A Thousand Cuts

“This club’s dying on its arse,” I said.

And Mick, who’s normally a picture of optimism, didn’t even look at me. With his mouth fixed tight, he just nodded.

“One thousand cuts,” he replied.

And nothing more.

What’d happened, minutes before, was this: trying to be better than he actually is, Armand Traoré had coughed up the ball at his own corner flag. It’s the sort of thing defenders do, when they come to your club on a free transfer, and haven’t played regular football in over a year.

The ball was crossed in to a Cardiff forward, who Thomas Lam should have been marking, but wasn’t, because he’d just gone barrelling fifty yards forwards and lost the ball. He did that because – and let’s be honest here – he’ll never, ever be a Championship centre half. He doesn’t seem to know any better.

None of Lam’s teammates had dropped in to cover him, because they’re all too young, or cheap, or new, and because none of them seem to know any better either. Twenty-seven goals in fourteen games says as much.

In a pinch, Stojković went for the ball feet-first. Goalkeepers will do that when they’re free, and when they’ve just spent two years playing in the Israeli league. It doesn’t make him bad – far from it. It’s just the nature of the beast. It’s what you get with cheap.

And the ball looped up off his knee, and slowly, gently, onto the head of Joe Ralls, and that made it 0-2. It was simple, and obvious, and dreadful.

Nobody talked. Stojković smacked the ball high into a sharp black night, back towards the halfway line. Red shirts were bunched there, in twos and threes; fists balled against their hips, breath pluming. Brooding, and silent – none of them talking.

And those thousand cuts; they wept. Blood, everywhere: from that bargain basement back five, slung together from Zwolle, and Haifa, and Toronto, and Villa’s reserves, and QPR’s reserves; from the abandoned Directors’ box; and from the stands, which aren’t just hyperbolically half-empty these days, but mathematically so. 16,500 people came on Saturday night. In four years, Forest have lost over 6,000 fans.

From the acres of bare red seats; gallons of thin blood.

And finally, clinchingly, from an argument between our two alleged talismen, a minutebritt into injury time. Henri and Britt, squabbling over who’d get to take a penalty, as precious seconds ebbed away. Lansbury prevailed, and took it, and scored. But then Britt skulked and idled back into position – wounded; hurt; televised – and it was the crowning absurdity in a night stuffed full of them: Cardiff City, 2-1 up away from home, moments away from escaping the bottom three, and having to wait on us for an entire, wasted minute.

Maybe it was ego. Maybe it was the goal bonus. But what a perfect metaphor it was for everything that Forest are these days. Another dispatch from the land of me, me, me.

Me – whether it’s Billy, or Britt, or Fawaz, or the scores of people in between. The ones who’ve come, and taken, and then disappeared.

“I’m upset,” they’ve all seemed to say, “and that’s what really matters here.”

Somebody asked me the other day why I haven’t written anything on Philippe Montanier.

Because there’s plenty I could say – about his character, and his philosophy, and the very laudable things he’s at least trying to get this Forest team to do.

The thing is, though – I just don’t see the point.

Because he’ll be gone, soon enough. We all know that – we’ve danced this dance before, with Sean O’Driscoll. He’s a long-term manager, trying to make his mark at a football club that demonstrably can’t see beyond the end of its own nose. A club where fire-fighting’s the only game in town, and where whoever replaces him – be it an Evans, or a Holloway, or a Robinson – will come up against the same immoveable problem: a marrow-deep sense of rot.

It’s toxic.

And it’s everywhere.

It’s players telling Forest fans to fuck off, as they head down the tunnel. It’s players arguing over who gets to take a penalty on the tele. It’s players who’ve spent their whole careers injured, getting – funnily enough – injured. It’s injuries that happen because the fitness regime changes every six fucking months, whensoever the coaching team’s replaced. It’s FIFA marathons at the man-child’s penthouse, and publicity trips to Kuwait, and any number of other things that distract young players from learning their trade. It’s young players who can’t be bothered learning their trade, even without those distractions. It’s people not getting paid. It’s local suppliers chasing payments. It’s players being sold behind the manager’s back, whenever things are looking halfway promising. It’s head scouts and directors of football and CEOs walking out the door; it’s lifelong Forest fans leaving dream jobs, and crossing the Trent to work at Notts, because somehow – inconceivably – it’s a better working environment over there. It’s those empty red seats – thousands and thousands of them. It’s the vacuum of leadership, on and off the pitch. It’s the court summons. It’s the death-spiral that we’re locked into, picking up pace year on year. 8th, 11th, 14th, 16th. £30m in the red. Then £50m. £75m. £120m.

