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Something Changed – The Day Forest Learnt to Pass to Robbo

Remember the excellent 'Brian' fanzine? Library End Gillotts were regular contributors and have resurfaced right here for your entertainment and delight.

The Library End Gillotts

When anyone is asked to recall the 76/77 Forest promotion winning campaign, the two things that get trotted out are the abandoned home match against Southampton, where fog came to our rescue, and the Wolves win at Bolton which allowed us to allow us to scramble our way to promotion, the team hearing the news on the plane as they headed to Majorca for a post season break. What tends to be forgotten is what a thrilling team Clough and Taylor had assembled.

My story starts as an 11 year old, making my way to the City Ground on 23rd October 1976.

I entered the ground through the turnstiles of the Colwick Road end, made my way round to the East Stand, and paid for an upgrade, allowing me to sit on the benches towards the back. For younger readers, this is where the Brian Clough Stand now sits.

It had been a mixed start to the season. Already dumped out of the League Cup, 3-0 by Coventry, there had also been league defeats to Wolves, Hull and Blackpool. There was however a feeling of optimism in the air as I made my way up the steps. The previous three home games had yielded, 4 (Hereford), 5 (Carlisle) and 6 (Sheff Utd) goals, already there were chants of "we want 7" drifting around the ground. Forest played an attacking 4-2-4 formation, based strongly around a tricky, goal scoring winger who already had 9 goals to his name.

That winger was not the one many are probably expecting me to name - it was Terry Curran. He was lightning quick, skilful and even took the penalties. He had a mop of brown curly hair and a thin moustache - a mix that any watching Scousers surely first took inspiration from in the early 80s.

The match started in the same way all had recently, with Forest looking to play the ball out to Curran at every opportunity. It was a fine tactic, with opposition defences unable to cope with his direct running at pace. However, disaster struck early on, with Curran going down with what proved to be a nasty knee injury, ultimately keeping him out until March of the following year. The Burnley keeper did take pity on him as he struggled to get to his feet, scuffing a goal kick to him. Curran limped around the keeper and make it 1-0. He took no further part in the match.

The remainder of the half was disappointing, Burnley soon levelled and Forest became disjointed. Martin O’Neill had moved to the right wing, and Forest, through habit, continued to sweep the ball right at every opportunity, seemingly forgetting Curran was in the changing room.

At half time, there was despondency in the air. After the match, Clough would comment that promotion had just limped out of the car park, as Curran left on crutches. It was however at half time, that something truly changed.

Whilst I was of course not privy to the team talk, it clearly involved having the team starting to play through the little fat man on the left wing. Starved of the ball for most of the season, as his colleague on the other wing took all the plaudits, John Robertson had chipped in with a couple of goals, but was always plan B for use when Curran was not free to take a pass. He didn’t even take the penalties. It all changed in the 2nd half though. At every opportunity, the ball was swept to the feet of the left winger. He started to glide in and out of the despairing Burnley tackles, seeking out team mates at will, with both is right and left foot. Burnley briefly took the lead, but Forest barely blinked as the little master orchestrated proceeding. He himself took on the penalty taking duties to level then conjured further goals for Barry Butlin and Martin O’Neill (2). It wasn’t 7, but 5-2 felt a good result, given the loss of our main attacking fulcrum. More importantly, Forest had finally learnt to pass the ball to Robbo, something that would certainly stand them in good stead in the seasons that followed.

As a footnote, whilst Curran returned later in the campaign, Clough and Taylor made a last minute decision and left him out of the team in the first match of the following season, reasoning that 4-2-4 was too adventurous in the first division. The team was now built around another tricky winger. This one would be instrumental in the glory that followed.

As I watched Robbo weaving his magic on the screen at the "I Believe In Miracles" Premiere, I couldn’t help to think back to that October day, when "Something Changed".

The Library End Gillotts are @PGTree and @trickyadam. One writes, the other draws. The fantastic Warholesque Picture of Robbo is their own work. Give them a follow and let's resurrect a part of the old 'Brian' fanzine so that it lives on.