Posts Tagged Football
Hope, and the people who give it to you
Posted by cathannabel in Football on October 9, 2022
Guest blog by Arthur Annabel
Bottom of the league after eight games. Five straight defeats. Baffling tactical decisions. Ripe circumstances for fan unrest and anger, directed at the person who has to face up to the myriad of factors that dictate the success or failure of a football club. 99 times out of a hundred, if not more, the fans would be calling for the manager’s head.
Add in that the most recent of those defeats was a 4-0 battering away from home at the hands of a local rival and you’re bordering on grounds for insurrection if they’re not sacked.
But there’s a piece missing from this story.
It’s a piece that explains why, while 4-0 down in that game, the dominant noise from the crowd was the away fans singing the managers name, over and over again. It’s a piece that explains why when news started to break over the following 24 hours that his job was on the line, that there were potential replacements being lined up, that change was on the horizon, the dominant reaction online was a fan campaign to make it clear that whatever else might need changing, the name on the manager’s door should stay the same.
A week of briefings and counter briefings, of Twitter ‘In The Knows’ stating with certainty the latest updates and seemingly a vast majority of fans dreading the official statement and the solemn corner flag of doom that would mean they were gone.
Then, out of the blue, midway through Friday morning it was confirmed that Steve Cooper had signed a new contract committing him to Nottingham Forest until 2025.
I’ll be honest and admit I found myself surprisingly emotional at the news. Now part of that is inevitably the time of the year and the coincidental interweaving of last season’s triumph with personal grief (see my previous blog post for a more personal take on what last year meant – https://cathannabel.blog/2022/06/05/right-when-i-needed-them/), but I don’t think that’s all, or even most, of the story here. If it was, I’d have been a lone voice projecting my need for meaning on to an otherwise disinterested fan base.
But I wasn’t alone. The announcement was met with near universal praise and emotion. How often can a manager being offered a new contract after a run of results like this have been greeted with such enthusiasm?
To understand it I think you have to understand where we were as a club before Cooper walked through the door.
Bottom of the Championship, sure, 8 games without a win, sure, managed by the undoubtedly very nice Chris Hughton who delivered some of the most dire football I’ve ever watched amongst stiff competition, sure.
But it wasn’t just how the past month or so had gone.
It was the past 23 years.
For many fans like me, their entire time supporting the club.
There’d been four managers in that time who’d delivered anything resembling success. Hart, who built a team of academy kids into a free-flowing side that came close but fell short and was sold off to the highest bidder. Calderwood, who grafted to get us out of League One, culminating in a glorious last day of the season against Yeovil. Davies (first time round specifically), who delivered play off campaigns two years in a row but couldn’t get us to a final and more importantly couldn’t avoid his ego derailing everything, but it is what it is. Then Lamouchi, who built up hope then saw it collapse in farcical fashion as we missed out on the play offs when it genuinely seemed impossible to do so.
Those four cover barely a third of the 23 years and all ended in calamity and depression.
We’d seen a whole range of approaches over the years but in the end the conclusion to be drawn was the same. Don’t ever get your hopes up because Forest will make you pay for such naivety.
We’d become a joke of a club. The only time national media paid attention to us was to mark how far we’d fallen.
Older fans could potentially cling to past successes (though I suspect the disparity between what was and what is brought its own pain), but for any fan born after around 1985 true pride and joy in Forest was at best a childhood memory and for most of us, fleeting moments enjoyed almost despite rather than because of the club.
We’d learned not to truly hope. We’d learned that whatever we’d once been as a club, we were now a Championship team at best. We’d learned that whoever took over that particular poisoned chalice would be out the door before we could form a solid bond (though we tried, Lamouchi, J’adore).
Then Cooper arrived and gradually, really quite subtly, started to rehabilitate us.
In the immediate aftermath of the play off final our captain Joe Worrall used the analogy of a beaten dog finally shown kindness. He was talking about the players but it applied to the fans too. Cautiously, always waiting for the rug to be pulled and the pain to return, we started to believe that the joy we’d seen so many other teams enjoy could really be ours.
And that sense of hope built. One of my most abiding memories of last season was how the atmosphere ramped up almost exponentially, how Mull of Kintyre was belted out each week with that little bit more passion, how “Nottingham Forest are magic, on and off the pitch” moved from being an occasional away day place holder to a loud and proud declaration by the whole city ground. how those opening few bars of Depeche Mode signalled that we were one step closer to a dream we’d started to believe would never come true.
