I realised something when I was on holiday, and it scared me.
Namely, that after four long years, and all of those temple-rubbing embarrassments – from the High Court summons, to George Boyd’s eye test, and everything else that’s happened in between – I was actively hoping that a man who may or may not be an arsonist would buy my football club.
Genuinely, hoping for it. And he still might, and that’s still ok with me. This man, who’s currently embroiled in one of the biggest corruption trials in the history of Greek sport; this man, who has to report to a police station every fifteen days.
And bear in mind, that’s in Greece. The Allen Stanford of countries. Even by their standards, Evangelis Marinakis is a bit rum.
But he’s still not Fawaz.
And somehow – loosely – that’s enough for me.
It’s Sunday afternoon, and I’m on the sofa, and I get a text from my mate Sean. He was over on Saturday for a Bandy & Shinty meeting, and he brought some cakes with him. He left his daughter’s Tupperware box in the kitchen, and he needs it back.
I tell him I’ll bring it with me, the next time I see him. I also tell him that my wife finished the cakes, and that she loved them.
“Lol,” he replies. “Nice to hear something positive, after the sale of Burke. Gutted would be an understatement 😦 ”
It’s Sunday afternoon, and I’m on the sofa, and now I’m staring – in heavy silence – at my phone. For a few seconds, I don’t even move.
Then I put it down, and I check BBC Sport. And there it is. Winger Burke joins Red Bull Leipzig for £13m.
For fuck’s sake, Forest.
For fuck’s sake.
I never thought we’d sell Stan. More than that – I couldn’t ever understand why he’d want to go.
We’ll all experience it in our lives – that point when someone just doesn’t want to be with us anymore. No matter what you think you can offer them, and no matter what you might say; you’re just not enough. Not anymore.
When we sold him – or rather, when Stan finally got his way – I remember feeling a profound and very personal sense of rejection. It was to the Scouse, for one thing; the bigger, more popular boy, and (I’ll admit this, through gritted teeth) an inarguable step up in anyone’s football life.
But it was more than that.
It was that we’d made him.
That was the crux of it. That, and that first emphatic statement of fact – for me, at least – of where Forest fit, in the food chain. None of it seemed fair. But there was no point complaining about it – it simply was. Southend fans were probably singing that same song, two years previously.
But it’s different when it’s you. These were my first years as a Forest fan, and Stan was the first one I ever saw become something. Not like Keane, or Des, or Nigel, or Pearce – they were here already. I’d inherited them. But Stan… from the moment he scored that goal at Bolton, the kind of rangy, gliding goal that normal footballers don’t and can’t score, we knew that he was different. That he was inexpressibly more than the other, normal footballers. The dullards, bogged down in their own obvious limitations. Stanley Victor Collymore was a hero.
He played the game like it was last goal wins, forever. That’s why he was loved so instantly, and why – in so many quarters, although I can’t quite see it myself – he remains loved. Trusted, and acknowledged, and adored. When someone makes you feel that way, that often… what else is there, but love?
It’s Monday now, the morning after the night before, and I’ve woken up feeling sad. Conflicted. Forest have sold a teenager with ten decent games under his belt for £13m. Creating our own players and shifting them on for huge profits is exactly what a club like ours needs to be doing; it’s what we’ve all been advocating, as we cast a jealous glance at the Swanseas and Southamptons of this world. And it’s what football is, now; you grow a lad from the age of eight, he plays a handful of games in the first team, scores a couple of goals, and then he’s off to a team sponsored by Red Bull, just because they offered cash up front.
But that’s where it starts getting grubby.
And that’s what I’m angry about. Not the sale… but the reasoning behind it.
The circumstances, and the panicky sense of opportunism that’s pervaded things ever since the Burton game. The gathering talk, in and around the club – every word of it pointing precisely to this bone-headed outcome. The attempt to alchemise this all in to some sense of ‘strategy’, or ‘plan’. And yeah, selfishly, I’m angry that we couldn’t even eek a full calendar year from one of the only players worth watching in these Spartan, joyless years; just as we couldn’t Patrick Bamford, or Michail Antonio.
