Stuart Pearce And The Fear Of Clay Feet (And Thighs)

You should never meet your heroes and you should never put heroes in charge of football clubs where they were heroes. Nick Miller loves Stuart Pearce so feelings are mixed...

Last Updated: 03/04/14 at 10:14 Post Comment

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At the time of writing, Stuart Pearce is merely a former player, manager and current occasional TV and radio pundit, but by the time this article is unleashed onto an unsuspecting (apart from those of you who have realised Profile365 is published every Thursday) and largely ambivalent world, he will probably be the new Nottingham Forest manager.

Pearce will take over from June, unwilling/unable to take the job now in order to resolve some personal issues, which may or may not involve deciding whether to bring with him the flagpole complete with St George's Cross his wife bought him as a Christmas present some years ago. Remarkably, that is true - he really did have a flagpole outside his house in rural Nottinghamshire. When the colours flew high, Psycho was home.

This prospect of Pearce as manager raises confusing feelings in the bellies of Forest fans everywhere, many of whom watched Pearce, this mass of blonde hair and thigh, charge up and down the left flank for years and were raised on the notion that a team was not complete without a similar marauding presence at full-back.

Pearce of course played with an aggression that was just on the right side of controlled for the era he dominated. He was rarely a thug, but was, shall we say, not afraid of letting whoever he was marking know he was around. There is a famous story that Bobby Gould, the man who signed Pearce for Coventry, tells about scouting Pearce while he was at Wealdstone - Gould claimed he arrived, sat down, and after ten minutes the opposition right winger ended up in his wife's lap, and he thought "well, that's good enough for me", so left and signed Pearce shortly afterwards. Leaving aside how very lucky Mrs Gould must feel to be taken to a Wealdstone game in her leisure time, that attitude to player recruitment is one that is quite obviously in the past.

Pearce was only sent off five times in his career, but had he started ten or 15 years later, that figure would easily have been trebled and he would probably have bounced around from club to club, not settling anywhere as managers tried to tame this talented but violent liability, but would lose their patience after the third or fourth red card, if not before. Pearce, after all, played in an era where the three tackles in these two clips - here and here - were only considered worthy of yellow cards.

Now, they would have been accompanied by the clacking of pundits' tongues, personal hearings at the FA and increasingly thin assurances that "he isn't that sort of player".

Pearce was, quite obviously, for various reasons a hero at Forest, perhaps more so than any other player in their history. He clearly wasn't the most talented player to have ever represented them, nor was he the most decorated, but closely followed by Stan Collymore and Trevor Francis he was the most viscerally exciting. He showed passion which, however much Tim Sherwood and his ilk are relegating such a quality into parody, matters to fans, particularly impressionable young ones. How could you not love a man who once tried to (while playing for West Ham) run off a broken leg? The passage in Daniel Taylor's 'Deep Into The Forest' when he states he would rather go on the dole than work for Derby doesn't hurt, either.

So you would think that Forest fans would be delighted about Pearce's return to the City Ground, but among the more sensible there is a feeling of dread that at the moment is being covered by wistful nostalgia.

As much as anything, wanting a player who was such an enormous hero as a player to be your club's manager is utterly nonsensical because, with a couple of notable exceptions (Johan Cruyff and Kenny Dalglish spring to mind) it almost never works. Short of winning the league title, nothing that Pearce can achieve as Forest manager could possibly top or even match his standing as a player, so he can only be diminished. It's a little like asking a new partner how many people they've been with before - the chances of getting an answer you are happy with are almost non-existent.

And this is even before one mulls over the not-inconsiderable body of evidence that Pearce is not a terribly good manager. Forest fans can try to convince themselves all they like that his oft-forgotten strong start at Manchester City and taking England Under-21s to the European Championship final indicates that Pearce the manager might have something more than passion and a Beanie Baby, but he is tactically naïve, relies an awful lot on shouting and of course once played David James up front. Logic states that this will not be a success.

The general feeling appears to be that those on the banks of the Trent have never wanted someone to succeed so much, while at the same time thinking that they won't. Hope is currently trumping expectation in the left brain of Forest fans everywhere, but one fears that won't last very long.

You should never meet your heroes, because they will probably turn out to be dreadful people. You'll only be disappointed, memories and innocence lost. Equally, players you idolised should never come back as managers. You'll only be disappointed, memories and innocence lost.

Forest fans should be left with their memories - of his free-kicks, his unstoppable forward runs and this 'tackle' on Derby's Ted McMinn. With just those memories, they can choose to ignore that their hero might have feet of clay.

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