Football: The lost art of passion

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The Independent Online
That old joke about going places next season rings hollow for Nottingham Forest's deputy chairman, Philip Soar. Bottom of the Premiership, just three games left; no disrespect but, short of a miracle, Forest will soon be looking at visits to Oxford, Reading and Swindon.

Author, journalist, a key figure in the establishment of a new regime and active in its administration, Soar is philosophical. "It's not all over yet," he said, "but we have to accept the possibility of relegation."

Modernisation (until the recent takeover Forest were still a club, not a limited company) brings its problems; a review of players contracts and ticket prices; now a probable drop in revenue.

Supporters who suppose that Forest's plight is directly the result of wrangling between rival consortiums overlook the fact of deficiencies in technique and application. A question that has been asked about other teams caught up in the struggle for survival applies equally to the players who turned out in the 1-1 draw against Leeds. What is the difference between October and April?

The answer is passion. If Forest had been as committed all season as they were until Brian Deane's fortunate equaliser undermined confidence, they might be looking at a less troubled future.

Passion in the game is one of George Graham's favourite subjects. "There was a time when it came naturally to footballers," the Leeds manager said. "Now coaches have to demand it." A problem for him, too? "Not really," Graham smiled, refusing to be drawn any further.

For Graham, for Forest's management team of Stuart Pearce and Dave Bassett, there is the issue of complacency brought about by ever increasing salaries and a dearth of home-grown talent. "Even half-decent players today know that they can get the same money elsewhere," one manager recently said.

Leeds are stuck with a disgruntled Tony Yeboah and Tomas Brolin, who is presently on loan to Parma, their combined annual salaries probably around pounds 1.5m. "The game is on dangerous ground," Graham said, "because the Bosman thing will result in further salary increases."

Graham admitted to having steamed into his players at half-time on Saturday. "We weren't competing," he said, "and Forest could easily have been three goals ahead." The next thing he did was change the formation, switching from a back line of four to three central defenders so that his full backs, Gary Kelly and Tony Dorigo, could supply more attacking options. It led to a great deal of improvement and more problems than Forest could comfortably handle.

No doubt about it, when things go wrong in football, you can be pretty sure they will get worse. Deane's goal was a perfect example. Carlton Palmer, a half-time replacement for Lee Sharpe, sent in a speculative low drive, Chris Bart-Williams sliced the clearance against an upright and Deane was left with a tap in. "That's the way it goes," Bassett said. "Tore the guts out of us."

In truth, Nigel Martyn probably went some way towards achieving that when making a save from Bryan Roy in the first half that endorsed a widespread view of his capabilities. "England class," Bassett said, which is what Graham keeps arguing about his goalkeeper. "I just don't know how Glenn Hoddle can ignore him," Graham said. "Actually I don't think it was one of Nigel's best days, but that save from Roy was stupendous."

When Scot Gemmill headed a good chance over in the second half, you could sense that Forest had run out of conviction. Ian Woan came on for Bart- Williams and Ian Moore replaced Roy but apart, from Pierre van Hooijdonk, who scored his first League goal for the club, nobody threatened.

Graham's objective next season is a top six place in the Premiership. For whoever manages Forest (Pearce or Bassett, it's time this was made clear) they will be visiting...

Goals: Van Hooijdonk (6) 1-0; Deane (66) 1-1.

Nottingham Forest (3-5-2): Fettis; Cooper (Warner, 24) Phillips, Chettle; Lyttle, Gemmill, O'Neil, Bart-Williams (Woan, 69), Allen; Roy (Moore, 75), Van Hooijdonk. Substitutes not used: Smith, Henry (gk).

Leeds United (4-4-2): Martyn; Kelly, Wetherall, Halle, Dorigo; Radebe, Laurent, Bowyer, Sharpe (Palmer, h-t); Deane (Wallace, 80), Lilley. Substitutes not used: Harte, Molenaar, Beeney (gk).

Referee: D R Elleray (Middlesex).

Bookings: Leeds: Sharpe, Bowyer.

Man of the match: Van Hooijdonk.

Attendance: 25,565.