GAME 1: FOREST 1 MEWO 0
You could be forgiven for hoping that, this season, everything would be better. After all, the change of ownership meant that the crackpot amateurs who had been degrading the place for the last few years were replaced by people who were actually sane. The pre-season games were an encouraging affirmation that Mister Warburton was forging an exciting, slick-passing side which the Shy Moor Folk boss described as "Premier League - like". Season ticket sorry card sales were extraordinarily encouraging. The City Ground burned redder than ever. Mister Warburton, whilst trying to dampen expectations, couldn't help teasing us with his observation about a "dark horse" coming through this season. The first league game was virtually a sell out, and newly promoted Mewo would be vapourised. You could be forgiven for thinking that the years of miserable underachievement were behind us.
The trouble with football, however, is that it's football. It is not so much the romance of corporate dreams as a prolonged, wholly unsatisfactory bout of transactional sex. Not, I am sure, that you know what a prolonged, wholly unsatisfactory bout of transactional sex is like, but you must agree that, after a decent start, Forest soon began to look like a gaggle of dewy-eyed innocents unable to cope with the kind of aggressive advances that life hadn't prepared them for. Mewo's direct approach reduced the Forest defence to something resembling a fat girls' drunken night out in Blackpool, and the really disappoiniting thing about this was the realisation that nothing, in this regard, had changed after all. The Forest defence had always been like this. As Mewo pressed and shot and headed and missed, the suspicion grew that Forest had concentrated hard on midfield control and attacking intent, but had sadly neglected the defence. And if your defence is insecure, the rest of the team get nervy. The midfield occasionally showed bits of that slick, controlled football we were expecting, but too often adopted the unwelcome tactic of giving the ball to the opposition. Also, the players seemed badly affected by the size and expectations of the crowd, so that only a few embraced the situation and rose above the ordinary. One was Smith, who tried to hand Mewo a goal at one point, but spent the rest of the match being brilliant. Another was McKay, whose unstoppable shot won us the match and probably quadrupled his value.
So yes, we got three points, but no, it wasn't pretty. There's a lot of work to do, especially on that defence, but people in general seem confident that we will get better.
The sense that not enough things had changed for the better ran on into Saturday, with that channel 5 football programme trying desperately to hype the Championship into something it's not, with a new distressingly gobby presenter insisting "It's the action that matters" while spending the majority of the programme spouting endless patronising bullshit about how good everybody was especially John Terry and how every team was going to win the league especially Fulham and how very important the fans were especially the ones who provided five seconds of buffoonery for the entertainment of the viewers. Here's an idea: make the clips longer, give us some idea of when our clip's coming on, stuff the inexpert analysis, and stop pretending that everybody is interested in any other team but their own. And stop pretending to be so bloody enthusiastic about everything.
Anyway, here's hoping things do change for Forest now that that almost-banana skin is out of the way. I don't want to live through another season of the kind of excitement that kills people.
GAME 2: BENTFORD 3 FOREST 4
Well that was exciting, wasn't it Stress?
I tell you Pie, something's happening at Forest.
It certainly is, Stress. And what would that something be then?
I don't know, Pie.
So you know something is happening but you don't know what that something is? Well of course you don't, because you're quite dim aren't you? Let me tell you what that something is, then. It's the developing understanding between forward thinking players.
No, Pie, it's not that.
Really? Then it must be the emergence of some special players, like the McKay or the Mighty Booch, who will threaten danger each time they are on the ball.
Maybe, Pie, but I don't think so.
Okay then, well, maybe you're thinking of something bad, like the improving but still quite brittle defence.
No, it's not a bad something Pie.
I know, it's the quality of the goals, isn't it? Especially the Booch Man's brace. What magnificent strikes they were, eh Pie? An exquisite combination of accuracy and power which were dismissed as "flukes" by those Bentford fans who could form words.
Mighty fine goals, Pie, but not the something I mean.
The quality of individual players?
The off field stuff? The way the club is being run by competent people at last? The improvements to the ground? The rumours of miracles in the gents toilets?
Sort of, but...
The fact we've got six points from two games? Is it as simple as that? Is it the results are everything argument? Because we were a bit lucky to get six points, you know. That's it - it's the luck, isn't it?
No, not really.
The kit? The one we borrowed from Rangers?
The fact that the Bentford team sheet looked like a list of sex toys?
Nothing. I know, it's Mister Thumb, isn't it? Mister Thumb's back, after all these years.
