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02/03: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 01/03/03, 3.00pm
Nottingham Forest
And so it goes...
By Ian Grant

"...And so it goes and so it goes...and the book says, 'We may be through with the past, but the past ain't through with us.'"
- "Magnolia" by Paul Thomas Anderson

My attitude to music is dogmatic, to say the least. Erratically so, for there's much less pleasure in being consistent than there is in being unfathomably inconsistent, but dogmatic nonetheless. In particular, I pride myself on a thoroughly stubborn refusal to submit to nostalgia, to fill my ears with the much-loved tunes of yesteryear.

Instead, my listening range is limited to a small bundle of recently-released CDs, each clinging on to a precarious existence for a few days, weeks or, in exceptional cases, months. After that, they'll be filed away on the shelves with everything else, and quite possibly never played again. At most, they can hope for a brief outing as part of a compilation tape for a friend. This, I fully realise, is not a terribly cost-effective way of enjoying music, especially when coupled with wilfully eccentric purchasing habits. But it makes me happy.

There's just one exception - Wire, whose vast output over the last twenty years continues to fascinate and intrigue regardless of familiarity. But even then, I'm far more interested in what's to come than what's been, and nothing would please me more than a live set without any of the "hits". It's daft, I know. Wasteful, even. But I can't help it. The next record is always the best record, the last record is already a (treasured, possibly) memory.

Yet, as the narrator of the utterly incomparable Magnolia says, we might be through with the past, but the past ain't through with us. And so, every now and again, you're caught off-guard. Sometimes, a friend mentions "Probably A Robbery" by Renegade Soundwave and, temporarily separated from your record collections, the two of you spend the next day attempting to remember all the lyrics. And you just have to dig it out when you get home. And it still sounds marvellous.

Sometimes, you're minding your own business on a Monday night, lounging about in front of "Never Mind The Buzzcocks" when you probably should be doing something more constructive. And suddenly, there's mid-Eighties pop starlet Tracie Young on the identity parade, instantly recognisable after all these years. And a part of you can't help thinking that the world just ain't quite the same without that lovely, wistful, slightly bored, elegantly detached voice in the charts. What might've been, Tracie. What might've been. And you realise that you must be getting old. So you give yourself twenty Dillinja tracks as punishment.

I suppose - I don't actually know, I just started this on the off-chance that it'd go somewhere - that the point is that you don't have to disown the past if you're comfortable with the present. Something like that, anyway. I mean, there's something uniquely thrilling about new, unheard music, and it's something that old, familiar music can never re-capture. To put it simplistically, you can never hear the Sex Pistols as they were heard back in 1977, but you can seek out their equivalent in 2003. And, who knows, that modern day equivalent - which would be many miles away musically, of course - might throw fresh light on past heroes.

This is not without relevance. Well, not totally. Forest - yes, them - have been struggling to feel as comfortable with the present as with their fairly glorious past for several years now. It's a reasonably familiar situation for Watford fans too, albeit on a slightly different scale. Perhaps recent developments might be changing that, although we all know that the play-offs are a less than firm foundation for the future.

But Forest have bucked the trend in two respects. Firstly, they were in dire financial trouble long before it became fashionable - to quote Padraig McKenna's pre-season round-up, "we almost went out of business - and all on our own without ITV's assistance". Secondly, and perhaps crucially, they've been able to boost their bank account by cashing in players - the sales of Jermaine Jenas (£5m to Newcastle last February) and David Prutton (£2.5m to Southampton in January) have been significant, and have probably left the rest of the First Division chairmen scratching their heads.

With a vibrant, young squad - an average age of twenty-five, even including Des Walker - things look reasonably promising. That seven of the club's players were involved at various international levels in the week before the Stoke game speaks for itself. As does the result of that Stoke game.

In goal, Welsh international - which sounds a bit more impressive than it might once have done - Darren Ward continues to dominate. He was ever-present last season and has kept up the record during this campaign, leaving youth product Barry Roche to twiddle his thumbs on the bench. That said, Roche has been unlucky - promised some run-outs by Paul Hart at the end of last season, he was ruled out by a knee injury when the time came.

At the back, Des Walker - no introduction necessary, I'm sure - has scored just once in well over three hundred appearances for the club, a record that makes Nigel Gibbs look like Luther Blissett. Walker was rescued from the footballing wilderness (it's somewhere near Wrexham, I think) by Paul Hart and has rewarded the manager's faith, but has struggled with stay fit recently. In his absence, towering England Under-21 international Michael Dawson, who recently signed a new five year contract, partners Norwegian Jon-Olav Hjelde. Despite a Scotland call-up, Chris Doig has not yet re-established himself following injury problems and will probably provide cover.

Mathieu Louis-Jean, now at the City Ground for five years since signing from Le Havre, is likely to occupy the right back spot. There's a little more competition on the other side, where speedy Canadian Jim Brennan needs to resist the challenge of Davy Oyen, a recent capture from Anderlecht who made his debut as a substitute against Stoke.

The midfield is likely to revolve around Riccardo Scimeca, whose form is now starting to eclipse his whopping transfer fee. There are plenty of options here, including young German Eugen Bopp, just back from an ankle injury, and Republic of Ireland Under-21 cap Andy Reid. To add to the numbers, Benjamin Gavanon has recently been brought in on loan from Marseille until the end of the season, while John Thompson offers enough versatility to fill any gaps. Last, but definitely not least, there's cultured youth product Gareth Williams - the next to excite Premiership scouts, perhaps - whose "Player of the Season" award last term demonstrated that he's already more than merely promising.

But we probably should be most worried about the forwards. In David Johnson, Forest have the First Division's leading scorer. We've come up against him before, of course, but he's no longer in the doldrums after his failure to secure regular Premiership football with Ipswich. Marlon Harewood is perhaps we'd better hope that there's a dip following his four goal haul against Stoke. And there's also the relentlessly infuriating Darren Huckerby, captured on loan from Manchester City for the rest of the season. Whether he'll make his debut on Saturday presumably depends on Paul Hart's willingness to change a winning team.

Otherwise, Jack Lester serves the second part of a three match suspension, meaning that we'll face neither of the players dismissed in the return fixture, Prutton being the other. It's likely that either Craig Westcarr, Forest's youngest ever League player, or Eoin Jess, top scorer for Bradford last year, will lose their place on the bench to make way for Huckerby.

You don't exactly need to have devoted hours to studying First Division statistics to realise that this is a tough one. Still, it's to be hoped that both this match and tonight's game at Molineux will be sufficiently daunting to prevent us from day-dreaming about the FA Cup at the expense of our play-off aspirations. After all, much as football lends itself to reminiscence about the past and speculation about the future, it's the present that really matters.

Update: Since writing this preview, it's been announced that David Johnson has a knee ligament injury and is likely to be sidelined for around six weeks.