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Fan's Eye View: Roy Dwight

IN THE secure, cosy carapace that is our modem existence we look to football to provide us with life on the edge. There is no football welfare state to protect the weak, the careless or the merely unfortunate. To the victor, all the spoils of conquest, to the defeated only despair, desperation and utter failure. Never were the highs or lows of the game felt more vividly than in just 23 minutes in the life of one player 40 seasons ago.

When Roy Dwight walked out onto the sun-drenched Wembley turf with his Nottingham Forest team mates to face Luton Town in the 1959 FA Cup final he must have believed that he had tasted already the extremes of human experience. Just four months previously the Reds had endured the most humiliating of defeats at the hands of Tooting and Mitcham. Forced to play on a treacherous, frost-rutted surface on which no modern referee would tread, even to perform the most cursory of pitch inspections, Forest were 2-0 down and staring ignominy between the eyes. Ravenous journalists were turning over in their minds the headlines that would announce the cup upset of the decade. However, a face-saving draw was achieved and the replay duly won. Now 100,000 joyous voices welcomed the players onto the ultimate field of dreams.

Nine minutes into a game whose early stages Forest had dominated Stewart Imlach pulled back the ball and Roy Dwight volleyed a thunderous shot into the roof of the net. The Forest end of the ground erupted. A 12-year- old watching my first "away" game, I remained silent. The whole Wembley experience had been just too much to take in. My mind simply could not accept the fact that Forest were winning. The goal had to be disallowed. Why were all of these fools cheering? Could they not understand that there must have been a foul or an offside flag. Even the players were celebrating. Were they mad? Slowly, the truth dawned and I exploded like a delayed- action bomb. What Roy Dwight must have felt at that moment is beyond comprehension. Five minutes later and Tommy Wilson added a second. Forest were coasting. Oh dear, someone went down injured. Who was it? It seemed to be Roy Dwight. Then he was getting up, thank God. Now who was injured this time? It was Roy Dwight again. They were bringing on the stretcher. Just 32 minutes gone and Dwight's game was over, his leg broken. What depths of despair he must have trawled as he was taken to hospital, leaving his colleagues to scrap it out in defence of their lead for another hour. Later, as he watched them parading the cup around the stadium from his hospital bed he must have been able to put "mixed feelings" into a new realm.

My abiding memory of Roy Dwight, however, is not of that day of triumph at Wembley. Early the following season I was waiting outside the changing room in the pursuit of autographs. The last one to emerge was known to be rather difficult. He pushed past us, met his wife and strode out of the ground. We followed at a discrete distance. As luck would have it he boarded the same corporation bus as us. Eventually a brave soul crept forward and asked for his autograph.

"No, son," the player snapped. Two points reflect the gulf that separates the modern game from that of yesteryear. Firstly, if being asked to sign an autograph after a game was an unwelcome intrusion into that player's privacy, then what would he have made of the sort of media attention the likes of Paul Gascoigne endure? Secondly, can we imagine a Premiership footballer going home by bus?

Half an hour before this incident occurred Roy Dwight had emerged from the changing room, still using his post-Wembley crutch. Immediately he was mobbed by young fans. Spotting his plight, a policeman moved in. He sensed that he was not needed.

"Alright, Roy?" he asked. "Fine," our hero replied as he set about our autograph books. What a player, and what a great bloke. Today's footballer is as big a celebrity as the greatest pop star. Four decades ago that was not the case. Even Roy Dwight's greatest admirer would agree that he was not as big a name worldwide as his nephew although young Reg Dwight had to change his name before he found fame in the world of popular music. In Nottingham, however, older folk will still ask: "Elton John! Isn't he Roy Dwight's nephew?