Midwinter musings from the Shire-tiddely-pom…

28 01 2013

snow‘The more it

SNOWS- tiddely-pom

The more it

GOES- tiddely-pom

On

Snowing

 

And nobody

KNOWS- tiddely-pom

How cold my toes-tiddely-pom

Are growing’

 

By Winnie the Pooh (with a little help from his friend – A.A. Milne)

 Monday 21st January:  ‘Blue Monday’

It has been calculated that the third Monday in January, ‘Blue Monday’, is officially the most depressing day of the year.

blueHow do we know? – Because psychologist, Cliff Arnall, told us so. His scientifically based assertion, first made in 2005, was determined using a complex formula. I’m pretty light on the detail, and I expect only Cliff can properly explain his bizarre equation, which factored in a whole lot of  stuff like: miserable weather, outstanding debt – with Christmas bills rolling in, post-Christmas anti-climax, broken New Year’s Resolutions, short daylight hours,  and low motivational levels, to name but a few.

All very clever but what’s the point? Naming the day as ‘depressing’ is somewhat of self-fulfilling and counter-productive surely? Well yes, but then we learn that the whole notion of discovering a single day when we are all, supposedly, at our lowest ebb was dreamt up by a travel company.

In his letter from the executive editor, Stefano Hatfield of the ipaper picked up on this, dismissing the concept of ‘Blue Monday’ as, ‘a fine example of pseudo-science subverted by marketers …so we can be sold remedies for ‘the blues’: sunny holidays and chocolate to name two.’  

Arnall’s get out response to those who question his claim, is that he is happy that it has stimulated debate around depression and that he is ‘encouraging people to refute the whole notion of there being a most depressing day.’ He wants us to use the day, ‘as a springboard to the things that really matter in life.’ 

They just might include holidays and chocolate…

Tuesday 22nd January: ‘Quartet’ falls flat…

downloadIt seems every Tuesday is ‘Supersaver Tuesday’ at Vue Cinemas. I only discovered this last week when Chris and I went to see ‘Les Mis’ – albeit on a Thursday. Anyhow, we are both now fully signed up members with cards to prove it, complete with a promotional code number.

Apparently there is also ‘Orange Wednesday’, a 2 for 1 ticket offer available to Orange mobile or broadband customers – which unfortunately we are not!

Yesterday we used our Supersaver 10% off cards for the first time, hoping that ‘Quartet’, based around life in a retirement home for classical musicians, might help lift the January blues.

Despite a fine cast, of veteran actors and musicians, director Dustin Hoffman’s, debut feature film, a drama comedy, is perfectly pleasant but eminently forgettable. Perhaps I’ve been spoilt by ‘The Life of Pi’ and ‘Les Mis’ – both outstanding cinematic experiences. In all honesty, this ninety minute BBC production (based on a West End stage play) didn’t warrant the  big screen treatment and would have been more at home in a cosy TV film format.

A simple, predictable, storyline based around the relationship between four retired opera singers, ably played by Pauline Collins (Cissy), Tom Courtenay (Reg), Billy Connolly (Wilf) and the obligatory Maggie Smith (Jean) – who is enjoying something of a renaissance since the emergence of Sunday evening period drama, Downton Abbey – and whether they will, or will not, reunite to top the bill at the annual fund-raising concert to celebrate Giuseppe Verdi’s birthday.

quartetTheatrical temperaments and old rivalries are eventually put to one side and, surprise, surprise, the show, directed by a splendidly eccentric Michael Gambon (Cedric), goes on.

Filmed in its entirety at the charming Hedsor House, in Buckinghamshire, and with added musical authenticity provided by professional musicians, ‘Quartet’ is easy on the eyes and ears. There is plenty of pathos but too little humour, although Billy Connolly raises the odd smile – nothing more.

While ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ (set in India, and also starring Dame Maggie – which I thoroughly enjoyed) a similarly bitter-sweet movie, built around issues of ageing and coming to terms with one’s twilight years, maintained a lively Bollywood tempo throughout, with enough humorous high notes to leave me feeling upbeat, ‘Quartet’, by contrast, was more pastoral largo, which left me feeling somewhat flat.

Wednesday 23rd January:  Bill Oddie – all of a twitter…

blue_tit_300_tcm9-139623_v2Flakes, as big as dinner plates, were tumbling out of the sky, as I carried out my Winterwatch duty – trudging to the top of the garden to feed our feathered friends. To quote Alfred Hitchcock (well Toby Jones playing Hitch – in recent TV film, ‘The Girl’) ‘’The Birds’ is coming’

And so they are. ‘Orchard House’ has become a regular winter haven for peckish visitors. I’ve been trying to do a tit-bit to help them through this recent cold snap but it ain’t ‘cheep’. They have already pecked their way through a 12.75 kg sack of wild bird seed – in just three weeks!

imagesNo wonder @Bill Oddie is tweeting, ‘break the ice, clear the snow, scatter the seed, hang up the fatballs. Garden alive with hungry birds. They need us now.’

A 2kg bag of Bill’s ‘Really Wild Bird Food’ is currently available, online, for a really wild £10.50 – and we are asked to believe that is a really wild reduction on the regular price of £18.81. While a small plastic seed feeder marketed under the Bill Oddie brand retails at £8.07, or if you’re feeling flush there is a top of the tree, 360mm metal model, for just £19.99!

goodies (1)‘Ecky thump’ It strikes me a bit ‘Oddie’ that the former ‘Goody’, now a high-profile ornithologist and wildlife presenter, has turned ‘Baddy’ by allowing his name to be used in marketing such grossly over- priced products. He deserves to get the bird. On yer ‘Trandem’ Bill, it doesn’t strike me as at all, ‘Goody goody yum yum’.

In true ‘Blue Peter’ style I have made my own large seed feeders out of recycled 2 litre green plastic bottles, fitted with a screw in adaptors costing about £2.50.

Thursday 24th January:  Russian red tape …

communist_ussr_russian_hammer_and_sickle_tie-p151665235024382367en71g_216I spent most of today failing to complete an online Russian visa application. We’ve recently booked Easyjet flights, on their new route to Moscow. No frills by Stelios hopefully a safer bet than Aeroflot! We’re not off until late March, but having secured budget accommodation, at the very Russian sounding ‘Capital House Hotel’, close to the Bolshoi Ballet and a gentle stroll from Red Square, allegedly, I thought it best to sort out the visas sooner, rather than later.

mcdonalds1It soon became apparent that despite perestroika, glasnost and the arrival of the golden arches in Pushkin’s Square, there is still plenty of red tape to cut through, and a hammer and sickle might come in handy.

Having read through the accompanying notes, the first stumbling block announced itself. Every application needs to be supported by a ‘letter of invitation’ or a ‘tourist confirmation document.’ These are readily available, varying, considerably, in cost between a range of internet providers – and I eventually managed to save a few roubles by tracking down a £14.00 per person deal.

???????????????????With tourist vouchers and confirmation numbers winging their way through cyber space – and in fairness they arrived by email within the promised 24 hour turn around, I started completing the visa application.

Everything was pretty straight forward until I hit the ‘recent travel’ section. Please indicate every country you have visited in the last ten years and your date of entry to that country. What?

That’s something of an undertaking! I started with existing visas and passport stamps – where the dates were often barely legible – and from their I had to resort to my electronic travel photograph albums, which luckily I had catalogued by year, together with scraps of information from various travel logs I had invariably started with good intentions but invariably aborted a few days into the journey!

So something of an ongoing process, but when I do finally complete and submit the aforementioned information, my application will need to be accompanied by a postal order (how old-fashioned – whoever uses those these days?) for a visa fee which will be only marginally cheaper than the return flight!

It’s enough to make a grumpy old man turn to vodka!

Friday 25th January:  Chocks away …

16862sUp at the crack of dawn, but my early morning drive across the Cotswolds was rewarded with beautiful winter wonderland vistas. And on arrival in Caversfield, the old Parade Ground was ankle-deep in snow as I helped Nicci move into her newly renovated, 1926, Grade 2 listed apartment – previously living quarters at RAF Bicester.

