Covering Nottingham Forest when Billy Davies was the manager (in his second spell) was the toughest time of my journalistic career.
It was impossible to do my job properly – interviewing the manager wasn’t allowed, interviewing some of the players was a privilege that had also been taken away, I wasn’t allowed to present pitch side and was banished back to the press box – something which thankfully was restored immediately after Davies’ departure, as Fawaz Al-Hasawi lifted all bans on the media.
To be frank, we weren’t providing anywhere near the service to our listeners (the supporters) as we wanted to, or should have been. Not that it was our fault.
The atmosphere around the City Ground was also pretty tough at that time.
Generally speaking, it’s a friendly place.
I could pass the time of day with a steward who had been there for 30 years, I might bump into the commercial manager for a chat, or a physio, a member of the coaching staff, or a member of the board.
Given that we usually arrived at the ground around midday, there was plenty of time for a good natter!
And generally, it would be about the most unremarkable things – how Southend were getting on, how good the pitch looked, how their family was. But in that second Davies spell, things were different.
None of the above happened – people I’d chatted to for years (and would again) would make sure they weren’t seen chatting to us.
They’d go out of their way to avoid bumping into us. It was horrible.
It was a time when some staff were so frightened of doing or saying the wrong thing for fear of their jobs.
Our commentary deal with Nottingham Forest ended the summer after Davies and Jim Price came in – after the club had just missed out on a Championship play-off place.
The Reds lost to Leicester on the final day of the season, and the Foxes instead finished sixth.
After six successive wins in early Spring had seen Forest surge into fifth spot, the Reds won just one of the last eight games to miss out on another play-off campaign under the Scotsman.
The Leicester match was actually the day Davies held his post-match press conference before the game.
Another example of the bad publicity that was showering down on the club at the time.
Now, I don’t get involved with commentary negotiations – as they say, it’s above my pay grade!
But apparently in the summer of 2013, I was involved. I wasn’t there, you understand, but I was involved.
- When I couldn’t talk to Billy Davies – the most difficult year of my career!
- He looked to have fear in his eyes” – life under Mark Warburton
- The story of Cohen and Davies’ move to Forest
- Dean Smith and Neil Warnock – the ones that got away for Forest
As part of the new deal, Forest wanted it put into the contract that I would present our programme from wherever Notts County were playing that week – and not from where Forest were playing.
Fortunately, my bosses stood firm – and those managers within the radio station were brilliantly supportive of me at that time.
We’d have our run-ins down the years, as you’d expect, but I could not find fault with most of what they did.
I wasn’t as impressed with the wider management in the BBC in the East Midlands, who I felt could have been a lot more resolute with Forest, and more supportive and understanding of what we were going through in Radio Nottingham Sport. They know this!
One of the fundamental principles of the BBC is that an interviewee cannot be allowed to choose which reporter the BBC sends to cover a story – whether that’s a football match, or a prime ministerial interview.
Otherwise, you’d have a PM insisting that their favourite reporter was sent to conduct an interview on every occasion – the BBC has to maintain that position.
So, had Forest succeeded and my boss caved in, what would be the next step?
If the club didn’t like what a summariser had said, BBC Radio Nottingham would need to change summariser? It was simply ridiculous.
In the end, Forest did a commentary deal, and I was able to present the sports programme from where the BBC decided I should present the sports programme – and not from where Forest chose.
At first, the commentary fee that the club asked for was prohibitively high, which I’m sure they knew.
If memory serves, at the time only Manchester United received that amount from a local radio station in the country.
The negotiations went right to the wire – the Friday evening before the season started was when the deal was done. But, importantly, it was done.
There had been quite a lot of pressure from fans on Twitter and other social media for the club to do a deal with BBC Radio Nottingham, and I think that really made a difference, so thank you!
I will talk more about this time later in the blog, and also about Billy Davies’ first spell at the club when it was very different.
But I wanted to wrap it up for now by saying how sad the whole year was, how difficult it was to cover Forest in the way we wanted to.
And I also think it was sad for Billy too, because I think his reputation in the game was damaged by the strange goings-on, and his brilliance as a football manager was over-shadowed by it.
I wish it had been so different.
Photo: Dan Westwell