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.

Penalty Shootouts (Newcastle United – NFFC Programme Notes)

One of my most painful childhood memories was watching my hero, Stuart Pearce, miss a penalty at the Italia 90 World Cup. I remember thinking that it was a cruel and unfair way for England to lose the semi-final but, twenty-one years later, penalty shoot-outs are still at the heart of all tournament football.

It’s because of a penalty shoot-out against Notts Country that Forest progressed past the first round of the League Cup and it could be by the same means that we win or lose tonight. Surely there has to be a better way?

Football is becoming so commercial that, if tonight’s match ends in a draw, I’ll half expect to see Ant and Dec emerge from the tunnel with the results of a public vote concealed in a golden envelope. There have been worse ideas …

As ridiculous as it sounds, before the invention of the penalty shoot-out, the outcome of tied tournament matches was decided by the toss of a coin. More recently matches went to umpteen replays until there was an eventual winner but, rightly or wrongly, there simply isn’t time for this within the structure of the modern game. Perhaps, therefore, penalties are a necessary evil?

The biggest criticism of penalty shoot-outs is that they are more of a lottery than a sporting contest and the winning team will prevail, irrespective of ability. It has often been said that penalty kicks only require a small subset of a footballer’s skill and that using them to decide the result of a drawn game is like playing crazy golf to decide who wins the Ryder Cup. Personally, I’d pay good money to see Lee Westwood putt the winning shot through the legs of a giant plastic gorilla.

There is also a suggestion that penalty competitions put too much pressure on individuals. Roberto Baggio claims it took him three years to get over his 1994 World Cup Final miss. Coincidentally that’s the same amount of time it took the ball to land, after he ballooned it wildly over the bar.

The strange thing is that Baggio was a wonderfully gifted player and a prolific penalty taker. But penalty shoot-outs are very little to do with ability and everything to do with nerve. The team who wins is most likely the team that handles the pressure of the occasion best.

They could be accepted as an inconvenient but unavoidable footballing truth was it not for the fact that they have been publicly admonished by the most powerful man in world football.

Sepp Blatter, the eighth president of FIFA and fourth in line to the Qatari throne, has the following to say on the subject: “Football is a team game, while the penalty shootout is all about the individual.” So if the self-elected dictator of the footballing world opposes penalty shoot-outs, why do they still exist? Maybe there is no viable alternative?

I know what you’re thinking. Why doesn’t Sepp Blatter just award each tied match to the highest bidding country … or perhaps the country with the most turbulent political past? In actual fact, his views on the topic are refreshingly reasonable.

The idea he supports is to decrease the number of players on the pitch during extra time, creating more space and thus increasing the likelihood of a winning goal. The factors that determine which team progresses would become the strategy of the manager and the adaptability of his players. There are a few variations on this theme but the general idea is that as more time passes the number of players per team is decreased. The winning team would be the one that scores first.

I think the idea has a lot of potential, but to be honest it will probably never be tested. It’s even less likely that it will ever take the place of penalty shoot-outs. The reason is that, although they are fundamentally unfair and undermine tournament football, penalty shoot-outs are fantastic to watch!

During the 2010 World Cup, I had people around my flat for the glamour fixture of Paraguay versus Japan. The non-football-loving women locked themselves in the kitchen, bemoaning the strain that twice daily televised football had put on their relationships.

The match was a boring 0-0 draw, the sort you could quite happily knit a jumper to, but as soon as the cry of ‘penalties’ was bellowed, the women rushed in to watch and everybody was literally on the edge of their seat. Despite having no allegiance to either team, it was seven minutes of compulsive drama. That is why penalty shoot-outs, the most cruel, unjust and electrifying way to end a game, are here to stay.

Derby Day (Derby County – NFFC Programme Notes)

It’s derby day at the City Ground, and over the course of the next ninety minutes, everything else in life will fade into nothingness. It’s a fixture that both captures the imagination and consumes all who are part of it.

Forest and Derby fans may have a ‘strong dislike’ for one another but the football season is so much richer for having the two teams in the same league.

I love every aspect of the derby day experience: the incredible atmosphere, the irresistible banter, the high drama, the heroes and villains, the hope of glory, even the fact that I’ll probably be teetering on the edge of despair until the final whistle blows.

Some imbeciles try to defile the great tradition of the two clubs by inciting violence but the vast majority of fans make derby day a fantastic occasion to behold, no matter what happens on the pitch.

I, like so many other fanatics who will fill the ground today, am only interested in the football. In fact, the nearest I have ever come to a Derby related altercation was when I came across what I presumed to be a friendly ram, whilst on a cross country pub crawl over the summer.

In an attempt to impress my peers, I casually booed in its general direction … but it took exception and mercilessly charged toward me; head lowered with a menacing look in his eye. They’re not the docile creatures Countryfile would have you believe.  I don’t mind admitting that I ran away like a scalded alley cat … but I’m sure our players will be much braver when locking horns with the Rams today.