The 23 acre, former Oxfordshire Bomber Command base, once home to the Bristol Blenheim bomber, spitfire and mosquito, its red-brick architecture heavily influenced by the 1930s Garden City movement, is now a conservation site.

The beautifully landscaped Garden Quarter development is just 12 miles outside Oxford, and 48 minutes by train to Marylebone Station in London, with the popular Bicester Village retail park right on the doorstep. Having halved her daily commute to school, it is an ideal location for ‘Nic’ to take her first step on the property ladder.

So chocks away ‘gel’ and enjoy the flight old thing!

Saturday 26th January: Forest stung by Hornets…

snowDespite the big thaw being well under way in the Shire, there had been significant overnight snow around the north Nottinghamshire village of Papplewick, which caught me completely by surprise, causing no little embarrassment as I swung into Dad’s cul-de-sac and slowly ground to a halt, following a failed reverse  manoeuvre on to his drive. It took two men with big snow shovels several minutes to dig me out, before I was able to slide into a parking spot nearer  the somewhat clearer main road, ready for a slippery get away.

Meanwhile, in Nottingham itself, down by the riverside, the City Ground had received only a light dusting of snow which had been dissolved by the under-pitch heating. But it didn’t stop Forest slipping up against Championship promotion rivals Watford.

Matej_2847972They were stung three times by the Hornets, twice by Czech goal machine Matej Vydra. Incisive on the break and ruthless in their finishing, they made Forest look very ordinary. On this less than tricky showing, promotion is neither likely nor desirable for the Trees this season.

Despite playing three up front Forest looked heavy footed throughout and were never really at the races after going behind. A lack lustre showing saw them booed from the pitch and left Big Eck pulling no punches in his post-match assessment.

I’m sure he’s no quitter, but given such an uninspired display by what, on paper, looked a pretty decent side, the level of post-match abuse levelled at him on social networks, erratic recent behaviour by the owners and their apparent inability, up to this point, to make appropriate bids for the players he has identified as needed to strengthen squad, he must be feeling up against it on all fronts.

Given the current inconsistency of performance, irrespective of any 12th hour signings before the January transfer window slams shut, on Thursday, the best The Reds can hope for is a mid-table finish.

For me, the owners got it horribly wrong, switching to a new manager mid-race. I fear the old adage, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, will be levelled at them time and again between now and the end of the season.

 Sunday 27th January: Here we come a wassailing…

Wassailling ceremony - Clive's 27.01.2013It was up to the ankles in mud at Clive’s Fruit Farm – hardly living up to its Frost Fair billing, with adjacent lanes once again threatened by flood water, from a River Severn swollen by snow-melt.

There was a slippery ascent up through the orchard, in the wake of the Faithful City Morris Men, to the site of the traditional wassailing ceremony, in which the wassail tree is hung with pieces of toast, and anointed with cider, as the fruit trees are awakened and evil spirits frightened away by much banging and 150958_10152479288095113_1900707116_nshouting. The ancient pagan proceedings, with touches of Christianity thrown in for good measure, were concluded by three welly squelching circuits of a spitting bonfire – all good rustic fun to ensure a plentiful harvest of apples and pears next Autumn.

Earlier I had made haste to the newsagent to pick up everybody’s favourite red top – at least in the Aldridge family – as just two weeks into her new job, journalistic Gem had scooped her first ‘Sunday Mirror’ front-page splash, and an exclusive at that: ‘Fury at Ben (Kinsella)Killer Compo – cops forced to pay £20,000 over murder hunt raid.’

An amazing start to what I hope will be a long and successful career as newspaper journo, providing a warm and satisfying glow at the finish of just another midwinter week in the Shire – tiddely pom!





The East Midlands derby – Big Eck’s Reds growing in stature…

22 01 2013

sp-mcleish-getty“…it was a positive end to a difficult week.

The players showed tremendous character, and it was nice to stop Derby’s winning run.”

“I am pleased we got something from the game, but disappointed it was not three points.”

“I thought the referee had a terrific game, he showed all his experience. He didn’t bow down to all the noise from the home fans. That can be intimidating for referees.”

“I think these guys have a good chance of climbing further up the table but I would like to have an even better chance by adding new players.”

Alex McLeish – ‘Big Eck’ – (Nottingham Forest manager)

download (1)The chill factor was high, around Derby’s Pride Park Stadium, and old football pals, Clough and Taylor, were eyeing the fans’ arrival with icy stares, before the eagerly anticipated, early Saturday kick off. Despite significant snowfalls earlier in the week, under-soil heating would ensure the pitch was fit for play and an army of support staff had cleared the white stuff from the surrounding concourse and approach roads, ensuring supporter safety.

Derby were more than keen for the game to go ahead and why wouldn’t they be? The match was a 33,000 sell-out, the Rams were on a roll with three consecutive home wins, and victories in the last three East Midland derby encounters tucked under their belts.

As the countdown clocks ticked on, the gathering crowd was visibly thawing, fired with pre-match bravado. By the time the players emerged from the tunnel, the Pride Park cauldron was bubbling with expectation…

images (2)It had been another difficult week at Nottingham Forest, where club chairman Fawaz Al Hasawi continued to show his ruthless streak with three out of the blue sackings (notified by recorded delivery letter) hard on the heels of the Boxing Day dismissal of, previous manager, Sean O’Driscoll.

New man in charge of the team, Alex McLeish, seemed as bemused as everybody else at the multiple sackings of chief executive Mark Arthur, head of recruitment Keith Burt and club ambassador Frank Clark. But Big Eck, no stranger to off the pitch turmoil, had seen it all before and assured reporters the players would remain focused, ‘The world is still turning and they have to get on with it.’

Derby v NFFC - Champ- 19.01.13 - (1-1)It was therefore a relief to leave Pride Park with something to smile about, but that smile might have been broader. At the end of a hard-fought ninety minutes it finished all square, a 1-1 draw, but could have and should have been a Forest victory. They were the better team, played the better football, and had the better chances to win the game.

If either the first half effort from Simon Cox, that cannoned off the crossbar, substitute Dexter Blackstock’s downward header, from six yards out, that bounced up and over, or the Sharp turn and shot, late on, that whistled a whisker wide of post, had rippled the back of the net, Forest would have deservedly travelled back along the A52  with all three points, the Brian Clough Trophy and local bragging rights.

Derby had opened the brighter of the two East Midlands rivals, but Forest steadied themselves, after a nervy start, gradually easing their way into the game. After Cox rattled the Derby bar the visitors visibly grew in confidence playing, increasingly, on the front foot.

cohenIt was following a concerted period of Forest pressure that the ball fell invitingly to Chris Cohen. But as, Derby defender, Mark O’Brien shaped to block the anticipated volley, the Forest midfielder’s ‘fresh air shot’ unwittingly wrong footed him. The ball sat up nicely and Cohen was able to complete a composed finish, at the second time of asking.

It was a sweet moment for the Forest player in his 300th league game, since joining the Tricky Trees from Yeovil Town, and sixteen months after rupturing his cruciate ligament against Derby at the City Ground.

It looked as if a single goal would be enough, with Forest looking in complete control during the opening exchanges of the second half. That is until the diminutive Simon Gillett, normally so reliable when receiving and passing the ball on in difficult areas of the pitch, made a mistake that will haunt him for years to come.

jamie-ward_2456504bAs tireless Derby striker Conor Sammon, ever a chaser of lost causes, bore down on Forest’s holding midfielder he took one touch too many and was caught in possession. Sammon slipped the ball invitingly into the flight path of Jamie Ward, buzzing up on his shoulder, and the waspish winger stuck away Derby’s only clear-cut chance of the game, stinging Gillett for his uncharacteristic error.

At that point, I admit to fearing the worst. But Alex McLeish surprised me, with his bold changes, and rose considerably in my estimation. I was fully expecting a defensive substitution and an anxious final half as a rejuvenated Derby mounted a grandstand finish.

