This may come as a surprise, given what happened when he returned to Nottingham Forest, but there was a time when Billy Davies and I got on pretty well!
It was a time when he was very willing to be interviewed, chat at length off the record and was available for phone conversations and texts when we couldn’t meet face to face.
This was his first spell at The City Ground, a time I look back on largely with great fondness – he turned the team from a ‘wet behind the ears’ Championship outfit into a side that should have got promoted to the Premier League in either of his two full seasons at the club.
They were brilliant to watch at home, showed some real flair and gave many a side a battering.
In combination with that, which most fans didn’t see, they were a nightmare to play away from home.
They wouldn’t have endeared themselves to many of the fans watching in some of the games – but you had to admire the way they were savvy enough to take the points on many occasions. There was much to enjoy.
I still believe they should have won over two legs against Swansea City in the 2011 play-off semi-final – it felt like the club had missed a huge opportunity.
The visitors played with ten men for 88 minutes of the match, but Forest seemed overwhelmed by the possibilities of what they could do, and actually did very little.
I thought they were far too negative, and a side of that quality could have effectively won the tie in that first game had they gone for it. We will never know for sure.
After the second leg was lost, Davies was sacked.
After Colin Calderwood was fired in December 2008, there was talk of Nigel Clough taking over – his Burton side were top of the Conference at the time, while John Pemberton had success as caretaker-manager.
But owner Nigel Doughty was very much a ‘stats’ man – and Billy’s stats in the Championship were very impressive. The previous summer, Doughty had studied Robert Earnshaw’s stats as a striker in great detail before parting with nearly £3m to sign him.
I know that Doughty was always worried about what would happen if the appointment of Nigel Clough had gone wrong – he felt like he could never sack him, given his history with the club.
I’m pretty certain the same was true for the potential appointment of Stuart Pearce. He couldn’t bear to sack him, when the moment inevitably came.
Davies had enjoyed play-off campaigns with Preston and Derby and, while I know not everyone in the Forest hierarchy was happy with the appointment, Doughty’s judgment was – as always – what mattered.
When a manager is about to be appointed, I’ll generally ring around a couple of my journalistic colleagues and friends, people I trust, to see what the new manager was like to deal with.
This wasn’t always an accurate way of judging a future relationship, as inevitably you get on better with some people than other people do – but it gave me an idea of what to expect, and what not to do to alienate a new manager from Day One!
Billy’s ‘reviews’ were mixed at best – some liked him, but some really didn’t and were glad to see the back of him. That’s not particularly unusual, but it made me a little wary as our relationship got underway.
I needn’t have worried.
He was very good to deal with, from the beginning. In fact, I got away with a major error very early on.
If you were a regular listener to BBC Radio Nottingham, you’ll know we made a point of bringing you the team news on the radio as soon as we were allowed to – which was at 2pm on a Saturday afternoon.
But sometimes we’d have the team news some time before then – on an embargoed basis, which meant we weren’t allowed to broadcast it until 2pm. In my final season covering the club, we’d usually get it around 5-10 minutes before 2pm.
That’s incredibly useful, because it gives Colin Fray a few moments to research a few things about surprise selections etc, and I can have a quick think about the issues and talking points before we go on air and talk about them.
When Billy became manager, he made a point of emerging from the tunnel, finding me and telling me the team himself, rather than what happens these days – which is getting a text or WhatsApp message.
He’d also explain why certain players were playing, and others weren’t.
Brilliant. It meant that there was no debate, no uncertainty – supporters knew exactly what the manager’s thinking and reasoning was. Clever by the manager, yet so simple to do.
The only small issue I had with it was that we went on air at 1.30pm, and Billy would often wander out around 1.40pm – a time when I might be on air asking questions.
Ideally, he’d wander across to me while we were playing a pre-recorded interview, but obviously that didn’t always happen.
For the first few games, I completely misunderstood how Billy wanted this interaction to go – so I’d speak to him live on the radio, and he’d do 3-4 minutes chatting about his team selection.
Fantastic radio, but we were broadcasting his team news twenty minutes before we should have been!
I remember the first time it happened – at Charlton – and thinking ‘Blimey, if this is how it’s going to be, we’re going to get along absolutely fine!!’
After a few weeks, the penny must have dropped, and the interviews stopped. He wasn’t angry, it wasn’t a major issue and I think he saw it as a genuine misunderstanding.
But for the rest of his first spell in charge at the club, (which remember was two and a half seasons), he walked out of the tunnel at 1.40pm to find me and let me know his team news.
The contrast with how the relationship was in his second spell in charge was pretty big, and it makes me smile to this day.
He kept Forest in the Championship in his first half season with the club, something he described as “the greatest achievement of his career.”
Given that he’d got Derby promoted into the Premier League, it made me chuckle at the time!
After arriving at the club with only goal difference keeping them out of the relegation zone, Davies won his first three matches in charge of the Reds – that game at Charlton, plus wins over Plymouth and Sheffield Wednesday.
There were some big results on the way – who could forget Dexter Blackstock’s stoppage-time winner in front of the Trent End against Bristol City?
Taking 11 points from the last 5 matches saw Forest end up 7 points clear of the relegation zone – people forget how close the club came to going straight back down to League One.
- Billy Davies, press conferences, FFP, social media abuse and a Perth beach…
- When things got personal at Forest
- When I couldn’t talk to Billy Davies – the most difficult year of my career!
- Why always Nottingham Forest?
- Making history at Elland Road
- A suit, a shave and the sack
PICS – DAN WESTWELL