Nothing quite celebrates Nottingham Forest’s 150th anniversary like the film and book I Believe In Miracles. But more importantly, says Paul Severn, it confirms that golden age really was a miracle and gives us hope for the future
In some ways, an anniversary is a mere number which marks an important event in the past. But anniversaries also allow people to take stock and analyse what the past means and how it relates to the present day. Nottingham Forest’s 150th anniversary has provided ample opportunity to relive past glories, but initially provided a stark reminder that achievements in football have only a limited relevance to the present day.
At the start of the season I was admiring the new Forest megastore. Players, managers, owners and achievements were all remembered in plush new graphics. It resembled a museum as much as a shop. Relics to a golden era were on view at every turn. That was brought in particular focus in the first game of the season against Walsall, as the League One side ran riot against the shambolic Reds. Michail Antonio did his best to salvage the game, but he too was to quickly join the bank of better Forest memories.
It seemed that Forest had morphed into a kind of musical tribute act, or at worst a comeback from an aging, once great band. Fans had little interest in the ‘new stuff’ and just wanted to relive old hits. It was into this situation that the film and book, I Believe in Miracles arrived. I wondered whether a reminder about our European Cup adventures might almost exacerbate Forest’s sleepwalk into history and make the present harder to bear. But I was wrong.
Good sports films, documentaries or books don’t just reminisce, they teach you to look at things in a new way. Duncan Hamilton was moved by the death of Brian Clough to say that sport “matters” in his book Provided You Don’t Kiss Me. He is right in that great sports people have a profound and very real effect on people’s lives, especially a figure like Clough. Before that, I thought it was just a game taken out of proportion by myself and others.
MORE FOREST STORIES
In a similar way Jonny Owen’s film doesn’t just replay old hits. It teaches us to treasure and cherish successes in sport and life. The genius for me is in the title – taken from the song by Mark Capanni. Clough’s achievements were truly miraculous. The thing about miracles is that they are one-offs and as the film critic Jason Solomons says in the DVD extras there’s a sadness that it has gone. That’s certainly true in the case of Forest but gives the club something to strive for in the future – for players, managers and fans. It also reminds us to enjoy every win, goal and tackle, because we are lucky to support a club like Forest, even if it is infuriating much of the time these days.
I would argue that the film has turned our past success from a millstone into something more positive – specifically a final acceptance that it was indeed a miracle and cannot be repeated. It gives our club an authenticity which is tough to find in the modern game and secures Forest a special place in the hearts of fans of all clubs. It makes us more humble in our past glories, rather than feeling we have a God-given right for further success.
One sad (and inexplicable) thing is that the song has not been played much at the City Ground before matches. Not only is it a cracking song, it is far more associated with the club than much of the tired, formulaic music played on a Saturday. It’s not that Forest fans are wanting a miracle to beat a mid-table side in the Championship. It’s a theme that understands that all football fans outside the Premier League are essentially believing in miracles when they buy their season tickets and turn up week after week –because if we believed in reality, we wouldn’t bother at all or would start supporting Barcelona.
That’s why this film (and the book by Daniel Taylor) have become the centrepiece of the anniversary. Although the future often looks bleak for Forest, it gives us hope, which after all, is the lifeblood of football fans. So let’s hope that 2016 has some miracles in store for Forest. Let’s treasure every goal and victory and remember why we follow Forest.