Across the Pond Part 2 – The Life and Times of a Forest Supporter

by Paul Hardman

First of all, I am really glad to have found the lost souls of NFFC North America and to now be 25% of the Houston chapter. I am sure it will grow as Forest return to the glories of the past, or maybe creep up the Championship table and the elusive top 6. I am also looking forward to the day when I can watch a Forest match on TV with like-minded people and share a beer or two.

My odyssey started with my father taking me to the Old Market Square in 1959 to see Forest return from Wembley with the FA Cup. I was 4 years old. I can remember sitting on his shoulder to watch the victorious team parade the cup through the City and from the balcony of the Council House. Then again, I can also recall standing in the rain watching the team battle through the mud against Carlisle United in the third division. That was the real low point, just 6,000 spectators and a dismal display of football from all concerned.

FA Cup winners 1959

I moved away in 1974 to launch my career as an engineer. In 1980 I joined the oil industry, moved even further away and travelled the world. Except for the Carlisle game I didn’t see any further matches until returning in 2017 to enjoy the hospitality of the VIP Club and a seat near the Director’s box. Since then I have managed an annual trip from Houston to Nottingham to meet a hero from the past, but not this year. To be honest, I am not surprised the start to the new season has been so bad. Lack of fans does not make for an uplifting atmosphere for the players, just ask Liverpool. Then there is the complete lack of pace, but that’s another story.

As we all know, life as a Forest fan is one of constant disappointment with a few highs thrown in, oh and a new Manager/ Coach every couple of months. That said, we do benefit from one of the largest squads ever established by a soccer club, leading to strength in depth (so the theory goes). Which brings me to the good old days.

After 1959, I started to go to the games with my father on a regular basis. We were denizens of the Bridgford End and die hard in terms of position, standing just to the left of the goal about halfway back. To be honest, I don’t recall much of the early 60’s, probably because I was too small to see all the game, but I did get to sit on a crush barrier and I had my red and white scarf and a rattle (youngsters may need to look that one up). My first real recollection of Forest came in 1967 when we finished second in the First Division. I remember that season for the football that Forest played and the star of the show, Joe Baker. Although, Peter Grummitt in goal always put on a spectacle. Then there was Bob McKinlay and Peter ‘Tank’ Hindley, who made Norman Hunter and Kenny Burns look like schoolboys.

Joe Baker at Anfield

Of course, Forest are a club that likes to self-destruct every so often, so what better way to celebrate than to cash in on Johnny Carey’s team and return the club to a middle of the road side. I still think the squad of 1966/67 was the best one ever to grace the garibaldi and the best for free-flowing football. Anyone remember the FA Cup quarter final against Everton? I do, because the Everton fans were in the Bridgford End lobbing bottles at us Forest fans. It has to go down as probably the best match I have ever witnessed.

The next major memory (and yes, I am writing this as ideas flow into my consciousness) came in 1968 and the fire in the main stand. Fortunately, it wasn’t as bad as Bradford’s, but it still was a site to behold, especially with a packed ground to watch Leeds. On the day Forest returned to play in front of the now charred stand against Arsenal, I witnessed the greatest goal ever seen. Ian Storey-Moore collected the ball in his own half, dribbled around the entire Arsenal team (anyone recall Terry Neill getting turned inside out) and scored an unbelievable goal. I can recall shouting for him to pass it and not be greedy, before screaming my head off. Happy days. I can’t find a video, but this should tell you all there is to know:

After that things get a bit hazy as I went through the sixth form and Forest lost their way. I went off to the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne in 1974, with every Saturday afternoon spent at St. James Park. Fantastic time for football – MacDonald and Tudor scoring freely. Sadly, my love affair with Forest waned for a few years until 1978 came along. Still living in Newcastle, I travelled back to Nottingham for the European Cup games and was present in Munich for the final. Not a memorable game, but what a goal from Trevor Francis and inevitably made by John Robertson. The game that stands out in my mind was the semi-final at home to Cologne, a 3-3 draw with some amazing football on a muddy pitch (weren’t they all in those days). Of course, Forest went away to Germany and won 1-0!

