The East Midlands derby – Big Eck’s Reds growing in stature…

22 01 2013

sp-mcleish-getty“…it was a positive end to a difficult week.

The players showed tremendous character, and it was nice to stop Derby’s winning run.”

“I am pleased we got something from the game, but disappointed it was not three points.”

“I thought the referee had a terrific game, he showed all his experience. He didn’t bow down to all the noise from the home fans. That can be intimidating for referees.”

“I think these guys have a good chance of climbing further up the table but I would like to have an even better chance by adding new players.”

Alex McLeish – ‘Big Eck’ – (Nottingham Forest manager)

download (1)The chill factor was high, around Derby’s Pride Park Stadium, and old football pals, Clough and Taylor, were eyeing the fans’ arrival with icy stares, before the eagerly anticipated, early Saturday kick off. Despite significant snowfalls earlier in the week, under-soil heating would ensure the pitch was fit for play and an army of support staff had cleared the white stuff from the surrounding concourse and approach roads, ensuring supporter safety.

Derby were more than keen for the game to go ahead and why wouldn’t they be? The match was a 33,000 sell-out, the Rams were on a roll with three consecutive home wins, and victories in the last three East Midland derby encounters tucked under their belts.

As the countdown clocks ticked on, the gathering crowd was visibly thawing, fired with pre-match bravado. By the time the players emerged from the tunnel, the Pride Park cauldron was bubbling with expectation…

images (2)It had been another difficult week at Nottingham Forest, where club chairman Fawaz Al Hasawi continued to show his ruthless streak with three out of the blue sackings (notified by recorded delivery letter) hard on the heels of the Boxing Day dismissal of, previous manager, Sean O’Driscoll.

New man in charge of the team, Alex McLeish, seemed as bemused as everybody else at the multiple sackings of chief executive Mark Arthur, head of recruitment Keith Burt and club ambassador Frank Clark. But Big Eck, no stranger to off the pitch turmoil, had seen it all before and assured reporters the players would remain focused, ‘The world is still turning and they have to get on with it.’

Derby v NFFC - Champ- 19.01.13 - (1-1)It was therefore a relief to leave Pride Park with something to smile about, but that smile might have been broader. At the end of a hard-fought ninety minutes it finished all square, a 1-1 draw, but could have and should have been a Forest victory. They were the better team, played the better football, and had the better chances to win the game.

If either the first half effort from Simon Cox, that cannoned off the crossbar, substitute Dexter Blackstock’s downward header, from six yards out, that bounced up and over, or the Sharp turn and shot, late on, that whistled a whisker wide of post, had rippled the back of the net, Forest would have deservedly travelled back along the A52  with all three points, the Brian Clough Trophy and local bragging rights.

Derby had opened the brighter of the two East Midlands rivals, but Forest steadied themselves, after a nervy start, gradually easing their way into the game. After Cox rattled the Derby bar the visitors visibly grew in confidence playing, increasingly, on the front foot.

cohenIt was following a concerted period of Forest pressure that the ball fell invitingly to Chris Cohen. But as, Derby defender, Mark O’Brien shaped to block the anticipated volley, the Forest midfielder’s ‘fresh air shot’ unwittingly wrong footed him. The ball sat up nicely and Cohen was able to complete a composed finish, at the second time of asking.

It was a sweet moment for the Forest player in his 300th league game, since joining the Tricky Trees from Yeovil Town, and sixteen months after rupturing his cruciate ligament against Derby at the City Ground.

It looked as if a single goal would be enough, with Forest looking in complete control during the opening exchanges of the second half. That is until the diminutive Simon Gillett, normally so reliable when receiving and passing the ball on in difficult areas of the pitch, made a mistake that will haunt him for years to come.

jamie-ward_2456504bAs tireless Derby striker Conor Sammon, ever a chaser of lost causes, bore down on Forest’s holding midfielder he took one touch too many and was caught in possession. Sammon slipped the ball invitingly into the flight path of Jamie Ward, buzzing up on his shoulder, and the waspish winger stuck away Derby’s only clear-cut chance of the game, stinging Gillett for his uncharacteristic error.