Instead, Big Eck introduced a third striker. Soon to be out of contract Dexter Blackstock, subject of  mischievous pre-match rumours about a likely bid from Derby, was thrown into the fray, and the powerful Guy Moussi brought into centre midfield, a like for like substitution for Gillett who was wobbling a little after his fatal mistake.

Subsequently it was Forest who pressed forward for the winner, the Rams defenders who were engaged in last-ditch defending, and the supporters in black and white willing referee Mark Clattenburg to blow the final whistle.

article_1d446006b0153cf4_1351455046_9j-4aaqskIt might not have been a great spectacle, local-derby matches rarely are, but it had been a full-blooded, high tempo affair, and Clattenburg, so often a  controversial official, on this occasion drew wisely on his Premiership experience, allowing the game to flow and keeping the lid on things. There were no ‘howlers’, no red cards and for the first time in the last five meetings between the sides both teams finished with a full complement of players.

How different from earlier in the season when an inexperienced, ‘fast-tracked’, referee, Robert Madley wilted in the pressure cooker City Ground atmosphere, allowing Derby to get away with illegal challenge after illegal challenge and then, having been conned by Derby captain Keogh into red-carding Dexter Blackstock for a spurious elbowing incident in an innocuous aerial challenge, allowed the game to spiral out of control.

downloadThe East Midlands derby is far more than just another local rivalry. Despite fairly tame beginnings, there is now a genuine hatred between supporters. The seeds of such intense animosity were sown as late as the 70’s when Brian Clough and Peter Taylor, having picked up the 1st Division Championship and taken Derby to a semi-final of the European Cup, walked out of the old Baseball Ground on a matter of principle. It wasn’t too long before Cloughy washed up on the banks of the Trent, albeit via a couple of short stays at Leeds and Brighton, and the rest as they say is history.

images (1)Reunited, Clough and Taylor, the dynamic duo, brought unprecedented success to the City Ground and a 1978 League title followed by back to back European Cup victories still sticks in the craw of Derby supporters.

In more recent years, the comings and goings of a string of players and managers who dared to cross the great divide, and in so doing kissed the badge of both clubs, has only served to add further fuel to the fire – one which continued to blaze even in Saturday’s sub-zero temperatures.

The bitter acrimony reached an all-time low last season when Forest, battling for Championship survival, visited Pride Park shortly after the untimely and tragic death of Chairman and lifelong Forest supporter Nigel Doughty, to be greeted by vitriolic chants (from a significant minority of Derby fans) of, ‘Where’s your chairman gone?’ and ‘You’re going down with your chairman!’

I have to say, on Saturday, I was ashamed of an equally distasteful Forest chant (referring to a recent tragic news story) ‘You sheep sh*gging b*stards kill your own kids.’  There should be absolutely no place in football banter for this type of sick ‘humour’.

But, to end on a brighter note, Alex McLeish won quite a few Forest fans over on Saturday. Big Eck needed a good performance from his team and a decent result, to indicate that he is beginning to get to grips with the job of challenging for a top six finish.

Gonzalo-Jara-Jamie-Ward-Derby-v-Nottingham-Fo_2888146His players delivered for him on most fronts and this performance suggests the Reds are a team starting to grow in stature. They looked well-balanced, played with greater width, using both flanks to better effect, and defended more resolutely. They posed a constant threat at corners and set pieces, and there were a number of encouraging performances, notably, Henri Lansbury in midfield, Gonzalo Jara at full-back and young goalkeeper Karl Darlow, who in only his second Championship outing seemed totally un-phased by the hostile atmosphere – in fact he seemed to relish it.

All very promising signs ahead of a must win home game next Saturday. Bring on the Hornets!





Oh ‘Eck! Turbulent times on Trentside – again …

18 01 2013


nottingham post‘With wealthy Kuwaiti owners and a new manager in situ, who has promised a busy January, few clubs outside the big six in the top flight have attracted so many rumours over the past few weeks.

Alex McLeish jokes that there will come a point in the future when even he finds out about Forest’s latest signings on Twitter.

But while the Reds boss says it has been a whirlwind for him, since he was appointed at the end of December,   it is nothing compared to the storm of speculation his arrival prompted…’

this is Nottingham.co.uk – the Nottingham Evening Post (online) – January 11th 2013

As I’m sitting here watching snowflakes spiralling towards the ground my first concern is whether tomorrow’s big East Midlands clash, at ‘Prideless Park’, will go ahead. If so, given the local road conditions, will I be able to get there in time for the 1.00pm kick off. Hopefully an update on the local situation will be available later today.

A much bigger concern, however, is the current state of my club. The last time I opined my ‘Views from the Trent End (Upper)…’ was in early October.

downloadBorne along by a groundswell of enthusiasm following the Kuwaiti takeover and the appointment of Sean O’Driscoll as manager I wrote, “I’ve been hugely impressed and excited by how SO’D’s team is developing. It’s very much a case of evolution rather than revolution, focussed on laying strong foundations, instilling good habits, enabling player to take more responsibility for making on pitch decisions. It’s been largely entertaining too. Football played on the floor with good levels of precision and skill – which only bodes well for the future.”       

I should have known better. How naïve I was to think that the recent turbulent times on Trent-side were over.

th (1)Up until now I’ve kept my powder dry on recent comings and goings at the City Ground, over what has been a stormy four-week post-Christmas period. But on the eve of our return match with ‘Direby’ and a week away from a home encounter with Gianfranco Zola’s in form Watford /Udinese – in effect the pivotal point of our season, the time is right to speak out again.

images (9)December 26th, a festive City Ground, Yuletide joy abounds as the Tricky ‘Christmas’ Trees un-wrap Warnock’s Leeds, 4-2, to place themselves one point outside the play-off places. Reds supporters set off, homeward bound, full of good cheer, with a seasonal spring in their step, and SO’D, pleased with the second half stuffing and roasting of the visitors, completes his post-match interviews.

It’s a case of ding dong merrily on high, until Forest fans flushed with success hear the breaking sports news. Peace and joy to all men, except Sean O’Driscoll. The Al Hasawis have given their manager the Christmas sack – SO’D’s law!

The goalposts have shifted. The patient 3-5 year plan, announced following the take-over, has morphed into a more urgent one-year promotion plan and apparently the thoroughly decent and well liked SO’D is not the man! But Fawaz knows a man who can…

…Well Alex Ferguson knows a man who can and Fawaz seems to be star-struck in his presence – so enough said…

_65246314_65246313…No it’s not to be a hero’s return to unfinished business for ‘King Billy’(Davies), but everybody’s worst nightmare – Big Eck, who turned down the Al Hasawis when they came calling in August, but has had a change of heart. Cue twitters of internet laughter from Glasgow to Brum, where he is everybody’s favourite villain.

I’m willing to give anybody a chance but, oh ‘eck, another ginger, whose surname begins with ‘M’. They don’t have a great track record at the City Ground. Think Megson, McClaren – the wally with the brolly – and now McLeish!

If SO’D’s departure split public opinion, and I was firmly for him remaining – to be judged at the end of the season – then McLeish’s appointment was almost universally unpopular.

images (4)True, his CV is not all bad; in fact it was half decent at Rangers where he was in direct opposition to most Forest fans’ dream managerial appointment, City Ground  legend Martin O’Neil, who enjoyed a particularly successful spell with Celtic.

There was also a year in charge of the Scotland national side during which they narrowly failed to qualify for the Euro 2008 finals, despite an historic away win in Paris – defeating France 1-0 at the Parc des Princes.

But south of the border his record is moderate, at best.

A four-year stint at St Andrews, in the blue-nose half of the second city was something of a roller coaster ride, relegation from the top-tier, followed by an immediate return, a season of mid-table Premiership stability, and finally the sweet champagne moment of a Wembley, Carling Cup Final victory, against Arsenal, soured by a dramatic final day of the season drop into the Championship.

images (7)If that wasn’t a bitter enough pill for the Beau Brummies to swallow, Big Eck then swore his allegiance to the claret and blue half of the city. Castigated on both sides of the divide, and vilified by the Villa Park faithful for the baggage he brought with him – a perceived, negative style of play – it always seemed a recipe for disaster, and so it proved.