Don't be silly, Pie. Mister Thumb was just a figgins of my imagination when I was poorly in the head.
Ah yes, the good old days, eh Stress?
That's it, Pie! That's the something that's happening!
What, your being poorly in the head?
No Pie, the Good Old Days! The Good Old Days are coming back!
Really? What do you mean?
It's the Second Coming, Pie.
The Second Coming?
Yes Pie. Mister Warburton is the second coming of Mister Clough. The signs are all there.
You're sure Mister Thumb didn't tell you all this? What signs?
The two men are so alike, Pie. Both have a background in finance. Both repeat themselves endlessly in a Cockney accent. Both have the swarthy good looks of an international film star.
I see what you mean, Stress. Apart from the fact that everything you've just said is completely wrong, you could be on to something.
I think I am, Pie. You know what this means, don't you?
I know exactly what it means, Stress. It means that you've gone poorly in the head again. The sooner you stop believing Mister Thumb's drivel, the happier you'll be.
But he said everything was going to be all right, Pie, and I for one believe him. What's a sex toy?
GAME 3: BARNSLEY 2 FOREST 1
"The first thing to say is that tonight, we beat a very good side. The next thing to say is that we were very, very fortunate. Forest had 26 shots with just 7 of them on target. In all honesty, some of their shooting was embarrassing, especially as compared to their build up play, which was very impressive."
This unusually honest assessment is from a Barnsleh forum, and it sums things up quite neatly. Apart from the first bit, the game increasingly resembled a Premier League side dominating the crap out of some lower league toilers without finding the composure to finish them off. Shot after shot went wide, was saved, was mishit, was fired straight at their goalkeeper, or, we'll swear, was blown off course by a weather fart or went straight through the back of the Barnsleh net.
Yes, it sums things up quite neatly ... or does it? Well, no, not really. It puts the blame on Forest's terrible finishing, but previous evidence suggests that we have more than a few good finishers in the side, and we would suggest that bad finishing will not hamper us too badly in the future. But bad defending will.
It came as no surprise to us that we conceded twice. Neither does it surprise us that Mister Warburton rarely talks about defence. Neither does it surprise us that he signs attacking players, even if they are defenders. The truth is, Mister Warburton seems uninterested in the defensive arts, preferring instead to put all his eggs in the midfield control/attacking penetration basket. This approach is beginning to provide us with tremendous entertainment, as in the Barnsleh game, and all power to Mister Warburton's elbow for that. We have, after all, been craving entertainment for years.
But it shouldn't all be about attack and entertainment, should it? Surely there is a place for defensive discipline and organisation. Consider Barnsleh's first goal. A free kick is swung in with such a mesmerising trajectory that all the Forest players end up running towards their own goal. They're all facing the wrong way. Whoever's marking the bloke who scores doesn't know where his man is, doesn't seem to be watching the ball, and doesn't even jump. The scorer simply lifts himself over him and plants a free header into the net. Consider Barnsleh's second goal. One of their runners goes on such a mesmerising run that each Forest defender backs off and passes the responsibility to a team mate. The Barnsleh player, realising that no-one is going to tackle him, is left with no option but to shoot and score.
We think it's Mister Warburton's responsibility to either coach these fairly basic mistakes out of the defence, or buy some new defensive players who offer better leadership. Our attack may be special, but it shouldn't shoulder the responsibility of compensating for defensive frailty.
There, moan over. Otherwise, everything's going splendidly.
Saturday should be interesting. It could end up 10 - 10.
GAME 4: FOREST 2 MISERABLEBUGGER 1
Tell us about the Great Game, Grandad. Yes, tell us about the Great Game, do.
Ha ha, come now children, presumably you mean the Miserablebugger game of 2017.
Yes we do, Grandad, though daddy says you shouldn't call them Miserablebugger because it proves what an old potty mouth you are.
Ha ha, come now children, you know how your daddy likes a good joke, like the time he pretended to leave you in the bus station.
Nothing. Now do you want to hear about the Great Game or not?
Oh yes please Grandad. Tell us about the Great Game do.
Well, the Great Game took place in August 2017, and despite the many years that have passed since, I can remember it as if it was yesterday. Forest against Miserablebugger...
Shut up. Forest against Miserablebugger at the world famous City Ground. Forest had begun the season reasonably well, and under manager Warburton Warburton were in the process of developing a fluid attacking style which sat well with the fans.
Was that the manager's name, Grandad - Warburton Warburton?
