Auld Acquaintance

A pair of cagey, scowling draws—in their stoic way, the epitome of a whole year’s football.

2015: it wasn’t so much Forest’s annus horibilis (surely, that’ll be 2005, forever), but more our annus odiosis.  Even in its fleeting highs, it was plain, and it was practical.  Grimly effective, when it worked—brittle and brutal, when it didn’t.  The Leeds and Cardiff games were no different, and the shapeless un-week between Christmas and New Year’s was the perfect stage for them: a week when time loses all meaning, and you’re full of cheese, and football matches are played on Sunday evenings.  All very bloated; all very pffff.

We were open once, and we were punished for it.  It changed us.  Now,
we’re a skittish spinster—uptight, timid, and loveless—and it’s been that way since Brentford; since Dougie’s solemn, wounded vow, to not get fooled again.  38% possession, two holding midfielders, and a back four that—to quote Russell Slade—“would need snorkels if it was any deeper.”
Henri Lansbury cuts an especially tragic figure; like the world-weary sax-man doing ‘Baker Street’ outside of Primark, you know that he’s better than this.  You wonder what he could have been, and what he might still be, as he knocks his six yard passes left and right, left and right.

Once, there’d have been outrage.  We were miles better than this under O’Driscoll, after all, and he lost his job.  Yet the fans seem to get it, in a way that I didn’t think we would, or could.  It’s as if we’ll allow this denigration of The Forest Way, for now, so long as it’s allied to results, and a definable trajectory.  So long as it helps us to navigate this peculiar season, this bald and blasted tundra, and come out the other side—fitter, braver, and better.

So long as there’s something worth waiting for, at the end of it all.  Something that looks and acts and feels like a Nottingham Forest team should.  That’s the deal.

It’s grim; Jesus, is it ever grim.  But we’re getting there.  Slowly, and deliberately, we’re getting there.

That’s all I can hope for—all any of us can, on this, the first day of 2016.  Hope—it puts these stark and Spartan times in their own useful place, as we imagine a Forest beyond injuries, and embargos, and this weird, wasted season.  Hope—that one day soon, there’ll be a dynamic, forward-thinking Forest, playing cultured football, in front of a brimming City Ground.  A Forest who’ve finally grown up, and learned their lessons.

Let’s be honest: it could have been so much worse than this.  For a club that’s spent years making the wrong choices, and that also happens to be so powerfully unlucky—in the wrong hands, 2015 could have been a disaster.  In the circumstances, and for all the high-piled shite there’s been to contend with, we’ve done well just to look ordinary.  Forest aren’t pretty these days, and they’re rarely clever.  But finally, at least, they’re stable.  Numbingly stable… but then for years, watching them lurch from plan to half-arsed plan, stability was all we ever wanted.

If Forest were a band, we’d be The Ramones.  Lean, mean, and artless, we come to life in three-minute bursts.  It all looks the same, it all sounds the same… but sometimes, it does the job.  And for now, I can live with that.

So chins up for 2016.  It’s grim, it’s hard, and nothing’s likely to change… not this season, at least.  The victories, when they come, will be like the victories in 2015—from Boro and Bournemouth in the spring, to Derby in the autumn, to Fulham and MK in the past few weeks.  They’ll be feats of concentration—matches won through maths and method, science and systems, as Forest keep on gulping down their medicine, and the lessons continue to be learned.

As it stands, we’re in danger of keeping the same manager for a full calendar year.  Freedman and Forest—we met at our lowest ebbs, two lost souls in life’s big disco, and slowly, slowly, we’re recovering together.  There’s limits, you’d thing, to what it can ever be… but whenever we part, this year or next, I’d like to think we’ll both be in better shape.  Dougie, a little less toxic; Forest, a little more fixed.  And after that, when our paths cross in the future, perhaps we can both share a smile—knowing that our time had its place, and its value, and that it wasn’t that bad, after all.

forest16150 years?  Again:  pfff.  What exactly did we expect—for the stars to align, and for Forest to suddenly, cosmically be everything they haven’t been, for twenty years?  No; we’ve had our miracles, and for those of us who weren’t lucky enough to see them in person, this season is an emphatically Forest kind of birthday.  It couldn’t be owt else.  A sesquicentennial spent keeping our heads just above water, whilst Leicester are top of the league, and Derby are getting quietly promoted.  Attritional football, with no real room for manoeuvre, played out in front of 10,000 empty seats.  A season where the best thing about the club has been a film, made by a Cardiff fan.

It’s Nottingham Forest, to a tee… or the Forest I’ve grown up with, at any rate.  Maybe we’ll have our shit together by 2065.  In the meantime, I’ll take this crap—the embargo, the anti-football, and all the swirling nonsense—just so long as we’re learning.  So long as we emerge from this savage year, having answered the bigger questions about style, and strategy, and spirit, and exactly what kind of club it is that Forest want to be.

Will they learn?  Probably not.  They don’t, normally.  But if you can’t look forward now with good intentions—on the first day of a new year, when the whole world presses its big red reset button—when can you?

Happy New Year, my fellow Trickies.

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