'Never before has a club who have reigned in Europe slipped into the third tier of their domestic league.'
That was the opening gambit of the BBC Sport match report for what was probably my lowest ebb as a Forest supporter. There are individual moments that have hurt as much, but the realisation that we had fallen so low would never leave. Twelve years after Brian Clough had departed, and in the same season in which he had passed away, we had disgraced his legacy.
Loftus Road was the scene for the final dagger into heart or punch to the stomach, depending on your masochistic preference. A 1-0 home victory over Burnley had given Forest a lifeline in a bid to survive the drop, but victory at QPR was required in order to keep any embers of the fire burning. They were stamped out by an Ian Holloway-managed side that had Paul Furlong starting up front. How miserable.
It is inevitable that football fans will experience episodes of great sadness. One team has to lose, some must be relegated and, over the course of a lifetime, all will suffer great ignominy. Supporters accept those home truths in return for the hope of even momentary glory. All that we ask is that, in those times of despair, the players fight. They are the guardians of our hopes and dreams - at least demonstrate that it matters.
Time has not been a healer. On that afternoon it felt like Forest had no fight left. They appeared limp and lifeless like a ten-day old balloon, the last remnants of a child’s birthday party left tragically hanging outside a village hall.
I distinctly remember three things of that day. The first was standing in the upper tier at Loftus Road and listening to the PA announcer reading through the Forest starting eleven, realising just how f**ked we were. Supporters filled the School End, a sellout in the away section as if wanting to bear witness to the tragedy. The club has been ''serious about promotion", so to watch the final nail into that PR coffin was a badge of honour for many.
Gerrard, Curtis, Morgan, Taylor, Melville, Robertson, Gardner, Evans, Powell, Commons, Dobie. It sounds like a deeply symbolic dark poem, and they might as well have been the names of those lost at sea, such was the dismay at hearing them. These were our saviours, were they? Well, we might as well go home then.
The exception was Kris Commons, who at just 21 had broken into the first-team and seemed intent on proving his worth. His six goals from January onwards (including the winner against Burnley) had given Forest a chance of avoiding the unthinkable. It may not seem like a stellar contribution, but when you consider that Gareth Taylor was the club's leading scorer with seven goals, the desperation becomes obvious. That’s the sort of line a football club could have written on its tombstone: ‘Nottingham Forest. 1865 - 2005', the words 'Taylor 7 Goals’ acting as replacement for 'Aged 140 years'.
The second nagging memory is of the intense frustration when Darryl Powell was sent off for two bookable offences after just 30 minutes. My anger became as uncontrollable as I can ever remember as the midfielder slowly walked from the field. Powell was one of the senior players in a match that we needed to win, and had elbowed Martin Rowlands after half an hour when already on a booking. "You’re not fit to wear the shirt," we chanted. And, to be brutally honest, he wasn’t. Not when we, only we, knew what that shirt represented.
It was a rotten match. QPR took the lead through an own goal from John Curtis after an unjustly-awarded free kick (is there a more tragic collection of football-related words?), before Marc Bircham added a second shortly after half-time. Substitute Eugen Bopp scored a with 15 minutes remaining, a lovely finish as I remember, but our race had run. I was careful not to use the word 'consolation'.
"Forest ‘til I die," we sang as the final whistle blew, a clichéd and monotonous chant that at that moment seemed necessary in order to reaffirm our tested faith. And I cried. And those around me cried.
The final recollection came after the final whistle. As we were trudging back to the coach a QPR fan, around 25 years old, came up to us (I was 19) and screamed in our faces: "You’re shit, and you know you are. You’re not famous anymore. F**k off Forest, f**k off Forest." That last witty nugget continued ad infinitum. Disconsolate, we kept our heads bowed low
What happened next summed up the magic and wonder of football supportership. A man probably in his mid-50s (and I’ll call him portly) struggled through a crowd of his fellow QPR supporters, and pushed the screamer from behind. It wasn’t enough to send him to the floor, but certainly pushed him off stride.
"Have some f**king respect, you p**k," our portly hero demanded. "Four years ago we got relegated from this league, and it felt s**t. Have a f**king word with yourself. Now p**s off." He p**sed off.
I’ll admit that I can’t remember that dialogue word-for-word, but it’s on the right lines. It isn’t over-embellished, that much I do swear. I can also remember accurately our new hero’s parting words to his mouthy opponent: "For f**k’s sake, let them grieve."
Let them grieve: Three words to encapsulate everything about being a football fan. A respect created between people that had never met each other before nor never would again, forged only through shared experience. Also, the use of "grieve", a word usually saved for discussing the loss of loved ones, and yet entirely appropriate on that grim Saturday evening.
"I don't think I could have done anymore," said manager Gary Megson after the match. There weren't many Forest supporters that would disagree with such an assessment, although Megson's double entendre was presumably accidental.
Football isn’t a matter of life and death, but we can’t help the times when it really does feel that way. We’d be back, of course, but for that day it felt like a part of Nottingham Forest had been lost. For the first time since 1951, we were a lower league club again.