Away Days

7 01 2011

As a young football fan (back in the day when Forest still sported the twin stags of the city arms rather than a tree on their shirts) I harboured the romantic notion that it would be great to visit all 92 football league grounds, never of course considering that it would ever be achievable.

Starting in the late 60s, continuing through the 70s and into the early 80s I did take in quite a few Forest away matches, whenever time and finances would allow, but thereafter work and family commitments took over and opportunities became less frequent. 

My life as a Forest supporter had, of course, begun with home games at the City Ground. The first was way back on December 23rd 1963, standing on the terraces of what was then known as the Popular Side, for the visit of  a mighty Tottenham Hotspur side who, in 1961-62, had become the first in the 20th century to win a league and cup double.    

It was an era of  bobble hats, rattles and rosettes and I can remember it as if it was yesterday. We took the lead through a goal by Johnny Quigley but eventually lost 2-1 thanks to Spurs goals from Jimmy Greaves (who incidentally scored more of his career goals against the Reds than any other team!) and Welsh international winger Cliff Jones.

It wasn’t until 1966-7 (Forest’s most successful season outside of the Clough era – 1st Division runners-up and losing FA Cup semi-finalists, 1-2, to Spurs – guess who scored their first goal?) that I went to my first away match. It was January 7th (44 years to the day – scary!) at the Hawthorns and Forest beat West Bromwich Albion 2-1.

As an interesting aside to that game, a promising young goalkeeper called John Osborne had been signed by the Baggies from Chesterfield two just two days previously, and was making his debut. He got off to a flyer by saving a penalty taken by my all time Forest favourite, Ian Storey-Moore. However he was later beaten from the spot by skipper Terry Hennessy before Storey-Moore redeemed himself, hitting the winner.     

John Osborne went on to become one of the all time great Albion players and starred in their 1968 FA Cup winning team.

Twenty two years after that game, during September 1989, I met him.  The secretary at the school where I was deputy head married a former President of Worcestershire County Cricket Club and I was invited to their wedding reception, held at the beautiful New Road Cricket Ground.

At that time Osborne, who sadly died in 1998 at the young age of 57, was the commercial manager at the club and unfortunately for him he was assigned a place on the same table as me. When I heard of his death I immediately recalled that evening and how he had listened so patiently as, fuelled with drink, I had talked him through my memories of his debut.

To digress even further, also present at the same wedding reception were two great Worcestershire and England cricketing legends. The bride very kindly took time to introduce me to Ian Botham and Basil D’Oliveira. I recall it was quite a night!      

Getting back to my original thread, it has been a while since I have been able to call myself a City Ground regular and I admit to having cherry picked my games for some time now. However in the last few years I have rekindled my childhood pipe dream of visiting as many different football league stadia as possible and each season I thumb through the fixture list and earmark two or three away games at grounds that I have never before visited.

Times were pretty grim when Forest slipped into League 1 (I still think of it as the old 3rd Division) at the end of the 2004-05 season, becoming the first winners of the European Cup to slip into the third tier of their domestic league, but it did provide opportunities to watch them play at some of the more lowly venues which would never previously have appeared on my radar:  Cheltenham, Walsall, Swindon, Yeovil, Plymouth etc.      

At the last reckoning I had visited 39 of the current 92 league grounds: 13 Premiership, 15 Championship and 11 from Leagues 1 & 2 so not even half way there yet!

Actually the stats would be considerably better but a number of clubs have relocated from grounds that I have visited to new ones that I haven’t. So for instance I went up to Bolton when they were playing at Burnden Park but have not yet been to the Reebok Stadium. Similarly I’ve watched Sunderland at the wonderful old Roker Park but not at the Stadium of Light.

Incidentally I wonder who this ‘young man’  (2nd in line) is, trotting out of the tunnel in an old black and white photo from the Roker Park archive? 

I was able to tick off the one of my earmarked grounds for the 2010-2011 season earlier this week when Forest played their first away Championship game of the New Year at Portman Road, Ipswich. 

It was a six-hour round journey, across country, to Suffolk. Forest didn’t play anything approaching their strongest side or anywhere near their best football but still did enough to pick up the points with a 1-0 win (thanks to an own goal!) against the Tractor Boys so at least the homeward journey was more enjoyable than it might have been.

The next away day that I have tentatively marked on my hit list is at the end of February when Forest are due to take on Milwall and their hostile fans down in the Lions’ New Den,  Bermondsey, SE London.

There could be fireworks!





6 responses

7 01 2011
Another Phil

Visiting all 92 was one of my teenage goals…..but ladies became more attractive than grounds! Your piece ( of writing, not lady!) spurred me on to have a count up and I’m ahead, thanks to the many leagues my teams have played in. I have been to 13 in the Prem, 14 in the Championship, 12 in Div 1, 16 in Div 2 and 13 Conference.

Some are awesome but I still like some of the old fashioned ones that retain their character and welcome away fans into their bars.

Let me know if you need a break from Kingsholm and want to veture to The New Lawn to see Forest Green Rovers…..perhaps the best village ground in the world

7 01 2011

I couldn’t agree more Phil. So many modern grounds lack character and soul – Coventry for instance.
I had been to Highfield Road many times and there was always a good atmosphere with the Sky Blue anthem booming out. Last year I went to the Ricoh for the 1st time. It was half empty, dead and had nothing to set it apart from a number of other ‘plastic’ grounds I’d been to such as Leicester and Swansea.
Just before Christmas I spent the afternoon watching Fulham at Craven Cottage, lousy game but a lovely old world atmosphere (outofafrica2010 post December 15th). For that alone I hope they stay up!
Have Forest Green played Mansfield at home yet? I wouldn’t mind coming down for that!

8 01 2011
Another Phil

We’ve played Mansfield twice – up there in the opening match of the season & I stayed in a B & B on a farm with my son,Matthew. Highlight was a cycle ride around one of the Forests before the game….we were well beaten. We had our revenge in November when we had a memorable 2-1 win.
Craven Cottage is on my lists of ‘musts’.
Matt bought me a ‘Scratch world map’ for Christmas – you scratch where you’ve been.I thought I’d done a fair amount of travelling but there are so many places to explore…’s a great planet or adventure

7 01 2011

My first visit to The City Ground was in March 1966 and The Reds beat Stoke City 4-3. It cost half a crown to get in and I loved it. I was a regular home supporter until March 1972 when I had to take a Saturday job at Boots – I needed the cash as somebody called Phil had introduced me to the demon drink.
Great news about The Ashes.

7 01 2011

Hi Eve, Great Ashes series for England against a very average Australian side. Just hope the media don’t over hype it (which they’re bound to). We’ll only really know how good we are after next year’s series against India – think it could be really close. Looking forward to seeing Tendulkar making his swansong. I’ve booked a ticket for the 1st day at Edgbaston (Weds 10th August). Are you thinking of goung?

13 01 2011
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