At that point, I admit to fearing the worst. But Alex McLeish surprised me, with his bold changes, and rose considerably in my estimation. I was fully expecting a defensive substitution and an anxious final half as a rejuvenated Derby mounted a grandstand finish.

Instead, Big Eck introduced a third striker. Soon to be out of contract Dexter Blackstock, subject of  mischievous pre-match rumours about a likely bid from Derby, was thrown into the fray, and the powerful Guy Moussi brought into centre midfield, a like for like substitution for Gillett who was wobbling a little after his fatal mistake.

Subsequently it was Forest who pressed forward for the winner, the Rams defenders who were engaged in last-ditch defending, and the supporters in black and white willing referee Mark Clattenburg to blow the final whistle.

article_1d446006b0153cf4_1351455046_9j-4aaqskIt might not have been a great spectacle, local-derby matches rarely are, but it had been a full-blooded, high tempo affair, and Clattenburg, so often a  controversial official, on this occasion drew wisely on his Premiership experience, allowing the game to flow and keeping the lid on things. There were no ‘howlers’, no red cards and for the first time in the last five meetings between the sides both teams finished with a full complement of players.

How different from earlier in the season when an inexperienced, ‘fast-tracked’, referee, Robert Madley wilted in the pressure cooker City Ground atmosphere, allowing Derby to get away with illegal challenge after illegal challenge and then, having been conned by Derby captain Keogh into red-carding Dexter Blackstock for a spurious elbowing incident in an innocuous aerial challenge, allowed the game to spiral out of control.

downloadThe East Midlands derby is far more than just another local rivalry. Despite fairly tame beginnings, there is now a genuine hatred between supporters. The seeds of such intense animosity were sown as late as the 70’s when Brian Clough and Peter Taylor, having picked up the 1st Division Championship and taken Derby to a semi-final of the European Cup, walked out of the old Baseball Ground on a matter of principle. It wasn’t too long before Cloughy washed up on the banks of the Trent, albeit via a couple of short stays at Leeds and Brighton, and the rest as they say is history.

images (1)Reunited, Clough and Taylor, the dynamic duo, brought unprecedented success to the City Ground and a 1978 League title followed by back to back European Cup victories still sticks in the craw of Derby supporters.

In more recent years, the comings and goings of a string of players and managers who dared to cross the great divide, and in so doing kissed the badge of both clubs, has only served to add further fuel to the fire – one which continued to blaze even in Saturday’s sub-zero temperatures.

The bitter acrimony reached an all-time low last season when Forest, battling for Championship survival, visited Pride Park shortly after the untimely and tragic death of Chairman and lifelong Forest supporter Nigel Doughty, to be greeted by vitriolic chants (from a significant minority of Derby fans) of, ‘Where’s your chairman gone?’ and ‘You’re going down with your chairman!’

I have to say, on Saturday, I was ashamed of an equally distasteful Forest chant (referring to a recent tragic news story) ‘You sheep sh*gging b*stards kill your own kids.’  There should be absolutely no place in football banter for this type of sick ‘humour’.

But, to end on a brighter note, Alex McLeish won quite a few Forest fans over on Saturday. Big Eck needed a good performance from his team and a decent result, to indicate that he is beginning to get to grips with the job of challenging for a top six finish.

Gonzalo-Jara-Jamie-Ward-Derby-v-Nottingham-Fo_2888146His players delivered for him on most fronts and this performance suggests the Reds are a team starting to grow in stature. They looked well-balanced, played with greater width, using both flanks to better effect, and defended more resolutely. They posed a constant threat at corners and set pieces, and there were a number of encouraging performances, notably, Henri Lansbury in midfield, Gonzalo Jara at full-back and young goalkeeper Karl Darlow, who in only his second Championship outing seemed totally un-phased by the hostile atmosphere – in fact he seemed to relish it.

