The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

Why Leading A Department Is Part-Time Guard Dog, Part Cat Time Litter Tray …

I hope I’m a decent leader.

While I know there will be some people I’ve worked with, who definitely won’t hold that view … I hope the majority do.

Because – believe it or not – I try hard to be.

Sure, I make some mistakes.
And I can definitely be a pain in the ass.
But I am committed and invested in being the best boss I can be.

I consider myself fortunate because over the years, I’ve had incredible ‘teachers’.

From my parents to mentors to some old bosses … and of course, a few who were so shite, they taught me what not to do, haha.

And while there are many things I believe, adopt and hold dear, one of the most important is: always back your team in public and resolve disputes in private.

It sounds obvious … and it is … but it’s not always followed.

I’ve heard some shocking examples on Corporate Gaslighting … stuff that doesn’t just sound vicious, but the act of megalomaniacs.

But in terms of backing the team, there were few better than football manager legends, Brian Clough and Sir Alex Ferguson.

Yes, I accept they may have had some usual ways of doing this – and demonstrating this – but players knew that unless something exceptionally terrible had happened, their managers would always back them should they face public or managerial scrutiny.

Of course, there was a cost for this …

A cost that was simple but exhaustive.

And it was that the gift of being backed was reciprocated with dedication, focus and effort.

And that – to me – is key.

It’s OK to make mistakes.
It’s alright to sometimes mess things up.
But it can’t be because you were lazy or distracted.

I’ve said it many times, but I believe my job is to ensure that when someone in my team leaves, as they all will at some point, they go because they have a better job than they ever could have imagined.

Chosen for who they are, not just what they do.
Known for what they’ve created, not how well they’re known.
Chased for what they’ve changed, not what they maintained.

OK, there are some exceptions to that – mainly personal reasons, like love or a chance to chase something they’ve always wanted – but I believe I have a responsibility to them to help develop their natural talent, find and release their distinct strategic voice and move things out the way so they can create the most interesting shit of their lives.

It’s why my absolute worst scenario is someone leaving for a sideways move.

Oh my god, I would honestly feel I’d failed them.

And that’s why I place so much importance in backing them and showing my belief in them.

That doesn’t mean it’s blind faith.

We have very honest conversations a lot.

From gentle chats to bi-annual check-in/reviews … but they’re in private and focused on being through the lens of me wanting them to win.

Whether I achieve this is something only they can say. I hope most would agree with it [even those when we’ve parted ways] but if not, then I can assure them I’m working harder to be better.

The reason I say all this is because I saw something recently that I thought was a perfect example of backing the team.

It’s from the British Police.

Now they are getting a lot of stick at the moment. A lot totally deserved.

But this time it’s not them trying to justify an indefensible act … it’s something that resonated with me, because of Otis’ dysgraphia.

It was this.

The British Police – or maybe it’s all Police these days – have a bad reputation.

It’s manifested in mistrust and a lack of people wanting to sign up.

And while I fully appreciate they have a tough job and want to get better [as we saw with West Midland’s Police hiring my mate, Kay, to be their ‘artist in residence’ to better understand and connect to youth culture] … it’s acts like this that are more likely to help the public see the human side of the force as well as the compassionate side.

Anyone who runs a team knows it can be a painful job.

Some days it can feel more like being a cat-litter tray.

But when they know you’ll back them, they’ll back you with their talent, focus and commitment.

Well done Carlisle Police … we need more backing of people with neuro-diversity. Because the more we back those who are different, the more they will show the difference they can make.

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Hope Comes In Mysterious Ways …

First of all happy birthday to Queen drummer, Roger Taylor.

He turns 74 today – which used to sound ancient, but now I’m 53, sounds terrifyingly close.

Hopefully when I’m his age I am also living my best life … though what that is, is evolving in ways I’m trying to work out – haha.

But this post is about my hometown, Nottingham.

I went there a month ago on my way to Cannes and I have to say it was a very emotional trip.

Part of this is because it was the first time I’d been there on my own since my Mum died.

Part of this is because it was the week after a terrible incident in the city where 3 innocent people were killed.

And part of this was because of a personal situation and challenge that I was – and still am – trying to work through.

In my few days there, I went on a bit of a history journey … visiting places that meant so much to me as a kid.

From shopping in Victoria City … visiting Rock City … passing my old schools … picking up some food from the local Asda, where my parents would shop every Friday evening … going to the crematorium to see the memorial for my parents … paying homage to the Nottingham Forest football stadium … right through to popping in and seeing my childhood home, that resulted in me bursting into tears in front of the new owner as it was much more impactful than I had dared imagine.

