With the news that Nottingham Forest are to play Colin Cooper’s Hartlepool United in the first round of the Capital One Cup, Roman Filipowicz kicks off the first of an occasional series of classic matches. Cast your mind back to a time when the Reds had the rightful reputation for being League Cup kings, and to one match in particular: the 1989 Littlewoods Cup Final.
We were a good side back then; make no mistake about it. In Stuart Pearce, Des Walker and Neil Webb we had three regular England internationals. Add to that the intelligent promptings and goals of Nigel Clough, the industry of Steve Hodge and the poaching prowess of Lee Chapman and we were a club to be respected. We ended up finishing third in the League that season, winning the Full Member’s (Simod) Cup and reaching the semi-final of the FA Cup too. That’s pretty impressive by any standards. If I remember rightly, we also had something like seven players getting into double-figures of goals that season, including Pearce at left-back.
Anyway, I digress. Back to the League Cup. Our progress to the final had contained a 10-0 aggregate drubbing of Chester City, a 5-2 win over QPR which saw Chapman bag four, and a tense 2-1 extra-time win over Bristol City to take us to Wembley. In the final, we’d play the reigning cup holders Luton Town, who had surprisingly defeated Arsenal in the previous year’s showpiece.
I remember the day well. My brother, cousin and I travelled down to London on a coach organised by a local pub. I can’t remember where we parked but don’t recall taking the tube, so it must’ve been close to the ground.
What I can recall – vividly – is sitting with hundreds of other Forest fans outside The Torch public house on Wembley Way. The atmosphere was terrific, with hundreds of Tricky Trees drinking and singing in the early April sunshine. Even though it was still quite a dark period for trouble at football matches, there wasn’t a hint of it here.
Wembley Stadium back then wasn’t the state-of-the-art venue that it is now. There were standing areas for one thing, though after the horrific events of Hillsborough that would soon change. The concourses and toilets were crowded and dirty and, to be honest, it wasn’t a great experience. You could smell the history though (McClaren reference totally intended). And the memory of walking up the Way, part of a sea of Red with the iconic Twin Towers looming large ahead of us brings a smile to my face still.
We were strong favourites to win and, the odd thing was, almost everyone I spoke to thought it’d be 3-1 to Forest but with Luton scoring first. Incredibly, it turned out exactly that way.
The game kicked off, to what seemed a crescendo of noise and the waving of flags, scarves, and inflatable bananas (remember those?). The first-half was close. Neither side dominated before Mick Harford, the kind of muscular striker who always troubled Forest back then – and indeed still does now – put Luton 1-0 up, which was how the first-half ended. Even being a goal down didn’t dampen our spirits. We knew. We just knew.
Early in the second-half parity was restored. A raking through-ball from Webb set Hodge free in the penalty area. The Luton goalkeeper Les Sealey flew out and flattened Hodge, leaving the referee no option but to award a penalty and allowing Clough to stroke home from the spot.
From then on there would only be one winner. A glorious diagonal ball from Tommy Gaynor found Neil Webb all alone in the box. His first touch expertly killed the ball before he slotted home a half-volley for 2-1. Gaynor then set up Forest’s third, his low cross being swept home by Clough again. And that was that. The predictions had come true.
My other abiding memories of the day were a rousing rendition of ‘Stevie, what’s the score?’ which Forest goalkeeper Steve Sutton could clearly hear at the other end of the stadium as he duly obliged by raising his hands in acknowledgement; and an equally rousing chant of ‘Neil Webb, Neil Webb, Neil Webb’ during the post-match interviews, which Webb must surely have heard, but chose to ignore as he moved to Manchester United the next season. Git.
You can follow Roman on Twitter: @fritzromanov
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