His low drama interviews, full of self-deprecation and appreciation of the people around him, his fist bumps to each stand after one more win, his ability to make the team recover from occasional setbacks with statement wins. It created a bond I’ve never known between the fans and the manager. Previous generations had Clough, and to an extent Clark, but my generation of fans never knew what it was to truly love a manger.
Not because we believe we’ll only see triumph with them, not because we think they’ve solved all our problems, not because we believe we’re entitled to anything.
No, we love Steve Cooper because he gave us permission to hope again. He provided therapy to a fanbase as he guided us to promotion. He delivered something that so many had failed to and in doing so expanded the fan base’s view of what was possible.
There’s a lot of fans saying that they’d rather go down this season with Cooper in charge and try again than change manager and I’m in that group, but even if this all ends in tears and P45s long before that, the reaction to the news of his contract shows something. It shows that in the seemingly every increasingly brutal world of club management, where there’s no margin for error, that it’s still possible for managers to form a bond that transcends short term results.
Whatever happens over the next few weeks or months, however Cooper’s story ends with Forest, he will always be the man who made us hope again, who offered us something to believe in and that’s not a debt Forest fans take lightly.
The Anniversary Waltz
Posted by cathannabel in Football on April 9, 2016
The best thing I’ve read about football in a long time. For those who share my despairing love for Forest, or for other football clubs with similar histories, you’ll understand. For those who don’t get it, read this, and try. Forest ’til I die.
No one knows why he chose Nottingham.
Arthur ‘Artie’ Scattergood had it all. His parents – my great, great grandparents – were textile merchants. They lived in a big house, on a grand Georgian square, in one of the nicest part of London.
And one day, it’d all be his. The house, and the factory, and the money. The life.
But Artie didn’t want it.
Why, we never knew. When he rocked up at Bestwood Village in 1920, he had no friends, no prospects, and no reason for being there. Maybe he’d taken the first train out of St. Pancras; maybe he just closed his eyes, and pointed at a map.
Whatever the plan was, Artie worked hard. He made himself a life—a life of his own, for the first time. He got a job at Bestwood Colliery. He found himself a woman, and a home. And soon…
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Books of the Year 2014
Posted by cathannabel in Literature on December 22, 2014
Inexplicably, the quality press has not yet invited me to name my top reads over the last twelve months, but no matter, I’ll do it anyway.
There is no attempt to rank or compare, or to identify one top title – just to share some of this year’s reading pleasure.
First, Taiye Selasi’s gorgeous Ghana Must Go. Drawn to it at first just for the title, I was blown away by the opening chapter, and as the narrative pulled back from that minute detail, that moment by moment evocation of a man looking out at his garden, realising that he is about to die, the breadth of the locations and the expanding cast in no way diluted the power of the writing. I did not realise at first that I was reading it aloud in my head, the way I read a novel in French, rather than hoovering up a page in one go as I normally do. In this case it wasn’t in order to understand it, but in order to feel the rhythm of the text. This is a poem as much as it is a novel.
John Williams’ Stoner had massive word of mouth before I got round to reading it. I was not disappointed – of course the academic milieu that it describes is very familiar to me and that helped to draw me in. But the emotional punch it pulled was unexpected and I rather regretted reading it in public.
I’ve written elsewhere about the final Resnick novel, Darkness, Darkness, from John Harvey. I read a lot of detective novels – it was a year of long train journeys – and discovered new writers, notably Ann Cleeves, Laura Lippman, Louise Doughty, Belinda Bauer and Anne Holt, as well as enjoying new stuff from existing favourite Cath Staincliffe. Her Letters to my Daughter’s Killer is powerful stuff.
Tiffany Murray’s Diamond Star Halo rocked my world, and Sugar Hall chilled my spine. I read the whole Game of Thrones series, and am eager for more. Other favourites from writers new to me were John Lanchester’s Capital, Patrick McGuiness’s The Last Hundred Days, and Sue Eckstein’s Interpreters. I will seek out more by all of them, though very sadly, Sue Eckstein’s early death means that there is only one more from her to look forward to.
Danny Rhodes’ Fan inspired me to reminisce and ruminate about my relationship with the game of football, and with Nottingham Forest in particular, and Caitlin Moran’s How to Build a Girl both made me laugh uproariously, and moved me to tears. It prompted a blog too.
As well as discovering new writers, I had the delight of reading more by some great favourites. Lesley Glaister’s Little Egypt, Stevie Davies’ Into Suez, Liz Jensen’s The Ninth Life of Louis Drax, all very different, and all on top form.
