It’s summer and it’ll soon be the start of a particularly weird football season. I don’t mean the fact that Forest finally find themselves back in the top flight (yes, come on you Reds!) but that, come November, the juggernaut of domestic fixtures will come to a shuddering stop. Everywhere. All over the globe. Reason? The 2022 World Cup in…Qatar.
So, with beach towels still splayed out along coasts up and down the land and the cricket season still in full-swing, the Premiership will bully its way back onto the calendar on August 5th, with Forest next day against Newcastle. We can only hope that players are fully rested, refreshed and reinvigorated. The days of a ‘close season’ seem a thing of the past. This season, though, will have that unprecedented interval in late autumn when the footballing world (aside from the likes of Italy – current Euro champions! – who didn’t make the cut) heads to the Middle East.
Call me a traditionalist but World Cups are meant to be end of season tournaments. They have their own preambles, scandals and stories. Some of us can readily recall the Jules Rimet trophy being pinched whilst on display in Westminster, only to be discovered by a dog called Pickles months before England won it legitimately. Or take the episode of England captain Bobby Moore’s 1970 arrest in Columbia prior to the competition’s start in Mexico for supposed shop-lifting! But the tournament – whatever set-backs there might be – always breaks out into a glorious carnival of colour and hope and harmony…and, sometimes, vuvuzelas. The usual suspects nearly always reach the quarter-finals, with at least one nation punching above its ranking, before we get the most-watched sporting event on earth: the final.
I’ve sat through plenty of World Cup finals on TV in my time (even managing to catch Italy’s win against France – and Zinedine Zidane’s infamous head-butt! – in 2006 on a dodgy television fed by an even dodgier electricity supply in a village in Kenya), starting with England’s 1966 victory. I thought that match was all over when I went for a pee, England leading 2-1, only to return to our living room to see my dad with his head in his hands. West Germany had equalised. We all know our lads finished the job in extra time, though, and that helped seal it in my young memory for infinite repeated highlights.
Not all finals have been as memorable but I was even more mesmerised by the next one in Mexico, helped by being invited to watch it on next-door’s colour TV. Brazil demolished Italy in the finest team performance I think I’ve ever watched. In their yellow shirts, blue shorts and white socks, Brazil cast a spell over me throughout the competition. I knew their team (like all the Forest teams through the 60s and 70s) by heart, unlike the maths equations, physics theories and chemistry’s Periodic Table I was supposed to know for O Level exams. How could they compare with the magic of Pele, Jairzinho and Rivellino? So much for global reminiscing. Of more immediate importance – and closer to home – is the 2022-23.
Premiership season for Forest fans. How will the team fare? ‘All the world’s a stage’ said Shakespeare And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts…
He might not have been talking about football but he knew his stuff. The Premiership has come to be a world showcase for some of the best football played by some of the game’s best players. Just as in World Cup tournaments, stars emerge or consolidate their reputations or fade into obscurity. Who amongst the Forest squad will rise to the new challenges and demands and impress? Will there be one stand-out performer, a few or a team’s worth? Shakespeare’s one man playing many parts covered the whole of life but a season is long enough to watch a footballer mature into a potential local hero. Think Brennan Johnson last season, for example.
That said, this season, remember, is like no other. We’re all too familiar with football-speak like ‘sick as a parrot’ and ‘a game of two halves’. Now we have a new one: ‘a season of two halves’. It means that many top players get to play three parts, World Cup duty sandwiched between two domestic league sections. That leaves plenty of opportunities for success and failure, disappointment and joy, to be experienced by players, teams and fans over three distinct phases in one season. We’ll all adjust, of course, and ‘normalise’ the season ahead but it’s still a pretty weird prospect. Fingers-crossed for Forest to turn weird into wonderful and give a good account of themselves in both halves.
*Article provided by Stephen Parker (Nottingham Forest Correspondent).
*Main image @VisitQatar a winter world cup will be a football first splitting the English season in two.