After the initial shock and subsequent debate across the city of Nottingham, the appointment of Steve McClaren as Forest manager in the summer made a sort of perverse sense. After all, both club and new manager had a lot to prove. For the former, the opportunity to replace the moaning, awkward Billy Davies with someone who has sat at the right hand of Alex Ferguson was an irresistible punt. For the latter, the opportunity to return to a club seething with the potential to get back to where they seemingly belonged was an obvious shortcut to expunging memories of holding an umbrella and looking helpless. As a friend pointed out: "Forest have gone from having the best manager England never had to the worst manager they did have."
Along with most Leicester City fans, I greeted the club's appointment of Sven-Göran Eriksson with a certain pride. Here was a successful England boss, a celebrity of wealth and distinction. A man who had won league titles in Sweden, Italy and Portugal, led Lazio to the double, the UEFA Super Cup and the Cup-Winners Cup, was now coming to little old Leicester.
"Guess what, Mum, Manchester United never won the League once between 1967 and 1993. That's 26 years!" To my numerate nine-year-old, this statistic is mind-boggling. He just cannot conceive how that could have happened. I could have fobbed him off with the platitudinous "no team has an automatic right to win anything, son" spiel by way of explanation. But it is an unfair world and big clubs, with all their advantages, should win big titles. Over that quarter-century of "failure" (in inverted commas in a vain attempt to mollify those supporters of clubs who never win anything and are doubtless chewing the carpet while reading this), Manchester United had the wealth, the players and the opportunities to be League champions but only rarely even came close. The inescapable conclusion is that the difference between then and the subsequent pot-laden decades is simply, as I informed junior, the arrival of Alex Ferguson.
Steve McClaren is an easy man to mock. There is plenty to choose from – the odd peninsula of hair in the middle of his head, the matey demeanour, the rather goofy grin and, of course, the Dutch accent that has given way to a curious generic European inflection.
Some Arsenal fans want assistant manager Pat Rice to retire or even step aside. The idea is that the former Gunners captain will be replaced with some hitherto unidentified tactical genius and "no" man who'll push the club on to grab some silverware more prestigious than the Emirates Cup. Which we've won in three of the last four years, by the way. Pat (I can call him that because we're mates – you'll see) is seen as something of a "yes" man to Arsène Wenger and the feeling is that perhaps Le Prof's philosophy needs tweaking here and there. Such as, try shooting. But I don't want Pat to leave. Not now. Not ever.
You see, we shared a common affliction. On a mild September afternoon in 2000 I had what can only be described as an epiphany. Dennis Bergkamp had turned the ball towards the Coventry goal, only for an airborne Magnus Hedman to halt its path. "That was his third great chance," I bellowed from my seat behind the goal. "Bergkamp really should have scored by now!" People were turning to stare my way, with bemused looks in their eyes and we-know-better, sympathetic smiles. I was smirkingly informed that Bergkamp was in fact Freddie Ljungberg. I badly needed spectacles.
Of course, it's obvious now that I should have taken more time to think about it. But when the optician – who you would hope to be a morally responsible person – suggested spectacles with an in-built automatic tinting system that would be good for driving and stop me having to buy prescription shades too, it sounded like a very good idea indeed. Safe, economical and with a hint of secret spy gadgetry about it.
The thing was, I had bought a pair of frustrated shades. They could, and would, turn black with a pinprick of light – on the underground, in the pub and any time I ventured near a street lamp.
To the outside world I had become a permanent shades wearer, slipping seamlessly into the same bracket as teenage wannabe rock stars and people who think they're famous because they've appeared on Kilroy. I was oblivious to when the glasses were tinting and had to rely on friends to point it out. Which they did reliably. It wasn't all bad, admittedly. I could see things a bit better. I realised, disappointingly, that David Seaman wasn't actually wearing a Davy Crockett hat and that someone called Gilles Grimandi had been playing for Arsenal for the last few years entirely without my knowledge. Yet these life enhancements seemed scant consolation. It got worse.
