Posts Tagged Nottingham Forest

You Reds

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In all of the words I’ve churned out about 2016, I haven’t talked about football.  Whilst it was, indeed, a reason to be miserable, it seemed inappropriate to mention it alongside Aleppo, Trump and Brexit.  And frankly there was nothing to celebrate alongside the brilliant films, books and so on that I have recommended to anyone who’s interested.

Supporting Nottingham Forest has provided very few reasons to be cheerful in recent years.  I have the advantage over my son, in that my years as a Red have included the glory years, the miracle years, celebrated in Jonny Owen’s film, I Believe in Miracles.  The best we’ve seen in his years as a Red has been promotion from League 1 to the Championship, notwithstanding the odd good game along the way.  We’ve appointed and disposed of many managers, some with good reason, others quite arbitrarily.

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I’ve only managed to get to two games so far this season. I saw them defeated away at Hillsborough, after being one up at halftime, and I saw them beaten 2-0 at home by Wolves.  The latter was quite the worst performance I can recall.

So what can I salvage from a dismal year?  What reasons can I find to be cheerful or at least hopeful?  The change of ownership may well prove to be positive, but we’ll have to wait and see.  And whether with the new owners we have yet another change of manager, and whether that is a good or bad thing – well, the jury’s out.  Should they give him time, particularly given the appalling injury problems he’s had to contend with, or has he already had enough time and failed to prove that he has a grasp of strategy or the ability to get the best out of the players?

Dunno.

But what I do take away from this year is not anything that happened on the pitch.  It’s about what it is to support a team through thick and thin, through glory days and the slough of despond.  It’s about the rueful camaraderie between people who support crap teams, whether they’re crap teams who were once brilliant, or crap teams who’ve always been that way.  Last Saturday summed that up for me.

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Firstly, Forza Garibaldi.  This group of Forest fans, proper, Forest ’til I die, couldn’t change it if I wanted to, Forest fans, organised a very jolly Xmas pre-match meet up in a Nottingham pub, raising funds for Archie’s Smile, a charity supporting kids with Downs, including one Tyler Cove, whose joyous presence lit up the whole event.  There were Wolves fans there too, who joined in with enthusiasm, sending themselves up and engaging in some competitive ‘we’re shitter than you’ sing-songs which kind of sums up what it’s like being a football supporter outside the top echelons of the Premier League.

Forza’s mission is to

mobilise ourselves into creating a positive, enjoyable occasion around NFFC games both home and away. And, crucially, to harness that into improving the atmosphere and backing of the team. The objective is to create a platform that galvanises the fanbase into wanting to offer their support.
So, how do we do this?
We don’t pretend to have all the answers or a full strategy but our starting point is to get people together before games and create something, a ‘buzz’ if you will. We will do this via mass gatherings at various locations and occasional specialised events with the theme always being that we inject a degree of adrenaline into proceedings. We hope that fervour and passion is then carried beyond the turnstile.

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Secondly, Bandy & Shinty.  I’ve found much pleasure in recent years in reading some excellent Forest-focused blogs.  Now there’s a fanzine, its second issue published just a couple of weeks ago, which features fascinating articles on a range of Forest topics, with an incredibly high standard of writing, and beautifully produced.  Copies were very much in evidence at the Forza jollification and I understand they are selling fast.

After the Forza do there was some frankly inept and half-hearted messing about on the pitch, and a well-deserved defeat for the Reds.  I will let other pens dwell on that misery.  After the final whistle we headed home on the train.  A couple of Wolves fans just across the aisle,  and then at Chesterfield we were invaded by a horde of jubilant Bolton fans, singing ‘Up the football league we go’.  We all assumed they’d won, but apparently not.  They’d travelled all the way to Chesterfield, been beaten, but were having a half-decent season and so were in tremendously good spirits.  We ended up talking to the Wolves fans, and one of the Bolton fans, and it was all rather jolly.

Years back, I would have been nervous, would have been tensed for the atmosphere to turn nasty.  Instead there was that rueful camaraderie.

