‘A week is a long time in politics’ goes the famous saying, reflecting the fast pace of change in Westminster circles. What with revelations, reputations tarnished and resignations, you wonder that there’s any time left for governing! The same can be said about the world of football: so much gets packed into a week full of back-page transfer gossip, Twitter and TikTok tittle-tattle and team-tactic updates, you wonder how much energy and enthusiasm is left to play the game on the pitch.
My pen is pulling me Forest-way, to work out how – in the space of seven days – the Reds can shift from being so resilient and focused against possibly the best club team in Europe to then get hammered by…
The Hammers! One Saturday we bask in the satisfaction of holding Manchester City to a draw; the next we shake heads in disbelief at a four-goals-in-fifteen-minute collapse against West Ham. But I’m not about to go down that rabbit-hole. Best left to Steve Cooper to sort out back at the City Ground.
Sandwiched in-between those Jekyll and Hyde performances by Forest last week were two momentous events in football, both off the pitch. One had us looking back, the other casting an eye forwards: a case of back to the future! The announcement of the death of BBC commentator John ‘Motty’ Motson reminded us of how the game has changed over fifty years. He covered 10 World Cups, 10 European Championships, 29 FA Cup Finals and, in total, 2,500 matches. That is some record. We football fans were lucky to have him as our witness, ‘the eyes and ears’ he would say, to all that action in so many places and at so many levels.
What made John Motson special, part of our football lives? Several things. His career began in an era when TV coverage of a game might be on one of three channels and there were – basically – three commentators so becoming a household name and voice was a given. But he had qualities that endeared us to him. Like his work ethic. Motson was renowned for his meticulous preparation for matches, keeping sheets of hand-written notes of research to hand – pre Google remember! – from any number of sources. He’d consult the history records and he’d talk to directors, managers, ground staff and stewards, anyone who had a stake in the game, a different angle.
If he had a train-spotter’s eye for detail and note-keeping, it was in the delivery that John Motson really excelled. His natural enthusiasm reflected the fans’ perspective, from admiration and excitement, to bewilderment at some tactic or behaviour. All was laced with a sense of humour, the light touch of a chuckle to remind us that we were watching a game. It might be a crucial fixture but it was, in the end, a game.
When it came to something much more serious, he found the right tone, the sense of gravitas required, none more so than at Hillsborough in that 1989 FA Cup tragedy. His darkest moment as a commentator, he reportedly almost lost his love for the game after that.
We can be thankful that he didn’t, that Motson went on to guide us into the modern era of the Premiership and foreign ownership, a sport profoundly affected by the global economy and the spawning of so many media outlets. He had one foot in the past, (even looked a little archaic in his sheepskin coat) to a time when all that appeared on a club shirt was the badge and the player’s number and a ploughed-up field could pass for a professional pitch. The other foot was firmly planted in the here and now – where shirts have become like mobile advertising hoardings and a pitch puts a billiard table to shame – to give us a measured take on our shared passion for the game and remind us of how precious a thing it is on so many levels. And we trusted him.
Which brings us to the other major event of last week: the white paper. Not the most engaging title for parliamentary procedure, I know, but the announcement concerned the future of football. White papers are policy documents produced by the Government that set out their proposals for future legislation. We’ve all sensed the sport changing – nothing wrong with that – but it’s been at such unprecedented speed in the last decade and without giving much thought to one of they key ingredients to its success: the fans. We supporters have felt increasingly excluded from football, sometimes finding our team to be owned by a labyrinthine collection of financial backers, and sometimes left without a club, such as happened with the demise of Bury FC and Macclesfield FC.
The gist of the white paper is that there should be a regulator to oversee the state and health of the game. It’s taken years to get to this stage so it’s something to celebrate. Legislation would cover grass-roots to grandstand fixtures and help stitch the domestic game back into a coherent whole. Responsibilities at men’s club and league level – particularly in the role played by the Premiership – would be made more transparent and institutions made more accountable. It is, crucially, intended to address issues related to responsible ownership.
We have to wait and see how all of this plays out in life and legislation. Perhaps of more concern to Forest supporters, in the immediate future, is how the Reds play in their next fixture. Everton at the City Ground will not be for the faint-hearted!
*Article provided by Stephen Parker (Nottingham Forest Correspondent).
*Main image @BBCSport The legendary John Motson will be sadly missed by football fans.