The Bridport Red Report
I ought to have known better.
Here am I, a mere fan who like thousands of others chases around the country
after Forest, sustained by the memory of epic performances like Oakwell
and Selhurst Park, hoping against hope that this week I'll see another
afternoon of Mr Hyde Forest as opposed to Jekyll Forest. For weeks - MONTHS
- I stick by the team and our young manager, defending them against the
short-termist and short-sighted attacks which seem to start about 30 seconds
after each and every mistake or poor performance. "Keep the faith", I
find myself having to say after rather too many reports for comfort.
But then, eventually, tired after yet another long drive and tired of
seeing Forest underperform, I see one Jekyll performance too many and
I crack. "We're not good enough", I drone. "If we can't play well against
the likes of Wednesday we haven't a cat in Hell's chance of making the
play offs; I've been defending them when all along the attacks were right.
We're not going up and the future ain't as bright as we've been kidding
ourselves". Exits left, stomping crossly off into the sunset. Then, to
compound matters, I go to Molineux (a ground where, I am reliably informed,
we have our worst away record of all) and watch Johnno and Marlon earn
themselves crass red cards, and my moans become even louder.
It is the cry of a million footie fans all over the world - "Oh, God -
why do I bother to do this? We're rubbish and I'm never coming again".
And we all know it's a mistake. This is Forest, for heaven's sake - they
have never made a habit of doing things easily, so why should I be acting
all surprised that they aren't now? The moment you finally despair and
give up for the season... is the moment when they pull off an outrageously
good performance and 3 points at Bramall Lane, where we hadn't (until
today) won since 1967.
So I'll shut up on the apocalyptic stuff - clearly today's result tells
you all you need to know about why David Platt is doing the job he is
and I'm doing mine. And besides, I had completely failed to take into
account the fact that the other teams around us (the critical ones being
Preston, the Baggies and Watford - with Bolton on such a poor run that
even they are not out of sight yet) are every bit as capable of making
a total and utter Horlicks out of their season as we are.
"Keep the faith" is back!
And that's as much Humble Pie as you're getting.
Actually, the reason I've gone a bit quiet recently is not that I had
succumbed to the "Never again!" panacea. I know myself too well for that
- I'd go to watch Forest play in the Conference if it really came down
to it (and it won't!). No, it is simply that I am stupidly busy at work
at the moment, so thought as I walked out of Molineux last week that there
would be no way I'd get to see the Reds again until the Bolton game -
midweek games are almost always a non starter, and I always knew I was
going to be stuck in London for the Blunts game.
As it happened, however, I found myself on the M1 between Newcastle and
London rather earlier than I anticipated on Wednesday evening, so I did
manage to get to see us beat Barnsley.
It is now 4 days later and everyone has a) seen the proper reports in
the papers and b) is far more excited by today's events at Bramall Lane,
so I won't go into too much detail about Wednesday night. Suffice it to
say that, if I had had the time to write about it at the time, the report
would not have said anything to disagree wildly with the gloomy ones that
had preceded it.
We went in front from our first attack, when Stern (in full Weebles Fall
Down mode for the first 15 minutes) was flattened just outside the box
and Bart stepped up to smack in yet another outstanding free kick. Quite
apart from the fact that the Captain is, in my opinion, playing the best
football of his career this season (and if he is not Player of the Year
by a huge majority I will be amazed and asking to check the ballot papers),
this ability to score with free kick after free kick is a side to his
game that I didn't know existed before this season. It is now reaching
the stage when I expect him to score every time he steps up to take one
- the same feeling of anticipation that I have got over the years watching
the Metgods, Pearces and van Hooijdonks of this world run up to dead ball.
Unlike those 3, however, Bart rarely hits the ball with colossal power
- but his placement of the ball and the curve and viscious dip he imparts
to it are more than enough to beat the keeper anyway. Wednesday's was
a case in point. Kevin Miller appeared to know exactly where it was going,
yet when the ball eventually dipped over the top of his wall he was still
helpless to prevent a goal despite getting a hand to it.