And there’s Francis!!!!!

The following year it was European glory again, only this time I didn’t get to see many games and watched the final in a pub in Leeds of all places. I did win the prize draw by picking John Robertson, a sure bet for a goal. The work as an engineer came along and I was on my travels, with Forest consigned to a quick look on Saturday to see the results, taking in the occasional game if I was in Nottingham to see my parents. Since 2016 I have managed to see one game a year courtesy of the VIP Club. A pleasant way to spend an afternoon, or evening, reminiscing over past glories and wondering why the display on the pitch is so bad. Fortunately, they do keep you topped up with alcohol, before and after, as well as half time.

Yes, the achievements of the late 1970s will stand out for all concerned and the team is rightly revered for the magic Clough and Taylor sprinkled on them. For me, the late 1960’s was the time of great football, standing in record crowds of 47,000 every week. It was an intimate experience, since you were crammed up against the people either side, front and back and then there was my ten-foot red and white scarf, but no rattle by then. I wish Chris Hughton the best of luck with what is a rag tag squad. If he can’t motivate them back to the Premier League, then no one will. I hope 2021 will allow for a game in the flesh and something to cheer about. In the meantime……COYR!

by Paul Hardman

Paul is a lifelong Forest fan with the occasional lapse in loyalty. Happy to be living in Houston with his partner Susan and their dog Duke.

Across the Pond Part #1

What it’s like to be 4,000 miles away

Supporting Nottingham Forest is never easy. I guess if you’re of a certain generation that was lucky enough to be going to games during the first or second waves of Brian Clough’s successes, or even prior to that the great teams of the 1950’s and 1960’s (well done to you if you fall into that category) then you’ve enjoyed some level of success and enjoyment out of following the Tricky Trees either to Wembley, to multiple trophies and successes and even across Europe as part of the age that for right or wrong reasons, will continue to define our club for many years to come.

European Cup Final

For most, the closest they get to hairs standing up on the back of the neck, is recalling Colin Fray’s immortal words on Radio Nottingham, stating excitedly that Cheltenham has scored and were now winning (against Doncaster), edging us one step closer to escaping the pit of despair that was the 3 seasons we spent in League One. Lewis McGugan’s free kick v Ipswich, Man City away in the cup, Hobbs / Osborn / Oliveria / Yohan vs Derby, Arsenal at home in the cup….. I’m already struggling for anything else that even comes close to 6 trips to Wembley in the late 1980’s / early 1990’s, Frank Clark taking us back to Europe and the majesty that it was to witness Stan Collymore shine brightly yet so briefly in the Garibaldi or baring witness to league titles and European Cups. Like I say, for a generation or two, it hasn’t exactly been cupcakes and roses.

So where am I going with this? I was reminded recently of an old post I’d made on Facebook, a few months after I’d made the move with my family to live and work in the United States of America. Quietly reflecting on the times before the move, I read…..

In another life, I’d be parking up on George Rd and making my way to TBI for a pre match pint. It’s strange knowing I won’t experience that again for a while. Try and enjoy it yeah? Win, lose or draw, some of us just wish we could be there with you #NFFC #FTID #USA

Facebook, August 2018

To draw on an overused cliche, sometimes, you don’t really know what you’ve got until it’s gone.

Sure, that can speak to many things and at the end of the day football is and should always be something we can enjoy. Bill Shankly may have patriotically cried that Football is more than life and death to some people, but the reality is it probably shouldn’t be. There are levels that we can enjoy and by all accounts, they can quite regularly be dialed up to 11, but at the end of the day, it’s just 90 minutes on a Saturday, its just 22 blokes kicking a ball around a rectangular section of grass while a bunch of punters watch on hoping to be entertained and maybe see the team they are rooting for secure a victory. It can just be that, but it doesn’t mean even at that level that you don’t miss it when its not there.

The last picture I took at the City Ground before leaving for the USA 3 days later.

