I can distinctly remember the last time I spoke to Billy Davies.
It was at the press conference, held when he was announced as Nottingham Forest manager for the second time.
After having talks with Blackpool about their vacant manager’s position, he returned for the second spell – and talked for the first time about his “unfinished business” at the City Ground.
I asked him a question – “How different is the club now Billy, to the one you left nearly two years ago?”
Davies answered it fully and respectfully – but, he knew how much things would change, I did not.
And that was the last time we spoke.
After the press conference had finished, a group of sports journalists were chatting in a group of five or six, when Billy walked over.
He shook the hands of everybody in that group, except me. I was ignored.
It looks naive now, but I didn’t think much of it. I just thought he must have thought he’d said hello, or shaken my hand earlier. As they say here in Australia, “no dramas.”
But, in reality, it was a foretaste of what was to come.
The most difficult, the least enjoyable year of my career.
It was never explained to me what the problem he had with me was, and I could never get close enough to him to ask.
I’ve heard different theories about what the issue was.
One was that I didn’t keep in touch with him, after he left Forest the first time.
I should point out here that we had a very decent relationship in his first spell – and I’ll write more about that at another time in the blog.
I liked him and we got on well – I respected him as a manager and we chatted a lot off the record.
I will admit that I was worn out by the politics as he battled with the board, sometimes in my interviews, and the pressure to take a side at the time – working for the BBC I had to try my absolute best to stay neutral.
I can honestly say that in his first spell as manager, I worked so hard to remain close to both sides of the argument but not get too close to either side.
And yes, I’m proud of the job that we as a department did to cover all aspects of the stories at the time.
It wasn’t easy, as a battle for hearts and minds of supporters continued between him and the Forest hierarchy.
But we did the best job we possibly could. And let’s remember here that the two sides were meant to be on the same side!
But I didn’t stay in contact with him, after his departure.
I’ll have sent him a message or two when he left, thanking him for his help, wishing him luck etc – I tend to do that with all of the managers who leave. I think it’s right and proper to do so.
Let me say again, that I had huge respect for him as a manager. But the second spell at the club should never have happened, in my view.
It created untold problems at the City Ground, that took years to recover from.
Speak to the vast majority of players who appeared under him and they’ll tell you how good he was.
I’d seen it in games where he’d change something tactically, and suddenly the team would click and perform at a higher level. He was quite brilliant.
But all of the shenanigans off the pitch caused damage to the reputation of Nottingham Forest, and – in my view – undermined him ON the pitch, after time.
Another theory for his silence with Radio Nottingham is that I liked cricket!
Now, I know this sounds ridiculous, and it may be absolute rubbish, but the theory is that because I liked cricket I therefore must be close to Mark Arthur (the former Chief Executive at Forest, who’d also been Chief Executive at Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club and is now in a similar role at Yorkshire CCC).
I told you it sounds ridiculous, but I do know of another person who reported on cricket and football who was also frozen out – and was told that it was because of their penchant for our summer sport!
Let’s be clear about it, the major losers here weren’t me, or BBC Radio Nottingham, or Billy Davies.
The losers were supporters, who I firmly believe have the right to hear from the manager and players before and after a game – whether that be on the radio, in the Nottingham Post, The Athletic, wherever.
The frustration for me at the time was that I could never ask Billy about the problem. Had we been able to sit in a room together for a bit, I’m sure we’d have come to realise that it benefitted neither of us to carry on in this way.
Fans would benefit from hearing his views after a game – he’d be able to give his side of events.
Even if this non-existent meeting meant him shouting and swearing at me for 20 minutes, and then getting on with life, I’d have much preferred that.
The only time I got close to sorting it out was at Sheffield Wednesday at the beginning of March 2013.
At that time, we were allowed to interview a player before and after the game – this didn’t last long.
So, after chatting with the player down by the tunnel at Hillsborough, I spotted Jim Price – who Forest called the club’s General Manager – and thought I’d ask him what the issue was.
So while trying to hold together the final hour of the programme, and chat to him when I wasn’t on the air, he suggested I email him, and we’d have a meeting later in the week.
I left Hillsborough happy that hopefully whatever issue there was would be resolved.
I emailed once, heard nothing. So I gave it a few days, emailed again and still heard nothing. I’m still waiting for that meeting!
I have plenty more to write about this turbulent chapter in my career, so stay tuned!
Pics – Dan Westwell