A goal up in the second minute, Forest proceeded to settle down and play
some promising football for 25 minutes. Shock horror - we were playing
with patience, keeping the ball and passing it on the ground. True, we
were not carving out many chances, but we were clearly the better side.
Not only that, but we appeared to have signed a new player. Or perhaps
re-signed him would be more accurate. Stern John has been such an unfit
dissappointment for over a year now that it is hard to find anyone who
had not given up on him. Yes, a man who clearly has bags of talent, but
who is simply never ever ever fit. An incandescent start to his Forest
career, but not ready for the week in week out rough and tumble of the
Or.... Hang on, wait a minute. Stern was a revelation on Wednesday. He
ran about, giving a reasonably convincing impersonation of a professional
athlete. He worked hard - I am certain I saw him make several tackles
close to his own box. He won things in the air, flicking on to DJ like
a good centre forward should. He was prepared to shoot from anywhere on
a half chance, which was one of the things that marked him out as good
player when he arrived. He showed awareness of what was going on around
him, more than once playing DJ in on goal with an incisive pass. And his
own movement, for so long nothing more than a distant memory, gradually
reappeared. In short, he played by far his best game in a red shirt since
Yes, he is still clearly short of match fitness - he was taken off to
a deserved ovation after an hour, having clearly run himself into the
ground. Equally, he and DJ will take a while to get used to one another
- mixed in with the good examples of playing well off one another there
was more than one occasion when they both went for the same ball. All
the same, if that performance proves to be the restart of the real Stern
John, it would be like signing a new high quality centre forward and could
make a serious difference to us; not only has he the capacity to be a
good player in his own right, but DJ would surely prosper as a result.
Yeah yeah, I know - one swallow does not make a summer. But Stern played
very well again today in Sheffield, by the sound of it. There is a great
picture on Teamtalk of him beaming all over his face as Platty hugs him
when he was replaced by Andy Gray; he looks like a cheerful man who has
just enjoyed his afternoon's work, rather than the increasingly withdrawn
and isolated man wearing a million layers to keep out the cold on the
bench that we have become used to seeing.
My fingers are well and truly crossed that we are witnessing the final
arrival of the dangerous striker we saw for half a dozen games on his
arrival. Go on Stern - keep it up, and let's see you rattle one in against
Crewe or Bolton. Welcome back!
Back to Wednesday. Unfortunately, having started well, for some reason
or other we played worse as the game went on. In the final ten minutes
before half time Barnsley came back into it, with Bruce Dyer missing the
ball when free in the 6 yard box and Shippo happily continuing his outstanding
form at the City Ground and peppering various bits of the Trent End advertising
hoarding. Oh, how we miss you, Neil. Not.
If anything, the second half was even worse - the confidence seemed to
have drained out of us, and we ended up hanging on against a very ordinary
Barnsley side. At the end, in fact, we almost achieved a remarkable feat,
namely being booed off after a home win. (I was glad, incidentally, that
Chet got a good reception from the Forest fans today. Shippo will have
to live with it, I guess!)
Still, 3 points is 3 points, eh, and we could get right back amongst it
at the weekend. Glass half full. Yeah, right - the Blades have an outstanding
home record and we are not playing well even when we win; that's why I
was so pessimistic in the first place. Glass half empty.
Four days later. It is Saturday morning, and the Webmaster and I have
our habitual conversation about the team news. I nearly choke into my
morning tea when I hear that we are going 4-3-3, with Riccy at right back,
Jonah in midfield and Bartman up front alongside Stern and DJ. "What the
**** is he playing at? We'll get murdered! I was disappointed not to be
going, but now... The only formation we've been any good at this year
is 3-5-2, TV will get himself sent off, what's wrong with Foy...." blah
blah blah blah blah.
What do I know about it, eh?
I can't tell you about the game - I wasn't there. Read the papers and
the report from Mrs Webmaster which is already up on Latest News.
Those of us who get to see the team almost every week just don't know
how lucky we are. We might not agree with one another about what it is
we are seeing (a gradual rebirth of the team or a slow inexorable descent
into poverty stricken mediocrity), but at least we can all form our own
opinions at first hand.
So I would like to pay tribute to two sets of people.
