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In conversation with...Don Wright

We caught up with club historian Don Wright to discuss his excellent book, 'Forever Forest - the official 150th anniversary history of the original Reds', his love for Nottingham Forest and the150th anniversary fan event.

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Nottingham Forest clearly runs deep your blood. Tell us a little about how you came to be besotted with the club.

Born and bred in Ilkeston, right on the county border but just on the wrong side of the River Erewash, I was spoilt for choice when it comes to watching football. Derby County had just won the first FA Cup Final after the war, Notts County was the top team in Nottingham and sensationally signed England’s star centre-forward Tommy Lawton and then there was newly-formed Ilkeston Town.

I went to the old Manor Ground fairly regularly for the Ilkeston matches in the Central Alliance and it was there that I saw a Forest side for the first time – the thirds, the ‘A’ team. Derby County against Arsenal in 1947 was the first Football League match I saw. I wanted Arsenal to win because I loved their red, white and blue strip (red shirts with white sleeves, white shorts and blue and white hooped socks) and they did one-nil. I went to Meadow Lane to see Lawton in wonderful action but it was Billy Walker’s Forest that captivated me. All his sides from the ‘A’ team to the seniors played the same passing style. And I liked the red shirts they wore and the Trentside setting of the City Ground.

Forest were a struggling Second Division side from 1946 to 1949, when they were relegated to Division Three South but there were still quality players to admire like ‘Sailor’ Brown, who had played for Charlton Athletic in the 1946 Cup Final against Derby, centre-half and captain Horace Gager, a promising youngster named Jack Burkitt, and goalkeeper Harry Walker, ‘Mr Consistency’, who had been in Portsmouth’s FA Cup-winning side in 1939. Tommy Lawton’s Magpies won the Third Division South in 1949-50 and Forest were fourth. Then in 1951, Festival of Britain year, the Reds followed Notts up as champions with centre-forward Wally Ardron hitting a club record 36 goals. Forest scored a League record 110 goals while conceding just 40 and the Reserves won the Midland League title after scoring 103 goals against 45. It was the start of a golden decade, the ‘Fifties’, in which the Reds reached the First Division after 50 years outside the top flight and, in 1959, won the FA Cup. It was lovely stuff and I’d made the right choice.

You managed to speak to a whole range of people involved with the club in researching the book. How difficult was it to track down some of the persons involved in the early period of the club?

Luckily, Nick Clifford - great grandson of Walter Roe Lymbery, one of the 15 founders of Forest in 1865, an early captain, chairman and secretary/treasurer - is a season ticket-holder and travels to every home match from his home near York. He was extremely helpful about the early history and lent me an invaluable family journal. Also of great help was another season ticket-holder Mike Forman, grandson of the great Frank Forman, the England international and 1898 FA Cup winner. Frank and Fred Forman of Forest were the first brothers from the same Football League side to play together in an England side.

I was particularly pleased to meet Mrs Marian Bestwick of West Bridgford, one of the two ‘Nottingham Glamour Girls’ who were in the headlines after being pictured at the 1959 FA Cup Final standing on a wall at the Forest end of Wembley Stadium holding a banner in front of cheering supporters. They were thought to be professional models but, I discovered, in fact 18-year-old Marian and her friend Margaret (19) worked together as insurance clerks in a city centre office. Wearing red and white outfits they had made themselves, the girls also caught the eye of commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme and appeared on BBC TV’s pre-match build-up programme.

What is your favourite moment as a Forest fan? The one moment that makes your hair stand up and transports you to some place else? (We'll take moment when John McGovern lifted the European Cup as a given. Both times).

I could say skipper Jack Burkitt lifting the FA Cup in front of the Royal Box after the ten-men Reds had beaten Luton at Wembley in 1959 but I think I’ll go back to the promotion season 1956-57. Forest had beaten promotion rivals 2-1 at the City Ground on 22nd April, 1957, but needed to win the return match five days’ later at Bramall Lane. Even the most optimistic of we travelling supporters could not have imagined such a masterly performance as Forest blunted the Blades, who included the great England inside-forward Jimmy Hagan, goalkeeper Alan Hodgkinson, centre-half Joe Shaw and wing-half Jim Iley (who would later join Forest from Spurs). Doug Lishman scored a never-to-be forgotten hat-trick as Forest won 4-nil. It was his swan-song. The former Commando and Arsenal star retired, aged 34, at the season’s end to manage the family furniture business. Police prevented our fans from invading the pitch but the celebrations were still spectacular.

Conversely, and sorry to do this to you, but your most disappointing and frustrating moment...

Sadly, this would have to be the departure of Stuart Pearce after his side’s one-nil humbling by relegation battlers Millwall at the City Ground on 31st January 2015. Fawaz described the dismissal as "the hardest footballing decision I have ever made." Stuart had won ten, drawn ten and lost twelve of his games in charge. Unfortunately, the brilliant televised 2-1 victory at Derby in the middle of the month was not enough to spark a revival.

Finally, the club has made it to 150 years old. There's been a fair amount of glory, yet also some bumps along the way. How do you see the club's future in the current 'brave new world' of modern football?

An awful amount of money has been invested in this club by first Nigel Doughty and now Fawaz but, to put it bluntly, decision-making has been poor and the investment unproductive. I started supporting Forest after manager Billy Walker had guided a cash-strapped club through the war years and begun a youth development policy. His senior team finished 11th and 19th in Division Two before being relegated in 21st place at the end of the 1948-49 season. But he was not sacked. The committee-run club gave him time to develop the talent of the likes of Jack Burkitt, Bob McKinlay and Tom Wilson. Their patience was amply rewarded.

Debts and rewards in the modern game are extreme and patience is at a premium. I’d quite like to see Nigel Clough as Forest’s manager but only if he is given the support and time it will take to restore the club’s fortunes. Anyway, I’m an optimist and greatly encouraged by the 150th anniversary event being organized by and for supporters.

Don's book can be purchased from amazon here or from the club shop. Did you know that Don donated his royalties from the book to the Forest Academy?  You do now. What a magnificent gesture.

Come and hear Don speak at The Orange Tree at around 12.15 at the 150th anniversary fan event.

See you there.