All very promising signs ahead of a must win home game next Saturday. Bring on the Hornets!


The Brian Clough Way…

19 03 2012

The Brian Clough Way:

‘If God had wanted us to play football in the sky, he’d have put grass up there.’

‘If I had an argument with a player we would sit down for twenty minutes, talk about it then decide I was right!’

“I gave my players a version of the same message at ten to three every Saturday: ‘I would shoot my granny right now for three points this afternoon.’ They knew how important it was to give everything in the cause for victory. That’s why my granny enjoyed more lives than my cat.”

‘I wouldn’t say I was the best manager in the business. But I was in the top one.’

Brian Clough (1935-2004)


Last Tuesday I drove the a stretch of A52 that links Nottingham and Derby, the ‘Brian Clough Way’ – named in honour of  the controversial, outspoken, football genius who managed clubs in both cities. 

It was my first visit to Derby’s Pride Park Stadium. The match, originally scheduled for February, had been called off due to heavy snowfall. In previous years I had never been able to secure a, highly sought after, ticket for this away fixture between fierce East Midlands rivals. That I had managed to do so, this season, says a lot about Forest’s current dire predicament. 

As a spectacle, it will not live long in the memory. Whole hearted hoof ball, with neither side able to put together the type of fluent passing move that would have had Old Big ‘Ead purring. There were precious few attempts on goal and the game had nil-nil written all over it.

That is until the fifth minute of time added on, following a serious looking leg injury suffered by Derby’s Nottingham born captain, centre-back Shaun Barker.   

Forest, down to ten men, following the 90th minute dismissal of striker Marcus Tudgay for a second yellow-card offence, were harshly penalised for ‘foot up’ against Jonathan Greening, as Ben Davies ducked into the ball.

Derby substitute Jake Buxton, climbed highest to get a head on the resulting free-kick and, somewhat fortuitously, the Rams found themselves celebrating a first double over the Reds since the 1971-72 league championship winning season, under Clough senior, 40 years ago.      

In his match report, ‘The Independent’ sports correspondent, Phil Shaw, referred to ‘bad blood’ that exists between the Tricky Trees and their woolly backed local rivals.

Certainly red-blooded fans were left harbouring further grudges following a string of totally inappropriate chants from a, not insignificant, minority of home supporters, about the recently deceased Forest chairman, Nigel Doughty.

The Pride Park club was somewhat less than proud of those ‘black sheep’ who had forced them into making an official apology for the, ‘Where’s your chairman gone?’ and, ‘You’re going down with your chairman,’ taunts directed at visiting players and supporters.

Disappointingly, ‘our Nigel’, Clough the younger , chose to sling a deaf-un, shepherding his Derby flock from any criticism with the derisive post-match claim that he had not heard any offensive chanting.

Increasingly, it seems, the former Forest ‘number 9’, who ran out for the Reds on 403 occasions – scoring 131 goals, shows no regard or respect at all for his old club, since taking charge at Pride Park.         

It’s a pity the ‘young man’ didn’t see fit to chastise the offenders in a way his old Dad would undoubtedly have done. BC wasn’t averse to clipping a few ears, as I recall!

It is certainly not overstating the case to say that the current enmity existing between the two sets of supporters has never been quite so so pronounced. But it wasn’t always the case…

Back in the early/mid ‘60s Derby were a lowly, second-rate, second division outfit (some would say they still are) before a certain brash upstart of a young manager, one Brian Howard Clough, and his trusty assistant, Peter Taylor, set about assembling a Rolls Royce team out of spare parts. It was to become something of a specialism.

At that time Forest were flying relatively high in the old first division and local bragging rights were all centred on derby games against the Filbert Street Foxes, Leicester City.

I well remember the weekly letters page in the Nottingham Football Post of that time (sadly a casualty of the electronic media age) published regular correspondence from the mysterious ALF (‘Ardent Leicester Fan’) winding up his Trent-side adversaries.

