Formerly of BBC Radio Nottingham, Matt Davies is a freelance commentator for the likes of ESPN Goals, Chelsea TV, Football League Interactive and a variety of overseas Premier League rights holders.
What’s your earliest Forest memory?
Watching the 1990 League Cup Final in my dad’s kitchen. He’s not into football and kept chipping in with jokes like “I know his brother – Nosey” whenever the commentator mentioned Garry Parker
What was your first Forest game?
A couple of days after that final win against Oldham. The Cup was paraded before kick-off and we then proceeded to thrash Man Utd 4-0 with all the goals coming in the first half. Incredible. A shame then that I can remember almost none of it.
Favourite Forest player — past or present?
There’s a few contenders. Stan Collymore was the one I had posters of on my bedroom wall. From that era I also loved Steve Stone, Ian Woan and Colin Cooper.
I was lucky enough to interview Michael Dawson quite a few times whilst at Trent University and I can honestly say he was the most courteous, pleasant footballer I’ve ever met. He was also outstanding in that play-off season of 2002/03 when the “Dawson is better than Rio” chants rang out, and he cemented his place in my affections when he and his brothers sat with the away supporters for the second leg of the Sheff Utd semi.
Dawson is second on my list but he’s quite a long way behind Stuart Pearce to be honest. I would assume 99% of Forest supporters from my era (i.e. post European triumphs) would make the same decision. Nowadays if a player engaged in some pre-match fist pumping with his supporters it would look and feel contrived but Psycho’s screaming and shouting routine in front of the Trent End was pure, honest, empathetic and on occasion the best bit of a match day. His penalty against Spain in the Euro ‘96 shootout remains my favourite football moment of all time and that his testimonial attracted a bigger crowd than the FA Cup quarter-final against Villa a couple of days before says it all.
This was the toughest question! Plenty of contenders obviously. I really enjoyed Julian Bennett’s opener against Yeovil on the day we secured promotion from League One, there’s a Stuart Pearce-esque quality to the goal, The initial crunching tackle and then the smack of the ball into the net – there was a stubborn insistence that he was going to score and we were going to go up.
Lewis McGugan’s free-kick against Ipswich a couple of years ago was just brilliant.
Brian Roy’s winner against Malmo will always be special to me as it was the first time I’d seen Forest in European action but my favourite of all time was the second goal in the 4-0 win against Middlesbrough in the Championship winning season of 1997/98. I was in the Main Stand near the Trent End when Kevin Campbell got the ball. It seemed to take him ages to shoot and as time stood still I remember being utterly convinced that if he scored we’d go up and if he didn’t we definitely wouldn’t. He enjoyed a dance after a goal in those days but on this occasion he just put his hands in the air and looked relieved. I was so giddy with joy that after the match I bought a Carlsberg logo t-shirt from outside the Main Stand car park which read ‘Campbell – Probably the best striker in the world’.
3-0 v Derby in 2003. Two for Marlon, one for the on-loan Huckerby and all bar the lower Bridgford chanting “bye bye John Gregory” as he stood on the touchline looking clueless and shell shocked.
Honorable mentions for the redemptive win against Yeovil which saw us promoted back to the Championship (a boy just in front of the press box turned to his dad and asked “does this mean we aren’t rubbish anymore?”) and the 2-1 win at Birmingham which Nick Miller mentioned. Van Hooijdonk was brilliant that day and the late goals made the torrent of bricks, stones and bottles of urine that hailed down on us afterwards slightly more bearable. I also have fond memories of a 4-3 win against Leeds just before the FA Cup Final in 1991.
I went with my uncle and we stopped at the Aviary en route to pick up a beer crate for me to stand on so I could see what was going on from the Bridgford End.
The 0-3 defeat to Plymouth as we slipped out of the Championship in 2005 was just awful but the worst game has to be the Yeovil play-off debacle. The misery was prolonged for me. I was on the early shift at Radio Nottingham the next day and had to read six news bulletins between 6am and 9am, each reliving the horror.
Your favourite Cloughie anecdote?
Not great but I remember him blowing a kiss to my mum from the open top bus after the 1991 FA Cup Final and both she and I being thrilled beyond belief.
I recently read Dave Armitage’s Clough Confidential which is full of brilliant anecdotes and essential for all Forest fans. I love the tale of him knocking Roy Keane out in the dressing room after that back pass against Crystal Palace, more for Keane’s reaction to it than the punch itself which is obviously quite an extreme piece of man management.
Your most prized Forest possession?
Not technically a Forest one but when I was 11 I had an operation on my hip which included a lengthy recovery period. My mum wrote to the club and I got a get well card (it was promotional postcard for his Puma King boots) from Stuart Pearce which read: ‘Dear Matthew, get well soon. Best wishes, Stuart Pearce.’ It was just what I needed at the time and I’ve kept it in a safe place ever since. I also have a video called ‘The official history of Nottingham Forest FC’ that I’m currently getting transferred to DVD which was presented, for reasons unknown, by Simon Mayo. I knew every word off by heart
Did you always want to be a football journalist?
