Me Owd Duck on Standing on the Spot
I do like good hospitality and there comes a time in every one’s life that facilities become really important. Hospitality is something Nottingham Forest do very well. I also have a love of legends. So to stand on that spot, just before kick off on a Saturday afternoon, at the home of Nottingham Forest, my home, the place where legends have stood and then turn and shout ‘Get into ’em lads’ from the centre circle at the likes of Raddy, Moussi, Dex, was for a Forest fan, well it was me smiling from ear to ear for days afterwards.
I won’t waste your time with the debate in my head, which is better, match ball sponsorship at Nottingham Forest or sex? The list of add on clauses in the sex contract to match the match ball experience would bore you, eventually.
Last year for the Reading game, I was with the Vicar on his 50th birthday and several other members of the LTLF Forum for a really memorable match day in the Robin Hood Suite. I thought that could not be bettered as a Forest experience, but it can, believe me, it really can.
That experience of visiting the Robin Hood Suite once before made me know exactly how to get the best out of a day I will never forget. Afterwards my niece said that I was the best person to go with – a grown man who would kill, destroy or attack any amount of innocent human beings for a Forest autograph.
I walked to the ground from the home I was born in. Thank you Joe Henderson of Henderson’s Insurance, our match ball sponsor. My older brother, and yes it is medically possible to stay alive without the aid of machines and still be older than me, has done some work for Joe in the past. Now Joe wasn’t there on Saturday, in fact, no one from Henderson’s was. My brother had been to watch Man City v Tottenham a few weeks earlier at Joe’s table and had thoroughly enjoyed the event.
The dream had begun the day before. My wife phoned and said we were going to be at the match ball sponsors table. I’d looked on the internet for tickets to the game just before the call and my favourite parts of the ground were all sold out. It was against Brighton, a town I had lived in for a year and the final game of the great Clough trilogy – Derby 1 Forest 0, Leeds 3 Forest 7, Forest 1 Brighton 1. My 15-year-old nephew plays for Brighton. It was a game I really wanted to be at.
How much would you pay for the first thing you see on the Football League Show to be your wife taking photos of the players as they come out of the tunnel on a Saturday afternoon by the Trent in Nottingham? How much would you pay to stand on the spot where Stuart Peace raised his fist and raise yours the same way? How much would you pay to stand on that spot with 21,000 voices, all agreeing with yours roaring around you?
It seems like a fluke now that I got to experience it. I just pinched myself, no that really happened.
If you are not someone that reads the LTLF Forum, you might not be aware of the Kiddier joke. The joke was this: one season when we had got relegated, we looked around for someone to blame. Someone joked in a forum post that the real culprit for Forest’s sad demise was head of hospitality, Louise Kiddier. Someone that worked for Louise got really upset about it and joined the forum to complain. A forum legend was born.
I loved turning the menu over yesterday to see Ms Kiddier was still there and very much in control. The menu was smart, as were the staff, the plates and the tables. You got to sit on special Forest red chairs with the two silver stars. For anyone young enough not to know there was this Messiah and he walked the Trent and won two cups…
The food was smoked chicken or French onion soup to start with. The chicken was great, lots of good flavours and just enough. Niece is a ‘picky eater’ but she liked the soup then left all the onions. It all looked good. Both the red and the whites on our table were very knockbackable, and the champagne was cold.
Then it was lamb shank or crab fish cakes. I thought the sauce with the fish cakes looked a bit creamy and rich, but niece once again begged to differ. The best thing to do with lamb is slow cook it, everything was cooked well and appetising.
Dessert was bread and butter pudding. Niece confided in me, she didn’t like butter. Then someone, probably Simon, our host for the day and someone willing always to go the extra mile to make you feel at home, found a way to make other desserts available. There was food on the table all day, sandwiches after the game and little chocolates with the Forest badge on them that I could not stop nicking.
