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.

Twitter in Football (Reading – NFFC Programme Notes)

My friend Billsy is a notoriously mellow character; cool as a cucumber with a haircut you could set your watch by. This made it all the more strange when I saw him gambolling down my street one late August night. He’d turned the corner at seventy miles an hour and parked diagonally across the length of the street. All manner of thoughts went through my head. Has there been an accident down at the old mill? Has the law finally caught up with him after all these years? After swinging my fragile front door open with his right boot and catching his breath, he finally exclaimed: “Dexter Blackstock has just mentioned you on Twitter!”

A text message would probably have sufficed, although I do understand the root of his excitement.  We live in an age where footballers are completely detached from supporters and social networking sites like Twitter offer a welcome bridge between the two. The football loving demographic are still coming to terms with the previously foreign concept of players being accessible to the general public.

Dexter Blackstock is a shining example of how Twitter can be beneficial to the future of football. Since his cruciate knee ligament injury he has embraced the opportunity to interact freely with his 27,000 followers. The subjects discussed can be as inane as ‘favourite takeaways’ or as politically charged as ‘who should be eliminated from the X Factor.’ The important thing is that Dexter, a skilled member of the Twitterati, has used the site to connect with fans in a manner that has become extinct elsewhere within the game.

Unfortunately there is an ugly side to footballers using Twitter; a side which has further tarnished our beautiful game’s ever diminishing standing within society. When a player writes a message on Twitter he is actually publishing unedited material to the whole world. With this comes a responsibility that a lot of players simply aren’t ready for.

Ishmael Miller recently landed himself in hot water when he reacted angrily to criticism from fans after defeat at Coventry. Had he have walked around Nottingham City Centre shouting abuse at people with a megaphone he’d have drawn less attention to himself than through one ill thought out tweet, thrashed out in the heat of the moment. Therein lays the problem with footballers and their Twitter accounts.

This problem is one that most of us will never personally experience; we can reap the benefits of using Twitter without concern for repercussions.

If you can ignore silly rumours, like the one about there being a 130 foot statue of Jonathan Greening erected in Brazil, then Twitter is by far the fastest way of getting all the latest news and views from the City Ground.

Furthermore it allows fans to interact with each other in a way that was never possible before. A prime example of this mass interaction came last week, when thousands of Forest Fans campaigned to get Steve McClaren appointed as the next Leicester Manager. I think its testament to the philanthropic nature of our fans that even though he failed at Forest, we are investing our precious time in helping Steve get a new job.

Personally, the part of twitter I enjoy most is fine tuning the list of people I’m following. Last week, I got rid of the Dalai Lama to make room for Eugen Bopp. It made me feel extremely powerful … a bit like a young Louis Walsh.

Whilst the world of Twitter can enhance the experience of supporting our beloved Forest, it’s important to realise that supporters, like players, have a responsibility for the material they publish online.

Some of the abuse that players are subjected to is vile and pathetic. If players are to be held responsible for the words they publish on twitter then supporters must be too. Just because they earn huge salaries and are in the public eye, this does not make it right for fans to hurl criminal, hate-ridden words at professional footballers.

Twitter is not an evil in itself; it’s simply an online service that has made the world smaller and subsequently given footballers and supporters a chance to reach out to each other. It’s not Twitter that’s the problem; it’s the way people choose to use it. Whilst I firmly believe social networking sites can do great good within the game, I also accept that, without mechanisms of control in place, it’s a ‘public relations minefield’ for both players and their clubs.

One of the first things Steve Cotterill did, having arrived at Forest, was enforce a compromised solution. Forest players can continue to use Twitter to close the gap between themselves and supporters, but will be reprimanded should they use the opportunity to talk about the club. Though it will disappoint twitter users to learn that our players cannot be as open as they once were, it’s in the interest of the club to protect itself from morale-sapping PR blunders.