It’s everywhere.

And we worry about Hildeberto Pereira at right back.

We complain about Montanier trying to play the kind of football Forest fans think they want, but with none of the right pieces. Liquid football, delivered by a gang of waifs, strays, and children.

And we celebrate the kind of grabby self-interest that Britt Assombalonga showed us on Saturday night. We defend it – some of us do, at least – by saying that it at least shows he cares.

If you say so.

Fawaz says he cares, too. Damp-eyed and open-palmed, whenever Nat Jackson tosses up the opportunity. And he’s believed – after all this time, incredibly, he’s still believed. Believed, by the people who continue to pepper him with the ‘boss’ and ‘gaffer’ and ‘Uncle Fawaz’ platitudes on social media. Believed, even when he says it’s not about the money, despite shoehorning his ‘investment’ into any conversation going.

An investment that he’s weaponised – one that he flaunts, every chance he gets, to prove his love. His worth. And it’s bollocks. It’s not an investment; it’s picking up the tab for mistake after self-inflicted mistake. An amount of money that would have been half of what it is today, if he’d only had the sense and the grace to let someone else play with this toy. An expert. Someone who knew.

It’d be half of what it is today, if he hadn’t clung quite so insistently on to his crown. If being ‘the boss’ hadn’t mattered to him quite so much.

And that’s why he’s in the hole. That’s why he’s selling. Dragged along in the slipstream of his impudence, and his impatience, and his own shitty choices, that’s why we’re in the hole.

So forgive me, if there’s no sympathy.

I’ve been angry with Fawaz plenty of times over the years, but never like this. It dialled up when suddenly, from nowhere, he started talking numbers: when suddenly, it was about the money. On Twitter, and on the tele: his passive aggressive digs, with their why-won’t-you-love-me? subtext.

I haven’t spent £100m on Forest, granted. But I’ve spent thousands, and I’ll wager those thousands represented a much bigger chunk of my income. I’ve watched Forest when I couldn’t afford to; I’ve begged and borrowed; I’ve gone without, plenty of times. I’m paying for my season ticket in instalments, for Christ’s sake. Because as we all know, it’s pricey business, watching a football team.

I’ve spent thousands, over the years. But I’ve never asked for any of it back.

I spent that money, understanding the simple truth that’s eluded Fawaz from day one: that in football, x rarely equals y. Money without intelligence – without the boring stuff; without a plan – is nothing. But then what’s the point of a strategy, when you can’t make a statue out of it? When you can’t show it off?

No one pats you on the back for a plan.

No one ever compliments you on the quiet stuff; the things that are happening in the background. The bones and muscles and ligament of success. And that’s the problem. It’s always been the problem.

It takes strength to listen. Strength to think, and strength to share. And in those regards, Nottingham Forest – in what they are, and how they’re run – are a profoundly weak football club.

So he wanted a legacy, and he’s got one. The legacy of a thousand cuts. The legacy of those empty seats. The legacy of a city’s worth of children who don’t give a toss about Forest; who’ve been failed by the football club they should have inherited. The legacy of seven managers, and God knows how many players. The legacy of a chaos you just can’t get excited about.

And worst of all, the legacy of a fanbase so tired, so shot-through with indifference, that the prospect of something like Red Bull Nottingham Forest is now a genuine, thought-worthy, on-the-table thing. A point for discussion. It wouldn’t have been, once upon a time… but it is now. And that’s because of you, Fawaz, and because it’s not you. It’s anyone but you, at this point. Hell, even Mussolini made the trains run on time. No one cares anymore. They’re just tired.

