After Joe Kinnear’s initial success, the 2004/2005 season unravelled pretty quickly.
Halfway through the season, a defeat at second-bottom Gillingham – in which Notts County legend Tommy Johnson scored the winner – put Forest into the relegation zone themselves.
Kinnear called the referee “Coco the Clown” after the game.
The ref had not sent off Andy Hessenthaler (or Hessy-taylor as Kinnear called him!).
The Gillingham player-manager had hauled Andy Reid to the ground, and had been booked. It led to a touchline ban – which Kinnear only began serving when he became the manager of Newcastle some years later.
As well as the “clown” comment, he also told some of my national colleagues that he “wasn’t sure he wanted to continue in the job.”
The following game saw the Reds beat QPR at The City Ground, but emboldened by victory, he called fans who wanted him sacked “morons” or “idiots.”
In our post-match chat, he said that he’d be Forest manager for “as long as he wanted to be”.
Next up, Derby away.
There was something not quite right about Kinnear when he walked in for his Thursday press conference, ahead of the Derby match.
He was already bristling. Not quite spoiling for an argument, but he wasn’t happy with something.
There wasn’t much small-talk before the interview – sometimes you sense it’s best just to get on with it. So I did, and started with the usual half-volley question outside off-stump…
“Big game at the weekend, Joe?” Again, chances of a Pulitzer Prize limited.
He went on to explain that it wasn’t, it was “just another game.”
I suggested it wasn’t “just another game,” potentially giving him a way out of the carnage that I could already begin to see developing in the very short term.
I wanted to be fair to him, to explain what he meant, for me to understand that maybe he was making a nuanced point that I’d fail to pick up on. Nope.
The hole got deeper. Kinnear said that he’d played in North London derbies, insinuating that there was no way a Forest v Derby game could match those.
It was a mess. There was nothing that Forest could do to polish this particular turd – the manager had said it, and no spin was going to help Kinnear.
The only way out of it for him was to win at Pride Park at the weekend – and then take some credit for being a master motivator, who’d taken all the pressure off the players in a derby game and navigated his way to success.
Oops. Forest were swept aside 3-0 in Derby, and remained in the Championship relegation zone. Kinnear didn’t show for an interview post-match, nor a press conference. I fully expected him to be sacked fairly shortly afterwards. But he wasn’t.
Having been beaten by their local rivals on the Saturday, Forest faced Leicester at home on the Friday night.
To my surprise, Kinnear was still the manager and fronted the pre-match interview.
First of all, he spoke with me in the press room at the front of the Peter Taylor Stand, and said the right things. The club’s outstanding press officer – Fraser Nicholson – had clearly done a lot of work with what Kinnear needed to say, in an attempt to get some of the fans back on side.
And in my interview, he stuck largely to the script. In many ways, it was an unremarkable interview. And you didn’t get many of those with Joe!
However, next up was an interview with Sky Sports’ Pete Colley, which was to take place in the Directors’ Box in the same stand.
In the interview, he was asked – “what would you say to the people who are planning on protesting on Friday night… I suppose you’d say ‘get behind the team, because we need you…?’”
Pete had given him the olive branch, all Kinnear had to do was grasp it.
“I’ve got nothing to say to them, they are people who clearly weren’t loved enough by their parents when they were young!!”
The bridge-building had gone a little off track. Apparently, those that have re-watched the tape can make out an audible groan from Fraser Nicholson in the background. A press officer’s worst nightmare.
As Kinnear and Nicholson walked back down out of the director’s box and through the corridor, Kinnear said “I’ve gone too far this time, haven’t I son?!”
And that was it. He was gone the next day. The club would hurtle towards League One.
I often wonder whether the relegation that followed would have happened, had Forest stuck to what I think was the original plan and dispensed with Kinnear’s services in the summer of 2004.
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