Nottingham Forest against Derby County epitomises everything that is great about football. We should absorb and relish every second of today’s encounter because there is no guarantee the two teams will be playing against each other next season.

One of the best home matches I’ve ever been to was against Derby back in 2003. It had been four and a half years since Derby’s last visit and, as a result, the atmosphere was phenomenal. The Forest faithful played no small part, as goals from Marlon Harewood and Darren Huckerby helped us secure an impressive 3-0 win. As I walked home, cars were wildly beeping their horns and people were singing and dancing triumphantly along the River Trent. I’m told a similar celebration takes place outside Pride Park, every time Derby get a point at home.

But we all know football to be a cruel mistress and if you’re going to enjoy the euphoric highs, you have to be prepared to endure the devastating lows. A year on from that famous victory and Forest were beaten 4-2 at Pride Park. My lasting memory of that game was an innocuous back pass ricocheting off a Kenco coffee cup and leading to Derby’s second goal. To this day the taste of coffee at football grounds is like bitter ash in my mouth.

Whether it’s corner flag induced brawls, ex-players coming back to haunt their old clubs or rival managers kneeing each other in the back, the matches have produced great drama over the years. It’s a bit like an episode of Hollyoaks Later, but with better acting.

If anything the last few games between Forest and Derby have had more in common with a pantomime than a soap opera, with Robbie Savage and Kris Commons playing the part of the archetypal pantomime villains, as far as Forest fans are concerned. Of course both have now left the Rams for pastures new. One of them can be seen prancing around on a Saturday, trying to salvage the last remnants of his dwindling career, in some meaningless contest that no self-respecting football fan should care about … and the other has been signed up for the new series of Strictly Come Dancing.

With both Forest and Derby ringing the changes over the summer, today is a day when new heroes and villains can emerge; the toast of one city will be the scourge of the other.

If Forest win I can proudly wear my shirt about the town or else find that disobedient ram and sneer at him from a safe distance. If Forest lose I’ll probably just stay in bed until December.

There’s no glossing over the fact that it’s been a disappointing start to the season for us, but a win against our biggest rivals could be the inspiration needed to kick-start the promotion push, just like it did back in 2009.

More so than ever the players need our unyielding support and I’m sure that’s exactly what they will get. With every defeat the eventual victory is that much sweeter … and what better way to get our first home win of the season than by beating Derby County today.

Ishmael Miller (West Ham – NFFC Programme Notes)

I think I’m justified in describing myself as a die-hard Forest fan. I’ve been a season ticket holder for years, I go to as many away games as I can, I know all the words to Mull of Kintyre and I boo aggressively every time I pass a flock of sheep. Cut me open and I bleed red blood.

However, there is a dark and disturbing secret that I’m almost too afraid to admit … I have married into another club. Although our children will be Forest fans, they won’t be pure-bloods … and the shame is almost unbearable.

But don’t panic … my wife isn’t a Derby fan … I don’t think any priest would permit such a union. My in-laws are, in fact, fanatical West Bromwich Albion supporters.

As a rite of passage/form of mild torture, I have been forced to go and watch the Baggies on several occasions over the past few years and, though it pains me to admit it, I’ve been impressed by their dynamic attacking football. One player who I particularly enjoyed watching was Ishmael Miller.

The 24 year old was on my wish list at the start of the season and I was thrilled that the ‘transfer acquisitions panel’ finally responded to my weekly telegrams and signed him up. Built like a boxer and fast as a puma, Miller is a player, whose mere presence can reduce competent centre halves to blubbering wrecks.

However, it’s a common misconception that he’s just a big target man for defenders to hoof long balls toward. He is a skilful striker, who prefers to receive the ball on the floor and relishes the opportunity to run at defenders. He always wants the ball, is comfortable in possession and has the pace and power to hurt teams. The acquisition of Ishmael Miller will give Forest a better platform from which to play good passing football

Although he is primarily a centre forward, he can also be employed in a wide role and is adept at cutting in from the right hand side and unleashing scorchers with his left foot. He’s very one-footed but this doesn’t seem to make it any easier for defenders to contend with his strength and speed.

One of the major positives is that Ishmael is still young and, under the guidance of Steve McClaren, can become an even better player, as the season progresses. At present, he is probably best described as a raw and exciting forward – passionate, selfish and hungry. If he gets a faint sniff of goal, even very persuasive wild horses won’t convince him to play a square ball … and I think Forest need a player with this mentality to lead the line.

One of the things that might concern Forest fans is his goal-scoring record. He scored 16 goals in 97 games before joining us (an average of about one goal every six games.) However, I’m confident that this ratio will improve, with a prolonged run in the first team (something he’s been deprived of over the last two seasons.)

But – and I know I risk being publicly flogged for making this outrageous claim – a striker can be an integral part of a team, even if he doesn’t score goals. I believe Ishmael Miller is going to be vital to the balance of our team and I think he’ll help us to win a lot of football matches.

