Some reporters had the first half of Sunday’s Forest v Brentford game as a tame affair, like an end-of-season wind-down. But the golden rule in sports reporting is never to put your pen away until the final whistle is blown. Action-packed after the re-start, we got to learn a lot about both sides and, for the neutral, it must have been great entertainment. If Brentford – the ‘Bees’ – were stung into action, the Reds were just stung.
A few years back, at my allotment, where there was a beehive nearby, I’d dig and plant to their background hum and busy to and fro. One day, that peace and harmony changed. The bees swarmed. First came the sound and then the gyrating cloud approaching and then fear of being surrounded by them. As the drone of bees passed by, a woman shouted as she ran towards me.
‘I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. The bees are agitated. It’s my fault. I’ve neglected them. What with my husband passing away and everything, it’s been too much. The bees can tell I’m not right, that I’m not caring for them.’ Weeks later, I heard that she’d given up her plot and the bees had gone.
Honey bees are renowned for their work-ethic and productivity, culminating in that most delicious of results: honey. They are sensitive creatures and far from infallible, too, but they are highly organised and efficient and work collaboratively.
No doubt, as things livened-up at the City Ground and Forest were reduced to ten men with the sending-off of Niakhate, Brentford sensed the perfect time to sting. And they did, from the resulting free-kick. At which point, Forest fans might have braced themselves for a swarm by the ‘Bees’. These days, though, to be Trentside on match day is to be part of something very special, a giant hive if you will, where players and supporters combine to produce a kind of symbiotic energy.
Substitutions and a readjusted line-up later, the Reds equalised with Dominguez’s first goal for the club. If that wasn’t enough to cause celebration, the remaining forty minutes displayed another side to Forest’s character: commitment and desire. Their collective will to survive the match with at least a point was palpable, even through a TV screen! Steve Cooper could be – and was – clearly proud of the resilience shown by his team and it reflects the spirit he’s created at the club.
What we see on the pitch, of course, is the culmination of all the work that goes on behind the scenes prior to match day. Aside from the expected drills and skills and fitness programmes, Forest, these days – and Cooper and his background staff in particular – have another dimension to address in preparation for games. With so many new players, integration becomes a challenge. Individual talent is one thing, combining the best of it to perform to its potential is another.
This is one of Cooper’s strengths, pointed out by ex-Forest player and MOTD2 pundit, Jermaine Jenas. As an example of the culture the manager has created, he cites the appointment of Serge Aurier as captain. ‘I watched a lot of Aurier at Tottenham – it didn’t work out for him there for some reason – and he looks like a completely different person at Forest … Cooper has brought in a group of players from all over the world and in those situations it is easy for cliques to form in the dressing room.’
And this is Jenas’ key point. ‘You have to find that one individual player who can gel it all together … Cooper obviously sees those qualities in Aurier (respected by youngsters and listened to by older players) who speaks numerous languages and sees him as the right person to convey his messages, not just on the pitch but also about the culture he wants to instil at the club.’
I would add that, crucially, Cooper’s management is underpinned by care, for the club, his players, and for the wider community. Which reminds me of that distraught bee-keeper’s words: ‘The bees can tell … that I’m not caring for them.’ Steve Cooper might not have the club producing honey but, of harmony, there’s no doubt!
*Article provided by Stephen Parker (Nottingham Forest Correspondent).
*Main image @NFFC Forest players swarm to celebrate a first Dominguez goal.