So let the Trent run red, as those cuts widen. This thing will probably get worse before it gets better. Let us bleed out, and let the owner claw back as many of his spaffed millions as he can. Let him negotiate, and demand, and stamp his feet, and cling on for the dimly reflected glory if one day – by some happy, stupid accident – it all goes right. Let him have his salary, and his 20%.

Let all of that happen. Give the man everything he wants, except the love that he needs.

And dream of a day instead when once again, people – players, managers, owners – are serving the name and the heritage of Nottingham Forest, and not the other way round.

Because that’ll mean we’ve healed.

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51 thoughts on “A Thousand Cuts

      • Well what can I say but “the truth hurts” but it’s hurting us proper reds fans who love the club and bleed forest.

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    • Incredible title and the content flows like the blood of a thousand cuts.
      It seems like an age but he will go and we will heal .
      And when we do the fans will return and the buzz will be all the more special because of the blood lost -especially for those of us who have spent our hard earned thousands !

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  1. Great read – best line that sums it up for me “It’s not an investment; it’s picking up the tab for mistake after self-inflicted mistake.”

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  2. I have read many many powerful pieces about the state we are in over recent times. This however tops the lot; a superb painting of a very bleak picture indeed. Thank you

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  3. Like this so much – because it’s painfully true and reflective of precisely what I feel – not because I like what it really means for our club, of course.

    I gave up my season ticket the year before last when, once again, we were being asked to move seats for no sensible reason. 3 ST holders but one of them a junior. Part of the lost generation you’ve described because, 18 months down the line, she doesn’t care anymore. She doesn’t miss it.

    And sadly, neither do I.

    I hope that changes.

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  4. Wow.

    As a Forest fan living on the south coast this has summed the past few years up perfectly.

    Not only one of the best articles about Forest I’ve read but about football anywhere.

    Sublime.

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  5. Came across this article on a link for JA606 and was hooked.

    Not come to gloat at all – just to sympathise. This excellent article sums up what it is to be a proper football fan seeing the club he loves disappear down the pan of mediocrity. And what’s more it could happen to any one of us. At present my club Leicester City is riding high and have seemingly struck the jackpot with foreign owners who apparently care and are willing to appoint qualified people to jobs and more to the point let them get on with their work with minimal interference.

    But – and it is a big but – I am fully aware that things can change in an instant. They could get bored. They could sell to a Fawaz-like character or similar, or their egos could get the better of them and delusions of grandeur could set in and they expect to win the league every year. Managers sacked. So-called BIG NAMES brought in. Relegation. Cut-backs. Money promised not delivered. Financial ruin.

    We Leicester fans may be glorying in our current triumphs and laughing at Forest’s downward spiral on the pitch, but I am certain all proper fans are horrified by what is going on at the City Ground off the pitch. I genuinely hope you manage to rid yourselves of Fawaz quickly and completely and you find an honest and respectable replacement who is prepared to invest a few quid to see you at least stabilise and then build a future the fans can be proud of.

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  6. A darkly resonant read. One of those odd things where you nod your head agreeing with what you’ve read whilst at the same time trying to shake it, because you simply can’t believe it came to this.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great article. Sums up Forest continuing to miss entire generation of kids that would rather support teams who they’ll only ever see on Match of the Day. Everything Forest have stood for will eventually be recited by past fans at Christmas dinner when youngsters ask why we ever supported the club.

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  8. This is a stunning piece of writing – it really evocatively encapsulates my thoughts and fears as a long serving Forest fan – you have put this into words in a way that I could only dream of having the capability of doing so, Whilst I obviously wish the content were more celebratory, the bleakness and self inflicted damage that Fawaz continues to make is really poetically and succinctly put in this piece of writing, helps people understand the frustrations of the current regime and the scenario we find ourselves in.

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  9. Amazing! Totally sums it all up. How many other clubs do you have where fans want to buy things or invest in the club through things like buying a new kit or training top for their kids but can’t because the club is run so badly! I’m sick of being a joke and treated like a fool. #fawazout

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  10. What a fantastic read that was. Everything wrong with our club encapsulated into a 5 minute read. It’s sad but at the same time good to know we’re all in it together year on year, failure after failure, disappointment after disappointment.
    One day the Sun will shine again over the City Ground, You Reds

    Liked by 1 person

  11. An excellent summary of the current situation. We fans must continue to support the 11 players in the Garibaldi – while the off pitch circus continues. By leaving the seats empty and by failing to support the 11 guys on the pitch, we are hastening the decline. COYR.

