Thursday, 17 July 2008

To Hennef and Back

IT was perhaps an omen as, sitting the departure lounge of East Midlands Airport, the music in the neighbouring bar (and I wasn’t actually in it, 9.30am is too early for even my booze addled liver) the music changed to ‘The Road to Nowhere’ by Talking Heads.
Moments later the PA burst into life to announce that the flight to Cologne had been delayed, before the ironic choice of bar entertainment then switched in timely fashion to ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’. If only.
Not exactly an auspicious start for our trip to join Nottingham Forest on their pre-season training camp in Germany.
Things did not improve much when the plane did arrive on the tarmac, as it was of the size of something that could easily have been constructed with Lego and should have had propellers rather than jet engines.
Certainly not ideal for somebody who is not keen on flying at the best of times. I began to wish I had partaken of a pint or two.
But, once the road to nowhere had finally lead us to Europe, via a rather nervous, delayed flight, things began to look up.
After I had kissed the ground in gratitude, a short journey via car took us to our destination, a small, pretty town just outside of Cologne.
Few people the English side of the Channel will have heard of the small town of Hennef, but in Germany, it has quite a fulsome history.
Since just the after the war (sorry) the picturesque training camp that Forest are staying at has been the premier venue for the German international team and, also, in the late 60s, as a base for the England World Cup winning team including the likes of Bobby Moore and Geoff Hurst.
Forest’s goal for the coming season may not be world or European domination, but a more modest target of a place in the Premiership.
But, as they competed an afternoon training session in the blazing afternoon sunshine on a crisp green pitch that was surrounded by lush green hills, it felt as though it was the start of a longer journey.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Finally...the Championship!!!!

AND so, after 69 hours or 4,140 minutes of football, Nottingham Forest’s journey into the Championship is finally over.

Barely a month ago, it seemed that the play-offs would be their most likely to route to promotion.

But, on a remarkable afternoon of joyous scenes at the City Ground, Forest did enough in the space of 90 minutes to ensure their return to the second-tier of English football was secured earlier than many had expected or dared to hope for.

In March, when the Reds produced a dour display in a 1-0 defeat at Doncaster, it appeared that the play-offs would provide their only realistic chance of promotion.

And, although a run of five wins a draw left them within a point of second-placed Doncaster going into the final day, Doncaster needed only to beat Cheltenham to be certain of promotion.

It was going to take a dramatic twist for Forest to succeed.

But, from the moment Julian Bennett, the Forest fan who had been presented with the player of the season trophy prior to kick-off, lashed home a low shot to put the home side ahead, a sense of anticipation began to grow at the City Ground.

It was as if things were destined to fall in their favour.

Kris Commons made it 2-0, just as false rumours came through that Cheltenham had taken the lead at Whaddon Road.

And there was a nervous moment as Yeovil pulled one back through Jaime Peters, sparking memories of their 5-2 success in last season’s play-off semi-final, when they had come back from behind to stun Forest.

But, in the space of two minutes, Lewis McGugan bent home a stunning free-kick to make it 3-1 before news filtered through that Cheltenham had gone ahead against Doncaster.

With half an hour gone, Forest had one foot in the Championship.

A second-half goal from substitute Andy Kirk left Forest feeling nervous, particularly when the stands rippled with disappointment when Doncaster struck an equaliser at Cheltenham.

But a further announcement, that Cheltenham had regained the lead was greeted as if Forest themselves had scored.

And, come the final whistle, the scenes of joy were unbridled, as Russell Slade, the Yeovil manager, grabbed Colin Calderwood in a bear hug, as the first of hundreds of Forest fans burst onto the pitch to celebrate their return to the Championship, not just after 69 hours of League One football, but three long years.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Oh the glamour

THERE seems to be a common misconception that life as a football reporter is packed full of glamour.
It isn’t. You do not automatically get sucked into a footballer’s lifestyle. There are no WAGS, no flash cars, no sipping pink champagne in exclusive corners of night clubs.
There are, however, cold meat pies or rat burgers on the menu, malfunctioning sat-navs that seem to confuse football stadia with grimy housing estates that make Basra look like Basingstoke, and, then there is reserve team football.
And let me tell you, you haven’t known the true nature of fear until news filters through, five minutes before kick-off, that a stiffs game – or more specifically a reserve game at Billingham (for the uninitiated, that is a far-flung corner of the country somewhere close to Hartlepool) – could be called off.
Perhaps I should have taken the hint as I attempted to navigate my way through a car park that David Walliams might well have swum across.
My passenger’s appeal for a lifebelt was only uttered half in jest.
But things were to get dramatically worse. After finally finding a corner where I could park without my car being in real danger of floating away, it became clear that this really could be the least of our problems.
Because as well as puddles in the car park, there was the small matter of a very large one in the middle of the penalty area.
During the pre-match warm-up Forest keeper Dale Roberts’ foot sank up to the ankle in the pitch.
From that moment on, it was obvious that there was little chance of any football being played.
A two-and-a-half hour journey from Nottingham had been wasted.
Hartlepool had only paid £120,000 for the pitch to be laid at Billingham over the summer.
That kind of money would be enough to keep the average Premiership star in Bentley’s for a while.
But it is not enough to ensure decent drainage on a football pitch. At least the pie was nice.