I’d love Forest to win, I’d love another miracle.  But I’d settle for staying where we are – no promotion, no Cup runs – if when the team came out on to the pitch we knew that they cared about the team, wore the shirt with a sense of its history and of how important it is to the fans, did their best, every time.  And that the manager had a sense of how to get the best out of all of those players, in terms of motivation and also what Clough did so supremely, to spot what they could do best and then  focus them relentlessly on doing that, just that, until they were unbeatable.

Maybe next year.

Forest ’til I die, couldn’t change it if I wanted to.

Youuuuuuu Reds!

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The Anniversary Waltz

The best thing I’ve read about football in a long time. For those who share my despairing love for Forest, or for other football clubs with similar histories, you’ll understand. For those who don’t get it, read this, and try. Forest ’til I die.

THE LOVING FEELING

No one knows why he chose Nottingham.

Arthur ‘Artie’ Scattergood had it all.  His parents – my great, great grandparents – were textile merchants.  They lived in a big house, on a grand Georgian square, in one of the nicest part of London.

And one day, it’d all be his.  The house, and the factory, and the money.  The life.

But Artie didn’t want it.

Why, we never knew.  When he rocked up at Bestwood Village in 1920, he had no friends, no prospects, and no reason for being there.  Maybe he’d taken the first train out of St. Pancras; maybe he just closed his eyes, and pointed at a map.

Whatever the plan was, Artie worked hard.  He made himself a life—a life of his own, for the first time.  He got a job at Bestwood Colliery.  He found himself a woman, and a home.  And soon…

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The beauty of the game

I’ve written quite a bit about football over the couple of years that I’ve been blogging. But I’ve said next to nothing about what happens on the pitch. I’ve talked about what happened on the terraces one day in April 1989, and the quarter-century aftermath. I’ve talked about the various nations competing in the World Cup and their history and politics in terms of the displaced people across the globe. But the game itself?

I can talk about music, though I’m not a musician, I can talk about art though I’m no artist. But I can’t talk about football, the playing of the game, without it sounding second-hand, words and phrases borrowed from the pundits on the telly or the pundits in my own life.

Forest logoNonetheless it’s played an important part in my life, still does. I barely knew the game existed until the early 70s, when the family moved to Nottinghamshire, and my brothers determined that our loyalties would henceforth belong to Nottingham Forest. And I went along on a Saturday, wearing the scarf that I knitted myself (the only piece of knitting I ever finished, at one time embroidered with the names of the players) at least until the final whistle blew and we hid our scarves away and legged it to the bus station. I stood on the Trent End, being pushed one way and another, pressed up against the barriers till it hurt, sometimes. I went along to watch them train in between home games, to watch the reserves play, to get their autographs. I loved the atmosphere, until the violence – always simmering – seemed to come every week to the boil, and I was too afraid and too sick to love it any more.

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Reading Danny Rhodes’ Fan brought it all back. He writes about following Forest, and I recognise everything he describes. But at the same time my experience of being a football fan was so different – being a girl, a swotty, geeky girl at that, I could never have been part of the beery sweary scrappy bloke culture.

Rhodes FanI never lived for it, but I loved it. Time was I knew all the names, the numbers, the fixtures, the results. Time was I could recognise every player on the cards my brothers collected (the Panini stickers of their day) – and I was tested on this regularly and rigorously. I lost that over the years, lost touch with the minutiae of the team and the game, but never stopped checking the results, and feeling a glimmer of excitement if we were doing well in a Cup or league, or – at least as often – frustration and gloom if we weren’t.

Looking back, I’d thought that ‘my’ Forest era was the glory years of Clough, European cups and league triumphs. But in fact, the years when I was going most Saturdays, when I was the most engaged and invested, were before that. In fact, I supported Forest under three managers before Clough & Taylor arrived (Gillies, Mackay and Brown), and saw them relegated in ’72 to the then 2nd division.