Yeah, it was one big sentimental and emotional journey.

But amongst all the memories, there was something that popped up that I wasn’t expecting.

Something I thought had died and I’d recently written about.


Yep, Raleigh Bikes were back.

Better yet, they were on Maid Marion Way … a thoroughfare of the city that meant everyone would see them.

OK, they aren’t what they used to be – they’re owned by a Dutch company for a start – but they exist and are still based in Nottingham.

As I wrote in my post about Raleigh last month … seeing this brand that defined and promoted my city to the World, die was incredibly tough.

When you’re a kid you look for signs you’re living in a place that is full of promise and hope … a place that let’s you feel you have a bright future … and in my earliest days, with Raleigh making globally known bikes and Nottingham Forest being Kings of Europe, I did. But then, when Forest fell away and Raleigh died, it shook me to my core.

I appreciate that’s the sort of melodrama only a young kid can have, but I wasn’t too wrong to be fair … so seeing the brand alive in my city – especially after a week that saw the whole county in mourning for the needless death of so many – gave hope.

A sense that even in the darkest times, we can move forward.

Given how fucked the UK is right now, that’s worth its weight in gold.

And I’m happy. Because while I don’t live in Nottingham, I’ll always belong there.

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Rubble With A Cause …

Recently I came across this photo of the old Wembley being demolished …

And while I know the new stadium is better – albeit with terrible wifi/phone signal access, which is ironic given it’s sponsored by O2 – there was something about that photo that made me sad.

Of course it’s because I’m a sentimental fart.

Because despite seeing my beloved Nottingham Forest gain promotion in the new stadium, that old one has even more significant memories for me.

Live Aid.
Seeing Queen there.
And the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert.
Not to mention Bruce Springsteen, Madonna and countless other bands and singers.
Then there’s watching Brian Clough lead Nottingham Forest out for their various cup finals.

There was something magical about that old stadium when I was growing up.

It was the pinnacle. Where World Cups and Legends were celebrated and made.

And while there were other venues around the World that could lay claim to a similar standing … this was mine. In England. In our capital. A way to reinforce that for all the Madison Square Gardens and Giant Stadiums out there, we had ours. We still mattered. A bit.

Now I should point out I’m not saying this from a xenophobic ‘ENG-GER-LAND’ perspective … I mean it more in the same way I viewed Raleigh Bikes in Nottingham.

And while we replaced Wembley with a new and improved version – which is far more than Raleigh managed to do – there’s something about that photo that still hurts.

Not because I don’t love change – because even though I’m a sentimental, old fart, I do – but maybe because the replacement feels a bit soulless. Designed to look the part without ever really demonstrating they understand what it takes to be the part. Efficiency over character. Optimisation over soul. Money over memory.

I get this is probably only felt by people of a certain age.

I get the times have changed and so Wembley is not as unique as it once was.

But what shapes our identity is often the weird, the inconvenient and the personal symbols of possibility … and somewhere along the line, we’ve been made to think these aren’t as important as efficiency and complicity. Of course the irony of this thinking is that this is the sort of shit that is keeping us down rather than lifting us up.

Or maybe that’s exactly what some people intend it to do.

Jesus, I’ve become a conspiracy theorist now. That’s all we need.

See you tomorrow. Unless the FBI pick me up before then.

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New Doesn’t Last Forever …

For reasons not worth discussing, I recently saw this …

Yes, it’s from a very, very long time ago … but it’s still a bit bizarre to see ‘Electronic Mail’ being touted like it is the cutting edge of tech.

But of course, once upon a time, it was.

A dawn of a new future with new possibilities.

Where – according to an Apple ad of the time – mail would travel at the equivalent of 670,000,000mph to anyone and anywhere in the World.

Even now, that sounds impressive … but back then, it was revolutionary.

Prior to email, if you wanted to send a card … a letter … a document or whatever, the only way was to trust the competence of the mail service.

And if you were writing to someone in another country, then it would take weeks before you had any chance of it being received.

We call it ‘snail mail’ now … but back then, it was just mail.

The reason I’m writing this is that time always creates change.

We might not like where it takes us.
We might find it hard to adapt or embrace.
We might not like the time-frame it’s working to.
But whether it’s good or bad, the thing you can be sure of is things will change.

The reason I’m saying this is because I recently read something on The Athletic.

Not only was it about my beloved Nottingham Forest, it was written by someone who is also living in NZ. That means there’s 2 of us here – which is the same amount of fans as there were when I lived in Shanghai and Los Angeles, haha.

