LEARNING CURVE: Steve Chettle is using his vast experience gained under Brian Clough at Nottingham Forest in his role as Basford United manager. Picture: PA Images
By Chris Dunlavy
Steve Chettle shared a pitch with some wonderful players in his 13 years at Nottingham Forest.
Stuart Pearce, England icon. Pierre van Hooijdonk, set-piece specialist. Teddy Sheringham, whose sale to Spurs in August 1992 sparked the crumbling of Brian Clough’s empire. Then there was Roy Keane.
“Ah Roy,” laughs Chettle, who made his debut in 1986 and played 527 games for Forest before leaving to join Barnsley following David Platt’s arrival in 1999.
“He was about 18 when he came to us in 1990, this quiet country boy from Cobh in Ireland. I don’t think anybody imagined that he’d become one of the best players the Premier League has ever seen.
“I can still picture him, sat on the bus up to Liverpool with a pair of boots in a carrier bag. He ended up making his debut that night and that was that. Off he went.
“He could do anything, Roy. Any job, any position, and he’d be outstanding. He was a great player for us. Quiet, but great. Then he went up to Manchester and became this feisty, opinionated, outspoken individual who would take on anybody.”
Yet even Keane, below, for all the trophies and accolades, is a shadow of the player Chettle regards as the most talented he’s ever seen. “When people ask me to name the best player I played with, I always say Stan Collymore,” he says. “And not just by a bit. By an absolute mile.”
Collymore, whose career was blighted by struggles with mental illness, arrived at the City Ground in the wake of relegation from the Premier League in 1993.
Three years earlier the striker had been plying his trade for Stafford Rangers, yet 50 goals in two seasons led to England caps, European football and a British record £8.5m move to Liverpool.
“He was our Ronaldo, like the original R9,” says Chettle. “And that’s not an exaggeration. He could do everything. Electric pace. Immense strength. Great balance. He was two-footed. The year we finished third in the Premier League, it was scary. We’d just give him the ball, stand on the halfway line, wait for him to score and then kick off again.
“He really was that good. Exceptional. We knew he was different, of course. Whenever we were in on a Sunday doing recovery work, Stan was always ill.
“You’d hear the coaches saying ‘What should we do about him?’ and Frank Clark, the manager, would say ‘Just leave him. Get him fit for Saturday and let him do his thing’. What a talent.”
Today, Chettle has come full circle. Before Keane, Collymore and all those years in the top flight, his first competitive game came at Basford United’s old Mill Street Ground.
“I was nine, playing for Nottingham schoolboys,” he recalls. “In goal, because I wasn’t very good! I only ever played there once more, when Dave Beasant got sent off in a game against Reading. That was enough for me!”
Now he is Basford’s manager, tasked with continuing the rise of a club that have won five promotions in seven years under the leadership of owner Chris Munroe.
“The club was in a mess,” says the 52-year-old, who was appointed in April 2019 and had guided Basford to fourth in the NPL Premier when the season was abandoned.
“Vandalism, drug abuse, everything else. I know, because my house is five minutes away. But Chris has taken it – as a player, manager and now as the owner – to an NPL team that’s pushing for promotion. He’s worked his backside off and I’m so proud to be helping him.”
It is a situation Chettle never envisaged when his playing career came to an end at Ilkeston Town in 2005.
“When I packed in, I’d been in the game for a long time,” he explains. “I wanted nothing to do with football so I did the things that all ex-pros do. I went on holiday a lot. Spent time with the family. Got my golf handicap down.
“It was only when my son went to Forest’s academy a year later that I thought ‘Maybe I’m doing myself a disservice here’.”
The ensuing odyssey would see Chettle start from the ground up. A Level 1 coaching course, PE lessons in a local school, seven years with Forest culminating in management of the Under-23s.
He has since worked at Ilkeston, Nuneaton and, most recently, Notts County, where the man who employed him, Kevin Nolan, was sacked after just nine days in the job.
“Absolute chaos,” he says of the Magpies’ descent from the Football League. “They had some wonderful players but there was just too much turmoil to survive.”
Many lessons have been learned, including the patience and people skills that he so admired in former Forest boss Brian Clough.
“Brian wasn’t patient with journalists or directors,” says the 52-year-old. “That’s well documented. But he had a lot of time for players. Cloughie could make you feel great.
“He was a very good people person. He got to know you really well. When you were having a rough time, he’d pick you up. If you thought you were billy big balls, he’d knock you down a peg or two – or three, or four. I’ve got nothing but good memories of him.”
And of a career that included a UEFA Cup quarter-final against Bayern Munich and seven visits to Wembley, including League Cup victories over Oldham and Luton.
Had Chettle spent so long at the game’s summit today, of course, he would likely be a millionaire several times over. Does that ever sting?
“Believe me, it’s a conversation I’ve had many times,” he admits. “But you know, I don’t begrudge not making the money those lads earn now.
“The truth is, I’m in a better financial position than many of the boys who won European Cups for Forest in the late seventies and early eighties. It’s just evolution.
“And we had it good in many ways. Today you’ve got mobile phones, social media, people wanting to have their two penneth about you. When we were successful, people still stopped you for a chat and a photo. But it was nothing like now. I don’t see how these guys ever leave their houses without protection.
“Along with the lifestyle, they have to make sacrifices and those are a lot more severe than when we played. I had a great time, and I wouldn’t change anything.”