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A Great Day All Round

Tuesday 2nd August 2011
The City Ground yesterday played host to the Nottingham Forest open day. This was the first open day for many years, the departed Billy Davies would never let an open day disrupt his pre-season preparations but the new gaffer, Mr McClaren, felt like he had to give something back to the fans (or try to win them over, depending on your viewpoint).

Whatever the reasoning behind it, the open day was a resounding success. Despite being scheduled at the same time as the Test was on across the road, thousands turned up to see the open training session and to view life behind the scenes at the stadium. There was a great atmosphere and although there was a lot of queuing to be done, all the activities were worth the wait.

First up was the much anticipated open training session and a chance to judge how sharp the squad looked before the opening game against Barnsley next weekend. The players made their way onto the pitch in small groups, each earning a huge round of applause, followed by McClaren who looked surprisingly at ease in the job and with the players which was encouraging to see. Incidentally Reid, Anderson, McCleary, Moussi and Lynch sat out the session - clearly feeling the effects of the friendly against Lincoln. It was a lively and fun session but wasn't the most encouraging performance. The finishing was very poor despite Greening showing his talent at hitting the bar from long range. In fact, it was the older players who caught the eye. Boateng looked like the spark was still there, Greening showed that he is an absolute bargain compared to the ageing McKenna. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink has still got it and looked as though he could still do a job up front!

Following the training session, there was an autograph session which was great for the younger fans like my nephews who came along with me. I say that, but I loved it too. The players were all really generous with their time, although I did get the feeling that Lee Camp just wanted to get dressed and go home - maybe an indication that his heart is set on Swansea? Of the players we saw, Luke Chambers - revealed as the new captain by Jonathan Greening when he was signing autographs - was a truly nice guy and a good leader; ordering McGugan to sign more autographs when he was hoping to head down the tunnel. Robbie Findley was also happy to talk to everyone and didn't seem to mind when my eldest nephew just talked at him about how he'd been to America and how Findley was his favourite player. Finally, McClaren made a brief statement of thanks to the gathered masses and promised a good season ahead.

The next activity was something that completely threw me and made a childhood dream come true. Tucked away in the 1865 suite was a certain John McGovern, captain of the 1979 and 80 European Cup winning Forest sides for those of you who didn't know, and with him was that very trophy. The symbol of Forest's success and still the most desired trophy in European football today was right in front of us. A queue had formed but it was not overly long - the photo opportunity hadn't been very well advertised - and one by one we were invited to have our photo taken with John and to lift the trophy. What a feeling it was too. John was a remarkably nice and down to earth chap. He'd been in there for 2 hours previous to our little group arriving but still gave ample time to everyone who went up there. He shook my hand, we had a brief talk about Brian Clough and how Cloughie told him to get a haircut because he looked like a girl and then it was time to do something no Chelsea player has ever done, lift the European Cup. I can tell you that it's actually really quite light, if a little cumbersome to grip properly. One dream ticked off.

We then had a brief look round the inner workings of the stadium although stadium tours had been advertised, we never saw one taking place. It was very much a restricted access view into life behind the scenes. Still, it was enjoyable. We took in the trophy cabinet and it was my first time seeing the old First Division title as well as the old League Cup and they both look more impressive and have more character than the current incarnations. The board room was sealed off (more on that later) but you could still get a glimpse inside at the other European Cup that resides at the City Ground before heading off up into the Director's Box which I personally thought didn't give you a better view than anywhere in the stadium. You were also allowed to walk on the pitchside although a steward would bellow out "Keep off the grass!" everytime you so much as drifted near the hallowed turf. Another photo opportunity was had at the dugout where I could finally sit where I belong; on Football Manager anyway! Before dream number 2 - the chance to walk down the tunnel. The complete City Ground experience in one day, for free.

I've actually been to two open days this year. The other at my local club, Colchester United. That had pretty much the same itinerary of open training session -tour- kid's activites -shop- home. But it didn't really compete as a package with the Forest one, and that's n0t being biased. I had a good time at the Colchester one and it was more relaxed with the players walking round and not being ushered down the tunnel as soon as their duties were over. There were also properly organised tours by the Supporter's Trust and no room was off limits, which I implore Forest officials to implement if there is to be another open day. However, despite the Colchester open day being more organised, I still prefered the Forest experience. It was a bit thrown together in a rush but you really got a sense of the history of the City Ground and of the club and also of the excitement that was building towards the new season.

Open days are a great way of connecting the players and the manager to the fans in a way that they can't do during the hectic scheduling when the season gets underway. I would urge all Premier League clubs to follow suit. Yes, it's all well and good earning money by playing all your pre-season games overseas but you only need to give one day to let the fans meet their heroes and take part in activities usually only reserved for the very rich or the best of players. One day isn't going to throw pre-season training into disarray and it might make players on ridiculous amounts of money and with a poor attitude, Ballotelli and Cashley I'm looking at you, actually realise how good the fans are to them. If your club has had an open day or if you're planning on going to one then I'd love to hear about it.

Tom Davidson

Total articles: 5

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