Asking Colin which was his favourite games to commentate on, it was fairly easy for him to come up with quick answers. As a top 3, Bayern Munich away in 1995/96 season, at the Olympic Stadium was special; for where it was and the occasion of a European night. Talking with Steve Chettle (as a Forest fan) at the stadium training session on the previous evening; they looked at the goal where Trevor Francis scored the European Cup winner and discussed what he (Chettle) would give to score at the same end. ‘To see Steve score in the same goal at the same back post made for an amazing night’.
The Derby 5-2 win at home was a good one to commentate on with Robert Earnshaw getting the final goal in front of the Trent End.
The most memorable game Colin recalled was the promotion winning one against Yeovil from League 1, on the final day of the season. Needing Doncaster to slip up at Cheltenham as well as winning, there was a lot on the line for Forest and it was out of our hands. A lot of people were clearly listening inside the ground for score updates and when I read out that Doncaster were losing, a huge cheer went up as the crowd celebrated. ‘To this day; it feels like the closest I’ve ever come to scoring a goal at The City Ground. The whole occasion and being underdogs going into the day really added to the drama that unfolded. There were some great people at the club at the time and Colin Calderwood in particular was a great guy to deal with as Forest manager. It was a special day.’
BEST MANAGERS TO WORK WITH
The praise for Colin Calderwood brought me nicely onto the subject of managers and I was interested to hear about those managers that Colin had enjoyed working with best over the years.
Although there weren’t many that were not good to work with, fairly high up on the list of those managers that were, was Billy Davies, particularly in his first spell as manager. Colin described that Billy was personable to deal with behind the microphone and excellent on a professional basis; happy to share information before the team sheet even went out and other titbits. Similarly, Paul Hart was excellent too although when he was in a bad mood after defeat, Colin knew about it! Dougie Freedman was one that Colin always felt a bit sorry for. ‘Under the circumstances of what he had to deal with and what he could do about it (nothing) keeping Forest up that season was nothing short of miraculous’. If he (Freedman) had not played the boring football; that Forest team would have got relegated that season. He (Freedman) knew that and changed it even against the way he wanted the team to play’. I was in complete agreement that Freedman was unlucky not to get a chance to spend some money out of embargo in the summer and that he doesn’t get the credit for keeping Forest up. Under that ownership and a relegation to League 1, that would have been a disaster.
Asked whether he had worked with Cloughie; the answer to that was easy- ‘I never met him!! My first full season was Frank Clark’s first season, and in the days when I was doing odd games before that, Cloughie never used to do pre or post match interviews. So, never had the chance to talk to him.’
Over the years commentating on Forest, there has been a lot of turmoil and pivotal moments. Colin looked to the sacking of Shaun O’Driscoll as a real sliding doors moment with Al Hasawi’s initial promise of patience. Sacked after a 4-1 win over Leeds and placed 6th in The Championship; ‘ If they’d continued with the steady build, you just wander what could have happened’.
Colin recalled seeing Stan Collymore as a fan having signed him in the summer of 1993. Colin went to see him in a 5-1 friendly win at Lincoln; with Stan scoring a hat-trick. Coming out of the ground, Colin remembered being completely blown away and was compelled to ring his Dad to say ‘I’ve just seen something that has never been seen before in a Forest shirt’. ‘The guy was absolutely brilliant and for the next couple of seasons, he completely tore it up’.
The Manchester United game in the first season being back in the Premier League was where Colin really believed that Stan was the real deal. ‘Everybody had said he’s got 25 in Division 1 but can he go up a level’? To score from the half way line was a pretty good way to answer that question’.
He was the best player he’d ever commentated on; in terms of being excited to turn up and see a player play like that; ‘was absolutely brilliant’. Often picking the ball up so deep; commentating on him was ‘great’ as there was time to describe what he was doing. ‘Collymore on a run from deep, Collymore still going, and going, shoots and scores!’
He was great to deal with on a professional level too and although he had his troubles, Colin spoke highly of the then Forest striker; ‘he was a really nice bloke who would do interviews and take time out to do hour long Christmas specials’. Colin was convinced that if Stan had stayed at Forest, he would have gone on to collect more England caps. On talking with him over the years at various events, Colin never really got the impression though that leaving Forest wasn’t something that Stan really regretted. Another sliding doors moment; ‘It would have been interesting to see how Collymore would have got on in Europe with that Forest side.’