I watched my first ever local derby from the old Popular Side terrace (now the lower Brian Clough Stand), wedged against the white-washed perimeter wall, as Forest took on Leicester in front of 47,188 City Ground fans. It was 1966-7, the Reds were marching towards European qualification (for the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup) as League runners-up – their highest ever finish, at that time.

There was no Tricky Tree on the shirt in those days, but two Royal Stags, taken from the city’s coat of arms. Forest won 1-0 thanks to a cheeky opportunistic goal from my boyhood hero Ian Storey-Moore, who cleverly headed a low bouncing ball beneath the advancing figure of Leicester’s World Cup winning keeper Gordon Banks.   

By the 1969-70 season Forest’s bubble was not flying quite so high and ‘Cloughy’ was becoming an increasingly noisy and irritating neighbour, the bleating Sheep having gained promotion and, very much, a team in the ascendency.

When I took up my position alongside the mud heap that was the old Baseball Ground pitch, it was more in hope than anticipation that Forest could cause an upset in the first top flight meeting between the two clubs since 1906.                                

But for once Old Big ‘Ead, or young big ‘ead as he was back  then, came unstuck and was made to eat his provocative pre-match words.

It was Storey-Moore again, who rose highest, in the cloying penalty area, to head an early Forest corner into the roof of the net, steadying red and white nerves, and Barry Lyons (an under-rated right-winger) late in the game, who fired low into the corner, to seal a 2-0 victory, sending hordes of black and white scarves flocking towards the exits.

The following 1970-71 season, having lost two successive City Ground derbies, Storey-Moore was the goal scoring scourge of the Baseball Ground again, along with mid-fielder Paul Richardson, as Forest pulled off a surprise 2-1 win, under floodlights.   

I would suggest, the first seeds, of the current animosity that exists amongst Forest supporters towards Derby, were sown in the 1971-72 season. The Rams were in their pomp, winning the League Championship. The Reds were relegated. Derby completed the double over Forest, but it would be 40 years before they did so again  – hence their immense relief and joy last week.

However, what upset the Reds faithful most was how Clough and Taylor, in their inimitable fashion, set about trying to capture the jewel in Forest’s toppled crown – Ian Storey-Moore.

It was already bad enough that Alan Hinton (left-wing) Frank Wignall (centre forward), both with international caps to their name, and Terry Hennessy (a cultured Welsh centre back and inspirational Forest captain) who had all worn the Garibaldi with distinction, were now plying their trade with Derby.

Forest fans had accepted, that with relegation looming, Storey-Moore would be on his way to a top club – but please, surely not to them. However that nightmare scenario seemed to be playing out, when pictures of a smiling IS-M appeared, plastered all over the back pages of the Sunday papers, being paraded around the ring, by C&T, and introduced to Baseball Ground crowd fans, as their newly captured prize Ram.

Fortunately the Forest man had not yet put pen to paper and a last-ditch bid from Manchester United diverted him up the road to Old Trafford. It was a narrow escape. I consoled myself with the thought that my hero never really wanted to move along the A52 anyway, but was being driven in that direction by a Forest board keen to cash in wherever they could. I suppose we’ll never really know.

But how could either set of fans then, have known that three years or so down the line, the winds of fate would send Brian Clough breezing into the City Ground, hell-bent on making Direby (and Leeds United) pay for allowing what they’d once held slip through their fingers.  

Having stepped away from the dark-side, born again Brian took up the mantle of Messiah, bringing with him his faithful disciple Peter. BC, seemingly, could walk on the Trent. He certainly resurrected Forest, raising them to heights that will never be revisited and re-igniting the flames of rivalry with his former club which still rage to this day.

So much of that ‘bad blood’, which Phil Shaw referred to, can be traced back to BC, the greatest manager that both teams and sets of supporters have ever known. When he was against you – you hated him. When he was for you – you adored him. Simple as that really.

And which of his teams did BC love the best? Well I think we know the answer to that one – don’t we? 

