As at Derby on Saturday, the spirit of Brian Clough enveloped everything here yesterday, casting a giant shadow over a football match that could never really hope to be equal to the occasion. But where the club at the other end of the A52 could not quite pay their greatest manager the compliment of winning in his memory, Forest pulled it off dramatically, literally with the last kick of the game.
The crowd had come less to witness their current team's struggle to achieve the first win of a troubled season as to mourn the man whose achievements condemn them each year now to suffer the pain of largely hopeless expectation. In the end, however, they had something to cheer as substitute Marlon King's brilliant stoppage-time goal snatched a victory celebrated as few others will be this season.
Clough's feat in turning a mid-sized provincial club into not only the champions of England but of Europe, too - twice - will not be repeated, at least not unless someone can organise a redistribution of wealth of the type in which that other maverick famous in these parts used to specialise.
Even Robin Hood, one suspects, would be no match for the corporate wealth that runs football today. Which is why past glories are remembered with more feeling now than ever. And why the death of Brian Clough has led to such an outpouring of grief in Nottingham and Derby over the past seven days.
It continued yesterday as 3,000 people gathered in Nottingham's Old Market Square in the morning to listen to John McGovern, Clough's trusted captain, deliver a eulogy and to join in singing Abide With Me . Then at The City Ground green sweatshirts were worn in honour of the maestro's favoured uniform.
Past players paid their solemn respects, sharing the centre circle with replicas of the trophies that Clough's teams won: the League Championship, two European Cups, the European Super Cup and four League Cups.
The crowd listened, in reverence almost, to My Way , the piece of Frank Sinatra Clough adopted, with typical modesty, as his personal anthem. It brought many in a 25,000 crowd to shed more tears, just as they had while gazing at the floral tributes adorning the club gates and decorating the car park walls. The minute's silence that followed was observed without a murmur.
West Ham were fitting opponents, observing, as they have, football principles in keeping with Clough's. Indeed, they should have won yesterday, leading by Marlon Harewood's 58th minute goal, side-footed home after Matthew Etherington's run to the byline had prised open the Forest defence, and looking in complete control until Paul Evans, given unexpected space and time, rifled home an equaliser from 25 yards.
But if that goal raised the roof, it was as nothing compared with the last-gasp curler that King, released by Andy Reid's pass, swung in high and wide of Stephen Bywater's reach as the referee checked his watch for the last time.
King and Reid had been reinstated to the Forest side after rowing with manager Joe Kinnear over their commitment. "All the players wanted to win for Brian," said Kinnear, "and it was a fairytale finish a victory that is a fitting memorial."
Goals: Harewood (58) 0-1; Evans (84) 1-1; King (90) 2-1.
Nottingham Forest (4-4-2): Gerrard; Perch, Hjelde, Morgan, Rogers; Impey (King, 66), Evans, Jess (Bopp, 83), Reid; Taylor, Johnson. Substitutes not used: Roche (gk), Robertson, Commons.
West Ham United (4-4-2): Bywater; Repka, Mackay, Davenport, Powell; Chadwick (Lomas, 76), Fletcher, Reo-Coker, Etherington; Sheringham, Harewood. Substitutes not used: Walker (gk), Mullins, Rebrov, Zamora.
Referee: M Messias (S Yorkshire).
Bookings: Forest: Reid. West Ham: Mackay, Reo-Coker, Fletcher.
Man of the match: Reid.