After a miserable run, Nottingham Forest beat Derby County 2-1 with an injury-time winner from Ben Osborn to bring home the Brian Clough Trophy. Mark Collar offers a fan’s eye view from the iPro Stadium…
As my train pulls out of Midland station, I am aware of two things. Firstly, the pretty Birmingham University student next to me is not Rich Lewis. Secondly, my previous visits to Derby have had varying levels of success.
I had asked Rich to mentor me on my first away game of the season. He is the subject of Chapter 42 of my book Those Forest Men. I dubbed him the Town Crier of A block as he led all the chants in there. Once the book was published the fickle Rich moved over to the Lower Bridgford stand. He is personally responsible for organising the flags and banners that wave there. Paul Faulkner has personally commended him for the difference he has made to the atmosphere at the City Ground. I think I may be the only one of his mates not to follow him from A block. If Forest have a fan of the season, Rich is it. I am just aware that he is not sitting next to me now. The student is far better looking but not carrying the flags I had expected.
In 1972 the Flying Scotsman visited Derby Locomotive works and the 1st Lady Bay cub scouts were taken by Akela to see it. During the visit Paul Dodd, a member of the notorious killers gang — well, notorious among the 1st Lady Bay cubs — thought it might be amusing to push me into one of the pits designed for examining a train’s undercarriage. The resulting bruise on my ankle developed into an abscess. I was in hospital for two life-threatening weeks. There is nothing like being awoken at 2am for a nurse to plunge an injection into your thigh. I had 38 of those and an operation.
Much later than that I took my younger brother to Derby Assembly rooms to see the Human League. Not the group that hit the charts with girly backing singers but the original line-up which was Phil Oakey and an all boys affair. They were the first group in the UK to have synthesisers and no other instruments. They performed in front of a slideshow. I remember the last one was of Captain Scarlet.
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Then there was the time I was heavily involved in the Assemblies of God church in Edwalton. We were taken to the Derby Assemblies of God church to preach. Despite spending the evening before rolling around on the floor with a curly-haired brunette, I certainly got the young people listening to my message about the lamb of God. Afterwards we were fed Caribbean chicken and red peas and rice at the home of a West Indian friend.
My final visit to Derby involved smoking pot with a group of students at the University there. That had also taken place at least 30 years before. The train took just 14 minutes to get there. How close are we to our biggest and worst rivals?
I teach two girls at a dance academy in Nottingham, one comes from Derby. When I told her I was a Forest season ticket holder she looked as if I had just revealed I was a serial killer.
Arriving in Derby for the fifth time in my life, I followed the signs from the station to the City Centre. A 12.15 kick off requires you to start on the beer at 9am. Thank God for Wetherspoons. I soon found I was surrounded by Derby fans. They were talking supremely confidently about pulling us apart. A text from Rich called me to a Forest-friendly pub but I could not resist dropping in on the Neptune on the way. It called itself ‘The home of Derby County fans’. I heard more singing from the fans in there than I did at the subsequent game.
I finally joined up with Rich at a pub called the Crack and Cushion, or something similar. He is carrying two banners and has eight policemen with him along with a dozen other fans. The bar has stopped serving Forest fans half an hour before I get there. However, I am wearing quite a smart hat. I go to the bar and the landlady says, “It’s okay, he’s a customer”. I am allowed beer. Rich and the other Forest fans are led away by the police and I am free to sit and discuss the team’s form with two other fans who also show no outward signs of being from Nottingham.
The day before I had put a photo of my ticket on Facebook. A friend had commented, ‘Rather you than me mate.’ After the previous season’s 5-0 debacle, the only reason I have for attending this game is the fact that I have been booked to speak on Matchtalk on Radio Nottingham in two weeks’ time. Otherwise there is no way I would subject myself to this inevitable defeat.
Pride Park (or the iPro, if you insist) is a pretty soulless place. The Forest fans occupied the South East corner. There were three stands around us of silent people sitting and staring in the style of the Brian Clough Upper. There was a group next to us who at least tried to sing sometimes. My ticket says turnstyles 43-46. However, when I enter the stewards tell me I am a long way from my seat. I spend the first-half standing on a stairway watching a poor Forest performance that results in Derby leading 1-0. Lansbury heads the ball into his own net under no pressure at all. It reminds me of the apathetic way we gave up at home to Blackburn, Birmingham and Sheffield Wednesday. My one comfort is meeting up with Rich and other friends at half-time.
As the second-half begins I notice a corridor lined with police in hi-vis jackets. This surely must be where I should spend the second-half. I walk down it and find I am right next to the corner flag on the front row. There are two little old men in Forest scarves next to me. We’d outsung the Derby fans all game but these two seemed to know songs about Ian Storey-Moore, Joe Baker and Wally Ardron! Forest came out battling. Suddenly we are a different team. In the 75th minute Britt scores. The whole end erupts. The two old men disappear, I think they might even have been arrested. The police are suddenly everywhere.
Thoughts that the 1-1 draw represents a great turnaround, almost an unexpected victory are dispelled in the 92nd minute. When we lost against Sheffield Wednesday, Pearce had complimented Ben Osborn on his performance. I thought that seemed lame at the time but now it paid dividends. I watched as in slow motion Osborn picked the ball up at the half-way line, ran the length of Derby’s half then neatly slotted it into the net to score his first senior goal and write himself into the book of Forest legends. All around me the ground exploded. I was breathless and we were celebrating well beyond the final whistle. There is an odd moment when some Derby fan is allowed to run on to the pitch and punch Kelvin Wilson. I watch this happen surrounded by at least 10 policemen. I am not planning on punching anyone.
The train journey home comes much later. I have to go and hear the silence in the Neptune pub first.
Mark Collar’s book Those Forest Men is available from Amazon.