Anyway, they wrote this:

“The past two seasons need putting in a box marked “Vintage”. It’s only so often in football fandom that circumstances gel to give you a gift like this period. Dramatic, successful, joyous but mainly the sense of togetherness and belonging. All praise to Steve for being the key man that’s made it happen and in particular the way it’s felt.

History suggests it won’t stay this way, maybe another year or two if we’re lucky, because expectations get in the way and start twisting the behaviour and attitudes of all parties. Sad but hey it’s all part of the cycle.

The positive point I’m making is that this has been as good as it gets really, outside of unexpectedly rising to the absolute top (e.g. Forest 78-80; Leicester winning the league), so let’s be sure to savour it while we’re in the moment! And hopefully the moment has another couple of years to run.”

I loved it.

Not just because that’s exactly how following Forest over these past 2 years have felt, but because life often follows a similar path.

The reality is we often never realise we’re living in a golden period of our life.

Often, we only realise it as we sense it passing us by.

And then we panic … trying desperately to hold on to something that is only partially – if we’re lucky – in our control and likely already has left the station.

Worse, we can end up putting all our effort trying to recreate something we had, rather than create what can be next.

That doesn’t mean our focus should be blindly running forward and ignoring – or not valuing – what is happening around us, but it does mean we should appreciate we can’t stop time … because as ‘electronic mail’ has shown, even the most exciting times of our life can end up becoming the most mundane.

Life is hard.

It’s not fair.

Sure, for some, it way harder than for others and effort doesn’t always translate to achievement or progress, which is cruel as fuck. But as I have got older, I’ve learnt to appreciate something my parents used to say to me when I was young.

“The more interested you are in life, the more chance you have of enjoying a good one”.

First of all, note they said ‘chance’.

No blind promises, more an attitude to life.

Secondly, when they said ‘interested’, they meant ‘invested’.

Not just in terms of being curious about what’s going on, but committing to being in it.

Trying stuff.
Exploring stuff.
Appreciating what you learn from it – good, bad or indifferent.

And finally, their version of a ‘good life’ was – as I’ve said many times – a life of fulfilment rather than contentment.

Where you go after the stuff that makes you feel alive, rather than what makes life comfortable and easy.

It’s why I adore they said ‘enjoy’ rather than ‘have’.

Not just because it acknowledged time will continually challenge and change our contexts and beliefs … but because it means you recognise, embrace and value the good moments while not letting yourself get so lost in them that you are removing yourself from the possibilities of the future.

Nottingham Forest spent too long being lost in the past.

Always judging themselves by it, which meant never being able to live up to it.

An invisible hammer continually bashing everyone down.

But Steve Cooper has changed that …

Sure, he’s not achieved a fraction of what Clough did, but apart from the fact he’s only 4 years into his managerial career, he has done stuff even Clough wasn’t able to achieve.

For example, the togetherness between fan, club and manager is – even in the eyes of ex-Clough players – better than it ever was at our European peak.

In essence, he took the values of the club to liberate the future of it … enabling a new generation of fan to take the club to somewhere new and exciting. Something that represents their future, not just a recreation of another generations past.

It’s so exciting to see it.
It’s so exciting to share it.
It’s so exciting to be a part of it.

Now I know what some of you will be thinking, I’m reframing achievement to set lower expectations. But that’s the point …

When you try and hold on to things already past, you’re stuck in limbo.

It’s why I’m revelling in what Forest are doing right now.

I know it won’t last forever, but to experience something so magical is more than I ever dared to dream.

Sure, it’s not the same as last time.
But that doesn’t mean it’s any less wonderful.
Even more so that it is happening in the present not in my memory.

When Forest won the playoff final to get back into the Premiership after 23 long and painful years, some genius played the track ‘Freed From Desire’ by Gala. It wasn’t just the perfect choice of song for us, it conveys one of the most valuable lessons for life.

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You Only Know How Bad You’ve Had It When You No Longer Have It …
June 27, 2023, 8:15 am
Filed under: Attitude & Aptitude, England, Football, Nottingham, Nottingham Forest, Paul

I know with a headline like that, you think I’m going to announce some major revelation to do with health.

Or happiness.

Well, in some ways I am … just not what you may think.

This is about football … and while it’s a good few weeks since the Premiership ended, it’s taken me this long to calm down.

