Getting it back together: The 2003-2004 Preview

Chris Francis on his boy Simon

By Chris Francis

Saturday 16th November 2.50pm. We take our seats in the Brian Clough stand. He runs out and from the kick off I don't watch the game, I watch Simon.

I look down, my hands are shaking and I'm trying to take photos, after all, it might be the only game he ever gets. It was a bizarre, almost surreal, experience. I've never even known anyone playing professional football and now it's Simon. I am frightened in case he makes a mistake, which of course, he does.

Afterwards, I'm completely emotionally drained but also immensely proud. I ask his brother, Matthew, and his step-brother, Dominic, how he played they know about football. I ask Simon how he feels he's just been interviewed by several journalists. The best he can do is 'tired'. We talk about the experience. I'm much much more excited than he is: Simon is 'pleased' and he thought he played 'alright'. These are the stances we take for the rest of the season. Simon is calm, without arrogance or over-confidence, I'm just excited and nervous.Then the craziness starts.

Forest season ticket holders at work can't believe it. The local newspaper features pictures of Simon in its match report and wants to do a follow-up article. Meanwhile, we're all tracking up to Bradford because he's been picked again. Another trend is set: not just 'are you starting?' but also 'where are you playing?'. We buy a programme and his picture is on the front! What's going on? Again, I'm not watching the game but my hands are obviously shaking less; the pictures are less blurry.

The team keep losing but he gets an article about him in the programme he also gets to live with Jake Wright's parents, who are truly excellent people. We all know Simon's in because of injuries and that it won't last. After all, he is only 17 and has played very little football at anything near this level. Then they beat Forest at home. I'm getting better; I watch the game and Simon. On Boxing Day we all travel to VP, he doesn't get on. Now, suddenly, I'm disappointed. What did I expect?

He plays well at Wolves and gets quite a lot of coverage in the Sun and then I find myself swearing at the computer (I'm listening to Pulse Sport) when he gets sent off at Grimsby. I'm there for Danny's debut, which I think takes a bit of pressure of both lads. I only miss one home game since Simon's debut and, of course, he scores. Gutted! I also go to WBA, Derby, Coventry and Sheffield U. Towards the end of the season even I can see Simon is now a much better player than a year ago, thanks to the hard work that Chris and 'the gaffer' have put in with him, but what is his best position?

Young Player of the Year, first professional contract, can it get any better? Well, yes. A combination of a top half finish, or better, a good run in both cups and Simon to continue to improve so he can surpass the 25 games he played last season would be nice. He certainly thinks the squad is good enough to do well. I'll be there, excited, nervous and proud. I think I've become a proper football supporter.