People often ask me whats the one thing you miss the most from home. Depending on my mood it often flirts between food (sausages, kebabs, chip shop chips and food that isn’t baked in sugar) or, in the least surprising declaration of the piece so far, Football. I miss Forest. I miss spending the time with my Dad. I miss going to the chippy on Radcliffe Road and scoffing a battered sausage before heading to TBI to watch the lunchtime game on a Saturday. I miss catching up with the people sat around with me, sharing updates on how my son Tyler is developing and revelling in pride that people associated with Nottingham Forest (fans, players and staff alike) actually know who he – and by association me – is.

Sorry not sorry! Any excuse to show this picture of Tyler as mascot!

There’s something about being there. Being able to feel the wind as it creeps through the corners of the exposed corners of the Trent End. Feeling that tingle of excitement and emotion as the PA cuts out for the 2nd chorus of Mull of Kintyre. Feeling that rush of adrenaline when the net bulges and the City Ground erupts in a cacophony of noise. Only football does that to you and the intimate relationship between fans and the club you support just elevates it to a whole other level.

So how is it different? What are the big changes you notice being 4000 miles away?

Aside from the obvious distance and time zone, mostly its just a feeling of disconnect from whats happening. If transfer news breaks in the morning in the UK, I won’t see it until I wake up several hours later. Lunchtime kick offs or midweek fixtures? Forget it, either too early or during work hours. Sure you can try and catch some by carefully tilting your phone in the right direction in your cube at the office but whatever way you want to frame it as a whole, its disconnected. Its different. Its over there and I’m over here.

By this point we’re so far down the rabbit hole we’re almost touching Wonderland but fear not because although I’ve painted what no doubt feels like a very melancholy picture, its not all been bad. Not by a long shot.

Once you accept that things are going to be different, something I had come to terms with long before we boarded the one way flight to Chicago at Heathrow, you start to look at how you can make it work. Sure you can’t go to games but the internet has made the world a lot smaller place and now, via the magic of the internet and iFollow, I can watch home AND away games live. Midweek games take place while I’m at work and for the ones I can’t make alternate arrangements for, I can catch some by carefully tilting your phone in the right direction in your cube at the office! It’s all about perspective, figuratively and quite literally!

And that allows me to segway nicely into what has quite quickly and easily become far and away the most positive aspect of the move and the ongoing relationship I have with Nottingham Forest.

The summer 2018 issue of Bandy & Shinty ran a feature called “Forest All Over the World”, the first entrant in that section was a gentleman called Adrian Walters from Chicago. Some quick Twitter stalking and a follow / follow back later and something magical has been set in motion. I wasn’t the only one, a few others followed the same pursuit and within a few weeks NFFCCHI was born. Once social accounts had been set up and an internal communication channels established, we agreed to a collective blind date. On August 25th, the first (at least for a while and definitely the first in a more formal setting) NFFCCHI match day took place at the Globe Pub just north of Chicago.

We had a good turnout. Better than expected in fact. I recall a few conversations during the game as new friendships were forged where there was a genuine and pleasant sense of surprise as we looked round and counted 9 randoms all connected by this silly little thing called Nottingham Forest. (We expected around 5 or 6 at most if I remember correctly).

NFFCCHI Est. 2018

The game was what it was. Birmingham City jumped out to a 2 goal lead and after some inspired substitutions by Aitor Karanka (one may in retrospect question why Carvalho and Lolley were on the bench in the first place) we clawed it back grabbing an equalizer 3 minutes from time. It was glorious. It might not have been quite the same as being there in T10 jumping around and hugging random strangers as Murphy calmly slotted in the equalizer in front of a jubilant Bridgford Stand, but it felt good. Like we were all in it together and we’d found some way of beating the odds that 4,000 miles put in front of you and finding a way to feel part of something.

Daryl Murphy equalizing in the 87th Minute vs Birmingham City, August 2018

The game finished. I hung around for a while and chatted with some of the guys. Then when the time was right, drove the 50 something miles north into Wisconsin and back home.

There’s a lot more to cover so stick around. Part 2 will be written and published eventually, maybe on a Saturday morning while I’m waiting for iFollow to connect or maybe from some of our fellow NFFCNA friends. Here’s hoping that you enjoy the ride!

Far Have I Travelled. Much have I Seen. AC