In an age where media vultures are constantly waiting to swoop down on juicy raw tweets, Steve Cotterill’s decision to monitor the cyberwaves is most definitely in the interest of Nottingham Forest Football Club and its players.

Steve Cotterill (Hull City – NFFC Programme Notes)

On my way to the City Ground for the midweek game against Middlesbrough, the sound of a slow death march was relentlessly ringing in my ears. It wasn’t because I had the new Coldplay album on in my car, rather because I had been constantly replaying the last fifteen minutes of the Birmingham game in my head.

The image of our dejected players, looking on motionless as Chris Wood jogged through to score Birmingham’s third, was still haunting me and I must confess I was apprehensive about the prospect of facing an undefeated Middlesbrough side. I’ve always maintained my belief that the squad is good enough to get us into the Premier League but of recent times our beloved club has been buried deep in a quagmire of negativity. Cue the arrival of Steve Cotterill.

As the second goal went in, elated relief boomed around what had been a subdued City Ground. Nottingham Forest were back. It wasn’t just about us beating Middlesbrough and getting our first home win of the season; it was about the players giving a performance we could all be proud of. It was a special night to be a Forest supporter because, for the first time this season, there was a reminder of why we all love this beautiful game so much.

Steve Cotterill refused to accept praise for the victory; giving all credit to the players. In fact, when faced with adulation our new manager looked about as comfortable as Kris Commons at a salad bar.  While it’s true that each player gave a thunderously committed performance, we should not mistake Steve’s refreshing modesty for a lack of influence on the game. He knew exactly what he was doing.

The decision to revert back to 4-4-2, addressing our lack of width in midfield by pushing Chris Gunter forward, was inspired. Subsequently the team had more natural balance and were better organised as a unit. Furthermore, we moved the ball quickly when in possession, forsaking the slow passing style, which Steve McClaren favoured, for a style that befits the players we have and the league we are in. Finally, and most importantly, we pressed the opposition, giving them no time on the ball and ensuring we remained on the front foot until the game was won.

Cotterill’s strategy was, in part, based on observations made during the Coventry game. However, by far his most crucial observation was that the players appeared to have fallen out of love with football,” a problem that he has addressed emphatically since his arrival.

In both the Middlesbrough and Blackpool games, Forest played with zest and passion, purposefully running around like irrepressible gazelles, with an unquenchable appetite for the ball. Win, lose or draw, if we can play with the same conviction every week I’ll happily pay to see us, home and away.

It was great to take all three points at Bloomfield Road and our industrious approach to the challenging circumstances (in terms of the playing surface and the match officials) was particularly pleasing. We are not going to win every game between now and the end of the season and we’re not always going to be able to play vintage football, but Steve Cotterill seems to have injected spirit and belief back into our players and that’s something well worth celebrating.

In a recent interview, he was asked about the relationship he builds with his players: “You need to be their manager, psychologist, father … probably even mother at some stage.”

He’ll probably stop shy of tucking Wes and Chambo in at night, nevertheless I think his all-encompassing approach is exactly what our players need. They need someone to motivate and guide them, someone who sees their form and confidence as his responsibility. The managers who excel at Championship level are those who can get the best out of their players.

When a manager categorically fails at a club, in the way that Steve McClaren did, it’s only natural that the chosen successor comes from the opposite end of the managerial spectrum. Clubs tend to place emphasis on the deficiencies of the previous incumbent and look to address them with their next selection.

So it came as no surprise to me when the board appointed a manager who has a wealth of experience in the Championship, is accustomed to working on a tight budget and is renowned for building a formidable team spirit. Steve Cotterill is a very different type of manager to Steve McClaren and, in my opinion, much better suited to the task at hand. The signs are certainly good so far.

It’s important not to get too carried away, because there will be many high points and low points before this season is over, but I think we should all embrace the core principles of honesty and hard work that Steve Cotterill is trying to implement. The players are already on board and with our unyielding support the possibilities are endless.