Clough came in ’75, the year I went up to University in Sheffield, and my match attendance plummeted. But I still went, when I could, and saw two League Cup finals (victory over Southampton, defeat to Wolves), and a European cup tie against Grasshoppers Zurich. And I saw the players who Clough inspired to greatness, many of whom I’d been watching in the reserves before Clough saw what they could be capable of and gave them the chance to achieve it. It’s been a pretty bumpy ride since then, and most seasons I apologise to my son for making him a Forest fan – I may have seen some dire, desperate games and some crushing defeats, but I also saw the team when they were the best.

So I can reminisce, but I can’t pontificate about the game. I know genius when I see it – old clips of Best, new clips of Messi, and my memories of seeing John Robertson, short stocky guy, invisible on the left wing until he suddenly took off and scored before the opposition had even registered his presence. Clough said ‘give him a ball and a yard of grass, and he was an artist’, but also that he was (or had initially appeared to be), an ‘unfit, uninterested waste of time’, perhaps the supreme example of Clough’s own genius.

But the offside rule is something I understand only fleetingly and I never spot an offside before it’s called. And I can’t analyse – I’m always kind of surprised and pleased when my general impressions of possession and dominance are confirmed by the ‘experts’ and the on-screen stats. Instead I get caught up with the ebb and flow, the swell of the crowd’s noise and the dying away when the moment is lost, the grace and athleticism, the exhilaration and despair. I can share in that, and I’ve wept over results before now, most recently when Ghana were knocked out of the last World Cup thanks to a certain Uruguayan’s blatant hand-ball.

But when the City Ground crowd invites me to join in and assert that I hate Derby, or Leicester, or anyone else, I can’t do it. I don’t recall racist chanting on the terraces at Forest – and I do recall leaflets on the seats at a reserve game vigorously opposing the National Front and their calls for Viv Anderson to go back where he came from (as Clough pointed out, that would be Clifton, about 15 mins drive from the City Ground) – but I know that black footballers in Britain were subjected to vile abuse, and that this still happens in many European countries. I know that there are aspects of the game that are profoundly ugly.

I saw that in the violence that became endemic in the game – people who turned up for the fight, not for the football, driving other spectators away, and creating the vicious circle of aggressive policing, media contempt and political rhetoric that led us inexorably to Hillsborough. I know that the tribal loyalties that make following a football team so emotional can be dangerous, and are dangerous when they’re linked to other loyalties – religious, ethnic, political. And there’s a dispiriting cynicism in the way the game is played (nothing new, whenever I see the perpetrator of a blatant foul turning to the ref with an expression of affronted innocence, I think of Leeds’ Allan ‘Sniffer’ Clarke).

Yet, despite all that, there’s something wonderful about it all. The experience of being at a match (Premier league, championship or Sunday junior league) is unlike anything else I do. If I’m at a gig, probably the closest thing, where one is caught up in the collective experience, responding emotionally and vocally to what’s happening on stage, still, I know that it’s not going to end with the band I’ve come to see being humiliated and defeated. Every football match presents that possibility.

And all of the above is why Hillsborough is seared into my soul. I wasn’t there. But I stood in my kitchen, just across the valley, watching Grandstand, trying to figure out what was happening. And later, watching as the death toll crept higher and higher. And then hearing the way the narrative twisted – so soon – into the familiar territory of blame. I wasn’t there but it haunted me, and still does. Because it sums up what British football had become – the adversarial policing, the pens that crushed the life out of so many, and the contempt for the fans that allowed the lies to be believed, in the face of all the evidence, for so long.

I do feel some nostalgia for the days when I stood on the Trent End. It is so much safer now, so much tamer. And I’m glad of that, even whilst I feel the loss of the visceral excitement that was part of the experience then. Because that’s forever associated with the reasons I stopped going to matches. And, overwhelmingly, with 96 football supporters who never got home after the match, and the families who’ve had to fight for 25 years for the truth of what happened .

Can we find a middle ground? Can football be family friendly, safe, without being bloodless and corporate? The contradictions will always be there, I think. And I will always have this ambivalent relationship with the beautiful game but will be – can’t help it, couldn’t change it if I wanted to – Forest till I die …

 

http://www.dannyrhodes.net/fan.html

Danny Rhodes, Fan, Arcadia Books, 2014

 

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