Football: Fan's Eye View No 232 Nottingham Forest

What was so wonderful about the near-success of 1967 was that it was so totally unexpected
Click to follow
The Independent Online
When you support a team which, within the space of three exquisite years, won the European Cup twice, the League Cup twice, the League Championship once and pulled in, also, a runners-up spot in the League and a third Wembley appearance, then that side is likely to be your all-time favourite. Certainly, the names of Shilton, Birtles, Robertson et al are burned deeply into the red and white souls of Forest's supporters. Yet, for older fans, the team which, a decade earlier, failed narrowly to win the Double, holds a special magic.

What was so wonderful about the near-success of 1967 was that it was so totally unexpected. Looking back now, the breathtaking success of the late 70s seems like an impossible dream. It did not seem so then. The rest of the world may remember what it was doing when it heard that Kennedy had been shot but Forest fans recall with delicious clarity what they were doing when they heard that Brian Clough was to become the new manager. I was being given a lift home after a lunchtime pint when we were waved down by a mutual friend who yelled the news across the street. He was bundled into the car and we returned to my house where we spent the afternoon sinking mugs of coffee and discussing the future under Brian Clough. By the time they left we had presented Forest with every cup in Europe.

Wonderful though the following years were, they represented just a faithful reading of the script. The surprise was not that success came, but that it was not sustained. For Clough, the line between brilliant improvisation and eccentric blunder was, sometimes, a fine one.

By contrast, 1967 came as a complete shock. The previous season had seen a narrow escape from relegation. For me, that season had brought a particular humiliation. As a student at Hull University, I had been delighted when the FA Cup draw had sent Forest to play the Third Division locals at Boothferry Park. I went along to enjoy the expected ritual slaughter. The game provided a spectacle of bungling inadequates demolished by superior talent. Hull won. I was asked the score, for weeks to come, by grinning faces that I hardly knew.

Back in Nottingham anger took the form of a petition demanding the signature of Joe Baker. The idea was absurd. If Forest's hesitant forays into the transfer market took them to other First Division clubs then it was to buy reserves, not current England international centre forwards. Baker's arrival symbolised the shocks to come. A return from long-term injury of Frank Wignall, another international striker, and the emergence of the brilliant winger, Ian Storey-Moore, promised better things for the future, but, as Christmas 1966 approached, Forest lay in mid-table where they "entertained'' crowds of around 22,000.

Six straight wins around the new year shot the side to third place. The traditionally elegant also-rans added a touch of steel to undoubted skill. Nottingham responded magnificently. After so many false starts, this looked like the real thing. Crowds rocketed to over 40,000.

The climax came in the sixth round of the FA Cup. There was a minute left. Baker was off the field injured. Forest and Everton shared four goals. No one fancied a return at Goodison. There was a mad scramble around the Everton goal. Hearts soared and sank as the ball ping-ponged, as if in slow motion, off woodwork and bodies. Moore strained to reach the ball with his head. It drifted slowly through the air as if being pulled back by a supernatural force. It crossed the line.

Pandemonium. The release of sound and emotion was volcanic. The human frame can take you no further down the road to ecstasy than this.

Alas, it was the last throw. Without Baker, the edge was gone. The gap below Manchester United was too great. In the Cup, a rare long-range goal from Jimmy Greaves put Forest behind Spurs in the semi-final. Terry Hennessey's only mistake of the season let in Frank Saul for a second.

The dream was put on hold for a decade. The year of 1967 left us without a trophy but with a memorable song

Oh, we're better than United,

And we're louder than the Kop,

We're second in the League,

And we should be at the top.