As grateful as I am for the chance to write about Forest in LeftLion each month, we seem to be in a period of the club’s history where even a daily column would struggle to cover all the various triumphs, tragedies, scandals and melodramas. So how to do this past month justice and resist the siren call of the bullet point list? Strap in, here goes...
A strong home performance against Spurs was eventually undone by goals from Richarlison and Kulusevski. Not for the first time this season, we couldn’t make the most of the opposition going down to ten men. 2-0 defeat. Still we sung Stevie Cooper’s name loud and proud. We will never forget the joy he brought and the vast majority of us fans stuck with him ‘til the very end.
We were right to suspect his fate was sealed that night and, along with the sadness, we were intrigued to find out exactly who the new coach would be, to match the owner’s ambitions and take on our magnificent-infuriating-hyperactive football club...
Step forward Nuno Espírito Santo. Proven in the Premier League as crown prince of Wolverhampton; he had a hiding-to-nothing short stint at Spurs before taking the Saudi dollar, leading Al-Ittihad to league and cup success. And possibly as significant as all of this: he’s best mates with super-agent Jorge Mendes. If Steve Cooper was about oozing football soul, this appointment whiffed of grubby Premier League pragmatism. Still, he has a lovely smile...
...and, as it turns out, a pretty good knack for coaching a football team. After a ludicrous red card decision in the 23rd minute, Forest battled bravely before succumbing to 3-2 defeat at home to Bournemouth. But even in defeat, we played on the front foot, we looked like a team that belonged in this league and, even the most ardent Cooperite like me had to admit, that’s not a feeling we’ve had that often.
And then? Well, then we beat Newcastle away and Manchester United at home. The best belated Christmas presents any fan could imagine. Both were magnificent victories: positive, stylish, clinical. Chris Wood scored a hat trick. Morgan Gibbs-White scored a worldie. Anthony Elanga possesses beautiful electricity. So, what if our goalie looked shaky? The City Ground was rocking once more. Eva’s Grill toasted more fireworks than kebabs that night; it felt incredible. Surely nothing could undermine this ecstatic feeling, could it?
How about conceding four goals in the process of edging past League One Blackpool in the cup? Compounding the loss of several first teamers to the African Cup of Nations with injuries to Gibbs-White and Elanga? Realising we have one goalkeeper seemingly incapable of using his feet and another apparently reluctant to use his hands? Being handed a charge and likely points deduction from the Premier League for breaching Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules? Playing a generous supporting role in the sickening exhibition of rulebreaker Ivan Toney’s goalscoring return at Brentford? Seeing our left back getting off with a dog in a viral video? Yes, it turns out that those things will take the edge off somewhat.
And as a supporter, you can’t help but start to feel numb to the chaos of it all. We’re on top of the world one minute and a laughing-stock the next. Of everything I’ve mentioned here, it’s the news of the FFP charge that is most significant and most aptly encapsulates the paradox at the heart of our club. We spend hundreds of millions (great!) much of which is entrusted to the young son of our billionaire owner (troubling!) but apparently isn’t enough to ensure that we can maintain even the most basic Excel spreadsheet and stay on the right side of the rules (unforgivable!)
On the day the news broke, all I could think about was Dane Murphy, a charismatic Chief Executive, brought in for the 21-22 season. He imposed strict rules around transfers: stay the right side of FFP, only sign young players with re-sale value, have a strict cap on wages and make sure transfer decisions are data led. What happened to Forest? We had the best season in recent memory and swashbuckled our way to promotion to the Premier League.
What happened to Murphy? He was fired. What happened to the recruitment policy? It became the responsibility of the owner’s son, Miltiadis: a man in his early twenties, so determined to flaunt his role as the Forest supremo that his signing of Jesse Lingard (not young, wages anything but capped) was released via his personal social media channel.
And maybe it’s futile to get too upset by what’s happening at Forest when this is what it boils down to. In our gratitude for the money being lavished on us, maybe we became alienated from how it was spent and the consequences of this financial incontinence. Nottingham Forest is a spectacle that relies on our sense of alienation. We’re not supposed to understand the capricious ownership, unfathomable shirt sponsorship or our role as a vehicle for super agents. We’re just supposed to enjoy the fireworks.
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