I’m angry that with sweaty palms and a pounding heart, we cashed in so instantly on a player who’s about 25% of the footballer he’s going to become.
I’m angry for Phillippe Montanier, who in the space of a month’s football has already shown himself to be far too intelligent a man to manage Nottingham Forest; who’s had to stand in front of cameras, stating the bleeding obvious about what Burke and the club need right now, who’s had his “assurances”, and who’s now having those same words stuffed back down his throat, because… that’s football. And that’s Forest. More fool you for expecting otherwise. It’s how we roll here.
And most of all, I’m angry for what it means, going forward: another confirmation – if more were needed – that any Forest player worth watching will be plucked away from us within a year. Just because we don’t have the brains, the bollocks or the business sense to stop it from happening, or at least to milk it; because of what we are these days, and because of the dead-end we’ve delivered ourselves into. A sentencing, for all the high-piled stupidities of Forest in the 21st Century. It’s not even discretionary, anymore; it’s just an inarguable expression of The Way Things Are. The process.
Don’t like it? Move to Leipzig.
On Saturday, as Oliver wriggled past one, two, three players, as he lumped another couple of million on his (then) hypothetical price tag, as people cheered and clapped and laughed at the sheer impudence of that goal, I found myself thinking only one thing: goodbye.
Because it was just so obvious. It’s what we do – with no grasp of timing, or perspective. With no bottle, and with our eyes shut firmly to the future. It’s the calling card of Nottingham Forest, and it has been for years.
Take a look around. People have been smiling again. You’ve been smiling again. Watching Forest play this kind of football, with three or four of our own at the very heart of it… it’s felt something like a football club again. For the first time in years, and almost by happy accident, we’ve looked a bit like Forest – the Forest most of us grew up with, and the one we assumed was gone for good.
But it’s hard to smile about a football club – let alone believe in it – where anything nice, anything worth watching, is going to be taken away as soon as it whispers its worth. When it’s inevitably hawked by a regime that knows the cost of everything, and the value of nothing – parceled off to some place where they’re more focused on the actual business of winning. Of growth, and glory.
Where they’re focused on those things, but only because they can (quite literally) afford to focus. Because of an energy drink. Meanwhile, down in the trenches, there’s the rest of us: scrabbling around with our owner-idiots, and flogging off the family silver, because there’s unpaid tax bills to sort out, and FFP regulations that change with the weather, and angry creditors, and big teles, and the rest of Dexter Blackstock’s contract to cover. There’s mistakes to pay for. And the combined costs of those mistakes are more pressing, more urgent and more compelling than anything as trivial as watching a young man in a red shirt turn into a footballer, as he plays the game in a way that actually befits the traditions of Nottingham Forest.
And you have to ask yourself – what, actually, is the point? Why bother when it’s like this, with no real hope of change? How excited can you get about a balance sheet; a nugget chipped off the face of a mountain’s debt?
So off you go, Oliver. At the first offer of big money, in a move that doesn’t make sense, to a club that shouldn’t even exist. In the meantime, we’ll just choke it down, and shift our attention to Matty Cash. More performances like Wigan, and it’ll be his turn soon enough. Here in Forest’s holding pen of mediocrity, touched once a decade by accidental brilliance – where there never was and never will be any interest in creating anything. Just flogging, and fumbling; waiting for the next star to shine in amongst the galaxy of Clingans, and Mackies, and Wards. The ordinary ones.
This is what happens, in a world where players are assets, and when traditions are reshaped around financial imperatives. Where you yourself talk about Doing Things Properly, and then spend your whole summer waiting and hoping for your knight in shining armour, who’s very possibly a crook.
And it’s just desperate.
Fawaz was on Twitter last night, doing his thing. The wide-eyed, open-palmed platitudes. He said he understood the disappointment. He said he’d feel the same, if he was in our shoes.
Oh, Fazza. If you only knew how heavy those shoes feel.
If you only knew how uncomfortably you’ve made them fit.