It’s hard to spoil a Friday afternoon in California.
Hard – but not impossible.
Six days ago, I was hiking in Yosemite. And in that seat of perfect nature, beneath a wild, too-blue sky, standing at the feet of hills and mountains almost too tall to comprehend, all I could really think about was this: where can I find some Wi-Fi?
Just to make sure. To know that yes, Forest had lost at Brighton; that yes, we’d gone one up top; that yes, we’d picked up where we’d left off, carrying over that same artless pap from last season.
To know that a three month break had in fact solved nothing at all.
You do this when you’re abroad, and not because you want to. You want to keep football as far away as work, and problems, and people, but insistently it dials itself in, blaring on its own idiot frequency. The large and pressing sense that somewhere else – in a world you don’t like, but better understand – something significant is probably happening.
Finally, in the car park, I got some signal.
And lo, things were exactly as I thought they’d be.
I always find it a bit strange, just seeing the score of a Forest game, without knowing the story behind it. It’s too clinical – outside of any context, and with an infinite number of blanks to fill in, you can’t mitigate in any particular direction. All you’ve got is a pair of numbers… and for the briefest of moments, those numbers confront you with the absolute pointlessness of football. Because it really is just that – some numbers. It’s the same when you watch a game pissed – only then does it soften, and become halfway sensible. Suddenly, you understand that it’s just teenagers trying to get a ball into a rectangle. That, literally, is it. You see how much thinking and talking and worrying goes into the whole rotten business, and it’s terrible, and it’s weird, but more than that… it’s funny.
As modern managers are wont to say: we go again.
Two games, two defeats (albeit one to Walsall, which is so predictable, it barely warrants mention). Out of the Cup, and under embargo. A club run by a wide-eyed man-child, and a manager who got the job by dint of being the only person to apply for it.
A more profound and pointed sense of unenthusiasm, I can barely remember. Truly, football is back.
The club feels hungover. Right now, there’s something heavily sour about the place – a scowling, hundred-toothed funk, not based on any one thing, but bigger and stronger than any of its component parts. There’s the summer of ‘98 in there, and the Platt years, and whatever was allowed to become of Hart’s team, and almost any interview Joe Kinnear ever did, and Darryl Powell, and Megson, and League 1… all the way through to Verhoek, and the riots, and the Winding-Up Petitions, and George Boyd’s eyeballs, and the seismic trauma of Stuart Pearce. So much of it, spread so wide: none of it terminal in its own right, but bring it all together, understand the size and the nature of this composite gloom, and it explains where we’re at.
As Springsteen said: you end up like a dog that’s been beat too much.
The wick is burning inch by inch on this powder keg of a football club. Forest, it seems, have finally snookered themselves. Is this the season that the dice rolls itself out? Is this our – or Fawaz’ – endgame? I’m not sure. All I know is that you can only punch holes in your own boat for so long.
But for now, on to Rotherham. My first game of the season tomorrow.
We go again.