“WE hate Nottingham Forest, we hate Everton too. We hate Man United, but Liverpool we love you.” It’s song sang season after season without question. Manchester United and Everton, understandable. But Nottingham Forest? We haven’t played them for 17 years. A generation of Liverpool fans must be thinking ‘What’s all that about?’. So this is what that is all about.
IT’S December 1978 and at 11 years of age, I’m with my dad, swaying — feet off the floor — in a rammed standing Paddock watching Liverpool against Nottingham Forest at Anfield.
Such was the “let-off” (the celebration) when Terry McDermott scored the opener, from a first-half penalty, that I’m terrified we’re going to score again. “Please, Please, Liverpool, don’t score!” I pray.
We do though — another from Terry Mac, this time at the Kop end from an Alan Kennedy rebound off Peter Shilton in the Forest goal. As it turned out, I was ok — I survived; but the noise that enveloped Anfield that winter afternoon has been described since as the best league game atmosphere in living memory.
It was fucking mental. Even in the Paddock.
The Kop bellowed: “At Anfield, the Forest will fall, cos we won’t be mastered by Cloughie’s Red Bastards…” The Footie Echo headline that night was: “Mighty Reds Smash Forest Hoodoo” which underlines how Forest had become THE rivals in the blink of an eye — they were only promoted in May 1977.
Brian Clough’s team of average pros and young upstarts were reigning Champions and had knocked us out of the European Cup earlier in the season. We had been deposed at home and abroad. Grown men had cried. At the end of the goalless second leg that ended our European reign, the Kop sang: “We’ll support you evermore.” Such was the sadness and shame of the exit. Imagine the Kop singing that now? Surely, only relegation would bring on such ridiculous mournfulness.
I already hated them with a passion. I cut out the 2-0 match report and put sellotape over the entire text so it would never fade. I’d already gouged out the faces of their players in my completed 1977-78 Panini sticker album. I’d spent a hundred quid on footy cards only to deface every one of these bogus League Champions. I stuck their badge over the treble 20 on my junior dartboard and got really, really good at the arrows.
Disturbingly, I saw a BBC TV period drama called Malice, A Forethought, about a fella who was poisoned by his wife and wondered if I could exterminate Brian Clough in similar fashion. I’ve always been a man of passion and rage; never more so than at 11 years of age.
The hatred had built from the word go. They had romped to the 1978 league championship by eight points with Liverpool a distant second. And, they beat us in the replayed League Cup Final at Old Trafford. It wasn’t a pen – Phil Thompson “professionally” fouled John O’Hare miles outside the box but the referee saw it differently. Losing cup finals at 10 years old is shit.
From Division Two, to League Champions, to European Cup Winners went Forest in 24 months. Remarkable, as David Coleman on Match of the Day would say – often.
Clough and his assistant, Peter Taylor were a pair of smarmy bastards. Clough with his affected North East drawl was a boorish pain in the arse, and Taylor, a patronising little runt, with his military moustache and clipped vowels, was everything I despised about these East Midland nobodies.
Though privately they admired our Boot Room, they just annoyed the shit out of us; not for them humility; they were quite brash and upbeat about their chances against us and they fucking backed it up with results. It was a bizarre partnership — Taylor did a lot of the day-to-day stuff with the players, while often absent Clough was the charismatic, albeit irritating, mouthpiece who motivated them.
It was a rag-tag-and-bob-tail bunch of journeymen, that Forest line up. Two massive grocks at centre-half, Kenny Burns and Larry Lloyd. I hated Burns more — a right dirty bastard with a snarl accentuated by an annoying blonde muzzie. Lloyd was just fat and shit; as supporters we just didn’t see him as an ex-Red; one of Shankly’s boys.
In fact, Shankly had binned him off in the wake of our defeat to Red Star Belgrade in 1973; the game which convinced Shanks a more cultured ball-playing centre half was a prerequisite for enduring European success.
Ian Bowyer, in midfield, was one ugly presence on the eye and on the ball, although Martin O’Neill an intelligent schemer alongside Bowyer was a decent footballer; as cultured as anything they had. Don’t even talk to me about John O’Hare — for fucks’ sake — these lads had been in the second division for a reason. Viv Anderson, all galloping limbs and a prototype for the modern athlete-cum-footballer was a dependable overlapping full-back. He became the first black player to start for England, but this being 1978, he got it both barrels from the Kop; terrible overt racism. I’m not proud of that little bit of Kop folklore one bit, but these were different times characterised by uneducated bigotry and, sadly, it wasn’t a minority, I can assure.
Peter Shilton in goal was unbeatable. I adored our own Ray Clemence but for three or four years here, Shilton was his superior; except off his line, where Clem excelled. They were two unbelievably good goalkeepers; their ability on a par to the extent where they were rotated alternately, game by game, for England throughout World Cup qualifying campaigns.
For some reason, Gary Birtles, the attacking spearhead and prime goalscorer, all pointy chin and little beard, never really bothered me. There was only so much hatred to spread around.
They were essentially a defensive team. They could afford to be; when breached, Shilton would always save them, or so it seemed. When he was caught in flagrante with a young woman (who wasn’t his wife) a few years later, we got our own back as the caustic, sometimes funny, “Tina” chants rolled incessantly, tauntingly, down from the Kop.
However, by then Forest were on the wane, and we applauded “Shilts” down to our end at the start of the second half like the greats of the era; the ageing Gordon Banks, Pat Jennings of Spurs and Arsenal, and er, Everton’s George Wood.
