Review: Those Forest Men by Mark Collar
I’ve got Forest books literally stacked up waiting to be read. There has been a real glut of them in recent years, and whilst I do like a good autobiography on occasion, I have to be in the mood. The likes of John McGovern, Garry Birtles, Viv Anderson and Larry Lloyd sit resolutely on my ‘to read’ pile, and probably will do for a considerable time.
This book is a bit different though, different to any football book I’ve ever read before. It was written by my friend Mark Collar, and I’ve been ludicrously tardy in both getting it and reading it. Once I did pick it up I genuinely struggled to put it down and had finished it within a couple of days. I opted to read it cover to cover, others have ‘dipped in and out’ of chapters – I can see both methods working.
It’s difficult to describe the genre – there’s a bit of self-indulgent (but in a good way) autobiographical recollection of a fan who lost interest in Forest at the wrong time. I can empathise with that: Forest’s most recent European adventure in the mid-nineties corresponded with my discovery of girls and booze – ‘I can miss out this time, there’s always next season!’ I thought. Oh foolish me. Of course, Mark did the same when we were lifting trophies on the biggest stage, so he wins there!
Ostensibly the book centres around youth team players who lodged in the attic of his parental home – it follows their fortunes, recollects their characters and particularly focuses on John Robertson, who didn’t stay with the Collars but certainly spent time with the players that did, and at their house. Interspersed are reflections on players, events, games, managers – spanning the entire history of Nottingham Forest, sometimes Mark’s research, sometimes he has included work by guest writers. It’s a charming and varied read.
As well as Mark’s labours the book is interspersed with worthy inclusions from guest writers to boot which allows room for other voices in the narrative. The package is topped off with some lovely artwork and if you’re lucky enough to grab a first edition version there’s an amusing alternative forename for Bobby Charlton in there!
Even someone who’s read lots about Forest found plenty to learn in here: some new stories, some comfortingly familiar ones and some awesome new random facts. What has clearly been a labour of love for Mark has retained a punchy pace – some chapters last literally a couple of pages, others are in-depth – you could easily read them in isolation but similarly they all hang together to give a sum of Forest through the ages through the eyes of someone who has grown up with Forest initially enthusiastically, at some times begrudgingly and is finally now reunited with the club that it was perhaps inevitable he’d return to.