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Sunshine, Moonlight

"Dougie's still not loved. Yet Dougie doesn't mind. Dougie just gets on with it, and it's hard not to admire the guy for that." Put your hands together for Phil Juggins who crosses the white to make his debut for ITTO.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Ref: 00498HR-7

Salary: Competitive

Contract: Temporary

Do you dream of a new challenge, every day?

Are you an ambitious, locally-based masochist, with your own transport?

As a one-time market leader, we’re looking for an enthusiastic self-starter to help rebuild our brand. You’ll have a can-do attitude, and at least five years’ experience as a manager, fireman, or mental health advocate.

Due to trading restrictions, and the ongoing absence of key support staff, you’ll be adept at making the most of your resources. You’ll be a versatile thinker, as things can (and will) change quickly in this role. Our discerning customers aren’t interested in excuses / facts, so strong communication skills are also a must.

Benefits include a lifelong severance payment, a charming riverside office, and a complimentary ‘I Got F*cked in the Forest’ bumper sticker. If you think you’ve got what it takes, send a crayon summary of your plans to PO Box 4, Rushcliffe Civic Centre, Nottingham.

* Please note that whilst we are an equal opportunity employer, it helps if you’re Scottish.

--

The Forest job’s a shitter. Let’s be honest.

It swallows managers whole. Fifteen of them, in twenty-three years: the meh, the bad, and the ugly.

Some of them sparkled: of that, there’s no doubt. Clark, Bassett, and Hart—even Billy, the first time out.

But none of them bettered themselves. They didn’t go anywhere; just out, or away. Three quit, and ten were sacked, and only Platt (mercifully) was taken off our hands. None of them were pinched, or poached—in the end, they all just went.

So many managers, and so many methods; so many different personalities, and philosophies. It’s a grim tale of fourteen men, and what they did with their fourteen months—the average lifespan of a Forest manager, since 1993.

Whatever the plan was, it always seemed to be snookered by something—some weighted mix of budget, patience, and principles. The project-planners, and the shit-or-busters; the warhorses, and the bright young things. Line-towers, and belligerents; pass-and-movers, and surface-to-air merchants.

Some were screwed. Some screwed themselves. But they came, and they all went.

And now here’s Douglas, still standing tall, some twelve months on. Four more than many of us thought he’d ever deserve, or get.

For that – for all he’s been through, and for what he’s managed to not only retain, but create - I owe him an apology.

That’s regardless of Saturday’s game. Bollocks to Huddersfield, and their Dortmund-lite football: it’s lovely, but it’s not for us. Not right now, anyway. The match said nothing that we didn’t know already—that this Forest team (under these circumstances; missing these players) just can’t take the game to their opponents. Can’t boss the play—can’t set the tempo. We’re a team of defenders, holding midfielders, and semi-wingers, and the tools just aren’t there. When Dougie dares to try anything expansive, and it’s like watching AC/DC take a crack at Wagner.

It’s awful to watch, and I suspect he knows as much. As a young boy in Glasgow, cross-legged in his mam’s lounge, I doubt he was dreaming of this Spartan stuff.

But it’s effective. And in a season that was only ever about surviving, it’s worked.

--

I can remember walking out after the Cardiff game, last August. Antonio had just played his final Forest game, we had five points on the board, and safety – let alone progress – seemed a world away.

And I said it again, walking up the embankment: the bloke’s a loser.

I’d been saying it for months. I’d hung on to that opinion (that sentence) since the day he was appointed—just as people made their minds instantly up about Bassett, and Calderwood, and Cotterill.

After that game, on the radio, Dougie did what he always does—he insisted that we were making progress, and that the signs were there. It’s maddening, especially when you know that we’ve been shite, but then that’s his thing: it’s what he does. It worked for Alex Ferguson, after all.

Never an ounce of negativity from Freedman: he just shrug-smiles through all of the nonsense, and pushes on.

And what nonsense there’s been: what thorough trouble for him, from the outset.

None of us wanted him here, in the first place—he’s ploughed his own solitary path, knowing that. Knowing that he wasn’t Pearce; knowing that minds in football are quickly made, and rarely changed. Knowing that he’d always be working twice as hard, to prove half as much.

The embargo came. And after that, Britt’s knee. The long and stretching months without him, and Fryatt, and Reid, and Cohen: the ones with Danny Fox.

FFP rearing up in some new and inventive way, every time he tries to patch one of our ever-rotating holes.

The 150-year anniversary, and its own weird pressures.

Losing Antonio.

The formality of his sacking, always just a month away.

Boxing through every minute of every day, with one arm pinned firmly behind his back.

--

Last week, I wrote about what I feel we've lost as a club.

But how’s about we take a look at what we’ve gained?

Because we have gained. In small but important ways—ways that could be the start of something new, and something better.

Something more than fourteen months. Finally, perhaps—something sustainable.

We’ve gained a bloke who actually seems to enjoy being the manager of Forest: one of the few who doesn’t treat the job as an inconvenience. So many others were weighed down by it, and the peculiar pressures of Nottingham Forest. Dougie, though—he’s kept it all on a level. Not for him, Kinnear’s bully-boy rants; Megson’s neurotic waffle about ‘dark forces’; Billy’s passive-aggressive swings at everyone, and anything. Granted, this Forest team might not be to everyone’s / anyone’s tastes, but Dougie’s put more time than any of his predecessors – Psycho included – into reminding us that we’re worth managing.

And that’s the bigger picture, for me. Through him, we’ve gained a Forest team with bollocks.

A Forest team that can actually concentrate; from front to back, and start to finish. A team without ego, and a concentrated sense of purpose.

"I don’t mind, as long as they’re trying"—that’s the holding principle of all football fans. It’s what we all say, when times are lean. And what have these past months been, if not a triumph of raw bloody effort?

So forgive him his Huddersfields. They’ll come, inevitably enough, and they’ll go. As a self-declared great man once said: "it is what it is."

Dougie’s still not loved; in the darkest corners of the internet, he’s not even liked. But what’s clear now is that his own players like him, and that they believe in him. In a season that was harpooned before it’d even started, that’s a small joy. It’s a little victory, and it bodes well.

There’s too many who won’t let go of their contentions; too many who won’t dare to see him as anything other than a loser. Too many – like the bloke who sites in front of me – who’ll say they’re only telling it like it is.

Yet Dougie doesn’t mind. Dougie just gets on with it, and it’s hard not to admire the guy for that. Maybe he’s not our clinching answer; maybe there are limits to what we can realistically be under him. But let’s give him proper credit for what he’s done this year. Sat in 10th place, it’s getting easier and easier to forget what a wreck this season could have been, in the wrong hands.

There was only ever going to be one way to do it: with a smile, and with teeth gritted firmly behind that smile.

...............................

Phil Juggins is a rather outstanding individual and writer. You can and really should follow him here and check out his previous work here. It's astonishingly good. Expect to see more of Phil's work here in the future. We invited him into the office, tripped him up with some strategically placed squash rackets, offered him a drink and tied him down to a contract. Kind of.

Here are some selected highlights but these are just the tip of the iceberg:

2015 in review: Are Forest turning into the Ramones?

Christmas with Vinnie Jones, and the clean-picked bones of Wimbledon

Colin Fray – he’s there so you don’t have to be

I Believe In Miracles