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02/03: Preview: Nottingham Forest
Opposition opinion
by Padraig McKenna of Sack the Board

What happened last season?
Wellllllll... not much. Can you watch a match with one team playing? Do you then clap them off the pitch with one hand? I personally think we were poor last year. We played pretty stuff where it didn't matter, flattered ouselves about the quality of our football and we appeared to have de-prioritised winning matches.

Off the pitch there were all manner of local factors which meant that this was, in part, understandable - we almost went out of business - and all_on_our_own without ITV's assistance! Paul Hart took charge as manager over the summer and was unable to move in any outside players to make it his own team/squad, which is undoubtedly a handicap when looking after a new team. The personal chemistry which had existed between Platt and Hart, unstable, exothermic and explosive, meant that further he had to try and build a team which not only was diferent to Platt's but indeed was different in every respect. His initial approach was characterised (I think by me), and in my view accurately, as being that of The Antiplatt.

We started of in a patchy fashion - a good half and a poor half againt Beelzebub Warnock's men. The rest of the season was similar. We looked initially as if we might get it together enough to give someone a beating. Indeed, everyone said so... Significantly, we didn't. All Season. Apart from Crewe at Gresty Road who were genuinely so utterly ineffectual and laissez-faire on the day that the game didn't count as a beating.

To my recollection it was the Man City and Sheffield Wednesday games at the City Ground on the 28th and 31st October when our season effectively finished. Keegan had spotted that, in the tradition of the truly great sides, our attacks started with our goalkeeper distributing the ball. He had also spotted that, in the traditional of the truly mundane sides, we were pretty one dimensional and formulaic and that every time Darren Ward had the ball he would throw it to Matthieu Louis-Jean at right back. He commanded one of his scurriers (it might have been Huckerby) to look interested in running at MLJ when we were "building an attack" and that was effectively the end of our season.

We actually managed to draw with Man City that night, and their goal was a result of confusion between our centre halves and Darren Ward, but nevertheless we had been rumbled. Three nights later we played Sheffield Wednesday, who were I think bottom of the table or at least close to it, and Terry Yorath had obviously watched the Man City match - and learned from it. As far as the football goes, that was pretty much it; we piddled about for the rest of the year. We didn't win a match at home in 2002. Once again, there were very good and real reasons why we weren't storming up the table, but we didn't win a match at home in 2002.

We have been _told_ that at least we like the style of football and it is proper Nottingham Forest football. We are told this by the club and its employees and by our fellow supporters. I wouldn't claim my opinion to be representative of other supporters - but I'm not entirely convinced that I _do_ like it. I'm not an acolyte of Charles Hughes or Neil Warnock or anything like that but I like winning; I like the prospect of winning and I like to watch players trying to win. I like the evaluation of a football team to be based upon its results - winning, losing and drawing - the points for style, presentation, artistic impression and adherence to the "true Nottingham Forest way" are much less important to me than the points in the league table.

After we were beaten at Maine Road late in the season, Kevin Keegan said that Paul Hart had the toughest job in the league and should be up for manager of the year. It's certainly true that his job has not been easy. He took over the team with no money for adding players and knowing that he needed to get rid of high wage earners from the squad at a time when the market for players was depressed to point of almost not being in existence. We finished the season without getting relegated and with just about enough of a squad to be able to hope that we also won't be relegated next year - that should be our lowest target. But, if Paul Hart is being assessed without looking at results and without any expectation of results becoming important in the near future then I think his job is easier than most managers of vaguely aspirational teams in the league.

In summary of what happened to us last year: I suppose we started our journey to the end of the season without much momentum or a clear idea of where we wanted to get to and ended up at the side of the road, a little bit battered, with the rest of the world passing us by as we half-heartedly tried to sort ourselves out and get the wheels back on. And we almost went bust. Again. But at least we did it in style and "more than that we did it the Nottingham Forest way".

What's going to happen next season?
Good god - haven't I suffered enough telling you about last year? It's genuinely a bit difficult to say... We seem to be in the market for at least one player (Eoin Jess) and we have signed promising young Des Walker. The return of Des might be a good idea and it is only fair to allow the manager to have his own (grown up) man in the dressing room. I don't suppose those of us who haven't watched Des in training over his last twelve months out of the game can really have a valid opinion about his current worth on the pitch.

