Too much fucking perspective.
Forget FFP for a second, and Fawaz, and Danny Fox, and manager after failed manager: they’re just symptoms of a larger truth. They’ll pass in time, and be replaced with some fresh hell or other: such is football, and such is life.
No – we are self-aware, almost debilitating so, and that, to me, is our problem. There’s perspective, and then there’s too much fucking perspective, and that’s where we find ourselves. Marooned, and grasping.
Leicester don’t have these crises of the self: they aren’t saddled with any rules or expectations of what their club should be. Nor do Southampton, Stoke, or Bournemouth. Man City spent years Not Being United… but happily abandoned their higher ground, that underdog shtick, the second they had the resources to actually compete with them.
Compare the Arsenals of 1995, and 2015 – they’re positively schizophrenic. And Watford? They turned themselves overnight into Udinese’s reserves, just for a lick of that golden spoon… and hey ho, it’s worked.
Forest – as a club; as a fanbase – are hugely self-aware, and that’s been the driver for almost every half-arsed plan we’ve undertaken in the past two decades. We’re always trying to recapture, rather than create; to get back to something. We’re tugged one way and another by the guiding principles of a distant age, and a different time.
We work to the rigid myth of ‘the Forest way’, something last seen alive in 1994.
When you’ve got a past as remarkable and as resonant as ours, it almost can’t be helped. Trapped in the long and stretching shadow of your own success, you’re fated to it. They’re always there – The Good Times – and they condition everything. As long as I’ve been following Forest, we’ve had a committed sense of our own ‘otherness’, and whilst every fan in the land reckons their team’s a bit special, and a bit different, we are sincerely a one-off. We’re not just a fairy tale – we are the fairy tale. Capital F, Capital T. The legend of who we were and what we did will keep on doing the rounds, so long as football is being played, and so long as people are wont to discuss What’s Gone Wrong With It.
People talk about that era, write books about it, and make films about it, because it was extraordinary. Extraordinary, because it was anomalous – something that comes along once in a lifetime. It’s a story – a great story – but like all stories it has a beginning, and an end. What it wasn’t was a blueprint. Those days relied on too precise a combination of circumstance and personality, to exist anywhere (or anywhen) else.
Our otherness is a part of our magic… but it’s a part of our problem, too. We have memories, and the dusty, shapeless pride that comes with them. Those who weren’t around – like me – have been inculcated into it, inheriting the same codes, and the same standards. You can hear it in every pub, every “Cloughie wouldn’t have done such and such”, every phone-in, every Daz from Ilson who doesn’t go any more, granted, hasn’t gone since the eighties, but still reckons Pearce should have had more time. Because he was a legend. Because he was a character in that story. We have an enshrined taste for good and bad, an instinctive sense of right and wrong, and it’s so prescriptive you can almost touch it.
The problem is, those criteria are now some thirty years removed.
Every other club that self-identifies as ‘special’ can do it in real time. Newcastle supporters, for example… they can always compensate themselves with being the Best Fans In The Country™, from The Hotbed of Football™. Leeds have all their gleeful villainy, and will hang onto it whatever league they’re in (honestly, could Cellino really own any other club?). Millwall have got their pervasive sense of threat, which has never changed, and probably never will. Liverpool are held, always, as better; they can rely on a continued rimming from their cheerleaders in the press to reinforce the point, lest any of us dare to forget. Cheating, violence, or pathological self-regard… it’s in the marrow of these clubs, and it exists beyond any particular manager, any set of players, and any given time. It isn’t time-bound, and it isn’t circumstantial – it’s there in their DNA.
But Forest? We have a past – a trenchant sense of what the club should be, propped up on decades-old stories, traditions, and principles. We’ve collected those beliefs together, forged them into a cast-iron narrative, and now we use it to wallop over the head any executive or manager or player who deviates from the agreed sense of what Nottingham Forest should look like. Argue otherwise, and it’s only because you’ve got lower standards.
What price principles, when you’re constantly tripping over them? When they’re inhibiting you, and making an enemy of your own future? When they make your mind up for you, emphatically and at the earliest possible point, so that there’s no coming back?
“I’ve said it since the day he started,” someone was yapping, at half time in the Charlton game. “Dougie’s problem is, he’s just not a Forest manager.”
He didn’t qualify it. And he didn’t need to.