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  12. Superb article Phil, perfectly encapsulates every thought that’s been gathering momentum in my head these last few months. I’ll be sharing this with as many Forest fans as I possibly can.

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  13. I realise it wont help at all but to a certain extent we’ve suffered a similar fate during the Ashley, no interest in the cups, buy young to sell on, appoint cheap f’wits as managers era. It’s never fair because we fans have done nothing wrong yet some cnut comes along and does everything we would never do to our beloved club simply because he can.

    The only thing I can say is it has to get really bad before it changes. Maybe this is as bad as it gets for Forest ?

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  14. Depressing but accurate. I didn’t even feel this bad about the club when we were in League One. Like you say, there a sense of indifference almost creeping in. Living in Belgium, I have for years fed on scraps of information, growing in quantity of course in the last decades, with the internet. Not a day used to go by that I didn’t read about Forest or contribute to the mailing list I am a member of. But lately I can’t be bothered half the time. I don’t even feel like popping over for a game at my beloved City Ground. I feel really bad about it but I can’t help it. Some weeks ago another article mentioned ‘former European Cup winners’. It used to make me proud to read that. Now I wonder every time if it’s not sarcasm on the writer’s part. From a lifelong Belgian Red, thanks for this. You have summed up how many, perhaps most of us feel.

    You Reds!

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  15. I can remember many more fiasco’s (mainly behind the scenes) since I began my love of Nottingham Forest ‘ They come from after the Carey era,The Irving Scholer era and sometimes during the Doughty reign but nothing is as downright depressing and all enveloping as the time we supporters are enduring now. Trouble is I just can’t stop loving my club so I continue to go home and away with hope and try to give my positive vibes to those wearing the Garibaldi………..mostly to no avail.
    Phil, you have succinctly shared my, no our true Forest fan’s pain and I thank you for sharing it with us. It is a dull ache from deep inside that just will not leave us whilst this regime treats our Great Club as a sabbuteo set, a play thing that is their ego trip. And it is not just Fawaz, there are people around him that are feeding poor advice and it seems he believes them. Decent football people have come and quickly gone under this coterie of fools because the Fawaz ‘mafia’ will not listen except to themselves.

    I believe the root of our and other great clubs’ problems is the Premier league. That league is all about money and it has spread its message throughout the world thus encouraging the Tan’s,Fawaz’s and Ashley’s et al to join the gold rush. BUT that gold rush gets further away from Forest,Sheffield Utd, Bolton etc. as the money piles into one league whilst the Football league scrabbles around for the scraps and is mismanaged and wastes precious money on things like re-branding…… EFL??!!

    Like you Phil I want to believe that Forest WILL rise from the ashes but it will take much hard work from rich caring and football/sport minded people.

    No matter what though, my season ticket seat will not be bleeding red for my posterior will always be there.

    Thank you again for your article sad though it be.

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  16. Brilliant, emotive writing. Having lived Down Under for the past three years it’s been sad to watch this painful decline accelerate from afar. Let’s hope he can finally accept his failure and move on before we’re back in the third tier again.

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  17. Brilliantly written piece , you could change the subject to my team Bolton and it would fit perfectly although we would never claim to be a club with the stature of Forest it still hurts.

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  18. Great piece, Phil. While it was not your intention, nor are the parallels exact, it seems to me your critique of narcissism within NFFC applies just as well to current economic and political life. Self-interest rather than civic duty now rules the day.

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  19. As a Leeds season ticket holder, this could have been written about my club with the obvious references adapted accordingly…

    It’s a desperate feeling, that ultimately you feel powerless to do anything about.

    Leeds have been the kings of short-termism for as long as I can remember, that’s why, although Mr Cellino seems to have stumbled upon a decent formula of late (more by fortune that design I think) you can’t help feeling that you’re one mad outburst away from oblivion!

