Alex McLeish’s fleeting Forest stay was a sign of the times

“We have a very good working relationship and it troubles me greatly that people think otherwise,” said then-Forest owner Fawaz Al-Hasawi on February 1st 2013. 

He was talking about manager Alex McLeish, who, on February 5th 2013, left the club.

It was another shambolic time at The City Ground.

A time when I would get a call about something or other, and my instinct at first was that it was unbelievable and couldn’t possibly be true.

But after a while, I thought it probably was.

Only a couple of weeks before, Chief Executive Mark Arthur, head of recruitment Keith Burt and club ambassador Frank Clark had all left The City Ground.

Clark said the move had come “out of the blue,” but this was no way to treat a club legend. 

Burt was well-respected within the game, and had been instrumental in bringing lots of players to the club – and had worked with Colin Calderwood, Billy Davies, Steve McClaren, Steve Cotterill, Sean O’Driscoll and Alex McLeish. 

McLeish struck me as a very honourable, decent man in his 40 days at the club.

The calm at the eye of a fierce storm, where there’s carnage and destruction everywhere else around. 

To be honest, the fact that his tenure ‘extended’ to 40 days said more about the honour of McLeish than it did about Forest at that particular time.

I’m pretty sure he’d have quit the week before, had the game at the weekend not been away to Birmingham City.

As a former Blues man, who’d crossed the divide to become Aston Villa’s manager, he didn’t want to look as though he’d avoided a return to St. Andrews.

I remember asking him about his future after the game – there’d been rumours about it for days, hence Al-Hasawi’s quote at the top of this article.

He was pretty dismissive of my first question, so I followed it up.

“With respect, that’s not a ringing endorsement that says I’m happy and I’m going to carry on….”

“Well, with respect, I’m not making any comment on that.”

I don’t think anyone that heard the interview thought he’d be Forest manager for much longer, and he wasn’t. 

The transfer window had gone badly. Moves for Chris Burke – who scored both goals for Birmingham in the 2-0 win over the Reds in McLeish’s last game – and George Boyd had fallen through – the latter most spectacularly.

Forest did sign Kuwaiti goalkeeper Khaled Al-Rashidi on a two-and-a-half year contract, however.

At the time, we understood that McLeish had been promised around £3 million to spend in the January transfer window. 

But, McLeish had only won one game since arriving at Forest, and you wonder whether Al-Hasawi was already falling out of love with his new manager, and was working on the appointment of Billy Davies – and therefore decided to restrict McLeish’s January spending. 

That’s speculation on my part, but it seems to fit with what was happening and what went on to happen in the following weeks.

The George Boyd non-transfer heaped more derision on the club. Because of a supposed problem with an eye test, the £500,000 moved collapsed just minutes before the 11pm deadline.

Boyd had passed the medical to all intents and purposes, undergoing a brain and knee scan – everything was successful. 

He’s recently been talking to Peterborough United about the whole episode.

“At 9.30pm, the chairman told me that he wanted me to do an eye test,” he explained.

“I wore contact lenses, but they insisted that I did it without the contact lenses in.

“I couldn’t see properly and then they rang me at 10.30pm, with the window shutting at 11pm, to tell me that they could not sign me because of my eyes.

“They didn’t want to sign me so they pulled out the eye test.”

I still remember receiving the call, telling me that the deal had collapsed. I was waiting up, working into the night, awaiting confirmation of the signing that had been well trailed. 

It was another example of at first not believing what I was being told, only for it to seem very plausible a few minutes later.

The person that told me answered “I don’t know” to most of my dozen or so questions.

It was pretty much the theme of the time!

Photos: Dan Westwell/Nottingham Forest

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