Matchday Memories: Forest v Celtic, 1983
Aaah…Celtic…UEFA Cup, November 1983.
First up, I was 13 at the time, and had to change buses to get to school, having to cross the Old Market Square every morning.
A bitterly cold November Monday morning sees me crossing what would normally be a deserted Square…except that this Monday morning it was largely populated with scantily-clad Scottish blokes, who stood, dwarfed by stacks of alcoholic 6-packs that they’d procured.
A quick chat revealed that it was their intention to drink all the ale, then get more if needed (probably by Monday afternoon, by the look of some of them!).
The Tuesday was colder still, and, against school rules, yours truly crossed the Market Square proudly wearing my Forest Scarf of the day. Much good-natured banter and good-humoured abuse was exchanged, and the stacks of beer had been replaced, and were being consumed apace, even at 8am.
Back in those days, we didn’t have under-soil heating, and when the weather gets cold, the City Ground pitch used to freeze. With the angle of the sun, and the bitterly cold temperatures, the Main Stand side of the pitch remains in shadow, and this year, that side of the pitch was solidly frozen.
By Wednesday, even colder, pitch frozen hard, and god alone knows how many thousand Celtic fans had descended upon the City, hell bent on drinking the place dry, and having a good time doing it, and largely succeeding!
Any other game would have been postponed I’m certain…but I think the logistics of appeasing many thousand drunken Scotsmen forced them to play…
So it’s dark, it’s freezing, and walking down Pavilion Road, I’ve never heard an atmosphere like it at any time before or since. Think about the best you ever remember it when we’ve stolen a game with a last gasp goal – like the Bristol City game (OMFGDexterBlackstockOMG!), when we stole the game with the last kick – and you walk out the ground, euphoric…
It was better than that. The words “A real buzz of excitement” doesn’t do it justice…Fans of both sides mingling completely, with all hopes of segregation out of the window, as tickets were begged, bought, swapped (doubtless a few nicked as well, but who knows)…People were walking in directions that you don’t normally see on a matchday. It was good natured excited chaos, that I’ve noot seen on Trentside at any other time.
Enter the ground, and the Celtic fans had been allocated all the Executive Stand Brian Clough Lower Tier, the corner pen of the old Bridgford Terrace and the next 3 blocks along. No empty neutral section – they sold the ground out completely. Looking at the standing crowd, there was a gentle gradation of green-and-white giving way to red as fans mixed completely in the terraces.
It was a cold, cold night, (about minus 5) with a biting wind off the Trent, (wind chill about minus 20), and the most astonishing thing is there’s about 20 Celtic fans climbing the floodlight pylon, not out of malice, but to get a better view. The astonishing part is they’re wearing shorts and short-sleeved shirts. Absolute loonies!
Assorted pleas from the Tannoy Man to get down for safety’s sake were largely ignored, and indeed spurred others to follow. Finding the floodlight full, they shinned up the old Scoreboard, and there were about 20 of them sat across the top of the scoreboard, swinging their legs back and forth, oblivious of or not caring about the 50 foot drop off the back onto Colwick Road…
It was at this time that the old scoreboard started misbehaving, and it was never right after. I think they killed it…and it remained misfiring until the demolition of the Bridgford terrace many years later.
The game progresses, there’s no score. As was a (fairly) regular occurrence in packed standing areas, someone fainted/passed out in the Celtic corner. In true ‘packed terrace’ style, the unconscious bod was lifted up, and passed down over people’s heads, and down to the fence at the front (remember, this was before Hillsborough – standing fans were penned in the world over). As the gate at the front was opened, a Celtic forward struck a shot that just cleared the Trent End goal crossbar.
The usual ‘Oooooh!!!’ was followed by the usual surge forward [this was what killed so many people in Sheffield 6 years later], but the surge corresponded with the opening of the gate at the front….
About 100 people…exploded…out of the gate ( I can’t think of any other word to describe it – it was so much more spectacular than a ‘pop’!), and spilled over the shale perimeter track, and onto the pitch.
Unfortunately, owing to the ballistic nature of their progress out of the fenced area, there were a number of serious injuries sustained, broken arms, broken legs etc, and the game was stopped, while the casualties were dealt with.
This took a long time, however, and the referee made several interventions, and tried to restart the game, but without success, such was the chaos! The ref threatened to abandon the game if the pitch wasn’t cleared ‘in 10 minutes’…but (I presume) a few words from a stressed local Police Force persuaded him to be patient, and let the game resume…which it did.
On the pitch, not much to talk about to be honest…it finished 0-0.
After the final whistle…the ground (well, the forest fans) pretty much cleared, and I am waiting for Flagman’s Dad, who was sitting elsewhere in the Main Stand. I stood up and held my Forest scarf above my head for a few seconds, at which point my Dad appeared next to me.
I looked back across to the Executive Stand, and the Away Terrace, and was greeted by the amazing spectacle of every single Celtic fan standing silently holding their scarves above their heads, as if in response to my gesture. A truly truly amazing, humbling, awe-inspiring demonstration of loyal fans.
Without question, the best atmosphere, the best travelling support and the best one-off matchday memory I’ve had in Nottingham.