McClaren’s Reign (Middlesbrough – NFFC Programme Notes)

I put a lot of faith in Steve McClaren when he was appointed, but after only ten games it became clear the circumstances at Nottingham Forest were not suited to his managerial style. The appointment was a total disaster and I’m beginning to think that having a tattoo of his face on my lower back was an error of judgement also.

In spite of this, he left the club with a great deal of honour. He didn’t hold out for compensation (a move which would have dealt a devastating financial blow to the club) and he left at the right time … whilst there’s still an opportunity for our season to be salvaged.

I’ve long since abandoned the idea that managers can easily be arranged into some kind of league table based on ability. There are some exceptional managers who will always succeed and there are some who simply aren’t cut out for it. However the vast majority fall into a middle category; managers who will succeed under certain circumstances and fail under others. Steve McClaren was perfect for FC Twente but wasn’t equipped for the task of getting Forest promoted.

There is little doubt about his coaching abilities but a good coach, with technical know-how, does not necessarily make a good manager. Management, especially in the cruel world of the Championship, requires a broader range of skills. Steve was never able to mould our players into a system that utilised their collective attributes, nor was he able to instil confidence amongst players or supporters.

One of the big problems was lack of experience at Championship level and his inability to adapt to the challenges the division provided. The biggest difficulty appeared to be having to work with a restrictive budget.

I understand that McClaren may have been promised things that weren’t delivered but success in the Championship cannot simply be bought. With the exception of QPR, the clubs who got promoted last season spent less money than Forest. Furthermore, many of the league’s biggest spenders ended up below us in the table. I’m not saying that a bit of wise investment wouldn’t have helped the cause but to blame our poor start on financial matters alone is pure folly.

This point is brought into sharp focus when you consider that this season’s first team is largely made up of the same players who made it to the playoffs under Billy Davies. The key players who departed over the summer have been replaced by McClaren’s own signings.

That’s not to say that McClaren is solely to blame for our poor start. Both the board and the players have publicly accepted partial responsibility for the disappointing results so far. The point I’m keen to put across is that our squad, including the new signings, are collectively better than what they have shown so far. As is always the case with football, the buck stops with the man in the dugout.

Managing in the Championship is all about getting the best out of the players available and building a team that is greater than the sum of its individuals. It is telling that, under McClaren, players who had previously excelled, as part of a unit, struggled to find their best form.

Part of the transformation in fortunes has been the result of a tactical overhaul. For a start, the fact that fans aren’t entirely sure if we have been employing a zonal marking system or a man marking system is testament to how unsettled the back four have been. Moreover, the slow, continental passing game doesn’t play to the strengths of our current crop of players and throughout the season our midfield has looked about as balanced as Kris Commons’ diet.

To be fair to McClaren, the absence of conventional wingers has forced him to compromise his favoured strategy. In addition, since last reaching the playoffs, Forest have lost part of the backbone of the team (in Paul McKenna.) Both of these factors have contributed to the lack of balance within the team and have left the back four particularly exposed. Unfortunately, dealing with this sort of adversity is an essential part of managing an established Championship team.

Perhaps the biggest problem of all has been Steve McClaren’s apparent inability to motivate the players. I get the impression that before a match Billy Davies would read speeches from ‘Henry V’, whilst chewing raw meat off the bone. The players would charge out … ready for battle! In contrast, I imagine Steve McClaren with a cappuccino in his hand, finishing off a Sudoku puzzle.

This is probably a far cry from the truth but such images are only conjured up because of what I’ve seen on the pitch. Perhaps a championship side, with a championship budget, needs more of a ‘blood and guts’ type manager who can motivate and get the best out of his players.

At the time of writing I have no idea who our new manager is but if it’s a man who understands the Championship and can rebuild the confidence of our fantastically talented squad, then it won’t be long before the promotion charge is back on.