He kept Villa in the Premiership, by the skin of their teeth, but in so doing alienated the supporters and lost the confidence of the owners. He was shown the door, leaving as, statistically, their worst manager ever, with a win percentage of only 21.4%.

These are early days, but I have to say I’m pretty underwhelmed so far. He vehemently denies a liking for the long ball approach and says he would prefer to play a passing game, but with added steel at the back.

images (2)In his first three games, in charge from the technical area, Forest have conceded seven goals, three in the second half away at Blackburn, three in the second half in a home FA Cup 3rd round exit against lowly League 1 Oldham, and one against Peterborough. He did, however manage a first City Ground win against the Posh.

On the plus side he has displayed a degree of ‘no messing’ with regard to soon out of contract, wanting away, goalkeeper Lee Camp, dropping him from the first team and telling him to find a new club and go.

This has meant throwing young, 22-year-old, prospect Karl Darlow in at the deep end. Not a bad thing, if he is as good as the goalkeeping coach Paul Barron says, and I wish the lad all the best. I hope he grasps his chance with both hands. But where is the back-up? We were promised an experienced keeper would be on his way soon, but instead the Kuwaiti international keeper Khalid Al-Rashid has washed up and we’re now told there will be no further goalkeepers arriving. By all accounts he looks useful – but hardly ‘experienced’ in terms of Championship football.

reyesDespite promises that the squad would be strengthened, with quality not quantity, the only addition to the first team squad during the current transfer window has been the loan signing of Chilean international fullback, Gonzalo Jara Reyes, from West Bromwich Albion.

Bids have been tabled for Peterborough midfielder George Boyd and Birmingham winger Chris Burke and rebuffed as derisory. Both would be welcome additions, but it raises the question is  there as much money available for transfers as we are led to believe?

images (10)Since the appointment of McLeish, Fawaz Al Hasawi and his family have been subjected to rank Twitter abuse by a moronic minority. This is totally unacceptable. As the chairman has intimated, in response, he respects supporter’s opinions but key appointments are his to make and the money is his to spend, as he sees fit – “judge me at end of the season”. It’s a pity he didn’t have the patience to follow a similar line with regard to Sean O’Driscoll.

I have to say the more I hear about the chairman, the less I like what I’m hearing, and the more concerned I am becoming for my club. There seems to be a developing trend of saying one thing and meaning another, making out of the blue decisions and pronouncements, intolerance towards those behind the scenes who aren’t in total agreement with him, and a growing interference with player recruitment and team selection.

This week, chief executive Mark Arthur, head of recruitment Keith Burt, and club ambassador Frank Clark have all left without any explanation from Fawaz. It is rumoured that Arthur left of his own volition after Burt and Clark had been notified of their dismissals by special delivery letter and told to stay away from the players and the ground.

Arthur was not popular with many fans due to his leadership of the fabled ‘acquisitions committee’ and was held responsible for failure to recruit players that might have made a difference to King Billy’s promotion push, the manager’s subsequent departure, and the ill-fated arrival of Steve McClaren.

FOREST1_2454996bClark, however, is much revered – a popular member of the 1979 European Cup winning team, the only manager to enjoy any sort of Premiership and European success, post Brian Clough, and chairman of the club in the dark days following the untimely death of Nigel Doughty.

Following the Kuwaiti takeover it was Fawaz who said, “Mr Clark will remain with us and he will be ambassador to Nottingham Forest and he will be close by us at all the time. We really admire this man and respect him quite highly.”  So what has changed?

If he was to be dismissed, why wasn’t he told face to face and why has he been ordered to stay away from the ground – he’s a true supporter?

Fasawi’s recent ruthless actions might have been made with the best of intentions but, frankly, they appear cowardly and lack class. Forest may not have been very successful in recent years but as a club they have always been considered well run and held in high regard. Under the current ownership the good name and the future of Nottingham Forest is in the balance. I fear that we could become the next club under foreign ownership, to become a Football League laughing-stock!

I hope I am wrong and that the Al Hasawis are successful in bringing long overdue success back to the City Ground. In urging fans to get behind Big Eck and the team, Fawaz believes that  twelve more wins will see us into the play-offs, and he obviously fancies our chances.

imagesThe next four fixtures are crucial. ‘Direby’ away, and Zola’s ‘Hornets’ at home, I’ve already mentioned. They are followed by an away day at one of McLeish’s former clubs, Birmingham, and a trip to Ashton Gate, where a certain Sean O’Driscoll has just filled the vacant manager’s seat.

We could, of course, win them all and the promotion push would be up and running. It’s what every Forest fan is hoping for – but without any real conviction. Equally, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that we could lose the lot. In which case, how ironic if SO’D’s Bristol City side should call time on his former club’s challenge!

   





‘The Cup of Dreams’ or a grand old lady on her last legs?

8 01 2013

‘The Cup of Dreams’ or a grand old lady on her last legs… it really all depends on your view:

 

_1634828_eng_fa_cup_lineker_300“Winning the FA Cup in 1991 was undoubtedly the highlight of my playing career.”

Gary Lineker, Match of the Day anchor-man (2001)

“…sad though don’t you think how the grand old lady is undervalued and treated…”

Twitter – @GaryLineker (2013)

 

motty-book-john-motson“But everybody knows the glamour and the glory of this fantastic competition – the oldest and still the best in the world – does not begin and end with the final. It is the romance of the early rounds that gives the FA Cup its unique flavour.”

John Motson, the BBC’s voice of football – ‘Motson’s FA Cup Odyssey’ (2005)

Danny-Baker-001“When even Cardiff are putting out their 2nd team for the ‘romantic’ FA Cup the whole thing is reduced to little more than It’s A Knockout.”

Twitter – Danny Baker @prodnose – Radio 5 Live DJ (2013)

 

Just when it seemed that Swansea and Arsenal had taken the remnants of what we like to call the old glory of the FA Cup into some kind of safe-keeping, Luis Suarez popped up with a hand to play…a diabolical act that cast a shadow …”

James Lawton – Chief Sports Writer, ‘The Independent’ (7th Jan 2013)

download (1)“I have enjoyed the day but it feels like it was stolen from us, whether it was deliberate or not…It was not in our favour and we should have had at least a replay. Handballs are obviously de rigueur in this game we play.”

Caroline Radford, Mansfield Town Chief Executive   

 

 

FA Cup 3rd Round weekend – well three days as it happens. I’m listening, as I type, to League 2 Cheltenham v Premiership Everton, one of the most romantic ties of the round, being played on a Monday evening! More moans of that sort later…

…But first the history bit. Fifty years ago,  back in the good old days when all fixtures were scheduled for Saturday at 3.00pm,  the fabled big freeze of ‘63 caused 29 ties to be called off. 66 days later and 261 postponements later the round was completed.

Delia-Smith-007Tales abound of groundsmen ingenuity in trying to thaw out their frozen pitches. Flame throwers were used at Carrow Road (no hot air from,‘Let’s be ‘avin’ you!’, Delia in those days) while a toxic cocktail of fertilizer and weed-killer was sprayed on Leicester City’s old Filbert Street ground.

It apparently did the trick. The Foxes made it all the way to Wembley – only to lose 3-1 to Manchester United.

$(KGrHqEOKm4E1LPm)jCYBNfC06Yh6Q~~_35On the dust jacket (not the sheepskin jacket) of ‘Motson’s FA Cup Odyssey’ we’re told: ‘The FA Cup is greatest and most coveted football trophy in the world. Whether the teams are playing in Manchester or Cardiff, Newcastle or Wembley, come the final each year the competition has a worldwide television audience of billions and is rightly seen as the Holy Grail of the beautiful game.’

If that is the case, why, to paraphrase the Tweeting Gary Lineker, is ‘the old lady’ so undervalued and shabbily treated? And perhaps, more to the point, why are football supporters so short-changed?