First, you only have to spend a few minutes trawling around the web to
realise just how well-served Forest fans are and how far ahead we are
of most teams. So step forward Rob and the Forest Fire gang, Karl and
The Eye lot (are we allowed to mention him again now the Court Case is
over?), Geoff and the official site, and the Century commentary team;
take a bow. I'm probably preaching to the converted here, but only today
did I realise the revolution in following Forest from afar that these
people have given us. I can remember agonising as a boy over games as
important as Cologne away in the European Cup semi final, when it was
by no means guaranteed that you'd get more than second half commentary
on the radio. A mere league game outside the top division? No chance -
you'd be lucky if there was even a report in the following morning's paper.
Even now, without the web I'd have struggled to learn much about today's
game - I live in London, and the press here are only fleetingly acquainted
with any facts that don't concern Londoners (and even then the relationship
with reality is a tad tenuous). As far as they are concerned, the Premiership
is pretty much all that matters, and if you really insist on wanting to
know about lesser mortals, all you need to know is that Fulham are running
away with it, Watford are dead certs to join them (oh yeah?) and Wimbledon
still have a chance (it could happen!). As recently as a couple of weeks
ago, still basking in the transient "glory" of having lead Liverpool half
way through a League Cup tie, lots of people down here would tell you
that Palace are mounting a serious charge towards the play-offs. Presumably
they will be helped to the play-off final by that squadron of flying pigs
you so regularly see over Selhurst Park.
Nowadays, though, you can log on, listen to the (excellent) local radio
commentary for the whole match, talk to fellow fans who aren't there,
agonise about how it's really going when you can't see... almost like
But there are bigger heroes than those people.
It was bad enough today with Forest's text messages beeping on my mobile,
Fletch commentating on the internet, the chat pages, Sky and Radio 5 all
simultaneously keeping me reasonably up to date. But spare a thought for
those hundreds of Forest fans who are exiled to the far corners of the
earth. [I have been there myself, so I know what it is like. You are talking
about a man who tried to follow the 91 Cup Final whilst flying a Lynx
around the Falkland Islands, desperately hoping that the illicit radio
fit (kindly and illegally 'modified' into the aircraft by an engineer
who appreciated my agony at not being there) would actually work. It didn't.
I took off just after Norm saved Lineker's pen when we were 1-0 up. The
refusal of any of the guys on the flight deck to look me in the eye when
I landed 2 hours later told me all I needed to know.]
Even with the technology as it is, these long range fans deserve our applause.
There are all sorts of time delays built into the net - even in London
I read on the chat pages that we had scored 30 seconds before Fletch's
voice went up an octave as the Johnsons scored their goals. In some parts
of the world there is clearly a 3 or 4 minute time lag, but only on the
audio. People on chat pages tend to write really informative messages
like "Oooooohhh that was close" and "Yesssssssssss!!!!!", so you can almost
taste the desperation of the message from some poor bloke in Ulan Batur
asking what on earth is going on.
Half of my family think I am crazy to drive thousands of miles each season
to follow the Garibaldi. But if you compare my season with that of some
geezer in Vancouver, Sydney, New Zealand or some God-forsaken rock in
the middle of the Southern ocean, getting up at 4 in the morning to swear
at an intermittent internet connection and getting tantalising hints from
the chat pages about what will appear over the radio in 3 minutes' time....
We don't know we're born!
So, long range internet exiled posse, I salute you. And, poor innocent
unsuspecting old man quietly walking his dog by the Thames yesterday afternoon,
I apologise for making you nearly jump out of your skin by my loud antics
as DJ scored with 2 minutes to go.
As for the team, today was a win and a performance which could have changed
our entire season. Against all my expectations, we now have our fate back
in our own hands with ten games to go.
So no more abject submissions at Crewe or at home to Stockport, please
- no more Jekyll Forest. Let's start as we mean to continue by winning
on Tuesday at Gresty Road to go 5th. Unfortunatley I cannot be there -
but after that I can't see why you shouldn't have to read my drivel after
all of our remaining games.
It's back on.
Keep the faith!
Nottingham Forest 2001