History lesson

Winning the European Cup twice is all very well, but just makes it worse when you slip to your country’s third division, as Al Needham testifies

It’s great when you support a heritage team such as Forest, usually. You can always win arguments with fans from London clubs by merely saying “So how many European Cups have you won again?” You can travel anywhere in the world and get a response from the most undereducated cabbies by mentioning Archie Gemmill’s goal in the 1978 World Cup (note to Irvine Welsh; that was a Forest goal, not a Scottish one, so shut up about it). And even if they do nothing of worth ever again, everyone knows about them.

Therein lies the downside; when you balls it up, people notice. Say what you like about Chelsea buying the Premiership, but at least they had the decency to do it on the same day as we got relegated (to Division Three, for Christ’s sakes), knocking the culmination of our morbid carousel of a season off the back page. But there’s no escaping it; Forest thoroughly deserved to go down, and it had been coming for months.

There must be millions of Arsenal, Chelsea and Man Utd supporters of a certain age who have never known what it’s like to go through the grim death march of a relegation season and I have to say they don’t know what they’re missing. Just as swallow sightings herald the summer, you don’t truly believe the season has started until you get the first report of a friend of a friend supposedly ripping their season ticket up in disgust. The remainder of the calendar year gives you a few months to decide whose fault it is this time and by December you’re listening to the Cup draw, praying you don’t get paired up with a non-League side looking to make a name for themselves.

January is spent scouring the internet for rumours on who is going to nick your star players and really knacker the team up (this year: Spurs) and by February, you find yourself in the pub with your mates looking at the top half of the table two divisions below you, trying to top each other with the most incredible fixtures for the next season (sorry, Yeovil fans – you triumphed over Cheltenham and Lincoln as the runaway winners. I’m sure you’ll take revenge in 2005-06).

There always has to be a bloodletting frenzy at some point and it was Joe Kinnear who was carried off to the 50-foot wicker rendition of Kenny Burns. Normally, whenever Forest get a new manager, it inspires the team to pull their fingers out and drag us from the abyss (until getting relegated the following season). How thoughtful of the lads to go against the grain this year and allow the delicious agony to continue. By now, you’re starting to take a peculiar pleasure in the whole sordid affair.

By February, Notts County fans – conveniently forgetting they’re rubbish as well and, if not staring non-League football in the face, certainly giving it a coquettish eye – start to take the piss. Imagine John Wayne Bobbitt standing next to you in the urinals and saying “Not got much there, have you?” This is what it feels like to be ridiculed by a County fan.

And in any case, you start to agree with them. In fact, you try to outdo them. You sit at the match chuntering away in disgust like Martin Scorsese in his Taxi Driver cameo, when he follows his wife to her lover’s house. You listen to the constant whining on the phone-ins, agreeing with every word. You develop friendships with people where the opening conversation always starts with “Forest, eh?” and degenerates into swearing. By this time, you don’t even want them to prove you wrong and turn it round.

Finally, when the season is almost done and it’s becoming mathematically, historically, and even technical-drawingly impossible for the club to stay up, you wait for a reason to have a really good moan. Luckily, Forest never fail to deliver and get themselves on the front page of the Mirror for a – gasp! – three-hour drinking session where, and I quote, they “got a bit loud” and “glasses were knocked over”.

While certain fans pointed out the lack of commitment displayed, the majority are disgusted at the choice of venues. One is a soulless two-for-one place, the other is populated by people who want to drink champagne but can only just afford six quid for a glass and is festooned with the sort of luminous decor that make you feel like you’re drinking inside one of those macramé renditions of the Kama Sutra beloved of down-market curry houses. In other words, exactly the kind of places where Third Division players go.

As I’ve been writing this piece, I’ve been interrupted twice: by my nephew’s dad, telling me about a rough-arse pub he went to the other night that was full of middle-aged skinheads openly crying, and a text message from a friend. “Do we have to start the FA Cup in the first round now?” it reads. But I don’t really know. It’s all so new to me.

From WSC 220 June 2005. What was happening this month