1 June ~ In WSC 125 (July 1997) Al Needham relived an unscheduled and unwanted TV appearance following Nottingham Forest v West Ham in 1977
The youth of today make me sick. They've got more freedom, are taken more seriously in the media, have better cars to break into and joyride, they have sex all the livelong day, and with the invention of Hooper's Hooch, they've got their own alcoholic beverage. But the one thing that really grates is the fact that, if they stray within sight of a floodlight, they get their runty faces on the telly. Just look at the match previews on Sky – a good 50 minutes of pasty-faced raggamuffins 'larging it' while Richard Keys tries manfully to convince the nation that Leeds versus Coventry is worth staying in for. Slap a bit of face paint on, and the bastards hog so much airtime they get their own VideoPlus number. How things have changed...
Ever since my sister's best friend was the talk of the estate after her appearance on ATV Today, I vowed to immortalize myself in a televisual context. And what better place to do it in 1977 than at a Forest game? After all, we were barnstorming up the league, and for most people a big match is one of the few times in their life where a TV camera is in the vicinity that isn't checking to see if they're pulling a shotgun on a garage attendant or stuffing pencil cases down their trousers.
Alas, I soon realized that, in the late '70s and early '80s, you had to put in some serious work in order to get your face on Match of the Day. There were three ways to attain this; sit next to a celebrity fan (Cilla, usually); kick the shit out of someone (or have the shit kicked out of you); or streak onto the pitch. These were not viable options for me, because; a) Nottingham had no celebrity fans (with the the exception of Paper Lace – no, scrub that, we had no celebrity fans); b) seeing as I was being laced at school on a daily basis, I deserved a break at the weekend; and c) I wasn't that desperate, mate. I crossed a bridge on my journey into Manhood, accepted the fact that I would be part of the anonymous herd, and packed in trying.
But Old Mrs Fate had plans for me, the cow. On my way to see Forest play West Ham, I found myself behind a cartel of ICF stormtroopers who couldn't have looked more Cockney and potentially violent if they'd been sporting white boiler suits with swastikas picked out in pearly buttons. As they approached a police van, I instinctively had a good listen for something that would electrify the playground and guarantee me a loan of someone's Rubik Snake.
"Cor Blimey, Guv'nor," said one of the Chirpies, "Ahhjer get to ver Trent End, Gawd bless ya?" (Yes, I know I'm exaggerating, but it's necessary to get the point across that these were West Ham supporters, and they were asking the Nottingham Constabulary how to get to the Forest home end.) As soon as the coppers pointed the way, I feared the worst.
And sure enough, 3.15, it all goes off. A space the size of a good-sized traffic island is cleared in the Trent End, and in the middle of it is the usual kicking and punching so redolent of that era. But this one is getting right out of hand, and people are surging towards the fence so frantically that, thinking about it now after what's happened since, it scares the shit out of me.
So, I jump up, climb the fence, dodge a can of half-full cola whizzing past my head, lose my balance, awkwardly skitter down the other side like a budgie flying into flowered wallpaper, and stagger into the netting of a goal being tended by Peter Shilton. I'd smashed through the invisible wall separating player from payer, and he couldn't have shot me a greater look of shocked bemusement if I'd have flung open the door of his lamppost-encrusted Jaguar while he was trying to pull his pants up.
Next day, the full horror of the event was played out within the confines of Star Soccer while I was at my Nana's. Well, she went berserk. She battered me, while Huw Johns aurally shook his head in despair at the Collapse of Society. When my Dad and Grandpa came back from the pub, they battered me too. And then my entire extended family made pilgrimages from all over the world to batter me. Seeing as I had become the General of a Firm (well, I was the first over the fence, so I'd obviously started a pitch invasion), I was banned from going to football and instead spent the remaining Saturdays of my youth pretending to be a mod and marching from the bus stations of one shopping centre to another.
But looking back on it now, that communal lynching I received was a blessing in disguise. Because if they hadn't have done it, I would have continued to go to Forest matches. And I know, I just know, that I would have run onto the pitch after the QPR League Cup tie. And Cloughie would have cracked me one. And then I would have had to kiss him. On TV. Thank you, Baby Jesus...