Pretty much. I wanted to be a commentator as soon as I realised I wasn’t good enough to be a player, which was when I scored a stunning own goal for Ravenshead Reds under-11 team.
How has reporting the game changed since you started?
The major change for commentators has been the development of internet and video technology. Good quality video streaming and things like smartphones have meant a rapidly expanded market place with far more games being streamed live and more broadcasters producing highlights packages. This has in turn created lots more opportunities for commentators to get work and experience. Long may that continue.
What’s your relationship with the club been like since you became a journalist?
I’ve had few dealings with them since I ‘turned pro’ but when I was 17 I did a week’s work experience in the press department which was great. After that, whilst I was at uni, Fraser Nicholson, the club’s press officer was a great help to our radio station, ensuring we always got a place in the press box for games and could conduct any interviews we wanted.
Do they cater well for the press?
Again tough for me to say these days, the last game I attended in a work capacity was against Yeovil in 2008. They were always great to me in my amateur days but I guess it’s easier to be polite to someone whose coverage of the club will be paid no attention. One thing which I did find disconcerting was the location of the press box. It’s right at the top of the Main Stand which means you can’t see the upper tiers of the Trent End or Brian Clough Stand. Being a former Trent End Upper season ticket holder I don’t like the way you can’t see the whole stadium from the press box, you struggle to get a real sense of the atmosphere.
Many fans are critical of the news (or lack of) that has come from the club in the past — do you think Forest are bad at releasing information or fairly typical of most clubs?
We’re all aware that Forest’s approach to PR in recent years has been calamitous. I think after the disasters that were “we’re serious about promotion… are you?” and the failed but public courting of players belonging to other clubs, Forest chose the less is more policy which can be annoying, particularly in the lean summer months.
Of course, it could be all change in this respect now. I’m all for releasing information early via Twitter or the official site where possible and it would seem that’s something the Al-Hasawi’s are on top of. It seems it’s taken Forest much longer than most to realise that by releasing the story yourself you have at least some element of control over it.
In the light of the recent takeover, how should the club progress?
I’m all for the slow and steady approach but I also think the Championship looks much weaker this season than in recent years so now might be as good a time as ever to go all out for promotion. I don’t think that needs to mean breaking the bank (look at Reading last season) but a few more canny purchases are necessary. Also the key point is to stick with the manager. It’s conceivable we might not win any of the first 10 games of the season because our preparations for it have started so late but the board must back the man they chose because a rapid turnover of managers usually means the same happens with players and if there’s no consistency in those key areas of a football club there’s very little chance of success.
Do you know much of the Al-Hasawis? Or their plans?
Very little. I was on my honeymoon when the takeover was confirmed and I don’t feel I’ve fully caught up yet. Signs are ok at the moment but we won’t have a decent idea of how they operate for at least six months, once the season is well under way and there have been victories and defeats. The fact they have experience in football is a huge benefit and should mean we don’t find ourselves in a Blackburn or Portsmouth scenario.
I would assume they are aiming to boost the profile of the club (and thus themselves) in the Middle East which could be a big plus if managed correctly.
What (realistic) hopes do you have for the future?
To become a mid-table Premier League club that fields a high percentage of Academy players (local lads where possible) in its first team who stay at the club and contribute. Losing Patrick Bamford after he’d played just 11 minutes for the first team was galling (though understandable financially.) A few years ago we had a decent number of players from Nottingham in the team which I think can really enhance the bond between club and community. That’s something which I think is sorely lacking in football in general at the moment and the importance of it is massively underestimated.
Should Forest stay at the City Ground?
Absolutely. The City Ground being sandwiched between a test match cricket ground, the River Trent and Meadow Lane is aesthetically beautiful and unique and is one of the things that makes Nottingham such a special city. Also, I remember talking to John McGovern about this when the idea was first mooted and the club released that ridiculous clip art image of a stadium with no confirmed location. John told me that Forest struggled to sell out in the glory days (as he pointed out, it’s not the biggest city and it’s got two clubs) so to move to what would likely be a larger stadium and have swathes of empty seats wouldn’t be progression for me.
Like most have said though, the City Ground could do with a facelift. The new owners should be looking at ways to maximise match day revenue. One way to do this could be to buy a few of the premises in the area around the ground and turn them into shops/bars/eateries. Get people coming to the ground a few hours before kick-off, staying for a while after the match and spending money, it’s something which Arsenal have been able to do brilliantly since they moved to the Emirates and I see no reason why Forest shouldn’t be able to replicate their success, albeit on a smaller scale.
Dream scenario: where do you see the club in five years?
Dream scenario would obviously be Kings of Europe again but I’ll settle for a Premier League return with a few seasons in the comfort of mid-table and us having any sort of cup run. When I first started supporting Forest there was at least one trip to Wembley per season and having been to the new stadium a few times I’d love to see us play there. Not sure the nerves could take a play-off final mind you.