At their peak, Forest were rapid on the counter; Tony Woodcock up front alongside Birtles, and the workhouse midfield of Bowyer, O’Neill and O’Hare never stopped running, harrying, or in modern-day parlance, pressing.
Clough and his dastardly sidekick Taylor had their charges extremely match fit. Even “Fatty Robbo”, John Robertson, belly hanging over his shorts and a pie in his arse pocket, was quick over the crucial two yards to go past his man. I’m yet to be convinced he didn’t carry a hip flask and 20 Embassy in his jock strap. He looked like a pub player, but was a magician on the left wing.
Time and again they would pick us off, indeed all-comers, on the break. “Boring, Boring Nottingham” was our consoling lament.
The litany of depression and anger reads:
- Losing the title to them in 1978 by a huge margin — their first season up in the top flight
- Losing the League Cup final to them to a non-penalty, with a goal disallowed (McDermott) and Shilton not even playing, but rookie replacement Chris Woods having a two-match blinder at 19 years of age
- Them knocking us out and deposing us as European Champions.They were 3-1 down to Cologne at home in the semi but fluked two late goals and then won 1-0 away and were jammy enough to face Malmo — the quality of team managed by that Scandinavian trailblazer Hodgson — in the final
- In 1978-79 we regained the title but they beat us again over two legs in the League Cup semi-final — Shilton was in gravity-defying form; we failed to score in the tie and lost to another debatable Robertson penalty
- Then they retained the European Cup in 1980, beating Kevin Keegan’s Hamburg in Madrid. Forest in the Santiago Bernabeu. It almost beggared belief.
A turning point came in February 1980 when we beat them 2-0 away in the FA Cup fifth round — when the cup really mattered — and their second European Cup notwithstanding, the rivalry fizzled out as quickly as it had come to pass. They declined quickly — Birtles, for example, going to United and looking not even half the player, and Woodcock going embarking on a career in Germany with FC Cologne, where he did a “Jan Molby” and adopted a comical German accent diluted with only by the barest trace of his original Nottingham lilt.
Clough’s problems with drink are well documented and by now he was most probably well and truly into the whiskey. Peter Taylor left after another of their lovers’ tiffs; it had always been an intense relationship, more akin to marriage than a professional partnership, and his subordinate now departed, Clough looked and felt bereft. The blood slowly drained from the red Forest shirts, as they went from Champions in 1978, runners-up to Liverpool in 1979, fifth in 1980 and seventh in 1981.
All of a sudden, it was Ipswich Town who had our attention, but never the level of scorn, for unlike Forest, they were always the bridesmaids, never the title brides. Ipswich were easier on the eye than Forest and perhaps this was their undoing; they had Arnold Muhren, who had a left foot almost as sweet as mine, but the same brittle, fair-weather temperament to match.
In the early 1980s we were still waiting for the traditional, embedded, local rivalries of the past presented by Man United and Everton to resurface. However, they insisted on being enduringly shit, so for a while, the footballing backwaters of England received more than a fair share of our attention.
The Forest “relationship” was spiced up post-1985 by the miners’ dispute when, after months of privation, the Nottinghamshire workers broke the strike. The terraces witnessed the fiercely socialist Liverpool crowd taunt their Forest counterparts with the chant, “We all fucking hate Scabs”. Frankly, that depressed me. No-one won in that struggle other than Margaret Thatcher and her army of brutal mercenaries, the Police. While I hated the fact that Nottinghamshire Miners eventually caved in, this episode had nothing to do with football – just hardship.
Ironically, the Forest rivalry, a few skirmishes apart, was never closely aligned to hooliganism at a time when violence when was it its most rife. The bile we spouted towards Forest was borne of a personality clash — the brash Clough versus the hushed Paisley; the refined Liverpool machine fleetingly immobilised by a Forest’s malicious spanner in our works.
The second incarnation of a strong Nottingham Forest, from 1987 onwards, was just a bit weird. In my mind, they were a completely different, not so loathsome Forest, but perhaps that was partly down to me being out of short kecks and the advent of pills over pints on a Saturday night.
The new Forest, wore white and black away from home, instead of that all-yellow with blue trim outfit that if I think hard enough even to this day, has me quivering with fear and anger in equal measure. Again, I can see Kenny Burns and I need a drink. The new lot were nice guys like Gary Crosby, Brian Rice, and a young Stuart Pearce. They had foppish, floppy Acid House haircuts. They were indistinguishable from good looking, similarly shorn lads at Middlesbrough, and could have sung a Bros number on Top of The Pops without anyone noticing.
These young Forest boys weren’t like the gnarly old bastards of the late seventies. They won a couple of League Cups in 1989 and 1990 but we generally had no problems with them, culminating in the 1988 Semi-Final when John Aldridge ripped up the media’s pre-prepared script that beseeched a career-crowning FA Cup for Brian Clough. For good measure, we then famously thumped them 5-0 in the league four days later.
Clough’s young charges resembled the (later) Roy Evans’ Spice Boys — they must have done his head in. “Old Big ‘ead” had gone soft by then; addled by drink, either kissing reporters or getting embroiled in altercations with his own fans. It was a sad decline for a man, who for all his faults — and his ill-informed comments on Hillsborough were the most lamentable — had created a rivalry that defies logic to this day.
“We hate Nottingham Forest”, you hear the Kop sing. We did, we really did; but only for a while.
I still hate Kenny Burns.
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