Guy Moussi: Nottingham boy, citizen of the world

In this interview to mark Black History Month, Nottingham Forest Supporters’ Trust board member, Lindsay Knott, talked to Reds legend Guy Moussi about life as a footballer, a Forest player, his views on racism in society, and how football clubs can bring communities together.

Guy Moussi was a 23-year-old midfielder playing for French club SCO Angers when in the summer of 2008, he heard that newly-promoted Nottingham Forest were interested in signing him for the upcoming Championship campaign.

“I came over to see the club and met the manager, Colin Calderwood. I was shown a video of the Yeovil promotion game,” explained Guy. “I saw 30,000 fans in the stadium for a third division game. Then I watched Julian Bennett’s tackle. It wasn’t even a foul! I was like, ‘What is that?!’ I said to my agent, ‘I’m not coming here! This isn’t football, it’s rugby!’ But I saw the quality of the training pitch, I went to eat in a French restaurant in Nottingham and I felt that I would be coming somewhere I’d be happy. I felt relaxed and Forest were the first club to bring an offer to the table.”

Guy’s decision to sign for the club and move over to Nottingham (speaking no English at the time), was a risk, but a decision that would change his life forever.

“There were two or three French players already at the club. Tony Diagne was in the reserves as was Hamza Bencherif who had come through the Academy, who I’d played with seven years before. Hamza was on the same plane as me from Paris and we knew each other and started talking.

“It all clicked straight away.”

Guy was one of a long list of black players to make a huge impact on the identity of Nottingham Forest. He quickly became a fans’ favourite after a magnificent debut at home to Reading. But racism as an issue wasn’t at this point something that was on his mind.

“As a young person, I didn’t think much about racism,” explained Guy. “The big difference is today, we have the internet. Things that people do are exposed on the internet. In the past, if someone was abused, you didn’t hear about it so much. Now people see it online and say, ‘that’s disrespectful’ and you’ll see another video of something else and it starts to build up more and more. We want to fight against it, but at the same time we are showing things that people have done wrong. It’s a tricky thing though because if you don’t talk about it, they’ll carry on doing it. But if you expose it, people may post even more.

“Social media has changed things. Everyone can be a journalist, if they’ve got a lot of followers and show things that interest people. Years ago, if this happened, a club might sort it out and no one would hear about it. But now people can do something stupid for the ‘hype’ of it.”

Guy explained that as he was not born in an era where black people couldn’t work in certain places or do certain things, it was not so easy to talk about experiences of other black people – or even black footballers in the past.

“As a footballer I was privileged and I can’t talk so much about being in the black community as I am not living in it, like some of my family members have done. I’ve seen videos and it does affect me, but at the same time my life is completely different.”

Guy believes that there are two forms of racism, ‘active’ and ‘inactive’ racism.

“You have some people who know what they are doing, and they do something on purpose. But then some people, because they are naïve, do a racist act, but don’t necessarily realise it is a racist act. No kid is born racist, they pick things up. They might say something racist, but when challenged may say in defence ‘but my best friend is black’ but what they’ve originally said, may be racist.

“In football there is another form of racism, one of perceptions. You very rarely see a really good technical black player. There are some, but you rarely see it. When I was young, I was a really technical player. I always asked for the ball. I loved the ball. But because physically I was bigger than other players and more aggressive, people would tell me to ‘kick him’ and I started to become a different type of player.

“When I was younger, people remember me dribbling and all that. But as a player of African descent, tall and strong, there’s a perception. I was once taking part in a training session with a new manager and I came short for the ball. They kicked the ball forward. I came short, they kicked it forward. The manager called me into the office and said, ‘Guy, what are you doing? I want you to kick them!’ I did it, but this wasn’t what I liked to do. My love was to play football.”

As a footballer coming to Nottingham from another country, Guy pointed out that his performances for Forest helped him become part of the Nottingham community.

“When I wore the red jersey, I represented all Nottingham fans. If I did well, people thought, ‘he’s one of us.’ It wasn’t about what colour I was, it’s about how much I gave when I wore the shirt. People knew if I cared about the shirt, then I cared about them.”

We talked about the challenges of bringing people from diverse backgrounds into football stadiums and the ongoing challenge of making football more inclusive.

Guy said: “Football is a religion for English people. It’s been passed on and on. But if I’d come to Nottingham not as a footballer, Forest would mean nothing to me – without that connection.

“But what people don’t realise is that Forest is a totally different club. It is a big family. When I go to the football club, I’m not just going to watch the game, I’m going to see the groundsman, the secretary and the whole Forest family.