As you all likely know, my beloved Nottingham Forest got promoted last year to the Premiership after 23 painful years away. More than that, they got promoted after being at the bottom of the Championship after 7 games – where they only had one point – before our manager, Steve Cooper, joined and took us on a fairytale that no one could have imagined.

Of course we knew it would be hard to compete – especially with our team being made up of 5 loan signings – which is why I convinced myself that as long as they were enjoying themselves, I’d be happy with whatever happened.

Now I know I was utterly lying to myself.

It was a tremendously hard season. We had – in the end – over 30 new players join us [which was needed given we didn’t have a proper starting 11] so it was no surprise we were whipping boys for all the teams we faced in the first few weeks.

3-0. 4-0. 5-0. 6-0.

Then we had a couple of wins.

West Ham and – amazingly – Liverpool.

We had faith. And then the bad results kept coming and the media increasingly wrote us off.

Then we had major injuries to key players that were going to last for months.

Worse, we were hearing our beloved Steve Cooper – the man who had achieved what over 20+ managers couldn’t – was going to get fired. Other managers were being sounded out. The old dark days were coming back with a vengeance.

I don’t mind admitting, I couldn’t read about the team.

Everything was bleak and negative and it actually was affecting my health.

I was getting down. Weekends were getting ruined. The feel-good factor was done.

I tried to convince myself that football just doesn’t matter.

The only positive was the Forest owners kept faith with Steve.

Sure, part of it was because they couldn’t find a better alternative, but at a time where clubs chopped and changed managers like people change their clothes – it was a little bright spot in an otherwise dark situation.

That said, I wouldn’t have blamed them if they had.

Yes we had terrible injuries but we couldn’t win an away game if we bribed the officials.

Then we had a little run of positive results and it was amazing how I felt my entire body change. Mentally and physically. I felt excited to read articles about them – and how they played – again. Sure, there were still some negative stuff, but when we reached the highs of 13th in the table [even though 13th-20th was separated by a few points] it felt good.

Then bad times came back.


In the relegation zone.

Pundits revelling in our downfall.

But somehow we put ourselves in a position to get out and with 2 games left, we were in 16th, two places above relegation. Of course, being Forest, we only needed to slip up once and have a team below us win – and we would literally swap places with them.

Worse, if any of the teams below us ended up on the same points, we’d still go down because those early games gave us a goal difference that was one of the worst in the league.

If that wasn’t hard enough, our next game was Arsenal.

2nd in the league … and the teams around us had easier games.

Sure, if we lost it wouldn’t be 100% relegation and sure, it was at home … but given our final match was away, the chances of us pulling off a miracle were low.

But against all odds, we took the lead on 19 minutes.

The Forest ground was utter pandemonium … WE WERE WINNING … but we also knew we had the worst record of losing from a winning position and Arsenal had the best record of winning from a losing position.

But we got to half time still up … which meant we would guarantee safety which meant we would still be in the Premiership for another year.

Then the second half started.

And unlike other matches, we kept doing pretty well.

The team wanted this. They wanted to play their final game at the City Ground in a way that would honour the fans unwavering support over the past 9 months.

And to be honest, so they should … because even fans of all other teams have said what an amazing atmosphere our fans create at the City Ground.

But I’d seen us fuck up too many times so with 12 minutes to go, I went on to instagram and zoomed through reels to take my mind off things. I knew the game would be over at 6:32am NZ time and my intention was to not look till my iPad said it was that time.

Did I manage to do that?

Nope … but I did manage to last a few minutes at a time.

And then at 6:31am I couldn’t hold back any longer and flicked over to the BBC where I saw the letters FT under the score, signifying full time.

Signifying we had won. WE HAD WON.

And, in a surprise to myself, I burst into tears.

Massive tears. Tears of relief, pride, happiness, shock and calm.

What made this even more surreal was that while this was all going on, I was lying in Otis’ bed as he was in ours with a bad head cold.

So there I was a 52 year old bloke … in an 8 year olds bed … crying at a football result and that’s when I truly knew how invested I was in that team.

How they represent more than just kicking a ball around a pitch, but my identity … my cities identity … our hopes, belief and values.

I was a mix of elation and exhaustion … resulting in me spending the whole day watching interviews of the footballers and fans revelling in their joy.

Joy for defying the odds.

Joy for proving the pundits wrong.

Joy for my great club earning the chance to keep getting better.

I love them. I love them so so much …

The team. The manager. The owners. The fans. The city they represent and belong to.

As the legendary Liverpool manager – Bill Shankly – once said:

Football isn’t a matter of life and death. It’s more important than that.

He wasn’t wrong.

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