Frank Clark’s side was the best Forest side that he has commentated on and to this day, feels that those achievements are overlooked. ‘Frank took over and got them promoted after a dodgy start, finished 3rd the following season in the Premier League and were then the longest surviving team in European competition the year after that. They weren’t as revered as actually they should have been’. Brian Clough’s team in the late 80’s was another side that didn’t get the credit they deserved. ‘Finishing in the top 6 year on year and winning a number of trophies; it wasn’t winning European Cups but these were good times in Forest’s history. The 1995/96 team was a long, long time ago now so we could do with a bit more of that!’
‘Lamouchi has done a great job since coming in and I’ve been very impressed. Bar Wigan away, everything he had tried has come off and he has to be applauded in the respect that; learning as much as he has, in such a short space of time and adapting to the Championship with no previous experience in English football, to get that number of decisions right, as he has done so far, it’s very impressive.’
‘I like the way his team play going forwards and against Luton they were knocking the ball into space and getting in behind defenders. I say knocking but they were zipping passes in with real purpose. I like the fact his team is solid. Worrall, Dawson, Sow and Watson are an outstanding unit of 4 with the keeper having been amazing since he came in. They look strong and solid. The soft underbelly seems to have been brushed away. They’re still not creating enough chances though with the amount of ball they’re getting in the final third and Lewis Grabban is still feeding on scraps’
‘They need to be lucky with injuries and they need their best players available. Hopefully Dawson isn’t too bad and if they can add in January, like I think they will, they’ll improve. There’s more to come. They were excellent at Fulham and outstanding against Brentford. Forest are strong at the back and they take chances when they come. They’ve made some good signings, the keeper, Sow (has been excellent,) Watson is a new player (absolutely outstanding) and Matty Cash is a revelation. There are so many positives.’
Asked about Joao Carvalho and his admission from the team at the moment, Colin was in no doubt that on his day, Carvalho is an undoubted match winner and a brilliant player when he’s given time to be (Middlesbrough at home). Colin discussed that as a £13m signing in the second tier of English football, most teams would be looking for somebody of that expense to be performing most weeks and the issue for Colin, is that Carvalho is not doing it often enough. There was sympathy for him after missing pre-season and although initially he came back well against Derby, Colin observes that once the adrenalin that many players thrive off after returning from injury has worn off, Carvalho is now finding himself playing catch up. He could see why Martin O’Neill did what he did in leaving him out last season as he would give the ball away more often than he’d do something with it. The last away game of the season at QPR summed him up in a nutshell. Colin talked through that although Carvalho got the assist with a fantastic pass (‘that probably only him in the entire stadium could have seen’); in the move leading up to the goal, Carvalho had been brushed off the ball which nearly caught Forest out on the counter.‘ In that 10 seconds of play, you can see the conundrum’.
‘He (Carvalho) is probably more suited to the Premier League because as a Championship player, he just won’t get the space. If he can do the bit with the goal and do more with the ball, he’d be picked every week. For £13m you want him to be a bit more like a Collymore, be that player that people want him to be. I think he can be that player but he’s not that player yet. I hope he comes good.’
‘Who knows in a Derby but as always is the case; it will be those who keep their head best that will win it. It was good that Forest won at Luton as it would have been difficult to go into this one on the back of 3 defeats. Forest are certainly good enough to beat Derby but if they’re not at it and go into their shells; Derby will cause up upset. Recent events have added a bit of spice and Tom Lawrence and Mason Bennett are not going to get the greatest of receptions. Since it happened, Lawrence has started scoring goals and Derby have picked up wins. In a perverse kind of way, it seems as though the incident has brought them together. There’s a certain script that has been written and I hope nobody is reading.’
On bringing the interview to a close, we discussed the Wembley days as Colin walked me back along the corridors to reception. We agreed it’s pretty sad that Forest are one of the remaining few teams to play at the new national stadium. On-going back to 1989 and where it all began, commentating on those Cup final winning goals, wouldn’t it be quite fitting for him to achieve one of his remaining ambitions in commentating on Forest at the New Wembley Stadium?
Many thanks to Colin Fray for his time. It was a real privilege.
COLIN FRAY’S BEST HE’S SEEN XI.
Chris Gunter Des Walker Michael Dawson Stuart Pearce
Steve Stone Roy Keane Jermaine Jenas Andy Reid
Stan Collymore Nigel Clough
Pierre van Hooijdonk