Derby was a brief infatuation that promised much but ended, in bitter acrimony, with a walk out and a slamming of the door. 

Forest was an enduring, eighteen year, love affair which bore two European Cups and countless Wembley occasions, before fizzing out and drowning in tears – ending in a whimper not a bang.       

Cloughy, a huge Sinatra fan, just like Ol’ Blue Eyes, always did it his way. Football won’t see his like again. Thanks for the memories.        

It’s only a game…

17 01 2012

Saturday 14th January

Thoughts for the Day:

‘If God had wanted us to play football in the clouds, he’d have put grass up there.’

Brian Clough (1935-2004)

‘‎140 characters is way 2 few 2 come near describing the lackluster inept #NFFC performance 2day.’Relegation’ was writ large 4 all 2c :(‘

‘2day goes from bad 2 worse.1st #NFFC’s woeful defeat v Saints then #GRFC edged out of the Heineken Cup at Quins :(‘

@Tricky Tree on Twitter


Nottingham Forest 0 Southampton 3

This was my first outing to the City Ground for some time, and my first game since the pre-Christmas goalless draw away at relegation rivals Bristol City, but sadly nothing has changed.

I’m afraid Steve Cotterill’s brave new world is fast disintegrating into a nightmarish re-run of the David Platt and Gary Megson eras and a return to lowly League 1 (unthinkable 12 months ago) is becoming more of a probability than a possibility with every passing game.     

Forest, currently 22nd, have picked up just 4 points form the last ten Championship games, failing to score in nine of them, and their current form is the worst in the league.

The manager’s post-match ‘spin’ during this period would have supporters believe that despite such woeful stats, performances are getting better and we are about to turn the corner. If Saturday is anything to go by that is optimistic to say the least.

From the outset I never thought Cotterill was the right man for the job at the City Ground. Most ‘Pompey’ fans were pleased to see the back of him and his track record, outside of Leagues 1 and 2 is mediocre, at best.

At any other time, Cotterill’s job would be under serious threat, but we can’t afford to get rid of him, which rules out a moves for Neil Warnock (recently sacked by QPR) – a manager who does have a successful track record at Championship level – or a triumphal return for Billy Davies, whose unreasonable sacking back in July catapulted the club into a downward spiral that it’s never looked even close to pulling out of.

Saturday’s game vividly illustrated so much that is currently wrong with the less than ‘Tricky Trees’:

  •         Negative tactics – from the outset the game plan is simply to stop the other team playing and hopefully score from a set piece. This is Cotterill’s trademark modus operandi.
  •         Setting up with two holding midfielders at home – Greening and Moussi – is not only negative but has not worked all season; it has to be one or the other!  
  •         Lewis McGugan, the most likely player to create anything from the centre of the park – stuck out on the left touchline, looking totally disinterested. Is it time to  cash in?
  •         More  potential creativity and goal scoring talent on the bench than in the starting line-up. Andy Reid, Paul Anderson, Dexter Blackstock, all subs, &  Raddy Majewski left out!
  •         Captaincy has weighed heavily on Luke Chambers’ shoulders all season, his form has dipped dramatically. He is not currently worth his place in the side.
  •         Lee Camp, in goal, was the beating heart of the team last year. Ever since he was denied a move to Premiership Swansea at the beginning of the season he has lost his spark.
  •         No cover for inured defenders, but promising left back, Kieron Freeman, is sent on loan to Notts County, and Arsenal target, Jamaal Lascelles, is denied a first team opportunity. 
  •         Confidence is low, but doesn’t excuse the lack of passion from players who are supposedly, playing for new contracts. They  looke down hearted, disinterested and defeated.
  •         Worst of all the fans seem to have accepted the inevitability of our demise. I’ve never seen such a reaction, as when the 3rd Saints goal went in.Thousands of fans rose as one,           in abject silence, and made despondently towards the exit.