My nadir came on a cold February afternoon as I watched a Conference match at Forest Green's inappropriately named ground, The Lawn. At just after four it was getting dark. As the floodlights came out to play, my dependably disobedient spectacles did their party piece. I was used to it by then and was oblivious anyway. But the Sky cameras just happened to be there and had, with horrible coincidence, chosen that moment for a close up of yours truly. Wearing shades. In the dark.
Not your average close-up either. The producer, or whoever decides these things, evidently found something worthy of public interest in my appearance and let the camera linger a while. There was nothing much happening on the pitch after all, just a frantic relegation dogfight. And a while more. Long enough for an absent so-called friend, battling back the tears of laughter, to reach for the VCR record button just in time. There's no two ways about it, I looked a prize pillock. And my moment of fame is on videotape for posterity.
But then, at my lowest point, an angel came to me, albeit an angel in a tracksuit. I had always imagined that I was utterly, bitterly and desperately alone with my miserable social handicap. But I discovered I wasn't the sole sufferer of spectacle folly. Sitting on the Arsenal bench, without a care in the world, though tucked under a blanket looking disturbingly like a grandmother about to reach for the Thermos at this time of year, was someone with the very same pair. Assistant manager and Arsenal legend Pat Rice. My new hero.
Pat sits there so defiantly unselfconscious as his specs change from transparent to dark and back again by the minute (as, for example, a light-obstructing substitute jogs past). Regardless of what life has dealt him, he just gets on with it, as if he's as normal as the next man. Saint Pat's not ashamed or embarrassed, he's just comfortable with who he is. He is the Rik Waller of football. He is a role model, a beacon of light in dark depressing days, who gives strength and courage to bad spectacle sufferers the world over. Gawd bless him.
I just wanted to say, thank you Pat. You gave me hope when all else was lost. And for this reason he must stay in the public spotlight, to others who've made the same dreadful and desperate mistake.
From WSC 295 September 2011
Like a well-worn pair of shoes, the process of appointing a new Cambridge United manager is one which is comfortingly familiar for the club’s long-suffering fans. A motley cast of has-beens and never-will-bes throw their names into the hat via the back page of the local paper, while ex-U’s boss Tommy Taylor usually pops up to express an interest.
Mike Whalley explains a bizarre Cup tie of multiple postponents and managerial intrigue
Glaswegian striker Alex Williams's career has taken in ten clubs over the last decade, mostly in Scotland's lower leagues, but also including teams in Australia and Ireland. But, even if he stays only briefly in the Scottish Second Division with Stenhousemuir, he will be remembered for sparking one of the oddest Cup sagas in recent memory.
With the release of two new Alex Ferguson biographies, Barney Ronay assesses the need for more literature on the prolific manager
For those with an interest in documenting the career of English football's reigning managerial titan, the last few weeks will no doubt go down as another moment of headline significance, and for one or two, of happy synchronicity. The Rooney episode coincided with the publication of two major new Ferguson biographies, Frank Worrell's Walking in a Fergie Wonderland and Patrick Barclay's Football – Bloody Hell!, the latter, with its attendant heavy flow of plug-related activities, the more high profile.
Ian Farrell reflects on the career of the extrovert and often underrated manager Malcolm Allison, who died on October 14, 2010
To those unfamiliar with the man, the tributes to Malcolm Allison must have made confusing reading. The grandiose quotes about his talents would leave them in no doubt that this was a giant of the British game, and yet sifting through the boasts and anecdotes for actual managerial achievements turns up surprisingly little.
With chairmen often criticised over unjust sackings, Adam Bate asks if managers are actually being given more time than they deserve
On October 18, Steve Gibson accepted Gordon Strachan's resignation as manager of Middlesbrough. The Championship season was just 11 games old. It is the second October in succession that the Boro chairman has overseen a change of manager. This may lead some to question Gibson's long-established reputation as the most patient chairman in English football. In truth, could he perhaps be guilty of that little mentioned phenomenon – changing the manager too late.