Stone happy to ride the roller-coaster

Glenn Moore talks to one of the few England successes in Oslo this week on his up and down career at Forest

Steve Stone could not stop smiling, and it was not because his airline dinner had arrived. It was in the early hours of Thursday morning, we were somewhere over the North Sea, and Stone was entering his fourth hour as a full England international.

The 24-year-old Nottingham Forest midfielder had played the last quarter of England's goalless draw with Norway on Wednesday night, and been one of the few players to emerge with credit. Not that he was making a fuss about it.

Having denied Stale Solbakken a shooting opportunity with his first touch, he almost induced an own goal from Henning Berg with his second, a right- wing cross. It was almost the closest England came to scoring but, afterwards, Stone could not even remember it without prompting.

However, he could remember when he knew he would win his first cap. "As we came out after half-time Terry Venables made a special point of saying to me: 'Make sure you get really warmed-up'. That is when I felt I would get on.

"I thought we kept the ball well in the first half, but we were not getting round them enough. I thought maybe I could get behind them. That is one of my strengths and that is what happened with that chance."

Stone had been told he was a substitute in the morning after Venables took the team on a walk around their leafy Oslo hotel. It was a rapid rise, considering this was only his first time in the squad.

"I was surprised at being called up," he said. "I had been playing well at home for Forest but my away form had not been so clever - although that applies to the whole team.

"I knew some of the England scouts had been watching us, and I had played well in some of the games, so I knew I was in with a chance. When I did get in I looked around and thought: 'Well, there's been some injuries, that is why I am in'.

"I was a bit nervous coming down. I thought: 'Nobody knows each other, what will it be like?'. Then I got there and everybody knew each other from times gone by, and playing against each other. They made me feel welcome from the start.

"I talked to some of the Newcastle lads, being from there myself, Robert Lee and John Beresford. It was also a big help having Stuart Pearce there. He's massive at Forest and he is also very big at international level. They room us in separate rooms, but he just came and stayed in my room."

Like Pearce, who came late to professional football, Stone appreciates his fortune. Although he has always been in football, having been signed by Forest as a junior, his career was nearly finished before it began.

"I broke my right leg three times," he recalled, attempting to flex it in the narrow confines of an aircraft seat. "I must have played for about a year between 17 and 20. The first two I thought would be alright but the third time there were complications. It took me more than a year to get back and I could see some of the staff at Forest looking at me and thinking: 'He's not going to make it'. I did wonder if I would. There was muscle sticking to the bone, but a series of cortisone injections solved the problem.

"I have never looked back. It is a roller-coaster at the minute. Everything has gone so well since, then you keep thinking something is going to come crashing down. It makes you appreciate it more. I have seen the other side of it, when you think you are not going to make it as a footballer. Then you make it to the highest level, it gives you a great buzz."

Having regained his fitness, Stone now had to gain a first-team place. It was Brian Clough's final season as manager and Forest were heading for relegation.

"He did not put me in at first, I was too young. It can be a bad thing putting a young lad in a relegation situation because he might not recover. He put me in for the last 12 games. By then we were doomed. But it gave me a good insight into the Premiership and made me want to get back there.

"He was a character. He would come in and everyone would stand back. You kept quiet, you did not want to say anything out of turn as he would chew your head off. He was very good, though."

Frank Clark took over and Stone won a regular place in central midfield but, when Lars Bohinen arrived, he was switched to the right wing.

"I was not playing well in the centre and the move was fair enough - I did not warrant a place inside. He probably saw I had a little bit of pace and he then persisted with me as I looked out of place for about four months. I am grateful for that. He has been a good manager, he has pushed me along and worked on me. Eventually I struck up a good partnership with Des Lyttle, the right-back.

"I do not like being stuck too wide. I like being on the edge of the box and getting behind defences. If you stick me out wide you are losing a bit. My strengths are getting at people, making them make mistakes. Anybody can look good if you give them time. I try and get on them - it is a one-on-one situation with the left-back and I do not want to let them settle.

"My weaknesses? My final ball could be better, I am working on that. I need to pick people out better. And my finishing. I always used to score goals from centre-midfield, but as soon as I got in the first team I stopped scoring."

Crossing and shooting: fairly damning weaknesses for an attacking wide midfielder. At Forest there is a feeling that he is not yet an international player - but he could develop into one. He does get in goalscoring positions, which is half the battle. So is self-awareness, Stone knows his weaknesses and is prepared to work on them.

Venables is confident in his ability to continue improving. "I have watched him for some time," he said. "He did well last season and started this season even better. He did very well when he came on. He looked very sharp. He has had a lot of injuries and he has earned his chance."

Today Forest take their unbeaten Premiership record to White Hart Lane, where they, and Stone, first came to prominence last season with a 4-1 win.

"Spurs have hit a bit of form but we have always done well down there: we play well against sides who let us play," Stone said. "Last year we played really well. They were just starting a bad run and in the second half we gave them a real going over, hitting them on the break in true Forest style."

Forest surprised many by finishing fourth last season, and have done relatively well this year, despite drawing too often. But with Stan Collymore and then Bohinen moving on, there is a feeling that the club structure - which prevents an individual taking control - means they will never be able to match the financial power of the big-city clubs and those supported by the likes of Jack Walker.

"We miss Stan. Any team would. He is a phenomenal player. But Jason Lee is doing well, he does the things he's good at - gets the ball, lays it off, gets in the box. Bryan Roy is playing a Nicky Barmby role and he is complementing him well. We can hold anybody on our day, our defence is very good, but we have to be more consistent."

And if Forest do not win things? Middlesbrough have been linked with Stone, both he and his girlfriend - they have two children - are from the North-east and Stone's Geordie accent is still strong.

"That has been going on for a while. There have been a few clubs mentioned. But I am happy at Forest. It is a good set-up, with a good manager, and the supporters like me. The grass is not always greener. A lot of people have left Forest to try and better themselves, but it does not always work out like that."

He has a point. Nigel Clough, Neil Webb, even Collymore - for the moment - have lost their England places after leaving Forest. The unassuming Stone insists: "I might not be in the next squad. There were a lot of injuries this time." It will be a surprise if he is not.

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