Live TV coverage of the FA Cup has been relegated to ITV and the ESPN subscription channel, fronted by some-time  karaoke singer Ray Stubbs, formerly of the Beeb.

Adrian-Chiles1The ITV has come in for a deal of criticism, from viewers, for last weekend’s lack-lustre studio analysis hosted by, lugubrious ‘Baggies’ supporter, Adrian Chiles. The highlights package, in particular, came in for a panning from disgruntled fans staying up late to watch their team – when some games were limited to as little as fifteen seconds of action!

The needs of travelling partisan supporters – the lifeblood of the game – were seemingly  ignored, for the benefit of neutral armchair viewers, with cherry picked ties of the round being shown live as early as 12.30 on Saturday – Brighton v Newcastle – and as late as Monday at 19.45 – Cheltenham v Everton.

Cheltenham_Town_FC_logoCoaches transporting away-day Geordies left Tyneside for the south coast at 01.30, while Toffees lovers from Liverpool would have needed the afternoon off work, to make the trip down to the Georgian Spa-town – more famous for its national hunt racecourse than its Robins’ nest on Whaddon Road (currently masquerading as the Abbey Business Stadium).

evertonpaniniAll credit to Everton for putting out a very strong side, taking nothing for granted against lower league opposition – and a 5-1 final score-line indicates that David Moyes and his Premiership team are clearly taking the competition seriously. But, unfortunately, there are others who are  adopting a more laissez- faire attitude.

Increasingly, Premiership teams have other priorities – qualification for the Champions League, issues of survival, and avoiding getting sucked into the relegation battle, and use FA Cup weekends as a chance for a breather and an opportunity to let second string players stretch their legs. If things don’t go to plan, the big guns can always be summoned from the bench to conjure up a last gasp face-saving winner – or not!

Some teams seem quite happy to sacrifice their place in the competition, in order to ease fixture congestion and avoid injuries to key players who will be needed for ‘more important’ up-coming league fixtures.

In recent years, with the influx of top-tier managers and players from across Europe and around the globe, where their own domestic cup competitions are seen as small beer, we have seen this disdainful type of attitude proliferate.

130px-Thefacup-logoIt is probably the single most significant factor in the recent decline in standing of the FA Cup – a tournament with a gleaming past that , year on year, is becoming increasingly tarnished by neglect and disrespect from those who do not value its history and fail to see its worth.

Do we want a competition infused with so many golden memories to continue – but only as a shadow of its former self? Perhaps the time has come for ‘the grand old lady’ to retire – as a museum piece that no longer warrants inclusion in the modern game, but which can be gazed upon with a warm glow of pride, by all who remember her former glories.

There certainly was a ‘cup of dreams’, but no longer – not in the same way – it is now more a cup of memories.

The very essence of the FA Cup has always been bound up with the aspirational notion that the tiniest minnow in the football ocean might on its day submerge the largest whale. Around such giant killing acts the legend was born – Hereford 2 Newcastle 1 (1972), Colchester 3 Leeds 2 (1973,) Bournemouth 2 Manchester United 0 (1984,) Wrexham 2 Arsenal 1 (1992) …

On each of these memorable occasions the felled giant had taken to the field with its strongest eleven – and been embarrassed in the extreme to be out fought by inferior opposition who had risen to the occasion.

Cardiff CityWhen non-league Macclesfield Town toppled high-flying, top of the Championship, Cardiff City, the Bluebirds manager, Malky McKay, had rested his entire first team – demonstrating apparent contempt for a competition, considered an unwanted distraction from his team’s promotion challenge, and also devaluing the giant-killing status of the opposition.

It is this kind of disreputable behaviour that is killing the FA Cup. Yet it’s only five seasons ago that the Welsh club made it all the way to Wembley, and despite  losing 1-0 to Portsmouth, enjoyed one of the biggest days in its history!  But, then again, we know that for their new owners, who insisted on swapping the team’s historical blue for red (for marketing reasons) tradition doesn’t stand for much!

Finally, a word or two about Mansfield Town…

Mansfield TownI was born and bred but seven miles from the north Nottinghamshire mining town, yet on only one occasion have I passed through the turnstiles at Field Mill. It was back in 1964 and I was taken by a school mate’s Dad. Brighton were the opposition in the old 3rd Division which was the Stags’ habitual level at that time. The score-line
finished 0-0 – disappointing for a team audacious enough to play in Brazil’s colours. There the similarity ended.

downloadThereafter I was kept busy with 1st Division matches at Forest, and occasional forays to Meadow Lane to watch County, the world’s oldest professional club (150 years in 2012) playing in the 4th. Gate prices were such that it was not unusual, in those days, for fans to alternate between the two Nottingham clubs on a weekly basis.

I did maintain an interest in Mansfield, from a distance – through the Nottingham Football Post – and certainly remember their finest hour, the FA Cup 5th round 1969 – when West Ham came to town.

England World Cup winning heroes Moore, Peters and Hurst all lined up that night, alongside a couple of promising youngsters, Billy Bonds and Trevor Brooking. Oh yes, there was also that chippy young winger, Harry Redknapp, so no not a bad side – but they were hammered!

whu_goal_by_robertsScarf-2-1024x709Mansfield 3 West Ham 0; goals courtesy of Roberts, Keeley and Sharkey, in front of a record crowd of 21,117 – etched in local folklore. It was the pinnacle of success for a club that, in its 77 year football league history, never finished higher than 21st in the old 2nd Division.

In 2008 the Stags slipped into the Blue Square Premier League, and the only thing of note to have happened since, before last weekend, has been the arrival of Caroline Radford (nee Still) as chief executive, attractive, opinionated, a 29 year old, former Durham University graduate, with a masters in law – and, allegedly, a one-time high-class escort.

New-Mansfield-Town-CEO-Ca-007Her appointment prompted some supporters to suggest the STAGS should change their nickname by substituting an L for the T!

She is now married to millionaire owner and chairman, John Radford (47) a local man who made his money out of insurance. They have enjoyed a minor success in winning back the leasehold of Field Mill; complete with an abandoned, unfinished stand, but the club continues to haemorrhage £50,000 a week.

It all seemed worthwhile on Sunday when, five times champions of Europe, Liverpool rolled into town. Mansfield left 96 seats empty as a sign of respect of those who lost their lives at Hillsborough in the FA Cup semi-final of ’89.

Suarez-HandballIt was nice gesture to the visitors that unfortunately went unreciprocated as they were handed an appalling injustice by a certain Uruguayan striker who is never far from controversy – Luis Suarez.

Liverpool were already one up, after a dominant first half, when the smiling assassin controlled the ball with his hand before smashing it into an unguarded net. The referee missed it, the cameras confirmed it, but Suarez, a player universally reviled (outside of Anfield that is) as a ‘cheat’, failed to mend his reputation by fessing up.

Mansfield refused to bow, Matt Green pulled a goal back that he’ll dine out on for years to come, and Liverpool wobbled under a final ten minute onslaught. But all to no avail – they had been dealt a bad hand and will miss out on a lucrative replay.

mansfieldThis cup-tie will no doubt sit in Mansfield folklore, alongside that famous night in ’69. I suppose, even if ‘the grand old lady’ is a pale imitation of her former glory days, she provided an occasion that those present will never forget, but, unfortunately, for the wrong reasons.

These are different times, it’s a different game and not always for the better.





Views from the Trent End (Upper) & the JS Stand…

9 10 2012

‘We certainly haven’t been helped by officials but we have to look at ourselves as a team, and as I said at the start of the season, we continue to be a work in progress.’

‘We have tried to be sensible in our dealings – first and foremost to create a team that is competitive in this division. Without foundations you can’t build or develop anything and results will determine how far we can go – and more importantly how fast – but as we carry on the process please continue to support your local team – it makes a difference.’ 

(Programme Notes – Sean O’Driscoll, Nottingham Forest Manager)

‘There is no-one, who wants to play attractive, open and accurate rugby more than me, and we will strive to be the best in this area with real ambition with no fear, but this freedom will be defined by control of the darker arts!’