I was with them. At least I got a quick get-away and arrived home in time to catch the second half Sky coverage of Harlequins v Gloucester in the Heineken Cup.

Against all the odds Gloucester were leading, and edging towards an unexpected victory that would have left them with everything to play for in next week’s final group stage home game versus tournament favourites Toulouse.

My hopes were raised, but I should have known better. Just as in their opening game, away in Toulouse, where they led for so long, they were finally, cruelly denied in the dying stages.

This time it was a particularly wicked bounce of the ball that was their undoing. Clinging on to a 14-13 lead with less than ten minutes to go, a grubber kick from former England scrum half Danny Care evaded covering Gloucester winger Charlie Sharples, fortuitously bouncing off the knees of Quins full-back Mike Brown before he dropped on it to score the crucial try. A conversion from Nick Evans, who had kicked poorly all afternoon just rubbed salt into the wound and put the tin lid on my sporting day!  

The one saving grace was Valeria’s pizza for Saturday night supper – juat like her Mamma makes!         




Into the Lion’s Den… & Out of the Blue…

4 03 2011

Flicking through the pages of last Sunday’s red tops in the local newsagent (before buying something altogether more becoming – The Observer) a double page spread caught my eye in the sports section of The People. 

Chief sports writer, Dave Kidd, had just completed the full set of 92 current Football League grounds, which had apparently taken him exactly 30 years and one day.

He listed Fulham’s Craven Cottage as his favourite (but he is a fan) standing on the old Kop at Anfield as the best atmosphere, and Stockport’s Edgeley Park as serving the best pies (with mushy peas of course). Brentford’s Griffin Park gets a special mention as being the only ground in England with a pub at every corner. It has now been promoted up my ‘to do list’ !

Apparently only around 1,500 people have qualified to join the, quintessentially English, ’92 Club’. These include sheep skinned commentator John Motson (although I always think ‘Motty’ would be more at home in an anorak!) and veteran manager Jim ‘Bald Eagle’ Smith.   

Using Mr Kidd’s rate of progress as an indicator it will probably take me another 15 years to complete the full set  but I did chalk off another one on Saturday, The Den at Milwall.

The ‘New’ Den may have an exotic sounding address, Zampa Rd, but its location is less than enticing, tucked in, as it is, next to a railway viaduct and literally a stone’s throw from South Bermondsey railway station!

Apparently it is a vast improvement on the Old’ Den which stood on the ominous sounding Cold Blow Lane! Of course, The Den is so-called because of the club’s nickname, The Lions.

Aptly enough, the home supporters at the Lion’s Den are renowned for their aggression towards visitors and the previous week’s game against Middlesbrough had been held up when an assistant referee was pelted with ‘missiles’.

Originally from the Isle of Dogs, the club which traditionally drew its support from London Dockers (there is still a Dockers Stand at the ground) is celebrating 125 of history, this season, but during all that time they have won diddly squat.

Unfortunately, down the years, disreputable Milwall supporters have generated more headlines than the team and they continue to revel in their ‘hard’ earned reputation.

Forest’s promotion push has stalled of late (7 games in 28 days and a lengthening injury list haven’t helped) but we are still 4th and within striking distance of the top two. Against Milwall they enjoyed an astonishing 72% possession but, without being able to convert it into clear-cut scoring opportunities, had to settle for a goalless draw.

Once again the home fans vented their frustration towards the referee when they might have turned on the team but Forest manager Billy Davies acknowledged their passion and loyalty.

When things aren’t going well, patience and unqualified support are not always qualities in evidence amongst the City Ground faithful and perhaps he was alluding to this in his post-match comments: “They say many things about Milwall fans but they get behind their team. The crowd are right behind them from start to finish.”        

In my recent Cuppa Dreams post I omitted to mention the Carling Cup (formerly the League Cup) which, at Wembley on Sunday, was the first piece of football silverware up for grabs this season. It may be considered a ‘Mickey Mouse cup’ by those clubs challenging for the Premiership and pursuing European glory but try telling that to this year’s winners Birmingham City; it’s their first trophy for 48 years!

