Wednesday, feeling like the 87th day of January, probably ended in a manner befitting of the month. Nobody likes this time of year. Nobody feels happy approaching the bar for a half-time beer with 12p in their account, closing their eyes and just hoping for the best. And I can guarantee you this – no-one particularly likes Reading FC.
The game, much like the build-up to a January pay-day, culminated in farce: Matty Cash trying to clear the ball off the line after it had sunk a mile into the back of the net – only for him to fall over and smash the crossbar in the process – was a very accurate representation of my attempts to do a food-shop earlier in the day with just pennies to spare.
But, at the end of the month, we have hope. February has the grace to end a few days earlier than all of the other try-hards on the calendar. That’s at least two days less “suffering” we have to do. Not that Sabri Lamouchi wants to spare us the pain, though.
Because it’s no longer enough for me to tell my friends, family, work colleagues and frustrated delivery drivers that I love Sabri Lamouchi, I’ve been listening to a lot of his interviews recently. Sabri is the pastor, I’m the hopeless disciple who would drink a flask of diesel if he asked me kindly. But there’s one word he keeps using to an awe-inspiring effect.
Sabri Lamouchi and his knowledge of suffering
We must “suffer”, he claims. Sabri says it when we’ve won. He says it when we’ve lost. He says it with a smile on his face, he says it when he’s about to make Ryan Yates run 20 laps for going in two-footed on anything that moves. And to suffer by his side… well, it’s such a heavenly way to live.
It makes sense, really. Given that his official chant swaps the line “don’t hurt me” for “Sabri Lamouchi”, you just know this fella can’t live without a bit of agony. Trust me, it’s a good thing. And none of us should be trying to agree a “safe-word” with him…
He uses “suffering” in a context wider than that of football, too. It’s been a while since a manager has connected with the fans on a wavelength of emotion and understanding. He talks about us all suffering through a season both on and off the pitch.
Over the course of nine months, we suffer at work, at home and the morning after an absolute skinful. Suffering is hopelessly intertwined with people who fervently follow their football team. It’s our second nature.
Twice in 10 days now, we have been left disconsolate due to late equalisers. It is never easy to make a good assessment of the game – or even the season – in the hours that follow the full-time whistle. Your best bet is to solemnly make your way home, via a boozer, and just put your foot through someone’s fence if it’s still bothering you. Sometimes, things look much better the morning after.
Pain and the bigger picture
Once the mist had cleared on Trentside, things looked much clearer. We performed well enough on Wednesday: Our top scorer is absolutely unstoppable, Joe Worrall and Ben Watson would genuinely add something to the Barcelona team at this rate, and Cashy looked too sexy even for Milan after that 90-minute shift.
Don’t get me wrong, I was as frustrated as anybody. Imagine letting those flat-pack-stadium-assembling, beige-carpet-loving, Peloton-buying, Waitrose-bothering, Piers Morgan enthusiasts do a job on you in successive weeks. It was hard to take. But Sabri – and his knowledge of suffering – came to the rescue once again.
His post-match interview on Wednesday was one for the ages. He spoke with gravitas, humility and dignity, holding the line between the obvious frustration the fans felt and the bigger picture we all need to keep in mind, no matter what the result is. Because, you see, the problem we’ve got now is the best one we could wish for – we’re just not used to being this high up the table, at this point of the season…
A touch of entitlement has already crept in, and we’re all guilty of it. We aren’t going to win every game just because we’re in the play-off places now. Like it or lump it, teams like Reading are going to organise themselves in a way which makes it tough for us to win against them, home or away. The circumstances in which we’ve failed to beat them are, obviously, very disappointing.
Better than a 0-0 with Burton…
But this is what the rest of the season is going to be like: With 18 left to play, we’re still going to get pegged back by teams who we dominate on the pitch. We are going to leave games disappointed with “just one point”. We are, naturally, going to look at anyone outside of the top 10 and think to ourselves “yeah, we’ll beat these today”, and feel a fair bit of rage if we don’t emerge victorious against them.
In a very twisted way, it’s a pleasure to feel like this: We’ve gone from Aitor Karanka calling a 0-0 away at Burton “the proudest day of his career”, to feeling flat after securing a point which moved us up to fourth in just under two years. It’s an almighty upgrade for us all.
This league doesn’t care much for anyone’s logic. It’s a notoriously difficult beast to tame. And when you’re in a dogfight like this, you’re going to get bitten. It’s just a shame we learned this lesson against Reading, because honestly, it feels like we’ve been nipped by a chihuahua.
And this is the suffering Mr Lamouchi has been talking about. It’s the suffering of a team that want to achieve things – with a good chance of getting promoted this season. It’s the type of suffering we haven’t felt in years, because we haven’t been worthy of such pain.
Every dropped point is going to hurt more than it did this time a year or two ago. Every goal we score from now on is going to be euphoric, and every time we concede, it’ll be a cavernous low. But the important thing for us all here is to not take these spiralling emotions home with us. Every “missed opportunity” is not the end of the world, nor is every impressive win confirmation that we are going up.
For three minutes on Wednesday, you’d have sworn we’d cracked the answer to a 21-year riddle. Grabban’s strike gave us a rush we haven’t felt in quite a while. We’ve scored some important goals in the Marinakis era, but at the time, it genuinely had a claim to be the biggest of the lot. The celebrations were wild, if not long-lasting.
S&M: Sabri & Management
We are now in a situation where our “biggest game of the year” is always going to be our next game of the season. This is no dreary mid-table obligation that seems to sting us every April. This is the real deal. This is 18 cup finals, and do you know something? We’re not going to win them all. And that’s fine. Because, realistically, winning half of those games will keep us in the play-offs – an ambition that seemed relatively lofty at the start of the season.
There is still more suffering to be done on our part. There are a lot more disappointments in store, and we’ve probably got a few more games to lose. But we’re a solid outfit (for 75 minutes a game, anyway). At this stage – and even under the intense pressure that comes with the next few months – you back us to win a few at home, win a few away, pick up some points here and there, and dig-in when we absolutely have to.
So, enjoy the suffering. Revel in all of that hurt. Because it’s a privilege to feel this way again. Give me the heartache of a push for the top-six over a string of meaningless season-closers anyday. At the risk of sounding like an S&M participant; sometimes, it’s good to feel the pain – and Sabri knows exactly when the whip needs cracking.
*Article provided by Tom Head (Nottingham Forest Correspondent).
*Main image @NFFC Sabri Lamouchi understands that Forest fans are suffering but will it be worth it?