Words: David Marples
At some stage late on Saturday evening, my body reminded me how desperately hungry I was and prompted my hazy brain – in desperation – to buy a cheese and onion pasty from a stall on the concourse of a train station. To paraphrase Gordie Lachance from ‘Stand By Me’, it had been a long day and too many things had happened – some great; others less so – leading to the utter neglect of replenishing my boozy body with any form of non-alcoholic sustenance.
No doubt the foodstuff eyed me up as suspiciously as I did it. Baked eons ago, it had probably been laid under a hot light for the best part of the day, just waiting for some desperate soul to put it out of its misery. It was a transient marriage of convenience. I fumbled for change.
For an additional 4p, I could procure a coffee to wash my tasty snack down. I was incredibly vulnerable to such an offer and re-doubled my fumbling like Vladimir Stojkovic handling a rudimentary low shot from the edge of the box.
I wasn’t thinking straight. I went straight in for the kill and bit into the pasty. The radioactive puss-yellow lava that passed for cheese oozed out, freed from the slavery of pastry. Hot hot hot. My tongue burned. I needed something – anything to relieve the pain. How about a 4p steaming hot cup of Americano to ease the discomfort? Sure – that’ll wash away the burning sensation.
It still hurts now. The burning sensation has subsided but the discomfort remains.
That is not to cast away into oblivion the collage of joyful moments from our big day out in London: A procession of red shirts topped with smiley faces bundling through the St. Pancras gates. Being informed about ticket mishaps…the resolution of ticket mishaps. Hesitating to order a pint at 9.30 in the morning…ordering a second pint without a moment’s thought 30 minutes later. Meeting a procession of friendly faces in the beer garden of the wonderful Latimer Garden bar. Seeing the various Forest flags draped with pride. Colin Barrett’s entrance. Colin Barrett’s song.
Then the football happened.
On reflection, the performance probably wasn’t as bad as we think it was. I recall uttering out loud vacuous footballing clichés like, ‘well played’ and ‘right idea’, especially during the first half, but suspect this was more a case of bleary-eyed blind encouragement, without the basis of actual evidence. It ‘seemed’ like it might be alright and if we could make it to half time with the score goalless, we could give it a right old go in the second half. It seemed that the time spent worrying about grazed knees requiring Mr Bump plasters as a result of injuries sustained by a potent combination of densely packed seats with killer sharp edged protrusions of plastic alongside an actual away Forest goal might be time well invested.
It wasn’t. You know what happened. Those coals can remain unraked for the time being.
The fact that we go into the final game of the season a solitary goal away from relegation to the third tier isn’t a direct result of meekly succumbing to QPR. Our away record in 2017 – LLLDLDLLLDL and just the four goals scored – is a more substantial reason. The paltry two away victories we did chalk up prior to this dismal run were, in gloriously smug retrospect, more a result of a shockingly poor Ipswich home performance and a frankly gloriously weird and bonkers game at Oakwell.
But even this is only a small fragment of the big picture and when the smaller picture’s the same as the bigger picture you know that you’re in the mire. With the Fawaz era seemingly grinding to a chugging and screeching halt, all that remains is a crucial ninety minutes which may well define not only the short term future of the club but the longer term too. Exaggeration? Don’t think so: the ground we lost on similar sized clubs while in League One for three years can never be accurately measured – think attendances, think match day revenue, think attractiveness of the club to a prospective fan or player. Such things are dependent upon the level of football at which a club plies its trade.
We don’t know the extent of the damage done by the last five years under the current owner – it may take years to unravel. We don’t know what league we will compete in come August 2017. We don’t know for sure under whose guidance the club will be operating this time next week. We don’t know how the players will react to the pressure of such a crucial game when the moment comes for them to make decisions in the cut and thrust of the ninety minutes. We don’t know whether they will step up to the plate and turn in a career defining moment or buckle under the sheer weight of expectation.
We don’t know. We are well and truly in the realm of unknowns – more unknowns than a Donald Rumsfeld speech. What’s more, our defining moment will be played out on television, for ‘them’ to share in our relief or sneer at our failures.
What can we do? We can cheer. We can encourage. We can clap encouragingly when a mistake is made and let the players know that we know they care. Let’s save the blame-game for afterwards – and there will be blame, anger and tears; of that there can be no doubt – but while we can possibly influence the future direction of the club, let’s do so.
Admittedly, this might well sound like new age happy-clapper ‘good things will happen to good people’ crap when we should be wagging a finger and getting angry. Anger is good. Anger is an energy.
We may well need deep reserves of anger upon which to draw in the near future. Let’s save the anger for those who truly warrant it. But come Sunday, the only people who can get us out of this mess are the ones on the pitch – they need our support. Like ‘em, loathe ‘em, feel they’re lazy, feel they’re not up to it, simply want to bash their face in with a rusty spade when they misplace a pass, they need our support.
Whatever happens on Sunday, we’re all going to be guardians and fans of this bloody club of ours beyond June. Let’s treat it with the support it deserves. If it helps to see the current iteration of the club as a historical version, so be it. (Besides, doing so might ease the pain.)
The discomfort from that short-term, ill-advised pasty choice on a Saturday evening will no doubt last until Sunday and in all likelihood, way beyond.