Tom Head’s Nottingham Forest blog: Great start, but it’s a marathon not a sprint
Well. Let me tell you something. I very much struggle to do that. At best, I’m socially awkward, so in terms of playing things cool, I’m on par with Del boy falling through the bar whilst trying to seduce a couple of ‘treacles’.
We have all been bowled over by a tremendous first four weeks of the season, and I find it incredibly restrictive when we are bombarded with cliched offerings of a season being a marathon, rather than a sprint.
Though getting carried away has been the petard Forest fans have hoisted themselves with most over the years, it seems a shame we cannot revel in the euphoria, without being reminded there is still another 40+ games to go.
So, how do we going from being Usain Bolt – quick out of the traps, and home in time for Loose Women – to having the discipline and stamina of Mo Farrah?
A lot of people have started saying our staying power comes from our newly adopted “siege mentality” – a loosely used term that portrays us as an outfit convinced that it is us against the world. It is a turn of phrase that has been picked up by the national media, and as it reaches a wider audience, it will perpetuate until the City Ground becomes the setting for the new Die Hard movie.
For me, a siege is something that has perilous connotations. It suggests that we are being hounded from all angles, and need to stir up something similar to a ‘Dunkirk Spirit’. Moreover, it is the sort of terminology you’d expect to see when talking about survival, which is the antithesis of what we are aiming for.
Does this so called ‘siege’ mean that Billy Davies is our captor, then? I must say, I have come down with a rather acute case of Stockholm syndrome if we are indeed his hostages.
The engine that has fueled these analogies has been the club’s on-going dispute with local media, an issue which has failed to find a resolution in the last month. This confrontation has been, in a word, petulant. I covered it in my last Forest article, and quite frankly, I’m annoyed I’ve had to bring it up again a month later. If you start getting involved and taking sides with a degree of militancy, you’ve hardly rose above the immaturity.
It’s been a most unwelcome distraction, because it’s quite rare we begin the season with such eye-catching prowess: The first thing I said, amongst the ocean of optimism after losing to Leicester in May, was how desperate I was for the new season to begin. You could just tell, after such a heart-breaking end to a campaign, that something had changed.
There was no vitriol or spite. Our transitional season had finished, and there was something stronger than a mere sneaking suspicion that we were capable of hitting the ground running as soon as August came around.
Cautious optimism is an infliction that has bruised the psyche of every Forest fan, molded by the cataclysmic failures of our post-millennial strife. For a team that has a Premier League pedigree, 15 years is a long time to be missing from the top flight. Even when we are playing this well, there is a palpable fear that just rests at the backs of our collective minds.
For example, when McGugan scored Watford’s equalizer on Sunday, I guarantee that 90% of fans would have immediately thought to themselves “I’ll settle for a draw”, despite us being the better team (bar the Hornet’s 15-minute resurgence in the second half). It’s a mentality that has been relentlessly drummed into us… The other 10% are either extremely good actors, or pathological liars.
So it is now, with a side that shows more composure than Andrea Pirlo deactivating a ticking time bomb, that we may finally be able to cast away the shackles of trepidation. As we saw during last year’s purple patch, an in-form Forest side can be the most menacing in the league. You add a few high-quality signings to that equation, and a skipper that has (deservedly) began to earn himself the right to be compared to Stuart Pearce, and suddenly, it doesn’t seem too arrogant or biased to believe that a top six finish – at least – is on the cards.
We have to be prepared, though, for when adversity knocks. By all means, lose yourself in any spiraling success that comes our way, but please remain fair throughout more difficult times. Part of being able to back your side for promotion is accepting that performances will dip, form will be lost, and that fickle old mistress – luck – will conspire to dessert us.
Alas, confidence is warranted. To see a side as average as Hull make the top two last year somewhat discourages the myth of the Championship being the toughest league in football. I believe Cardiff won three of their last ten matches on route to the summit, and Crystal Palace and Leicester secured play-off places on the back of some god-awful form.
I firmly believe this is a division there for the taking. With September and October’s fixtures looking a little more lenient than the five games of August, we simply won’t get a better chance to ruthlessly assert our authority as Championship heavyweights.
Perhaps it takes a siege mentality to eradicate a defeatist one? That’s definitely too early to say, but I tell you something I am sure of:
Bruce Willis couldn’t hold a candle to Billy Davies!