Billy Davies, press conferences, FFP, social media abuse and a Perth beach…

One of the other sad things about Billy Davies’ second spell at The City Ground was how it polarised people’s views. If you like, it gave us a foretaste of the Brexit debate.

You were either hugely in favour of him being the manager, or massively against.

There seemed to be no middle ground among supporters, and it took an awful lot to move people from one camp to the other.

An example of this came on New Year’s Day 2014, with Forest – after a sluggish Autumn spell – up to fifth in the Championship table, and just five points off the top two. They were really hitting their stride at this point.

But Financial Fair Play was looming on the horizon, so I hosted a debate at Reading’s Madejski Stadium as part of our Matchday programme.

The BBC’s Forest commentator Colin Fray and then-Evening Post correspondent Paul Taylor joined me as we batted around the issues. 

The basic question was whether Forest should gamble and give Davies a bit more money to spend in January in the hope of earning promotion, and then it wouldn’t be an issue… or, do they aim to stay within the parameters of FFP to make sure there was no punishment down the line?

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Even as I write this now, with the benefit of hindsight, it looks absolutely the right decision to have that discussion.

I’m proud that we did – because what happened to Forest in the years afterwards proves it was correct to highlight the dilemma and the risk.

Bear in mind that Forest had some players earning upwards of £30,000 per week at that point.

The abuse we took on social media that day was something to behold. I’ve never known anything like it before or since.

It was “no wonder” that Davies wasn’t speaking to the media, if that’s how you report etc. “Why should we discourage a club from spending money?” 

It was all along those lines, but the language was much fruitier than that. I think I blocked more people that day on Twitter than at any other time!

It was also pretty much the last time I looked at people’s comments whilst I was presenting a programme, because – I don’t mind admitting – it affected how I broadcast for the rest of that afternoon. And I couldn’t have that again.

The other thing we got a lot of stick for was not taking Billy’s post-match press conferences.

As you may remember, he didn’t do one-on-one interviews with the local media after a game – in the way that every other manager (including him in his first spell) had done.

I think they’re so important for a manager to do, and conduct themselves well in.

Supporters will often form a view on a manager in those moments, as they listen on the way home in the car.

It’s a real opportunity for the boss to get his perspective across and change the narrative, if it needs changing.

And, let’s be right – Billy will have known this.

He had been the master of it in his first spell at The City Ground. He always got his message across, and you were left in no doubt about what he thought after a game. Kudos to him for that. 

But he didn’t do post-match interviews with the local media in the second time in charge – instead hosting a press conference at the back of the Study Centre, which nestles behind the club shop and ticket office in what is now the Peter Taylor Stand car park. 

It’s quite a trek to there from pitchside.

There were a number of reasons for us not taking these press conferences on the radio.

Firstly, the BBC wouldn’t allow it, because they were also being filmed by the club at the time, with the camera pointing at the person asking the question.

I have no idea why, but it would certainly have been quite intimidating – and the BBC decided that, for that reason alone, we shouldn’t take them.

Also, in those days it would have been technically very tricky to broadcast them live – radio microphones won’t reach that far, so we’d probably have to park our radio car outside the Study Centre to be able to broadcast it live.

I’m not sure we’d have gotten permission from the club at that time to do it!

And, someone would have had to be there to record/broadcast the press conference – which would have taken (probably Colin Fray) away from the press box at a time when he’s needed to talk more about the game on the radio.

In addition, press conferences are quite difficult to listen to on the radio – you often don’t hear the question, or part of the answer and they can go on for a long time.

So all in all, we couldn’t broadcast them, and didn’t. 

Sadly, it meant that fans couldn’t hear from the manager after a game. But there was one easy way for that to have been resolved!

In October 2013, I took an extended holiday – it had been planned for some time to mark, shall we say, a milestone birthday.

I was to take some long-service leave, put it with some annual leave, and take eight weeks off to travel around Australia.

Family and friends joined me as I spent some quality time in the place I now call home.

It had been planned since well before Billy Davies arrived for the second spell, but I won’t deny the timing was good!

It’s not the sort of thing you book one week, and hop on a plane the following week. It had been in the pipeline for at least a year.

What was amusing was that – because I was away so long, and I’d not been seen in the press box – I was told that Davies and Price thought they’d “won,” and that the BBC had decided to move me onto other projects. Even now, that makes me smile.

My only other project at the time was a sandy, white beach just south of Perth!

After the 5-0 humiliation at Derby, Davies was sacked and an unhappy spell – the worst year of my career – was at an end.

My rights to go back pitchside were immediately restored, I conducted interviews pre and post-match with the manager and players, and I was able to chat to friends and acquaintances around the club again.

Normality restored.

If I bumped into Billy in the street, and he was willing, I’d probably go for a coffee and chat with him and hopefully laugh about a few of the old days.

If you’d suggested that to me five years ago, I’d have bitten your head off! But it’s true what they say, time is a great healer. 

The whole episode was just very sad. And so unnecessary. 

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