Time to lay the ghost of Billy to rest
After the West Bromwich Albion friendly, fans on Twitter and forums reported that a small section of supporters sang the name of former manager Billy Davies in response to the disappointing performance. I was not at the game so I’ve no idea how many chanted, but it does show that his ghost continues to loom over the City Ground, perhaps even as much as the legendary Brian Clough.
Many fans reacted to the chanting angrily – and justifiably so. But why does this man continue to be linked with the Forest job and why does he continue to have an underlying presence whenever we lose games?
In many ways Billy was one of our better managers in recent times. I was a massive fan from day one until January 2010, by which time he’d kept us up and built a team that was again making Nottingham proud.
In my opinion though Davies somewhat bottled it. The promotion race pressure was rising and he deflected this onto the board, requesting unrealistic targets rather than the shrewd purchases that could have helped us into the top two. Swansea were as unlikely to sell us Darren Pratley on deadline day as we were to have sold them Robert Earnshaw.
It was a frustrating time as the team was playing superbly as things began to unravel behind the scenes. I felt at the time this young team could have naively charged towards promotion without these distractions. Davies fumed at a lack of funds to compete with the parachute payment-funded squads of West Brom and Newcastle, but it was perhaps apt that we were knocked out by Blackpool – a squad assembled on a budget by a more positively-minded Ian Holloway.
As we know, the situation worsened over the next 18 months and Davies’ position became more and more tenuous. Only positive results and the support of the fans kept this awkward alliance together for a second play-off appearance.
Davies’ achievements at Forest were impressive to a degree. However, the obsession with Davies was rather disproportionate. Other managers such as Brendan Rodgers, Paul Lambert and Ian Holloway achieved more with smaller budgets. Maybe in lean times ‘good’ becomes ‘great’ very quickly – we do it with some of our players too. Billy’s away record was in the end distinctly average and cost us automatic promotion twice.
I think the underlying love for Billy stems from the bond he forged with the fans. I remember going to Charlton to see he first game in charge. Many fans were dubious of his Derby background, but after the 2-0 victory he approached the fans to take the acclaim as if to say ‘I am your manager – you will like me!’ That bond became stronger and stronger. There were speeches on the PA at the end of seasons and perhaps his greatest moment was the 3-2 win against Derby when he waved his arms frantically to urge the fans to get behind the team as Derby stormed back into the game. I think that moment turned the game back in our favour as we held on for a great victory.
That link remained to the bitter end as Davies dodged celebrating Swansea fans invading the pitch and thanked Forest fans for their support. Billy was a man of the people and he knew how to use this even after his departure when he claimed he had ‘unfinished business’. Many fans were enchanted by the fact that he still loved us after such a bitter divorce and rather unhelpfully sang his name during a relegation battle.
Football is now awash with money and to a degree it is not surprising that a man with a ‘common touch’ does get so revered, but chanting his name does not help Forest going forward. Steve Cotterill was almost unwanted from day one – chiefly in my opinion because he was not Billy. Cotterill was a flawed manager, but he got the job done, keeping us up and eventually revitalising a team that was destroyed by Steve McClaren. There were always going to be ups and downs. I remember Billy’s team losing 5-0 at Burnley, so essentially Cotterill matched Billy’s achievement of keeping us up and brought in some useful players along the way such as Adlene Guedioura.
As Cotterill circled the pitch after his final game he received somewhat grudging applause. My mind went back to Billy who in similar circumstances had hailed his ‘greatest achievement’. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the unloved Steve who even after the 7-3 at Leeds was never going to find a place in Forest hearts. Perhaps he was too honest and open at times. Smartly dressed, suited Billy knew how to charm the crowd, whereas the tracksuited Steve looked uncomfortable to even approach the fans after a victory.
So now we have a new manager, squad and owners and it is time to forget Billy. I wouldn’t rule him out returning one day, but that won’t happen until everybody involved in his tenure – particularly Mark Arthur – has left the club. It would also need to be an older, wiser Billy. Maybe the fact he’s missed out on so many jobs since leaving us has given him cause to reflect on his tumultuous spells at Preston, Derby and Forest.
Sean O’Driscoll is a more stable figure, less controversial and could do a great job at Forest. With resources it will be interesting to see how his passing style works with Forest. The squad looks more impressive by the week and a defeat to West Brom is hardly a major blip. So let’s get behind him now and more importantly, let’s not call for Billy after a couple of painful defeats. It’s in the past and it won’t help our future.