Billy Davies: the second coming

by , February 6, 2013

In my recently published book, The Glory of Forest (soon to be followed by my second book, How To Never Miss an Opportunity to Shamelessly Plug Your Wares), I posed the following question: was Billy Davies the Messiah or just a very naughty boy?

In that book (available from the discount aisle in your local supermarket!) I was happy to name him behind only Brian Clough in a list of the best players and managers to cross the divide between Derby and Forest. Billy always revelled in his association with our sheep-bothering rivals and it was one of the secrets of his success: contrast the fearsome battles – some footballing, some otherwise – fought between the sides while Davies was in charge of Forest with the drab performances we’ve had to suffer under several of his successors. Whether he really hated Derby as the song suggested or not, the idea that he did certainly worked as a motivational tool.

Billy remains a hero to some supporters and a villain to others, and then there are those people who just became tired of his name being dragged into every discussion for the last year and a half. This last group should be pleased at the prospect of Billy’s second coming if only because it will settle a few of those endless debates and answered questions left by his sacking in 2011.

That sacking, with a year still left on his contract, angered and disheartened me more than even the recent axing of Sean O’Driscoll. Under Davies Forest were so close to the success that has eluded us for more than a decade. The slippery treasure of promotion and the Premier League seemed within our grasp, only to slither through our fingers at the last moment. But under Steve McClaren we soon saw that treasure floating to the bottom of the ocean. The metaphor isn’t perfect, but I’m sure you’ll agree that the events of last season certainly gave us all a sinking feeling.

Sacking O’Driscoll, as I said at the time, was a huge gamble for Fawaz Al-Hasawi. It required instant results from Alex McLeish and those never materialised. I watched the Birmingham game and, despite the result, left with some of my initial fears over McLeish’s reputation allayed – Forest were still a passing side – but it was too little, too late.

Confidence in the Al-Hasawi family may have hit an all-time low this week and some claim to have lost faith in the club altogether, but for me the recent actions of these unknown Kuwaiti entities don’t hurt so much as those of familiar old Nigel Doughty did when he sacked Davies. It was such a senseless, negative act – a real case of ‘Sorry, nose, but you’ve got to go. Face must be spited.’ – whereas I can just about come to terms with the more recent managerial changes as the caprices of an eccentric foreign owner, something we’ve all become familiar with in the modern game.

In sacking O’Driscoll and appointing McLeish, Fawaz seemed to be, in his own naïve and clumsy way, trying to move the club forward. Doughty sacking Davies set us back several years, nearly got us relegated and cost him his ownership of the football club. The direct result of that sacking was a year of utter hell for Forest fans, when the previous May we’d been so close to Premier League heaven. O’Driscoll’s sacking led to a crazy month and a half, but ultimately, with McLeish’s reign being so short, what have we lost? A few points, a bit of pride and a bungled transfer window – those are all things we’ve lost before and will no doubt lose again at some point in the future. We know how to deal with those, we know how to move on.

Maybe I’m downplaying it. Let’s face it, 2013 so far has been an utter cock-up for Fawaz’s Forest. But I’m in a good mood and it’s the prospect of a returning Billy Davies that’s done it. I enjoyed his first spell here immensely – there was good football, impressive results and an entertaining manager taking the press conferences. There was also boardroom back-biting and that bloody Transfer Acquisitions Panel, don’t forget, but ultimately it was a good time.

Of course, the fact that the likes of me are now talking in positive terms again, instead of bemoaning the utter farce the club has seemingly become, is the sole reason a Billy Davies comeback is even on the cards. If Fawaz really wanted Billy as manager (and he must have been aware from the start that such an appointment would have been popular), he would have approached him in the summer. Right now, as Vital Forest point out, Mr Al-Hasawi needs friends and reappointing Davies could be a very simple way for him to buy a few.

This does all beg the question of why Billy himself is interested in returning. I credit Davies with a lot of intelligence. He can’t be unaware that our last manager walked out because of allegedly ineffective transfer policies. Wasn’t that Billy’s main bugbear with the Doughty administration? Why would Davies, whose 18 months off show he clearly isn’t desperate to get back into football, suddenly decide that our current circus-esque set-up is the right arena for his particular brand of showmanship?

Perhaps Forest, despite previous accusations of self-interest, really do mean a lot to Davies and he feels it is his duty to come to our rescue – again! Or maybe that ‘unfinished business’ quote is the key to it, though really things have changed so much since he left that it would be a case of starting over again rather than picking up where he left off.

Whatever might be driving him, I doubt Billy would even think about coming back unless it was on his terms, in which case, does Fawaz know what he’s letting himself in for? Is an irresistible force about to hit an immovable object? It’s all a bit confusing and, the more I think about it, quite alarming. Perhaps the unanswerable questions about the motives of both parties should lead me to doubt my sanity in ever believing it might happen in the first place. Maybe I shouldn’t have even bothered writing this article – I’ll only look silly when it turns out to be Roy Keane who gets hired instead.

But the idea that we might be about to find out the answers to some of the many unanswered questions excites me and may excite others out of their recent Forest malaise too. Whether Billy Davies Pt II reveals him to be the Messiah, a very naughty boy or just one more character in a comedy of errors with a rapidly growing cast, we can be sure that whatever plays out is going to be interesting, very interesting indeed. Providing it isn’t Roy Keane after all, of course…