As someone who was beginning to tire of the football “bollocks”, as I called it (not on air, you understand!), Sean O’Driscoll was a welcome change.
I was becoming tired of the fact that off-field issues seemed to be as important as on-field matters. When that happens at a club, you know it’s in trouble.
Little did I know that there was to be no let-up in the politics, the late-night tweeting, and the chasing of stories at 10pm for a good few years to come.
It would become draining, exhausting and it was all so unnecessary – more of that later.
One of the things that still makes me chuckle about O’Driscoll is the time I asked him, “how much did you enjoy the win?”
Not going to win me a Pulitzer Prize, that one. But I would often start a post-match interview with a ‘half-volley’ of a question – because in my experience, the manager is going to give you his formulated answer about the game no matter what you ask.
So, let’s get that out of the way, and then hopefully he’ll answer the questions after that. It doesn’t always work, but that’s the theory!
But, having asked O’Driscoll the question, something happened that had never happened before or since.
He simply held his hands out, about three feet apart and didn’t say a word. Not great radio.
He’d made his point. It was a dumb question, straight out of the “Football Bollocks” book.
It made me really think about every question I asked him. It was good for me, though it felt bloody awful at the time!
I thought Forest were making good progress under O’Driscoll as we entered December. In touching distance of the play-offs, playing some good football, with neat and tidy footballers who would get better as a team as time went on. That’s how I saw it.
As it turns out, the seeds of O’Driscoll’s sacking were planted at the beginning of that month.
Forest lost at home to Hull City, thanks to a controversial winning goal, which should probably have been ruled out for handball.
Fawaz Al-Hasawi was close to the owners of Hull. It seems that in the boardroom they advised the Kuwaiti that if he wanted to get Forest into the Premier League, he’d have to appoint a manager with Premier League experience and a Premier League feel.
They’d done it with Steve Bruce, who’d seen the Tigers promoted (and would again). Al-Hasawi listened, and the end of O’Driscoll was imminent.
It didn’t help that Forest were about to go through a slightly wobbly spell, though they won one, drew one and lost one of the next three matches.
Then came the Leeds game, which Forest won 4-2 to move to within a point of the play-off places.
O’Driscoll’s fate, however, was already sealed by the time that Leeds game kicked off.
I’ve since learned that Al-Hasawi asked Chief Executive Mark Arthur to sack O’Driscoll on Christmas Day, but Arthur had refused to follow the order.
But it meant that O’Driscoll was a ‘dead man walking’ during the Leeds game. In hindsight, I think he knew it too.
The publicity that Forest received for sacking a manager so close to the play-off places was bad enough – I remember Gary Lineker tweeting about it at the time – but can you imagine how much worse the publicity would have been had they done it on Christmas Day?!
I don’t think the departure came as a surprise to O’Driscoll – relations between him and Al-Hasawi had deteriorated markedly over signings and team selection.
Forest were seventh in the table – a year before, they’d been 22nd after home defeat to Peterborough United.
At some point, the goalposts moved for O’Driscoll. His target moved from consolidation in the Championship, to promotion – but the players brought in during the summer weren’t going to be able to provide that without serious additions in January, a month he never saw as Forest manager.
I shall always remember the moment when we found out. We were on a sports marathon on BBC Radio Nottingham, so Colin Fray and I had been at The City Ground that Boxing Day for a 2pm-6pm programme – and we were then going to hotfoot it to the National Ice Centre to bring commentary on the Nottingham Panthers/Sheffield Steelers traditional Christmas fixture, starting at 7pm.
Having won against Leeds, we had put it to the back of our minds that O’Driscoll might be sacked.
However, we both started getting calls. But we were on air, so neither of us could answer!
In the end, I left Colin to talk on the radio while I answered my phone. And soon we were talking about O’Driscoll’s sacking on air.
We both came off air at 10pm, and had the same thought. The circus had begun.
The club had been on an upward trajectory, with improvement happening slowly and steadily.
That’s the best way. Anything more is unlikely to result in sustainable improvements – the club will just crash and burn otherwise.
And that’s what would happen over the next few years.
Photos: Dan Westwell
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