‘Our supporters, home and away, are truly inspirational…a very positive effect on our performance.’

(Coach’s Notes – Nigel Davies, Gloucester Director of Rugby)     

 

There are striking similarities between the early season performances of the Tricky Trees and Glaws.  Both are clubs in transition with new men at the helm, thoughtful coaches, respected within their games, who have brought with them new philosophies and patterns of play.

Patience is a great virtue at such times. The City Ground and Kingsholm faithful remain on board, at the moment, appetites whetted by tantalising passages of play that, given greater sustained consistency, hint at a bright and successful future for both clubs. 

A long-term vision is all well and good, but supporter confidence, notoriously fragile, is reliant upon clear, early signs of incremental improvement, no matter how small, which indicate new systems and strategies are beginning to work, and are worth persevering with.           

It is still early days but with just under a quarter of their respective league programmes completed both teams have made reasonable enough starts to suggest they could be genuine play-off contenders, come the business end of the season, and will both be pleased with their current mid-table standings:       

NFFC: P10 – W3 – D5 – L2 = 14 points (12th/24)

GRFC: P6 – W4 – D1 – L1 = 19 points (5th/12)

The late pre-season takeover by the Al-Hasawi family brought with it a wave of optimism along Trent-side which has been missing for some time. Sean O’Driscoll, newly appointed as manager, quickly but methodically set about assembling a balanced squad – eleven new signings coming in and six old faces sent out on loan – instilling into them an organised, efficient style of tick-tack play which most fans could only have dreamt about in the long dark months under the two Steves – McClaren and Cotterill.

There has been much water under Trent Bridge since, with storm clouds looming, ‘Schteve the brollyman’ mercifully jumped ship, and paddled back to Holland, just eleven matches into his ill-fated ‘rain’. But it never rains it always pours, and as the flood waters rose, Steve Cotterill was hauled on board to set about the rescue mission with a no-nonsense (no idea) brand of ‘hoofball’ that made strong men weep. And then, at last, a chink of light and a life-line as Sean O’Driscoll was brought in to help man the lifeboat – lending a hand on the training ground. The ball reclaimed from the heavens, was re-acquainted with the grass and Forest, as in days of old, passed their way out of trouble.

It proved to be SO’Ds law for Cotterill, who was quickly shown the door – his vision for the club apparently at odds with that of the new owners – to be replaced by his second in command, ‘the quiet man’, who had won the minds and hearts of players and fans alike.      

The last time I held a season ticket at the City Ground, it was in the, then, brand new Brian Clough Stand. ‘Stan the Man’ Collymore and ‘Flying Dutchman’ Brian Roy were carving their way through 1st Division defences and Forest, under Frank Clark, qualified for Europe (the UEFA Cup) in 3rd place – the highest post Clough era finish.

Thereafter, whilst always a regular attendee at the City Ground, at perhaps a dozen or so games a season, it became increasingly difficult to justify such an annual expenditure (coupled with a 200 mile round journey from the Shire).

In recent times I’ve tended to make as many away outings as home game visits, in a post retirement enthusiasm to visit all 92 league grounds (47 down 45 to go – at the last count). But this year, enticed by a combination of renewed optimism, following the Kuwaiti takeover, and a rare, unexpected opportunity, to bag a prime seat on the front row of Upper Trent End – directly in line with the right hand edge of penalty area – I succumbed. It comes at a cost which will be recovered by attending just over half the games, which I most likely would have done anyway – buying tickets on a match to match basis. So a no brainer, really or as Chris put it, ‘That’s your Christmas birthday presents sorted!’ 

In fact I’ve come full circle. My first ever Forest season ticket was for the old Trent End terrace back in 1967-68 – the season after finishing 1st Division runners-up to Man U and losing FA Cup semi-finalists to Spurs. ‘Zigger Zagger’ – Joe Baker and Ian Storey-Moore were still in their pomp and a, then club record, transfer fee of £100,000 was squandered on the not so Slim Jim Baxter, who exchanged the pubs and clubs of Wear-side for those of Trent-side – the career of the legendary Scottish international midfielder, already  in terminal decline. Back then, my junior ticket cost 5 guineas (remember those?) –  £5.25 in modern parlance.       

To date, I’ve been able to take in all five home league matches (plus an away trip to Huddersfield) and I’ve been hugely impressed and excited by how SO’D’s team is developing. It’s very much a case of evolution rather than revolution, focused on laying strong foundations, instilling good habits, enabling players to take more responsibility for making better on pitch decisions. It’s been largely entertaining too. Football played on the floor with good levels of precision and skill – which only bodes well for the future.

There are bound to blips along the way, and a 0-1 defeat against ‘Direby’ is always a bitter pill to swallow especially coming, as it did, largely as result of a bizarre refereeing decision, which saw Dexter Blackstock red-carded for a fairly innocuous ‘elbow’ as he tried to gain elevation to head the ball. At worst it was a yellow card incident. Even the ‘victim’, Derby captain Richard Keogh, conceded that a sending off was harsh. Mind you that didn’t stop him making the most of it, going down as if he had been pole-axed. Ironically, Dex had been rammed from behind throughout the first half with little or no protection from an inexperienced referee – supposedly being fast-tracked towards the Premier League – but clearly out of his depth in what was always going to be a highly charged contest. I trust he felt suitably sheepish after watching the TV replay.  

In the previous game, at Elland Road, Blackstock also suffered at the hands of a poor refereeing display as a perfectly good headed equaliser was disallowed, subsequently depriving Forest of, what would have been a hard-earned away point against Leeds United. They say these things even themselves out over the season – let’s hope so.

Of the many newcomers, Simon Gillett (a free transfer from Donny Rovers) has been a dynamo in midfield – the glue that holds the passing game together, Greg Halford (a snip from financially crippled Pompey) has proved a versatile addition to the back four, Sam Hutchinson (on loan from Premiership Chelsea) oozes quality at full back, and Simon Cox (surplus to requirements at the Baggies) has provided a constant goal threat up front. His two touch control and volley against Brum City was a top drawer finish – the best I’ve seen from a Forest striker for some time.

As far as my outings to Kingsholm go it’s now a matter of cherry picking games that fall on Forest away days – but so far so good, as I’ve managed to take in two out of the first three home games, against Wasps and Baarf.

Coach Nigel Davies is trying to recreate at Glaws the tenaciously ambitious style of play that brought him much success with Llanelli Scarlets, and which has him earmarked as a potential future Welsh international coach, whenever Warren Gatland decides to stand down. In particular he has focused on ‘the breakdown’ as an area for improvement.

The Cherry and Whites made a barnstorming start against Wasps, flying into a 20 points to 3 lead after half an hour. Once again the balanced running of James Simpson Daniel was a delight to behold, as he put on the after burners, picking up a nicely timed pass from lock, Tom Savage, cutting inside off his left foot, leaving three would be tacklers in his wake, to register a trademark finish. It was to win the Aviva Premiership try of the week award, and worthy of the plaudit from Sky commentator, former Baarf & England fly half, Stuart Barnes, that ‘Sinbad’ is, ‘England’s only bona fide attacking genius in the last ten years’. Why so few caps then? England’s loss has certainly been Glawster’s gain!      

Giant Fijian flanker Sione Kalamafoni, celebrated his first Castle Grim start with a rampaging breakaway try. The lead could have been greater, as young number 10, Freddie Burns – player of the season to date, had been denied an early score by the TMO (Television Match Official).  

Unfortunately Glaws were unable to keep the momentum going in the second half, as Wasps fought back, but fortunately there was be no final sting in the tail from the visitors and the home side hung on for a 29-22 win, a final outcome that was far closer than it ought to have been.

Last weekend’s West Country derby, against oldest opponents and fiercest rivals Baarf (first meeting 1882) was, unsurprisingly, not without a hint of controversy.