Jess is an encouraging development (assuming that he does come here, his signing has not yet been completed at the time of writing). He is the type of player that we have needed to try and add, permanently, to the team for a number of years and it's encouraging to see that the manager has identified this rather than try and find a cheap "twenty goal a season man" on a Bosman from FC Holy Grail.

We will probably sell either Gareth Williams or David Prutton during the course of the year - if any sort of financial incentive can be derived from whatever levels transfer fees settle at after the ITV affair. Most Forest supporters are, pleasantly, surprised that we've been able to add anyone to the squad over the summer and, for what it's worth, I suppose we don't collectively really expect to see anyone else come in.

I don't know what to expect on the football pitch. That's probably not what you want from me... is it? There isn't really enough evidence available to construct any sort of projection around. I imagine that in a holistic sense there is some sort of equilibrium yet to be attained where we are sufficiently entertained watching games, we win enough of these games to be sufficiently motivated to come back next year, we are patient as we watch young players develop and the club doesn't cease to exist because of financial instability or administrative and strategic ineptitude. If we get closer to that equilibrium than we have done in recent seasons then we will be making progress. If we get much further away... we may topple off an edge.

Again, I don't know what to expect on the pitch. It would be nice to have a few months where it's important to win games to see if we can get within shooting distance of the play-offs but that (a good spell) would be probably be the upper limit for our immediate aspirations. Anything in the top half of the table would be good. Being better than Gillingham would be a good target. In the (metaphorical) stands I expect rancour.

DISCLAIMER: I'm aware that my opinions (well informed, insightful and considered though they may be ;-)) are not shared by all supporters of Forest and I wouldn't try to represent them as representative of any opinion other than my own.

Can you recommend a pub for away fans?
The Larwood and Voce is the safest one for away fans, and popular with many Forest fans and tolerated by others. It was formerly happily mixed but recently the police requested that it be segregated - it is now normally closed off in the middle but still friendly enough. It serves food and beer - slowly. It is the closest to the away end and is recommended by the HSE and ROSPA. It adjoins the cricket ground (Trent Bridge) and can be found by turning off Radcliffe Road (the big road next to the ground parallel to the river) at the brown office building beside a pedestrian crossing. The pub is about 75 yards up this road (Fox Road) on your right. Depressingly, other pubs close to the ground are not recommended for away supporters.

What's the nearest railway station?
Nottingham Railway Sation is about 10 minutes walk away. The walk is relatively straight forward and is normally marked by luminous policemen and policewomen. The route, in case of any police staffing level crises, is: You should leave the railway station by the main entrance/exit and turn to your left. At the corner of the station turn left again into Queens Road and follow this to the T-junction with London Road. Turn right here and follow this road towards the river and Trent Bridge from where you will be able to see the best view of the City Ground across the river to your left. The away end is furthest from river and can be found either by following the path along the river bank and circumambulating the ground or by walking to the traffic lights and turning left into Radcliffe Road, from where access to the away end is via Colwick Road, a residential street near to a pedestrian crossing.

Where is the best place to park?
There are quite a few 'circa-three-quid' matchday car parks at decaying commercial premises along Meadow Lane on the other side of the river. There is parking at the City Ground which no-one uses. There is often parking at County Hall which is a large white 'County Hall-esque' building a few hundred yards away from the City Ground. The council also provide a large car park along the river bank to the north west of the City Ground, which involves an adventurous and navigationally demanding drive. It is possible to park on some residential streets in the vicinity of the ground but this tends to fill up early and it is unpopular with residents

Soundbites (from assorted Census correspondents)

"Worst directors: Stuart Dryden, Maurice Roworth, Fred Reacher, Nigel Wray, Julian Markham and Phil Soar."

"Watford are interested in Gary Jones - apparently"

"we had so much crap in the seventies its hard to pick eleven boneheads"

"The (worst ever) manager would be Harry "Harry" Bassett"

"There is a thriving homsexual community of Forest fans"

"We should win an award for the worst managers....Harry 'Houdini' Basset followed by Big Fat Orange Ron? You couldn't make it up!"

"Can't fill a whole team at present, but were many dodgy strikers under Cloughie that came and went without impressing (often for big money)"

"Dave Bassett could have bought Henrik Larsson for 650k"