    Garry Monk will rightly start to gain plaudits for the work he is doing at Leeds but God knows how Cellino will react if he’s more popular that our crazy owner.

    I feel for you all… the Football League have a lot to answer for, they seem far more willing to deduct points from teams than react against “fit & proper” owners…

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  20. What a wonderful piece. Feel bad for Forest, just another prestigious piece of English football sold to a tosser.
    I hope things get better for the fans sake.
    From a QPR fan.

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  21. Superb piece of writing.
    I am a QPR fan and, as others have said already, this could apply to some of our recent history (Flávio Briatore and Bernie Ecclestone’s ownership for instance).
    The game – and it is ultimately a game at heart, not a business – is becoming ever more grotesque. Run by megalomaniacs, policed by spineless incompetents, played by shameless self-aggrandising cheats.
    And us fans still invest our wages, time and tears into it all.
    Good luck ousting your current nutjob.

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  22. What a great and insightful artical. As an Ipswich fan I can fully related to your pain. I’ve followed ipswich since the FA cup days and had a season ticket for 25 years but I’ve decided to stop going in the last few weeks. My 4 tickets can sit in the draw gathering dust, as neither I nor the kids have any interest in watching the dreadful stuff McCarthy serves up. That may improve if the owner had any ambition or didn’t just want us as a tax offset for his real business interests. Alas that is a very unlikely outcome and we’re stuck with him.
    If someone had told me back in the 70s that clubs like us & Forest along with dirty Leeds would all be in the doldrums with egotistical owners who don’t care what real fans think, whilst watford swansea palace & leicester would all be swanning it up in the top division I would have sent them for help.
    It’s our AGM tonight and I’m sure it will be the same nonsense from the happy clappy head in the sand fans patting the manager & the chief executive on the back, telling them what a great job they are doing.
    Personally I would rather us start again in fan ownership in the non league than have another season of this dross.
    I hope you get a decent owner and get yourselves sorted. You’re a great club that is clearly very badly run. Good luck!

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  23. As a Norwich supporter who has lived in Nottingham and watched both Forest and County in the past am appalled but not surprised in what is actually happening not only to you but other sides as well – great to see supporters of other sides showing sympathy, however we all know that it is only time before greed and money come visiting our clubs. Like a drug addict having to reach rock bottom, football must also do so. Football must be self financing without the sugar daddies using the sport as à toy, players on à sensible wage, have watched football for over 50 years and have never been less motivated.

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  24. Puts my own team’s plight into perspective. (Villa and we could only manage a point against you!) Love the city(Used to be a Poly student in the 80’s) and would love to see you heading in the right direction. Here’s to better times.

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  25. It’s just football, does it really matter, Nott’m Forest will have their natural level above which they will sometimes rise and below which they will seldom fall, that’s how it is for all clubs now the owners are all important.

    Football is not a sport it’s finished in that regard it’s now big business and it’s not worth getting upset about.

    Yours an ex Leeds fan of many many years.

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  26. This piece is spot on for football fans everywhere. As a supporter of a rival, NCFC, but the one 100 miles east where, on the fans messageboard, a fair number are unhappy with being in the top two or six and asking for managerial, and in the past, ownership change. They should be careful what they wish for. The sense of entitlement with football supporters amazes me year on year. Only one team can win a league each season. What is important is that the supporters feel connected to the club and the next generation is taken care of. In our case, Delia may be limited in funds but she is a true supporter, not someone looking for a vanity project. The lost generation referred to is the tragedy here. As a kid of the 70s/80s, I have always had a soft spot for Forest and thanks to Cloughie and Panini can name THAT Forest team. Your time will come again, but none of us can say when?

