Football: Fan's Eye View - Nottingham Forest: Hapless victim of terrace taunters

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The Independent Online
WHEN FOOTBALL fans are young boys they regard their favourites with an almost supernatural awe. On Saturday afternoons these spiritual beings assume a temporal form before ascending again to their Olympian homes. As the fan becomes an adult he acquires a job, a wife and children, as well as assuming grown-up responsibilities. Yet his regard for footballers remains exactly the same. My wife never ceases to marvel at the air of expectation that greeted the news that Martin O'Neill had entered the building before speaking at our local league's anniversary dinner.

There is a reverse side to this. Adding spice to every crowd is the moaner. He seems to revel in his team's misfortunes. And there is always one player he can't stand.

My friends and I soon discovered our anti-hero. His name was Eddie Baily. In his prime, he had played for Spurs and England and, after a short stay at Port Vale, he had been bought by Nottingham Forest.

To the wider football world, Baily was known as "The Cheeky Chappie." To us, he was "Grandpa". Those con artists of the press tried to convince us that Baily was 30-ish. With his balding head, an incipient paunch and an apparent inability to raise anything more than a steady jog, he had to be at least 60. We loathed Eddie Baily. Every time another Forester passed to him, one of us would snap: "He's given it to Grandpa!'

At the other extreme of our passion, our hero was the 5ft 5in fleet- footed flyer from Lossimouth, Stewart Imlach. The sight of him racing down the touchline, picking up the ball without breaking stride and surging past opponents with that blistering pace, was the most exhilarating sight in football. It was this ability which propelled Imlach into the Scotland team. Imagine our shock, then, when reading an article "written" by our hero, in discovering that Imlach credited Eddie Baily with his sudden success.

When we grew too tall to remain in our favoured spot in the front row by the tunnel, we relocated to the Bridgford End. Here, we met the real McCoy; a genuine, full-grown, mega-moaner. On account of his swarthy, weather-beaten complexion, his ankle-length oilskins and sailor's cap, we nicknamed him "The Captain".

The Captain grumbled at everything but the particular victim of his bile was the young striker, Geoff Vowden. What Vowden had done to upset him we knew not, but the young Channel Islander had only to touch the ball to elicit a melody of prehistoric utterances.

Once in work I invested in a season ticket in the Main Stand. Any idea I might have that my seat would free me from the moaners was soon destroyed. Once, I overheard a conversation as to whether or not John McGovern, who had recently lifted the European Cup for the second time, was good enough for Eastwood Town, but my award for the all-time-daft-comment has to go to: "Well, of course, I never did rate John Robertson!"

The truth is that the moaner's chief inspiration is ignorance. For my part, I may have grumbled about him 40 years ago, but how I wish I could watch a Grandpa Baily trotting out with the present Forest team.

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