Me Owd Duck on a diamond

by , March 17, 2009

Now Then.

There are some days when the sun rises and reflects off the panes of my greenhouse where I grow orchids so red they are like blood flowers and I think life is good and all is well, and then the team I love conspires to lose 5-0 to second- rate opposition and I want to forget football ever existed at all. Sometimes Forest have made me smile and laugh, but more often, the woefulness of our team has physically hurt me. I bite the wife and kick the dog, but nothing really makes me feel better. On dark days like these, I look back and remember other times when nothing seemed to go right.

When Sammy Chapman was sent off in 1971, he put an end to a run of 32 years during which no Forest player was ever sent off. How good a record was that? Yet no one remembers it now. Two years later and the 1973 – 4 season comes along. Muhammed Ali wins the Rumble in the Jungle. He then appears on Parkinson asking ‘Who is this Brian Clough?’ At the time, Nixon was busily denying Watergate, Americans were still embarrassed at their defeat in Vietnam and Pink Floyd released ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’. Chris Moyles, Vernon Kay and Ian Huntley were all conceived during the power cuts that coincided with the three day week.

There was one star shining in the Forest heaven. He joined us from his Grimsby school team in 1968. For a long time, he struggled to get into the first team. He was sent out on loan to Mansfield twice and it was there that he showed what a player he was. The key thing about Duncan McKenzie was allowing him a free role. He was a player that did not fit into preconceived notions about being a striker or midfielder, to Duncan, the free role was everything.

Google him and Duncan appears in the top 50 Leeds players of all time, the top 50 Everton Players of all time and he is remembered fondly at Blackburn. The fact that he started at Forest is barely remembered. Yet we had him first. The Forest team of 1968-1974 is fairly forgettable to be honest. We played dour football under Matt Gillies, Dave Mackay and Allan Brown. The exception was Duncan McKenzie.

He shimmied, he dummied, he did back heels and flipped the ball over onrushing defenders. He was a joy to watch. Someone once said they should play Football at Forest with two balls, one for the team and one for McKenzie and every fan would watch McKenzie. Other players found him incredibly frustrating to play with as he would walk the ball through an entire defence then forget to pass it. He also tended to go AWOL against inferior opposition. He claimed to be smoking 40 cigarettes a day, some sources suggest 60, but back then, just about everybody smoked; ask John Robertson. McKenzie was a player who, if playing now, would be on the ‘show boat’ section of Soccer AM every single week. He show boated, when he could be bothered to turn up.

In 1974 Forest were a pretty ordinary second division side, other than McKenzie. That season, he became only the third Forest player to top the scoring charts in his division with 26 goals. In the fourth round of the FA Cup, McKenzie put on a one-man display, the like of which has not been seen since at the City Ground. He ran the Manchester City Defence ragged. He created two goals for Ian Bowyer and one for George Lyall before scoring himself. It was Duncan McKenzie 4 Manchester City 1 and this was a City team that boasted Francis Lee and Colin Bell. Forty one thousand fans watched McKenzie put them to the slaughter on Forest’s second ever Sunday game.

McKenzie scored from the penalty spot to beat Portsmouth and set up a sixth round tie against Newcastle United. For a while, it really seemed that this fresh faced youth might take us all the way to Wembley. So to St James Park on Sunday 6th March 1974. The Geordies could not even get the name of the team right, their programmes for the game say they were playing ‘Notts Forest’. It is one of the few games that is officially declared void. With twenty minutes left in the game, Forest were 3-1 up. Bowyer, O’Kane and Lyall were our scorers and Newcastle had a player sent off. The Newcastle fans invaded the pitch. Forest’s Dave Serella was assaulted. When the fans finally left the field, referee Gordon Kew restarted the game which Newcastle finally won 4-3 including a laughable final goal by Bobby Moncur which was clearly offside.

Forest of course protested. The decision of the FA was to allow the match to be replayed at a neutral venue. It was a draw then Newcastle won the replay, again at a neutral venue, Goodison Park. The entire city of Nottingham felt cheated and supported Liverpool who beat Newcastle in the final by three goals to nil. The cup run was over.

McKenzie scored seven goals in the last five games of that season. His contract was up for renewal. He had negotiated his wages up from £30 a week to £50 a week the season before. On the day he expected to renegotiate his new contract the manager was out, playing golf. He stormed into Ken Smales’ office and demanded his cards. For six weeks McKenzie went on strike, training with Borrowash Victoria and contemplating buying a newsagents shop and leaving football for good.

Six weeks later the telephone rang and the new manager of Leeds asked the young man if he would like to join them. Cloughie paid a quarter of a million pounds to Forest for their young star. He paid him £200 a week, McKenzie never realised that this was one of the lowest salaries at the club. Leeds fans view the signing of McKenzie as the one good thing Cloughie did for them. When the players turned against Clough there, he asked McKenzie to gauge the mood in the dressing room for him. McKenzie politely declined.

McKenzie was a showman. He was famous for jumping over Minis and throwing a golf ball the entire length of the City Ground pitch. At Leeds and then Anderlecht, Everton, Chelsea, Blackburn, Tulsa and finally Chicago, he maintained this reputation. Wherever he went, the fans loved him. When Cloughie joined Forest the following season, for a while rumours abounded that McKenzie would come back to the club, but he never did. Until he came back as a well known after-dinner speaker and talked about life under Clough to the committee working to erect the wonderful statue of Brian that we have now.

You know for years at Grimsby they used to give the opposing team a box of cod before the game. I bet they kicked themselves for missing Duncan McKenzie.

The sun reflecting as it sets off my greenhouse makes it look like a diamond. 1974 – a diamond, Duncan McKenzie, Nottingham Forest FC.

I’ll see thee.