs involved are a better reason not to employ goal-line technology than any of the other flaky excuses previously mentioned. However it would not reflect well on FIFA to admit that money is of greater value than justice within the modern game.

The final decision, due to be made in March 2012, will not be based on sporting ethics; it will be based on the costs involved. If goal-line technology had come free of charge there would never have been a debate.

I only hope that football has not become so consumed by greed that the price of fairness is deemed too steep when a final decision regarding goal-line technology is made in March 2012.