Believing in failure

Sometimes failure is the path to success. It’s a platform to build upon, and it helps eliminate fear of failure. For Nottingham Forest, maybe embracing failure is the key to our future, says Paul Severn

There are times when a simple tweet says it all. These few characters should be carved into the gravestone of Nottingham Forest’s season. And there was little else to say that Wednesday night.

The gravestone of Sex Pistols’ manager, Malcolm McLaren, might be more apt: “Better a spectacular failure, than a benign success.” Supporting Forest is anything but benign.

Failure of course leads to many post mortems. It’s what football fans do. It helps the healing process. But taking a few days to step back, and analyse things when the immediate emotion passes, is useful.

Some of the analysis is based around the pain and hurt of defeat. I know how much it hurts. This season I have travelled many miles to support the team, and like many others made a huge personal and financial investment. I was unable to move at the final whistle for a couple of hours. The familiarity of the feeling brought little comfort. The faces of all those involved said everything.

There were eerie parallels from similar crushing defeats. Tobias Figueiredo’s second-half header from a corner was greeted with anger as much as joy, bringing back memories of Scott Dobie giving us false hope all those years ago. And the breakaway goal at the death, revived memories of similar goals for Leicester and Swansea which twisted the knife.

But huge disappointment needs separating out from any calm analysis. Some takes I’ve seen are more apt for a team that has finished 24th, not 7th. While a last day win to stay up just over three years ago is no yardstick to measure success, no fair or sensible analysis loses sight of the progress we are making, even if we are scratching our heads over missing out on the play-offs.

Many have pointed towards the quality of the playing staff and more pertinently, those brought in during the January window. But make no mistake, Forest have good footballers at the club. If the squad lacked quality, it would not have secured a top seven finish. The disappointment and late season form can colour how we perceive this. Is Swansea’s squad under the same microscope for a near identical record? I doubt this very much.

It was pointed out to me on Twitter that because British players attract such a premium, this changes where we can find value in the market. Picking up players from abroad, bringing veterans in, or trying to revive stalled careers is the market we are in – and there are inherent risks and challenges. Financial Fair Play means that we couldn’t ‘go big’ in the January window. As Forest fans we really should know the risks and dynamics at play.

When we go for a meal in McDonald’s we don’t expect to enjoy a 99% Angus premium quality burger. It is a different type of transaction. The January window is notorious for being difficult to find any value. In lockdown I watched the second series of Sunderland ‘Til I Die and saw the value of Will Grigg grow exponentially throughout one episode. They didn’t get promoted.

When we assess the window across the division, successes are few and far between. Leeds United may face a legal battle, over the failure of their headline transfer window capture, Jean-Kevin Augustin. Bristol decided to pay the premium for Nakhi Wells and fell away from the play-off picture even more sharply than Forest. Obviously, Swansea did find success with the exciting Rhian Brewster, but the true success stories can be counted on a few fingers.

From the outside, it is easy to criticise when we have won three Champions Leagues on Football Manager with Morecambe. But the reality is quite different. West Bromwich Albion joined Leeds in the promotion spots and were able to bring in proven reinforcements. But a simple look at their past record sees eye-watering figures for the likes of Charlie Austin, Kenneth Zahore and Oliver Burke paid in recent times. Yet the reality is they were able to invest further due to parachute payments.

All these examples show the scale of the task Forest faced. It is easy to talk about solutions with the aid of management speak. A year ago, Christian Purslow defended Aston Villa’s enormous expenditure and was quoted in the Mirror saying: “We want players who really want to play for Aston Villa for the glory, not the money… People want to get on board with what we are doing here.”

Villa, of course, were a goal away from disaster, and Forest a goal away from a play-off spot. It changes the entire context of the debate. Therefore, part of our analysis has to be that sometimes, in tight situations, we don’t get the sporting outcomes we want because our players are human. In the last T20 Blast, Notts Outlaws inexplicably threw away a semi-final victory. Experienced, talented players made terrible decisions. It happens. It’s pressure.

Obviously over the summer, Forest will need to work hard to continue forward progress. It is more constructive to look at our successes as well as our failures. We can ask what is it about Brice Samba, Yuri Ribeiro and Sammy Ameobi that made them successful? Can we replicate that?

All teams that don’t get promoted need to rebuild. Last season Leeds lost Kemar Roofe and Pontus Jansson, while Jack Clarke also left and was loaned back (which rarely seems to work). There will be many decisions, and changes to make as we pick up the pieces – it deserves to be seen, and analysed in good faith. With nine substitutes now a thing, gone are the days where clubs sign one or two players. But with a strong Academy and players coming through, it is not a total rebuild in any sense.

The morning after Stoke, many people said they’d struggled to sleep. I struggled to focus on things. These are signs of grief. We don’t deal well with grief when we lash out, say things we don’t mean or catastrophise things. We do better when we pull together and face the future positively. It was interesting that the most reasoned responses on Forest came from the likes of Julian Bennett and Stuart Broad. Both have faced disappointment in their own careers, but both used that as a catalyst for their finest achievements.

That is the professional mindset needed now. To learn, and use the hurt positively. As fans it is hard to play a full part in these strange times. It isn’t about blindly supporting everything that happens, but seeing things in a proper, reasonable, realistic context and playing our part in fighting back.

“I was taught that to create anything you had to believe in failure, simply because you had to be prepared to go through an idea without any fear. Failure, you learned, as I did in art school, to be a wonderful thing. It allowed you to get up in the morning and take the pillow off your head.” Malcolm McLaren

Have a good summer.