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Do You Remember The First Time?

Remember when Neil Webb returned to the City Ground for his first appearance since leaving Forest? Matt Davies does and he enjoyed it a billion times more than Neil Webb.

Neil Webb didn't enjoy this City Ground Experience as much as Matt Davies.
Neil Webb didn't enjoy this City Ground Experience as much as Matt Davies.
Simon Bruty/Getty Images

In retrospect, I couldn’t have picked a worse game to begin my 25 years and counting term as a Forest supporter. Given what was to follow over the subsequent quarter of a century I would have been much better equipped to deal with the disappointment and heartbreak that lay in front of me, had I picked one of the three successive home defeats that occurred in the month before I made my debut.

The problem, of course, with achieving perfection first time around is that the only way to go thereafter is down. The bar of expectation was set at an impossibly high level following that first trip to the City Ground for the final home game of the 1989-90 season.

The date was May 2nd 1990. According to the internet, the significant events of the day included South Africa and the African National Congress opening talks to end apartheid and "Some Americans Abroad" opening at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre, New York, for the first of 62 performances. It was, obviously, quite a time to be an 8 year old boy in rural Nottinghamshire.

Forest were hosting Manchester United and the League Cup, freshly retained after beating Oldham 1-0 at Wembley three days prior, was to be paraded ahead of kick off.

For me, the routine which would become so familiar was experienced for the first time with wide eyed enthusiasm. Everything from spending ages finding somewhere to park down a West Bridgford side street, to buying a programme from the surly bloke who stands on the corner of Radcliffe Road and London Road, to the pungently potent waft of Cigar smoke, Bovril, burgers and onions filling the evening air.

I remember climbing what must have been at least ten thousand steps to get to our seats in the upper tier of the Executive Stand. The grown men located in my vicinity all seemed like giants and the distance from the stand to the pitch was enough to induce a bout of mild vertigo.

After Stuart Pearce and co had shown off the silverware to polite applause, the game began. It being 25 years ago and me being a nipper at the time, I’d be lying if I said I remembered much in terms of the specifics. This is where YouTube comes into it’s own. Having re-watched the Central News East report on the game it seems it was something of a humdinger.

Garry Parker got things underway, swishing in an effortless volley from the edge of the box for one nil. The second goal, to the surprise of few, came from a Pearce free kick. What was unusual about this one was that it came delicately curled off the left Puma King of the ‘LEE-DAH’ rather than being walloped so hard it risked decapitating a member of the opposition’s wall (as had almost been the fate of poor Earl Barrett a few days earlier at Wembley.)

Nigel Clough made it three nil with a deflected shot which looped over Jim Leighton and when Steve Chettle added the fourth and final goal there had been less than half an hour played.

As I sit here now in 2015, I’m scratching my head and trying to think if I have ever since seen Forest beat United, let alone in such unfathomably emphatic fashion. I was there for the 1-0 defeat at Wembley in the League Cup Final 2 years later. I remember a 0-4 gubbing at the City Ground in 1996 when Fergies Fledglings made sure we knew their names following the Forest PA announcer’s pre match proclamation that "wearing number 22 for United is Peter Shoals." I visited Old Trafford for a 3-0 nil defeat on Boxing Day 1998 when our coach broke down on the way home and a couple of months later, I was on hand to witness the 8-1 massacre – which, gallingly, is the last time the two clubs met.

My quarter century of Forest fandom has, by and large, coincided with a lean spell in the clubs history.  It’s a shame therefore that my memory of that first ever match is so patchy.  The pickings have been slim since but going to Forest matches isn’t about watching a winning team.  It’s about the bigger things like sharing an experience with family, friends and strangers.  It’s community, it’s belonging.

It’s also about the smaller things, like the long sleeved shirts of Gary Crosby and Nigel Clough flapping in the breeze, a Psycho free kick thudding in off the bar and sending droplets of rain down to soak Steve Ogrizovic, it’s a back page of the programme advert for Lamcote Motors featuring Clough’s senior and junior sat on the forecourt in front of a gleaming coach. It’s a premature chorus of "You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling" seconds before conceding an equaliser, it’s being 2-0 down at home to Plymouth after 23 minutes and very occasionally, it’s about witnessing glorious victories.

Am I bitter that one of the high watermarks of my City Ground going life happened way before I could appreciate it? Nah. as no one once said: Better to have seen your team beat United 4-0 and scarcely be able to recall it, than to have never loved at all.

Matt Davies is a football commentator...and a bloody good one too.