Stuart Pearce (Birmingham City – NFFC Programme Notes)

I’ve begrudgingly accepted that during the month of October, it’s customary for supermarkets to fill their aisles with Christmas paraphernalia in order to milk every last penny out of the festive season. However, in my mind, those capitalist devils hit a new low when I heard ‘Fairytale of New York’ being blared out over the tannoy during the latter parts of September. I was so outraged I nearly dropped my mince pies. It did, however, get me all nostalgic about the best Christmas present I ever received.

I was about eight years old and, as I came hurtling down the stairs, I noticed a six foot tall figure covered in a large bed sheet. At first I thought it was Dad, hiding from the milkman again, but after moments of excited anticipation a life sized cardboard cut-out of my hero, Stuart Pearce, was unveiled before my popping eyeballs. It was signed by ‘Psycho’ himself … although some cynical folk have suggested his handwriting bears an uncanny resemblance to my Dad’s.

In most cases, by the time you’ve grown up you look back on childhood heroes with a degree of embarrassment or cynicism. You realise that Hulk Hogan was a piece of cold war propaganda with unnecessary facial hair and that Postman Pat was just a renegade public servant, who caused more problems than he actually solved. But with Stuart Pearce there is no question that he is, and always will be, a real-life hero.

Unlike the modern footballers who make it to the very top of the game, Pearce was not sculpted and refined in academies from an early age. In fact, he only turned professional at the age of twenty-one, having worked as an electrician (whilst playing for non-league Wealdstone United) prior to this.

In fact, when Stuart Pearce first signed for Forest in 1985, he advertised his services as an electrician in the match day programme. Imagine if you were to turn over the page in today’s edition to see Jonathan Greening plugging his carpentry business. It’s absolutely unthinkable and a mark of how much football has changed over the last twenty five years.

It was from these humble beginnings that Stuart Pearce established himself as the best left-back in the land. He achieved it because he oozed raw unquenchable passion. Don’t get me wrong, he was a player with great natural ability and a tremendous understanding of the game, but that isn’t what made him a hero.

A fearlessly committed and inspirational leader, one clenched fist from him would have an entire crowd buzzing with expectation. His combative tackles had fleet footed wingers counting their legs to make sure they were both still there. The mere sight of his name on the team sheet gave hope that victory was forever possible. That’s the kind of player he was.

During the twelve years that Stuart Pearce was at Forest, he scored an incredible 92 goals. Thunderous free kicks and penalties were only part of the repertoire; he delighted in playing intricate one-twos with forward players, getting into the box (and often getting his name on the score sheet) whenever he got the opportunity. They simply don’t make left-backs like him anymore.

Perhaps the moment that defined Stuart Pearce’s proud career came during Euro 96. Having infamously missed a penalty for England during the semi-final shootout at the 1990 World Cup, a lesser man would have skulked into the background when the opportunity to take a spot kick arose again.

Instead he bravely nominated himself to take the third penalty and mercilessly buried it in the bottom corner of the net. A whole nation let out a triumphant cry of relief and adoration, as Pearce unleashed a tirade of joyous roars for all the world to see. It was the moment that sealed his place as one of England’s best loved players of all time.

Despite having had his right foot chewed off by the dog, Stuart has been an important part of the family since the day he arrived. Even when I moved out and lived amongst rival fans, he stood imperiously in the living room. No one would dare desecrate this symbol of all that is great about our beautiful game. However, a few years ago I did something that I’m not at all proud of.

When I first got married, I managed to trick my wife into letting Stuart reside in the bedroom for a while. Unfortunately, I was consistently woken by the sound of terrified screams, as she thought we were being burgled. I had no choice but to relegate him to the loft … but he was never likely to stay there long.

Last Saturday morning, with the spirit of St. George coursing through my veins, I risked the wrath of my spouse and bravely brought him back down to where he belongs. No matter what guests think, I’ll be forever proud to have Stuart Pearce in my living room. There’ll never be another like him.