No, children. His name was Warburton, but he had this habit of repeating everything. All the time. Sometimes more than once.
All the time?
All the time. Sometimes more than once. Anyway, Miserablebugger were coming to town with their untold millions in Sky parachute payments.
Tell us, grandad, what were Sky parachute payments? Tell us, do.
Sky were the company that bankrolled the Premier League till they collapsed in the wake of the Licensing Fraud scandal of 2020. Parachute payments were the millions of pounds paid to relegated teams to cushion the blow of their own incompetence. Miserablebugger had already blown its hard earned bonus on a bucket load of strikers, one of whom was Forest's own Britt Assombalonga.
But Forest's no longa, eh Grandad?
Ha ha children, you have your daddy's sense of humour, as well as his slightly deformed nostrils.
Nothing. Miserablebugger were tipped to make an immediate return to the Premier League, so, you see, the Forest fans approached the game with an odd mixture of optimism and trepidation, wheras the Miserablebugger fans were convinced that their team would roll over us as sure as eggs roll downhill.
So what happened, Grandad? Did the eggs roll uphill? Was it a miracle? Tell us about the eggs, do.
Well, from the very beginning the atmosphere was bristling...
No, not with eggs, but with Forest singing and booing Assombalonga and Miserablebugger doing their best to put on a swagger...
Did you boo him, Grandad? Did you boo him like the bad egg he was?
Not at first, but after a short while it became obvious that it was irritating him, so we all joined in. It became an amusing game.
Like Spot the Egg?
In fact it was more than a game. It became a tactical advantage, because it put the fifteen million pound striker right off his game. Sad to say, but that was the best part of the afternoon's entertainment.
But the match itself, Grandad. What happened in the match itself?
Well, Forest had much the better of the first thirty five minutes. They were very good - sometimes breathtakingly brilliant. The combination of Vaughan, Booch and Dowell were streets ahead of the lumpen Miserablebugger grafters. If anybody was showing Premier League class, it was the boys in red. This was illustrated by McKay's goal.
Was it grandad? Was it a rare egg of a goal?
It certainly was a rare piece of work. A sharp ball to Dowell, and the youngster, in one movement, magicked his way past his marker and slid a beautiful ball to McKay, who, as any fifteen million pound striker should, slotted it home with aplomb.
With a plum, Grandad?
Yes, all right, with a plum. Anyway, it was turning out that Miserablebugger weren't exactly the promotion certs they were supposed to be. They had come to bully Forest, but they were being taught how to play proper football. It was great fun.
Daddy always tells us to stand up to bullies, Grandad. He says they are all cowards, and if you stand up to them, they will always back down.
Well, children, your daddy is wrong. Bullies rarely back off. They just get nastier. Miserablebugger reacted badly to being schooled, and just got nastier. They were encouraged in their nastiness by the referee, who seemed reluctant to punish the wealthy promotion candidates for some pretty blatant assaults. The most surprising offender was Assombalonga himself who, upset by Forest's dominance, the crowd's taunts and his own nervous incompetence, proceeded to commit ratty foul after ratty foul.
But then Vaughan was taken off, and the tide of the game changed. Miserablebugger starting clubbing their way through the middle and creating openings. The second half continued in this way, and could have turned into a nightmare, but on looking back I realise that Miserablebugger were never quite good enough to take advantage of the situation. They brought on some speed merchant who couldn't kick straight, cudgeled their way forward, launched long upfield speculators, and all they got for their pressing was to be suckered into a counter-attacking penalty, which Murphy scored with the serenity of experience.
What's the serenity of experience, Grandad? Is it like a nicely boiled egg with a runny yolk?
Surprisingly, it is. That was how it felt - like a nicely boiled egg with a runny yolk. Warm and comfortable and all in all very satisfying.
And that's how it ended was it Grandad?
Not quite. They finally managed to score a goal provided by a combination of fouling the goalkeeper and some pretty rotten Forest defending. Assombalonga continued to spurn chances with the abandon of a fifteen million pound striker, which was enormous fun, and Forest hung on for the win. Warburton Warburton was delighted with the victory and absolutely delighted with the victory, and Miserablebugger manager Monk was as graceless as his players in defeat.
A Great Game indeed, Grandad.
A game of great significance, certainly children. A performance which gave Forest the confidence to progress to where they are now, and proved to be the beginning of Miserablebugger's decline. In that sense, and many others, it was a Great Game.
Huzzah, Grandad, huzzah!
Don't say that, children. Nobody says that. It's stupid.