Lynn Shepherd’s latest literary mystery, The Pierced Heart, played beautifully with the Dracula myth, and the set up – a young man travels into the heart of Europe, an older, darker Europe, is welcomed by a mysterious Baron in a castle full of alchemical texts and other, more troubling collections – not only echoes Bram Stoker but reminded me of Michel Butor’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Ape, about which I hope to write something in due course. And oddly there were echoes of other aspects of The Pierced Heart in Stephen King’s excellent Revival, despite the very different setting. My most recent Doctor Who blog touched on these themes.
I didn’t expect Kenan Malik’s The Quest for a Moral Compass to be such a page-turner. I expected it to be enlightening and stimulating, sure, but it’s a huge achievement that it was genuinely difficult to put the book down. I wanted to find out ‘what happened next’, how through the centuries and the continents the human race grappled with the big questions of what it is to be good.
Other non-fiction that had an impact on me included Solomon Northup’s Twelve Years a Slave, which I read before I saw Steve McQueen’s harrowing and viscerally powerful film, and Dan Jacobson’s Heshel’s Kingdom, to which I was led by W G Sebald (in the final pages of Austerlitz). There was also Philippa Comber’s fascinating memoir of her friendship with Sebald, Ariadne’s Thread, another future blog, I hope.
Belinda Bauer – Blacklands, Darkside, Finders Keepers
Ann Cleeves – Dead Water, Red Bones, Silent Voices, Burial of Ghosts
Philippa Comber – Ariadne’s Thread
Stevie Davies – Into Suez
Louise Doughty – Apple Tree Yard
Sue Eckstein – Interpreters
Lesley Glaister – Little Egypt
John Harvey – Darkness, Darkness
Anne Holt – Blessed are Those who Thirst
Dan Jacobson – Heshel’s Kingdom
Liz Jensen – The Ninth Life of Louis Drax
Stephen King – Revival
John Lanchester – Capital
Laura Lippmann – The Innocents, Life Sentences, Don’t Look Back
Patrick McGuinness – The Last Hundred Days
Kenan Malik – The Quest for a Moral Compass
Caitlin Moran – How to Build a Girl
Tiffany Murray – Diamond Star Halo; Sugar Hall
Solomon Northrop – Twelve Years a Slave
Danny Rhodes – Fan
Lynn Shepherd – The Pierced Heart
Cath Staincliffe – Letters to my Daughter’s Killer
John Williams – Stoner
The beauty of the game
Posted by cathannabel in Football on July 12, 2014
I’ve written quite a bit about football over the couple of years that I’ve been blogging. But I’ve said next to nothing about what happens on the pitch. I’ve talked about what happened on the terraces one day in April 1989, and the quarter-century aftermath. I’ve talked about the various nations competing in the World Cup and their history and politics in terms of the displaced people across the globe. But the game itself?
I can talk about music, though I’m not a musician, I can talk about art though I’m no artist. But I can’t talk about football, the playing of the game, without it sounding second-hand, words and phrases borrowed from the pundits on the telly or the pundits in my own life.
Nonetheless it’s played an important part in my life, still does. I barely knew the game existed until the early 70s, when the family moved to Nottinghamshire, and my brothers determined that our loyalties would henceforth belong to Nottingham Forest. And I went along on a Saturday, wearing the scarf that I knitted myself (the only piece of knitting I ever finished, at one time embroidered with the names of the players) at least until the final whistle blew and we hid our scarves away and legged it to the bus station. I stood on the Trent End, being pushed one way and another, pressed up against the barriers till it hurt, sometimes. I went along to watch them train in between home games, to watch the reserves play, to get their autographs. I loved the atmosphere, until the violence – always simmering – seemed to come every week to the boil, and I was too afraid and too sick to love it any more.
Reading Danny Rhodes’ Fan brought it all back. He writes about following Forest, and I recognise everything he describes. But at the same time my experience of being a football fan was so different – being a girl, a swotty, geeky girl at that, I could never have been part of the beery sweary scrappy bloke culture.
I never lived for it, but I loved it. Time was I knew all the names, the numbers, the fixtures, the results. Time was I could recognise every player on the cards my brothers collected (the Panini stickers of their day) – and I was tested on this regularly and rigorously. I lost that over the years, lost touch with the minutiae of the team and the game, but never stopped checking the results, and feeling a glimmer of excitement if we were doing well in a Cup or league, or – at least as often – frustration and gloom if we weren’t.