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  27. One of the best things I have read on a blog for ages. It capsulated all the things wrong with football these days and really struck a chord with me. I have an affinity for Forest that goes back years. I am a Middlesbrough supporter and my story goes back to the 80″s. My best mates brother was a belting centre forward and his father knew Cloughie well coming from the same town. He signed apprentice forms for Forest in what was a golden period for them, culminating in the European Cup Final v Malmo in Munich. Me and my 5 mates followed Boro home and away and God it was hard work, we had a chairman who wouldn’t spend a penny on players and invariably we sold all our best players (Graeme Souness, Craig Johnston and Mark Proctor remember him, amongst many others). Anyway we are sat in the pub one day when my best mate says his brother can get us all tickets for the final in Munich. Please understand, at this point we had never made a Cup Final of any description in our history and we couldn’t see us making one in the foreseeable future, we all jumped at the chance. It was a great experience and even though Forest weren’t our team we still felt pride in an English team making the final and joined in with the Forest fans. I have always had a soft spot for Forest ever since, they are what I would call a proper club.
    The reason I write is that currently we are back in the Premier League, we have only won one game this season and people are already bitching and moaning about our style of play, me included. Reading this article really hit home with me, we have a chairman (Steve Gibson) from our local town who has poured millions of his own money into the club during the last 20 years, he is a wealthy man but no billionaire, he has never asked for a penny back and shuns any media attention.
    This article has put me back on the straight and narrow, the grass isn’t always greener and you should be careful what you wish for.
    I hope this night mare ends and you get somebody decent to take over, best wishes for the future, hang in there, there are better times are ahead.

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  28. A great piece.Makes sad reading but unfortunately this is the way ” modern football” has gone.i speak from bitter experience myself.i was in the away end for this game(.ive always enjoyed coming to Forest.A Club I greatly admire).
    My Club Cardiff City still have the James Bond villain Mr Tan who has overseen a lose of over ten thousand fans in the past 3 years.
    When will these foreign owners learn?
    Sometimes we all have to take two steps back to take a step forward.
    I hope that your rotten owner soon sells to someone with Forest blood in their veins.Best of luck in the future.

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  29. I’m not sure how I ended up reading this, but I’m glad I did. I can’t describe myself as a football fan anymore. I don’t watch it live, I very rarely watch it on telly, I don’t care who wins or loses. Through my childhood and into my thirties I was a Portsmouth fan, Pompey through and through. But that started when they were in the fourth division, and you knew people who knew players. It was literally years before I managed to actually see them win in the flesh. Then it was the journey up, the buzz of big matches…. and the succession of milking owners.

    We’re back in the 4th tier now. I still say “we” even though I don’t even look at their results anymore. I’ve found sports to follow where I have much more respect and admiration for those taking part than I can possibly muster for players today. I mourn my loss of football, my inability to pass the love I once had for it onto my sons. There was a tipping point, when I started to wish for it to all go wrong for them, so I could follow them down and see them built up again, but I couldn’t do it. I should have kept the faith – they’re a club worth supporting now – but the muck of football had soiled my love too much.

    So… keep the faith, keep on keeping on. It will be worth it.

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  30. What a fantastic piece of writing. Obviously we Derby fans like to “hate” Forest, as you do us, but the Midlands needs a strong Forest and there’s no games more enjoyable than the local derbies between us. So, putting rivalry aside, it’s easy (and right) for any genuine, sensible fan of the beautiful game to empathise. Like the Leeds, Leicester, & Ipswich fans say, we’ve been there and, as you hope, one day it will get better. The sad thing is that the fortunes of these great clubs can be controlled by one wealthy prick who doesn’t give a toss about the history, or about the fans, only about his own ego and/or his bank balance.

    Oh, and keep on writing – that article is as passionate and eloquent as Fever Pitch.

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  31. A great piece but how sad that so many comments say that this could have been written about their clubs too
    The wrong people are in football for the wrong reasons But I believe that eventually a League will emerge of cubs that want to represent their communities like they once did. This will be far removed from the premier league which will be part of some greater European super club league playing to corporates and empty stadium but financed through TV revenue. hopefully this happens quickly and the real fan can get their clubs back.

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  32. I’m a Derby fan and should be gloating big time reading this but I have that nervous reservation that this could be the outcome of that other club on the west side of the M1. I hate when big time Charlies make false promises and deliver nothing, Blackpool, Leeds and Portsmouth spring to mind so I’ll leave my local rivalry to when we meet you guys home and away and not make it any more than that.

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  33. Pingback: Well, that’s 3 in a row… | Garibaldi Tinted Spectacles

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