GAME 5: FOREST 0 LEED 2
This game was so devoid of significant action that Stress has decided to pad out his report with clichés, just like a real journalist, haven't you Stress?
It is what it is, Pie.
That's the ticket, Stress. Off you go then.
Forest's two nil defeat to Leed certainly came as a bit of a blow, a slap in the face, a reality check. It put things into perspective, which might be a good thing or a bad thing depending on what putting things into perspective actually means. Perhaps it means Forest aren't as good as they think they are. Perhaps they've eaten too much complacency pie. They should remember that an idle mind is the devil's playground.
I'm sorry, Stress, you've lost me.
Never apologise, Pie, it's a sign of weakness. As I was saying, Forest were certainly below par, considering all the hype. Fine talk butters no parsnips, however, and all talk
and no action made Forest a very dull boy who was, for the most part, asleep at the wheel.
Forest began slowly, but all credit to Leed: they pressed Forest high, closed them down, stifled their creativity, killed their buzz, popped their cork, curdled their milk, and did many more things that should only be spoken of in hushed tones. So all credit to Leed for doing the bleeding obvious. Forest's response to the obvious, however, doesn't bode well for the future. As Kevin Costner nearly said in that netball film: If they press us, we will fold. The half time team talk from Warburton Warburton must have been something likeTrust in your own game, lads, because plan B, it seemed, was Plan A in reverse - concede the second goal at the end of the half instead of the beginning.
Bit harsh, Stress.
I say it as I see it, Pie. I will admit, though, that Forest did miss Vaughan, the Welsh wizard. That was plain from the start, as plain as the nose on a spiteful man's face. But overall, too many players were off the boil, too many players couldn't handle the hot kitchen sink, too many players went missing in action. Leed weren't that much better, so the match ended up as something of a dry pie, which is why we ended up talking about "Dunkirk", that so called epic poem of a film which turned out to be little more than a non-interactive video game with pornographic violence. What a waste of money that was. If you're thinking of going, don't. Anyway, to get back to the truisms, Forest have a lot of work to do. There's a learning curve there somewhere. Especially for the defence, which continues to leak like a bucketful of holes. New faces are needed to plug the gaps. I know it's early doors, but at the end of the day the bottom line is that you can't win the title in August but you can lose it, and that's a lesson we could all take a leaf out of. In short, it may have been a bad day at the office, but this is a results business, and if you don't cut the mustard then the bears will shit on your rollercoaster.
That doesn't make any sense, Stress.
Have you looked at the world lately, Pie? Have you taken a really good look? Because I have, and believe you me, it's like getting blood from a turnip.
The world is like getting blood from a turnip.
So you've noticed it too?
No, but I think you'd better sum up now before the green van comes. The match was...
...Nothing to write home about.
Nothing to write sense about, certainly.
As Kevin Costner nearly said in that wolf film: You may say that - I couldn't possibly comment.
AT PIE MANSIONS...
GAME 9: VILLA 2 FOREST 1
Welcome home, sir.
Thank you, Vetch.
I trust you enjoyed your break, sir.
Have you ever been to the Lake District, Vetch?
Alas, no, sir.
Everything's wet. Even the people are wet. They have this saying up there - if it's just stopped raining, or you suspect it's going to start raining at any moment, that's because it's not raining at present. Or something pithy like that. There's a lot of water, Vetch.
I'm sorry to hear that, sir.
No need to be sorry, Vetch - you weren't there, were you? You were down here enjoying the football, no doubt. They don't do football up there, you know. Too wet.
And everything's at forty five degrees.
I regret to say, sir, that as far as I am concerned, enjoyment is in short supply at Nottingham Forest these days.
But I thought everything was on the up, Vetch? Sparkly new set up, and all that.
There have, of course, been improvements, in the sense that we are once again functioning as a reasonably proper football club.
Well that must be a relief after five years of batshittery, eh, Vetch?
It is, sir. And the new sense of optimism was reflected on the field of play, at least initially. The new passing style seemed to be working, and the results were good. But...
Don't tell me - things started to fall away.
Sadly, they did, sir.
That's what happens to things, Vetch - they fall away. What exactly is falling away at the Foresters, eh?
I'm not sure, sir, but yesterday's first half performance against the Villa was a wretched culmination of whatever's going wrong. The passing game congealed into a stew of pointless possession, the defence jittered itself to bits, and the spectacle was wholly dispiriting. The second half showed improvement, but the result - and in the end it's the result that matters - was not a surprise.