“When I first came here, I remember Jim King – I always talk about him. He spoke a bit of French and he and his wife Hilary used to help all the players. He’d come over to my place at six in the morning because the internet people were coming over while I was training. He’d sit with a cup of tea, wait for them to come and fix it and then bring my keys to training.

“I remember my first game against Reading. My family wanted to come to the game. I asked the club to book a taxi for my family. Jim offered to go and pick them up at the airport at 5:30am. For him it was normal. When you come to Nottingham Forest it is a family.”

Guy remembered the role of former kit-man Terry ‘The Kit-man’ Farnsdale as just as important as the chairman or the players. He recalls players having the tradition of bringing in cakes for their birthdays and the players would give money to Terry to go to Asda – both for the training ground and for the staff who worked at the stadium in the offices.

On the community side, Guy has helped young people learn both life and footballing skills through his work at the Forest Recreation Ground near Forest Fields with his friend, Pat Samba. While Guy was doing his coaching badges, Pat gave him the opportunity to get involved.

“I’ve done training in the morning for young people who aren’t working and don’t know what they want to do in life. In the morning they trained for two hours and paid £3. They’d show commitment and I wanted to give them a good example. I’d turn up early and if they were late, I’d ask why. I was a well-known footballer and I had an impact. People would listen.

“Sport will give you discipline and core skills that will work in society. I’d tell them football isn’t everything. Even for me, after my career ends, I’ll have to work. In society, if you have to come in at 8am, you have to come in at 8am, not 10am. We had a guy who’d come 30 minutes late. Next time it was 15 minutes and I’d say, ‘it’s an improvement, but you’re taking the piss’ and gradually he’d come at the right time and there’s applause from everyone.

“Sometimes we didn’t just play football and I’d make them run. I wanted them to learn the principle of working hard. When they were tired, on their knees afterwards, I’d talk to them about life. More and more people were coming to train. Scouts came and there were opportunities for trials – one getting an opportunity in the Forest Academy – and some at other clubs. The big message is to take your opportunity. We gave the opportunity. You have to be disciplined and put in effort and commitment, not just stay at home.

Guy still goes to the Recreation Ground on Friday nights and is inspired by what he sees and identifies real potential in growing Forest as a football club within this footballing local community.

“At the Forest Recreation Ground on a Friday night, it’s amazing. Everybody’s coming to play football. Up to a 100 people playing football – black people, Kurdish people, people from all backgrounds. But when I see a jersey of Arsenal or Liverpool, I realise they don’t have a history with Nottingham Forest. I would love to see Forest shirts given out and next time they’ll play wearing a Forest shirt. This is the shirt, this is your club. Come. This is your home, your place. Let them see the fans sing the song [Mull of Kintyre] before the game and find a connection with people inside the stadium.”

Guy’s family moved from Cameroon to France in the 1980s and he was the first generation born in France. He has visited Cameroon on several occasions and follows their matches in major tournaments.

“For me, I’m a citizen of the world,” explains Guy. “I’m from Cameroon because of my background. I’m French. Today, I feel English also, a Nottingham boy. I’m attached to the Japanese culture because I really like it and as I keep travelling, I find different things in each part of the world.”

Guy’s new life beyond professional football gives him the opportunity to travel thanks to his business, which markets muscle rehabilitation and performance products. The products are used by top football professionals, and right through to physiotherapists working with older people.

“When I travel through my business, I like to take the metro and see real life and open my mind. It makes you more humble.”

Guy went on to have loan spells with Birmingham City, Millwall and took the opportunity to play in Helsinki for HJK. But nothing quite matched playing football in front of a packed City Ground. No interview with Guy Moussi is complete without recalling his special winning goal against Barnsley in 2009. Guy takes up the story about the goal, and the unfortunate second yellow card for his memorable celebration at the Trent End, which perhaps best showed his connection and relationship with the Forest fans and the people of Nottingham.

“In France, you have a barrier between the players and the crowd. I didn’t know this rule and I never scored goals! So, it’s like, ‘I’ve scored at the City Ground, for Nottingham Forest, in the 90th minute.’ The first thing I saw was the fans celebrating. I thought, ‘I need to celebrate with them!’ I didn’t remember I had a yellow card.

“I jumped in the crowd and when I came out the referee said to me, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’ And I said, ‘What do you mean?’ and he said, ‘it’s the rules’. I said, ‘What rules are you talking about?’ and he gave me a second yellow card and in my mind, I thought, ‘Billy Davies is going to kill me. If we don’t win this game, he’s gonna kill me!’

“When I walked into the changing room, head in my hands, I was praying we’d win the game, but then everyone, including Billy, came in happy. We’d won the game.”

You can find full listing of events in Nottingham for Black History Month here.