My submissions to LTLF are generally inspired when I have a theory or opinion on Forest that I think might not have been covered elsewhere. If, as I sit around pondering the Reds as I do most idle afternoons, something pops into my head that I can’t remember reading anywhere else, I get in front of my computer and try to expand it into a coherent article. This perhaps explains why my contributions are so infrequent, relying as they do on an original thought entering my dull head. I do have a problem now though, because I want to write something to mark the end of the season but it’s been such an eventful campaign that there are very few original thoughts left to be had by anyone, let alone me.
The conspiracy theories alone cover so many bases: Billy Davies paid off George Boyd’s optician because he wanted Alex McLeish out of the way; Fawaz hired the inept McLeish to make sure Billy’s return was as spectacular and popular as it could be; Sean O’Driscoll knew he was only in the job for six months but took it on believing it could only raise his profile and help him get a better job than Crawley – these far-fetched fancies seem a bit more plausible when you consider some of the more substantiated (but no less surreal) stories coming out of the club this year.
Basically there’s been so much going on and so much to speculate about, what is there left for me or anyone else to say? This season has been, on the one hand a triumph, on the other a disaster, and on yet another hand the middle-of-the-road consolidation many of us hoped for a year ago. This three-handed monster of a campaign has been so contradictory and paradoxical that any opinion I come up with can be proved both spot-on and wildly incorrect at the same time.
For example, Billy’s recent snubbing of the press – culminating in the bizarre decision to hold the Leicester City post-match press conference before the game – suggests the manager is in a bitter Wild West stand-off with the media, yet press coverage of the club since his return has been largely positive. You’d think with the manager being so hostile, the gentlemen of the press would be getting their own back the only way they know how – by taking their gripes to the printing presses. But even Fawaz, the ‘Dictator’ of the City Ground a few months earlier, is getting the benefit of the doubt from cynical hacks. So, should Billy be more open with the press or continue to keep them at a distance? Should he start doing post-match press engagements again or let his football do the talking? Search me!
On the field things have been no less troublesome to assess. A year ago, with the club’s future in grave doubt, who knew what to expect? But if you’d offered us eighth place, a point off the play-offs, most Forest fans would have snapped your hands off, the memories of being in the relegation zone still fresh in our minds.
A few months later, as the Al-Hasawis settled into their new offices and Sean O’Driscoll was hastily assembling a squad, that offer would still have been appealing as our rushed pre-season didn’t look like ideal preparation for a promotion campaign. As O’Driscoll’s side got off to a good start and caught the eye with some attractive football in their first few games, some might have got carried away and started predicting silverware, but most were still content with being where we ultimately ended up under Sean – exactly where we finished the season, as it happens.
Of course by February things had taken a dramatic turn for the worse and even the return of the Messianic Billy Davies had only a few believing we would be challenging for the play-offs at the end of the season after the relegation form the side had shown under McLeish. If football was a game of Deal or No Deal, at that point we’d have been willing to accept anything the Banker threw our way with a load of blue boxes still to open.
With all that having gone on, we should be pleased – nay, delighted – by where we finished. So why does not making the play-offs last weekend still feel a little like a failure? I suppose it all comes down to that remarkable six-game winning streak that had even myself pondering promotion (with my usual cynical reservations, I might add). During that first month of Billy’s tenure it seemed like we could – and would – beat anyone as we romped to promotion.
And just as impossible to imagine as the winning streak was, we then didn’t win for six games, couldn’t even beat Barnsley at home, proving this season really was out to f*** with our heads. How can you beat Hull away and then fail to beat Barnsley on your own turf? And how can a strike-force comprised of Billy Sharp, Simon Cox, Darius Henderson and Dexter Blackstock – all proven goal-scorers at this level – draw so many blanks?
The paradox of our strikers gets even more bizarre than that – the forwards in our squad deemed surplus to requirements have all gone out on loan and done well. David McGoldrick in particular got more league goals for Coventry and Ipswich (20 in total) than Simon Cox (5) and Billy Sharp (10) combined. Yet would we have McGoaldrought back in the starting line-up? I doubt it. Would we swap our midfielders for any of Ipswich or Coventry’s creative players? Definitely not. Would we give our right arms for a 20-goal-a-season striker to spearhead our attack? Absolutely.
So much has happened this season but we haven’t really learned a lot. We still don’t know what the Kuwaiti owners are up to, where the money is coming from and how much of it there is; we still don’t know if Billy is ever going to shift the albatross that seems to cause his teams to bottle it whenever they are on the verge of success; and we still don’t know if this time next year we’ll consider eighth place quite an achievement or an utter failure.
Mind you, that last one is never really certain at this stage of the summer with a whole transfer window of variables to add to the equation – at least at the end of a very unsettling and confusing season, where it seemed anything could happen and most of it did, there remains one constant in the mathematics of following Nottingham Forest: the constant of uncertainty.