Birmingham, not the most successful of clubs, have often struggled in the shadow of their more illustrious second city rivals, Aston Villa. Sunday’s unlikely success against high-flying Arsenal should provide a great lift for a City team fighting for Premiership survival and their out of the blue victory (cue Brummie rock legends ELO) certainly confirms that the years of the gypsy curse are now well and truly behind them.   

Legend has it that when the club built their St Andrews home in 1906 it was on land used by the Romany community, who were forced to move out. Before leaving, the angry gypsies are believed to have put a 100 year hex on the stadium. Perhaps if someone had thought to buy a few pegs or a bunch of white heather it might have saved years of Brummie heartache.  

I’m not sure whether saddling the Blues with, life long celebrity fan, comic Jasper Carrott (he of the never to be forgotten ‘Funky Moped’) was part of the curse or not!

The fans have certainly needed a sense of  humour and have shown great loyalty  in  sticking with a club whose 1st World War anthem, ‘Keep right on to the end of the road’,  seems to sum up the years of drudgery at St Andrews.  Meanwhile Jasper has clearly been tearing his hair out!          

The gypsy curse  certainly proved to be pretty successful and has been taken so seriously that over the years many a City manager tried to remove it, but with little success.

In 1980 Ron Saunders tried putting crucifixes on the floodlight pylons and painting the soles of the players’ boots red, while in the early ‘90s Barry Fry (always one for any kind of publicity) urinated in all four corners of the pitch after a clairvoyant predicted that would do the trick!

The curse supposedly expired on Boxing Day 2006. Last season (2009-10), newly promoted to the Premiership, under Alex McLeish, Birmingham finished in 9th place, their highest position for 51 years and now, finally, a trophy to parade around the old gypsy encampment – surely the spell has been lifted?      

I’ve always had a soft spot for the Blues, since the ‘70s and my time in Brum as a student. I remember, very early on in my first term, a group of us visiting St Andrews for a 1st division match against Everton (1972).

I have returned many times  since and especially remember the tremendous atmosphere at a second city derby v the Villains, wedged on the terraces with 40,000 baying Brummies; Blues 3 Villa 2 (1976). I also saw the legendary ‘flying dutchman’ Johann Cruyff  playing for the LA Aztecs in a 1979 friendly .

Amazingly, I have managed to unearth the match day programme from that first visit, buried in the depths of my study.

Birmingham had a half decent side back then in what were, relatively speaking, halcyon days.

Meanwhile Villa were languishing together with Forest in the 2nd division.

City were able to put out a forward line that wouldn’t be sniffed at today. Playing up front were ‘super boy’ Trevor Francis (with the flowing locks), ‘bearded wonder’ Bob Latchford and mustachioed Bob Hatton. It could only be the 70s!    

Blues won the game 2-1 with goals from Francis and Latchford, who would both later play for England. On that day it wouldn’t have seemed possible to me that only seven short years later, Trevor Francis would transfer to Forest, as the first British million pound player, and I’d be sitting in  Munich’s Olympic Stadium watching him head the most famous goal in my club’s history, to win the European Cup. Fantasy football or what!     

Also on the Birmingham team sheet that day was one Kenny Burns who, following his move to the City Ground in 1977, was to become a cult hero for his swash buckling performances at the heart of our defence, as we lifted the League Championship and the European Cup (twice) in successive seasons.

Brian Clough – football genius!  Eat your hearts out Arsene(al), Chelsea, Spurs, Man City…      

Arsene Wenger might well learn from Cloughie: always build from the back (get yourself a decent centre back young man!) and always send your strongest team out in every game and every competition. 

He often referred to Forest’s first trophy under his management as vital to their later success, a crucial stepping stone to greater things.  In 1977 (as a 2nd division club) Forest won the little rated and long forgotten Anglo Scottish Cup Final (5-1 over two legs) v Leyton Orient. The rest, as they say, is history…