Sport Soccer

Wednesday 20 September 2017

Davies taking siege mentality to new level

Forest boss happy to cause offence in hunt for vengeance, writes John Percy

Forest under Billy Davies have been called ‘the Midlands version of North Korea’
Forest under Billy Davies have been called ‘the Midlands version of North Korea’

John Percy

Billy Davies will be exactly where he wants to be today -- facing a Premier League club with the opportunity to inflict an FA Cup upset in front of the television cameras.

Yet the Nottingham Forest manager's determination to pile further pressure on his West Ham counterpart Sam Allardyce is, in many ways, a mere sideshow to the story unfolding away from the pitch at the City Ground this season, which has seen Davies taking the term "siege mentality" to new levels -- antagonising rivals, dividing supporters and creating a confrontational environment that has resulted in a Football League investigation into the club's practices.

This season should all be about Davies's bid to lead the double European Cup winners back to the top flight for the first time since 1999 and completing his "unfinished business" at the club.

But since his return last February there have been multiple sackings of club staff, journalists banned, a near media blackout and a suspended solicitor, and cousin of Davies, acting as his closest adviser.

One Championship chief executive has referred to the club as "the Midlands version of North Korea" and there have been enough complaints to the Football League for its chief executive to seek a meeting with the club's Kuwaiti owner, Fawaz Al-Hasawi.

Forest's hostile attitude is difficult to understand, not least because senior figures at the club have all but refused to speak to the media all season. Davies speaks only to the club's official website and a regional TV station, and journalists present at post-match press conferences are filmed by a club employee.

Even away from the City Ground, Davies attempts to retain control. In December he confronted Dan Westwell, a freelance photographer working for the local newspaper, the Nottingham Post, who was taking pictures of him at Millwall.

"I just sat there in stunned silence not knowing if he was going to hit me or threaten me or what he was going to do," Westwell said. "I was just thankful that the Millwall stewards were on the scene straight away."

Forest claimed Davies had challenged Westwell because he had behaved "unprofessionally" -- although it was not clear how -- but the incident typified the club's aggressive approach.

When asked to explain the club's attitude in August, Davies said: "We've seen people making up stories that are very much not true. But the manager of the football club and general manager going on Twitter shows that we are trying to be very open to the fans. We've tried to make the access to supporters as good as we possibly can."

But Forest's behaviour has undoubtedly divided those supporters. Some believe Davies is getting his own back for what he perceived as poor treatment from the press during and after his first spell in charge at the club, when he was dismissed by the late Nigel Doughty in June 2011, and the Scot has provided excitement at a time when the glory years under Brian Clough seem aeons ago. A growing number, however, appear to have had enough of the soap opera that surrounds him.

Forest's conduct over the past six months has concerned and exasperated the League to such an extent that Shaun Harvey, the chief executive, met with Al-Hasawi in London last month.

Many issues were raised, including Forest's relationship with other clubs, their treatment of the media and even concerns over their handling of the Elite Player Performance Plan.

For all the strife, however, Davies has undoubtedly improved Forest's prospects on the field. They are fifth in the Championship and he is keen to strengthen his squad this month, with Blackburn Rovers' Jordan Rhodes a target.

The 49-year-old manager is renowned for his attention to detail. Players who have played under him tell stories of long training sessions dedicated to eradicating mistakes. He spends hours in his editing suite building up knowledge on opponents and potential transfer targets.

Steve Howard, the forward who was hugely influential for Davies when Derby County won the Championship play-off final in 2007, insists he is the best manager he has ever played for.

"I would have run through brick walls for him," he said. "You just felt part of something big. He made us feel unbeatable. We went into every game fully prepared, every possible thing was covered.

"It was frightening. I'd never had that before and I've never had it since. He's a great man-manager."

Forest will face West Ham with a real chance of springing a surprise, although there was no chance of asking Davies for his insights as he declined to hold a press conference before the game, outside of his usual channels.

Whatever happens today, however, the drama is expected to continue. Perhaps the most telling insight into Davies's character came when he conducted a Q and A on Twitter earlier this season. "It's about pay back," he wrote. "Vengeance is best served cold. Trust me, the innocent will not be harmed."

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