All Black Stephen Donald, kicker of the 2011 World Cup winning goal, was in imperious form for the men from the ‘Wreck’, gliding through for a glorious touch down with just 35 seconds on the clock – and the Glaws defensive line still in the changing room!  

After such an early setback it was an uphill struggle for much of the first half but the Cherry and Whites survived a period of sustained Baarf dominance to leave the pitch just four points adrift, after  two successful Freddie Burns’ penalties reduced the visitors’ early ten point lead.

It was a different game in the second half and despite the best efforts of long time Kingsholm nemesis, Dave Pearson, taking charge of his final game before moving to a new position as the 6 Nations first elite referee coach (heaven help us!) Glaws retained the local bragging rights with a 16-10 victory, making it nine wins out of the last ten encounters!

The controversial TMO system should make for more correct refereeing decisions. During this game the TV match official was used on three occasions, but not on what might have been a crucial fourth! 

In the first half Bath were denied a score by full back Nick Abendanon, following a foot in touch by winger Kyle Eastmond, as he delivered an inside pass – a close shave for Glaws, at a time when they were rocking,  but a correct decision.   

In the second period, as Glaws mounted their comeback, winger Shane Monahan was denied a try, following a surging forty metre burst, for a delayed second movement, after being hauled down beneath the posts – harsh, but then I would say that!

Glaws full-back Rob Cook’s first touchdown for his new club, diving over in the left corner, followed a sublime pass from JS-D, was curiously deemed worth a referral before being awarded – clearly correct and never in doubt!

Finally with Glaws in a precarious 13-10 lead, with ten minutes to go, centre Henry Trinder went over for what looked to be the decisive score, only to have it ruled out for a foot in touch, against Monahan. This time there was no referral, but Sky TV pundits clearly indicated the touch judge got it wrong. The TMO, however is not allowed to intervene unless he’s been asked – crazy!

It might have proved costly. But, as it was, Freddie Burns extended the lead with a wobbly drop-goal from the edge of the 22, and Glaws rode out a nervy last couple of minutes to clinch four points.

There’s a long way to go but it’s a case of so far so good for both Sean O’Driscoll and Nigel Davies…    

C’mon You Reds / C’mon Glaws!                                                                 

    





‘There are places I’ll remember…’ – Liverpool

15 09 2012

‘There are places I’ll remember

All my life though some have changed

Some forever not for better

Some have gone and some remain

All these places had their moments

With lovers and friends I still can recall

Some are dead and some are living

In my life I’ve loved them all.’

(Lennon & McCartney – 1965) 

Liverpool has dominated the news headlines this week – and rightly so. After 23 years the truth surrounding the Hillsborough disaster is out. As a result of the tragic events, of April 15th 1989, 96 Liverpool supporters never returned from an FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest – victims of catastrophic failures in public safety and a subsequent grotesque campaign of lies, by the British establishment, in order to cover-up. 

As a Forest fan I had hoped to be at the Sheffield Wednesday ground that afternoon. As luck would have it, it was one of the few big match occasions, during the Clough years, for which I was unable to get a ticket. I can vividly remember tuning into the radio that afternoon, expecting to follow the match commentary, and being stunned as reports of the tragedy unfolded. 

It is scandalous that it has taken until this week for the Liverpool fans to be exonerated and to receive an unconditional formal apology from the Prime Minister for a ‘double injustice’. This after an independent enquiry into previously unseen documents had made it clear that the South Yorkshire Police, guilty of critical errors of judgement leading up to and during the tragedy, had, in its aftermath, systematically falsified reports to shift the blame for the 96 deaths on to their fellow supporters. 

It is high time that those found guilty of gross negligence, and complicit in this outrageous deceit, pay the price.  

Chris and I were in Liverpool on Sunday and Monday of this week, totally unaware, at the time, of the imminent, dramatic publication of the independent panel’s findings. 

My previous visits to the city, two or three times during the early ‘70s, had all been football related – with a Liverpool supporting student mate, David Dodds, but universally known by the highly original nickname, Scouse!

I remember being wedged into the world-famous Kop, swaying in unison, a sea of red and white scarves held aloft, belting out the club anthem, ‘You’ll never walk alone…’  It was the Bill Shankly era, and a Liverpool team that boasted Emlyn Hughes, Tommy Smith, Steve Heighway, John Toshack and Kevin Keegan. As I recall, on the occasion of my first visit, a tidal wave of red shirts swept Chelsea away, 3 nil.          

This time around, Chris and I were taking advantage of a remarkable Premier Inn offer, £19 for a night, in a tastefully converted red brick warehouse, overlooking the Victorian, Albert Dock – now a World Heritage site. 

As lifelong Beatles fans we had pre-booked places on the colourful Magical Mystery Tour bus, a thoroughly enjoyable an informative late Sunday afternoon trip around the parts of Liverpool which shaped and inspired the group.

It was a brilliant two hours, worth every penny, taking in the childhood homes of John, Paul, George & Ringo, and places which famously featured in their songs: ‘Strawberry Field'(s) – the former Salvation Army children’s home, St Peter’s Churchyard (opposite the church hall where John and Paul first met) – site of Eleanor Rigby’s gravestone, and Penny Lane – complete with barber shop, bank, fire station and ‘shelter in the middle of the roundabout.’ The only thing missing was ‘a pretty nurse selling poppies from a tray’!  

The tour wound up at the most famous club in the world, the cradle of British pop music, The Cavern Club (in Mathew St) where the Mersey-sound and Beatle-mania were born, while Cilla Black served espresso in the coffee bar.‘Surprise, surprise’, it wasn’t licensed back in the swinging ’60s!                        

On Monday morning, we strolled around Albert Dock, with its moored narrow-boats and tall ships, and along the regenerated waterfront, passing a remarkably life-like statue of another Liverpool pop icon, Billy Fury (the former tug boat deckhand who made it big as the British Elvis with hits such as ‘Halfway to Paradise’) and a pair of grazing superlambananas, before taking a return ticket from Pierhead to Seacombe on the ‘Ferry Cross the Mersey’ – immortalised in song by Gerry and The Pacemakers.

As we stood on deck admiring the famous Liver Building landmark, there was even time for a quick reprise of the theme tune from Carla Lane’s popular ‘70s comedy series The Liver birds  – ‘Are you dancin’?’ ‘Are you askin’?’ ‘Well I’m askin’,’ ‘Then I’m dancin’!’    

After a full English breakfast bap and coffee we managed to squeeze into ‘The Beatles Story’ ahead of an excited school party – a near miss! The award-winning exhibition, complete with headphone commentary, video and musical interludes, really brings to life the phenomenal rise of the Fab Four – well worth a visit.

There was also time to visit the dockside Liverpool Tate for the ‘Turner Monet Twombly’ art exhibition, and to take in a few of the splendid sculptures on display – including the controversial ‘Jacob and the Angel’ by Epstein ( Sir Jacob, not Brian) and Salvador Dali’s trademark ‘Lobster Telephone’! 

Finally I rounded things off with a spin on The Liverpool Echo Big Wheel, which affords spectacular views along the river and across the city, including its two cathedrals at either end of Hope Street – the gothic Anglican (5th largest in the world) and the modernist Catholic, affectionately known by the locals as ‘Paddy’s Wigwam’!     

A brilliant short break, and hopefully I’ll be back in 2013-14 to see the Tricky Trees playing at Anfield and Goodison Park – but then again perhaps that’s wishful thinking!    

       

 





SO’D’s law this season…

24 08 2012

‘When we were in discussions to buy the Club we knew of its rich history, pedigree and standing in European football.

What we underestimated, however, was the level of affection and passion Forest possess.’

Fawaz Al Hasawi (Nottingham Forest owner)

‘Your team at the moment is in a period of transition and as we try to add extra pieces to the jigsaw your understanding and patience will be appreciated…Fans blow with the wind, supporters support. Please continue to support your local team.’

Sean O’Driscoll (Nottingham Forest manager)

Saturday was a sunny summer’s day, an ice cream and fizzy drinks day, not a burger and Bovril day, as the Forest faithful flocked to the City Ground for the opening game of the npower Championship, and the dawning of a brand new era.