Looking back, I’d thought that ‘my’ Forest era was the glory years of Clough, European cups and league triumphs. But in fact, the years when I was going most Saturdays, when I was the most engaged and invested, were before that. In fact, I supported Forest under three managers before Clough & Taylor arrived (Gillies, Mackay and Brown), and saw them relegated in ’72 to the then 2nd division.
Clough came in ’75, the year I went up to University in Sheffield, and my match attendance plummeted. But I still went, when I could, and saw two League Cup finals (victory over Southampton, defeat to Wolves), and a European cup tie against Grasshoppers Zurich. And I saw the players who Clough inspired to greatness, many of whom I’d been watching in the reserves before Clough saw what they could be capable of and gave them the chance to achieve it. It’s been a pretty bumpy ride since then, and most seasons I apologise to my son for making him a Forest fan – I may have seen some dire, desperate games and some crushing defeats, but I also saw the team when they were the best.
So I can reminisce, but I can’t pontificate about the game. I know genius when I see it – old clips of Best, new clips of Messi, and my memories of seeing John Robertson, short stocky guy, invisible on the left wing until he suddenly took off and scored before the opposition had even registered his presence. Clough said ‘give him a ball and a yard of grass, and he was an artist’, but also that he was (or had initially appeared to be), an ‘unfit, uninterested waste of time’, perhaps the supreme example of Clough’s own genius.
But the offside rule is something I understand only fleetingly and I never spot an offside before it’s called. And I can’t analyse – I’m always kind of surprised and pleased when my general impressions of possession and dominance are confirmed by the ‘experts’ and the on-screen stats. Instead I get caught up with the ebb and flow, the swell of the crowd’s noise and the dying away when the moment is lost, the grace and athleticism, the exhilaration and despair. I can share in that, and I’ve wept over results before now, most recently when Ghana were knocked out of the last World Cup thanks to a certain Uruguayan’s blatant hand-ball.
But when the City Ground crowd invites me to join in and assert that I hate Derby, or Leicester, or anyone else, I can’t do it. I don’t recall racist chanting on the terraces at Forest – and I do recall leaflets on the seats at a reserve game vigorously opposing the National Front and their calls for Viv Anderson to go back where he came from (as Clough pointed out, that would be Clifton, about 15 mins drive from the City Ground) – but I know that black footballers in Britain were subjected to vile abuse, and that this still happens in many European countries. I know that there are aspects of the game that are profoundly ugly.
I saw that in the violence that became endemic in the game – people who turned up for the fight, not for the football, driving other spectators away, and creating the vicious circle of aggressive policing, media contempt and political rhetoric that led us inexorably to Hillsborough. I know that the tribal loyalties that make following a football team so emotional can be dangerous, and are dangerous when they’re linked to other loyalties – religious, ethnic, political. And there’s a dispiriting cynicism in the way the game is played (nothing new, whenever I see the perpetrator of a blatant foul turning to the ref with an expression of affronted innocence, I think of Leeds’ Allan ‘Sniffer’ Clarke).
Yet, despite all that, there’s something wonderful about it all. The experience of being at a match (Premier league, championship or Sunday junior league) is unlike anything else I do. If I’m at a gig, probably the closest thing, where one is caught up in the collective experience, responding emotionally and vocally to what’s happening on stage, still, I know that it’s not going to end with the band I’ve come to see being humiliated and defeated. Every football match presents that possibility.
And all of the above is why Hillsborough is seared into my soul. I wasn’t there. But I stood in my kitchen, just across the valley, watching Grandstand, trying to figure out what was happening. And later, watching as the death toll crept higher and higher. And then hearing the way the narrative twisted – so soon – into the familiar territory of blame. I wasn’t there but it haunted me, and still does. Because it sums up what British football had become – the adversarial policing, the pens that crushed the life out of so many, and the contempt for the fans that allowed the lies to be believed, in the face of all the evidence, for so long.
I do feel some nostalgia for the days when I stood on the Trent End. It is so much safer now, so much tamer. And I’m glad of that, even whilst I feel the loss of the visceral excitement that was part of the experience then. Because that’s forever associated with the reasons I stopped going to matches. And, overwhelmingly, with 96 football supporters who never got home after the match, and the families who’ve had to fight for 25 years for the truth of what happened .
Can we find a middle ground? Can football be family friendly, safe, without being bloodless and corporate? The contradictions will always be there, I think. And I will always have this ambivalent relationship with the beautiful game but will be – can’t help it, couldn’t change it if I wanted to – Forest till I die …
Danny Rhodes, Fan, Arcadia Books, 2014