There is not ingrained reason to pick one team or the other in Nottingham, says Al Needham. And now it's County's turn again
As anyone from Derby or Leicester will tell you, Nottingham is not a “football hotbed”. The relationship between the city’s two clubs is more like a resentful older brother (County) and his more successful, patronising sibling (Forest). When the half- time results are announced at the City Ground, a County lead is cheered – Forest really want to see County rise to their level. If Forest are behind at half-time, the fans at Meadow Lane laugh and jeer – they really, really want Forest to fall to theirs.
The nearest you get to abuse when the two teams play is when Forest fans echo the County chants in high-pitched voices, implying that the only people who follow County are Park Drive-smoking old gets dragging along their grandkids, who, as soon as they’re old enough to go on their own, will be coming to Forest.
Unlike every other town with two clubs, there is no overriding factor like religion or catchment area that make you support one or the other. Up until the 1950s, the club to choose would have been County. They always seemed on the edge of greatness. They were your dad’s team. They were the ones that Alan Sillitoe wrote about. They were the ones Tommy Lawton played for.
As soon as the Generation Gap kicked in, Forest became the team of choice for the new breed of Nottingham football supporters and left County in the dust. By the early Seventies, however, County were on the rise and Forest were on their way down. For a moment, it seemed the two would be tussling in the Second Division for all eternity. Then along came Brian Clough.
The irony was, while Forest were swanning about buying Trevor Francis, making appearances on Match of the Day and winning assorted trophies, it was County who had the best intentions for Nottingham. It was County who were most active in encouraging the local lads – I remember at least a dozen kids in my school who got a trial with the Pies, but no one who got the same offer from Forest.
It was County who did the annual free Soccer Skills course for schoolboys. Imagine how galling it must have been for Jimmy Sirrell and his staff, dragging himself to the ground on a Sunday morning to be faced with 100 kids in Forest shirts.
Fast forward to the present day, and the pendulum is swinging back. A friend who now lives in America and used to go to the City Ground with me specifically asked me to go and see County with him. When I asked why, he just said, “Forest just don’t care any more.” And he’s right. Post Clough, Forest have behaved appallingly on the field and even worse in the boardroom. Meanwhile, it’s County who look to be the great hope of the future.
They proved that it’s entirely possible to stay within the boundaries of the Taylor Report without uprooting your stadium or ripping off the fans. If they could have kept hold of Martin O’Neill, and had the clout to encourage local players like Andy Cole to sign for them, it’s entirely possible that County would be a mainstay in the Premier League by now.
But even so, it may not be too long before nine-year-old Nottingham kids think of Forest as the team their dad follows, laugh to themselves about Ian Wallace’s perm and tie their fortunes to the Magpies.
From WSC 160 June 2000. What was happening this month