The winds of change have been whistling around Trent-side this summer.

Following weeks of whispered rumours, with supporters hardly daring to believe it might happen, the Al Hasawi takeover was completed and the ownership of the twice European Champions transferred from the estate of the late Nigel Doughty to the Kuwaiti billionaires.

Forest have become immune to, ‘You’re not famous anymore’ chants from visiting supporters, but there is no doubt that two stars on the shirt and the legacy of Old Big ‘Ead played a huge part in attracting our new owners.      

Everything they have said and done since their arrival has impressed. One immediately sensed this was more than a business opportunity, but a genuine passion for football and the challenge of returning a great club with proud traditions back to the upper echelons of the Premier League.

They have also proved to be, good listeners and quick learners. Nowhere was this more evident than in the appointment of our new manager.

Steve Cotterill may have fulfilled his fire-fighting brief by retaining Forest’s Championship status, at the end of a catastrophic 2011-12 season, but he was never accepted by the fans. His prompt dismissal, following the takeover, for failing to match the aspirations of the new owners, might have seemed harsh, but was necessary – and was met with a collective sigh of relief by the online #Forestfamily .

An ‘iconic’ replacement was promised. The media carousel went into overdrive and ‘Arry Redknapp, following his recent surprise dismissal by Spurs, was immediately installed as the frontrunner, but just as quickly ruled himself out – on the grounds that he gets a nosebleed anywhere north of Watford.

Next up was bookies’ favourite ‘Big Mick’ McCarthy, who jetted back from the Algarve for preliminary talks, before declaring the job wasn’t right for him – sending ripples of uneasy concern along the #nffc Twitter stream. 

Never fear, it appeared divine intervention was at hand. Enter eccentric evangelist Glen Hoddle, who certainly had God on his side during his White Hart Lane playing days, but was later removed from his duties as England coach for controversial spiritual beliefs. This time around it is rumoured that the seventh deadly sin, arrogance, did for him.     

Who to next? ‘Svedish’ Sven (honorary Magpie president at nearby Meadow Lane, but most recently a dead Fox at East Midlands rivals Leicester ‘CiThai’) threw his hat into the ring, Rottweiler Roy Keane (who, prior to his dismissal, ploughed a lone furrow with the Tractor Boys – a spectacular Ipswich failure matched only by his performance on the ITV, Euro 2012 couch) expressed an interest in a return to the club of his formative years, and then there were awful rumours of ‘Gis a job’ Gordon Strachan (a dead-loss, more or less everywhere he’s been).

It was then that the unimpressed Al Hasawis had the good sense to meet with the players, who it seems were extremely enthusiastic about the somewhat less than iconic Sean O’Driscoll. Brought in to assist Cotterill when the short-lived revival, following his arrival, began to stutter and stall, SO’D played a huge part in saving Forest from the drop. It was widely accepted that his work on the training ground had turned things around and been key to Forest’s survival. 

Following an impressive interview, the job was his. There was a small matter of compensation for lowly Crawley Town who had unveiled him as their new manager only a few weeks earlier, and from where he returned with an unbeaten record, never having taken charge of a single game!

The appointment of the softly spoken, school masterly, media-shy O’Driscoll was met with huge approval from the supporters. The former Bournemouth and Donny Rovers manager may not be too well-known, but within the Championship his teams are renowned for being well organised and licensed to play with flair – qualities never lost on those brought up with Clough and Taylor. Over 95% of surveyed supporters were delighted with the appointment.

Which just goes to show, they who dole out their hard-earned cash at the turnstiles, they’re not stupid. Having seen our club suffer at the hands of its last ‘big name’ manager, ex England boss ‘Schteve’ McClaren (who quit after 111 hapless days and 13 hopeless games), having groaned in unison at SC’s inept hoof-ball tactics (and endured a six match goalless run), we had rejoiced in recognition of the passing game, reinstated by SO’D, which had ultimately saved the day.        

In five short weeks since SO’D’s appointment a new look squad has been assembled, following the defection of several senior players. All save, Welsh International full back, Chris Gunter, snapped up for £2.5 million by Premiership new boys Reading, had been allowed to drift out of contract, and being unsure as to their futures during the protracted takeover period, left for free.

Amongst those who have moved on are one-season wonder, wingman, Gareth McCleary – brought to prominence by scoring four times in a 7-3 drubbing of Leeds – also lured to Reading’s Madejski Stadium, and former club captain Luke Chambers – now wearing the armband at Ipswich. 

Eight new signings featured on the back of the match-day programme (which itself has undergone a make-over – with a new landscape format) for the curtain raiser against Bristol City. Prominent amongst these, Danny Collins, a no-nonsense central defender from Premiership Stoke City, Simon Cox, with a proven goal scoring record but surplus to requirements at the Baggies, and the return of fans’ favourite, Algerian international, Adlene Guedioura from Wolves – a player who revitalised the midfield during his on loan spell at the end of last season.    

It was to be AG who finally secured three points with a precise finish from Cox’s cut back – a fully deserved win from a very promising first outing. There was a clear shape to this team, with crisp passing and movement, players showing poise on the ball and seemingly comfortable with what was being asked of them – gaining confidence with every move. But we all know it’s a marathon not a sprint!              

Tuesday was a dark satanic mills day, with Stygian gloom across the trans-Pennine M62 – the UK’s highest motorway – giving way to an amber glow over ‘Uddersfield’s renamed John Smith’s Stadium.

The newly promoted Terriers had been unlucky to lose their opening encounter, a televised 1-0 defeat in the 90th minute, against Cardiff Bluebirds – dressed more like Christmas robins in the new red strip controversially demanded by their multi-millionaire owners, for marketing reasons!  

I travelled north to ‘God’s own county’, ticking off another of the 92 league grounds, but fully expecting a backlash from the Yorkshire team. It never transpired. Instead it was the Tricky Trees, growing in stature, with every flowing move, blossoming under the floodlights, into a performance that has set a benchmark for the season.

Forest dominated for 92 minutes and could have been, should have been, 4-0 up by the time Simon Cox rifled his first goal for the club – latching on to a perfectly weighted Lewis McGugan through ball with a confident 64th minute left footed strike. It is a while since I’ve have seen such a composed finish from Reds striker. Let’s hope it’s the first of many.

Unfortunately a one goal lead is never enough and Forest rued those earlier missed opportunities – a 25 yarder from the rampaging McGugan, hitting the inside of the post, a powerful Dexter Blackstock effort cleared  off the line, and a follow-up shot that clipped the bar.  

With two of the four minutes added on, safely negotiated, left back Dan Harding – a new recruit from the Saints – turned sinner, the ex-Southampton man diving in with an unnecessarily rash tackle to concede a penalty.   

Cue local hero Jordan Rhodes, a 40 goal striker in League 1, and on the radar of a number of bigger clubs. He had rarely touched the ball throughout, but under pressure kept his composure. Lee Camp who had not made a noteworthy save all night, guessed correctly, but the ball just squeezed past the fingers of his outstretched glove, and in off the inside of the post for the most un-deserving of equalisers.  

I suppose it was almost inevitable that I would leave the John Smith’s Stadium with a bitter taste in my mouth – but not for long. There were far too many positives, from a Forest perspective, to be taken from the game. I know which team I’d rather watch and which will finish further up the league.

Hopefully there will more evidence of that in tonight’s Sky Sports live match, at Bolton.

Wanderers, a Premiership side last year, will provide a real test at the Reebok Stadium, and the match should give a much clearer indication of whether new-look Forest are genuine promotion contenders, or if such ambitions are Pye in the Sky!        

PS. An excellent 2-2 draw. 35 first half minutes when Forest were dominant – enjoying 60% possession.  Two quality goals from Lewis McGugan and Andy Reid (Sky’s Man of the Match) and a ruffled, ratty, post match interview from under pressure Bolton manager Owen Coyle – just about say it all. Things are definitely looking up!