He hasn’t scored a lot of Championship goals but he has played a major part in three successful promotion campaigns … this has to be more than a coincidence.

The last time I saw Ishmael play for West Brom, I had lost all feeling in my legs and arms on a bitterly cold January night back in 2010, as Forest beat Albion 3-1 at the Hawthorns. I secured bragging rights over the in-laws, as Forest completely out-footballed Albion for the entire game. However, the last fifteen minutes had me covering my eyes and reaching for somebody’s hand to squeeze, because Ishmael Miller (who had just recovered from injury) had been brought on as a substitute.

It was exactly the same last season, when we played QPR at Loftus Road. He is a frightening prospect and a man who can single-handedly change the complexion of a game. I’m just glad he’s on our side nowadays … not least because grabbing the hand of the bloke sitting next to you is frowned upon at football grounds.

Although I believe the introduction of Radi was the turning point against Leicester last week, Ishmael played an integral part in the comeback. His strength and composure meant that the ball was sticking in the final third, allowing the midfielders to get into more advanced positions and eventually leading to the two goals.

Ishmael Miller is a striker who has all the assets required to be a success in the Championship. Defenders may know what he is all about, but there’s very little they can do against such power, pace and ability. If he features in today’s game you’ll see the colour drain from the faces of the West Ham back four.

Financial Fair Play (Leicester City – NFFC Programme Notes)

 

It’s no secret that since the formation of the Premier League in 1992, English football has been walking a financial tightrope. Most clubs lose money every year and only continue to exist because of investment from rich owners and/or high interest loans.

The current amount of debt in the Premier League is estimated to be £2.6billion. The existing debt of the 72 Football League clubs totals around £700million.

Due to the sheer size of the football industry and the amount of money it generates, it’s possible that the majority of clubs could go on like this for another decade … but not indefinitely. Most people within the game have realised that unless something changes there may be dark times ahead, hence the introduction of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations.

The basic principle of FFP is that clubs must balance their books – they can no longer be propped up on stilts of debt. In other words, expenditure on wages and transfer fees must not exceed income received from gates, TV money, prize money and commercial income.

Nottingham Forest’s total loss for 2010 was £12.3million. It is a similar story for a lot of Championship teams, year upon year, but when the new regulations are fully implemented this will no longer be allowed to happen.

Forest’s business model is currently sustainable because of the investment of Nigel Doughty but in order to comply with FFP (which is due to be implemented in time for the 2013/14 season) the club will no longer be able to spend more money than it makes.

One area of expenditure that falls outside of UEFA’s glare is that of youth development and it’s within this area that Forest’s future strategy lies. UEFA’s decision to not include this area of expenditure within their review will undoubtedly provide young British players with a better opportunity to succeed in the game and as a by product it may well have a positive impact upon our International team.

The main reason that Forest, along with the majority of football clubs, are currently losing money every year is the astronomical salaries of players (in 2010, Forest spent more on salaries than their total turnover for that year.)

In theory FFP will solve this problem and in turn make league competition in England a lot fairer. At the moment clubs who have the richest owners, or are willing to be the most reckless in terms of accruing debt, are able to pay the highest salaries and therefore can attract the best players. The implementation of FFP is supposed to reduce the amount of disparity between wages, meaning clubs will be competing on an even playing field.

However we all know that the amount of revenue available to Premier League Clubs is far greater than that available to Football League Clubs. It’s estimated that promotion to the Premier League is worth about £90million over a three year period. The concern is that by eliminating the potential for lower division clubs to speculate, you are driving a wedge between the Premiership and the Football League. Those who do not secure promotion within the next few seasons may be cut adrift … and that’s not the only potential flaw.

I have little doubt that FFP is a well intended step in the right direction and UEFA, along with the Clubs who have supported the motion, should be applauded for it. My major concern is that in itself it isn’t enough; the real problem is the amount players are paid and the principle of FFP alone does not directly address this.

Decreasing the salaries of players is not going to be an easy task and it’s not necessarily something that all clubs want to do. Manchester City’s recent success has been solely based on the fact that they are willing to pay higher wages than any other club. What if clubs just seek to drastically increase their revenues to avoid the difficult task of lowering their wage bill?

The problem of debt in football would be solved but the increased revenues would have to come from the fans in one way or another. Perhaps the cost of tickets and merchandise will be increased. Perhaps all televised football will be pay per view in years to come. Or perhaps Football grounds will be completely dedicated to commercial hospitality.

I appreciate that these are cynical leaps but it represents my fear that by telling clubs they have to balance their books, but not specifically attacking the cause of the problem, i.e. player’s wages, there is the possibility that the bigger clubs (who do not necessarily want an even playing field) will increase revenues by whatever means they can. Other clubs will be forced to do likewise just to compete and the average football fan may be completely priced out.

I believe that FFP is a necessary and positive change to the financial running of the game but I think that in order to achieve fairness and avoid making football inaccessible to the masses, the details of UEFA’s plan must include firm guidelines on how football clubs are to reduce salaries.