Nigel Jemson met us when we first arrived. He was a part of that second legendary team that Clough built that went on to have massive success in various cup competitions. A team with two Nigels up front. He spent some time with us and tried out some of his material for use later. He told us Franz Carr would be there later and Nigel had checked Franz Carr’s Wikipedia page.
Let me lay my cards on the table at this point. Last year King Kenny was there, remember him? The bloke who is pictured holding the European Cup on the wall of the Robin Hood Suite. Kenny Burns was a brilliant match day host. People in charge at the club, please note. Kenny is quality. If at all possible, bring the man back, he’s historic. The centre forward from Birmingham who was the fulcrum at the heart of the defence of that very special team. The man who sorted out Kevin Keegan when we won the second cup.
Nigel Jemson interviewed Franz Carr. Two more autographs for my Forest Cult Heroes book. Nigel was legendary at Forest for having a bigger head than Cloughie, but I saw no evidence of that. He was charming. Franz was smaller than I remember. He made Robbie Earnshaw look like a big strapping football player.
NIGE: Great to see you again Franz. We played together for Forest during the Cloughie era. Franz I bet you have some good stories about Brian Clough.
FRANZ: Thanks Nige, it’s great to be back. I’ve got lots of Cloughie stories.
NIGE: I’ve been checking out some facts about you Franz and your time here at the City Ground, would you like to hear them?
NIGE: Franz Carr (born 24 September 1966 in Preston) is an English former footballer. He was a pacy winger who never quite established himself as a regular in the top flight. After playing in England and Italy he finished his career in the United States, playing for Pittsburgh Riverhounds.
FRANZ: No, I did not play for that team
NIGE: Carr began his career with Blackburn Rovers, but before making a first team appearance was signed for £25,000 rising to £100,000 by Nottingham Forest in August 1984.
After arriving at Forest, Carr was seen as a hugely exciting and popular winger who, at his peak, was one of the fastest players off the mark. Mostly playing down the right wing, he was a regular target for midfielder Neil Webb and striker Nigel Clough to chip balls over the opposing left-back. He was highly exciting but lacked a good final ball, much to the ire of manager Brian Clough. Clough described Carr in typical idiosyncratic fashion as ‘the best bloody corner flag hitter in the country, if only that was where the net was.’ (Pause for dramatic effect) Despite this, Carr still contributed to Forest’s Football League Cup triumphs in 1989 and 1990 but his relationship with Clough soured after Clough locked Carr in the City Ground boiler room after a particularly dire performance against that team erm the one you know, Oxford United was it?
NIGE: That team, you know I think it was the league cup, that one. You know it was against another team, anyway Cloughie locked you in the boiler room?
FRANZ: No that did not happen.
NIGE: You must have some really good Cloughie stories.
CARR: How long have you got? Hundreds mate, hundreds.
NIGE: But if you could pick just one.
CARR: Too many to count mate. How long have you got?
NIGE: You could just tell us one.
CARR: Hundreds mate, hundreds.
NIGE: However, he lost his place in the first team during the 1989-90 season, managing just 14 league appearances and one goal. He joined relegation strugglers Sheffield Wednesday on loan, making 12 goalless appearances in the First Division. Thank you Franz Carr!
FRANZ: Thanks Nige.
There are eight places at the match ball sponsors’ table and two people are allowed to go and present the match ball on the pitch. Simon had left it to us to decide. We had whittled it down to three – my brother, my niece and myself. Simon kindly allowed this rule infringement on the basis that niece only counted as half. The other people on the table either did not support Forest or were unprepared to get down to the infighting involved in gaining such a privilege, although my wife came along as well and, always the photographer’s daughter, got told off for taking photos on the pitch. There were 21 thousand people in the stands, we got to watch the team run out standing at the side of the tunnel.
I am walking across the pitch with my niece and my brother, waving at various parts of the ground where my friends sit. The Forest team are all standing behind me and the referee and the captain, Luke Chambers are there in the centre circle, on that spot. My brother insists on kicking the match ball. I want to wave my fist in the air in a sad attempt to gee up the team. I just can’t resist it.
The game was good, we worked hard, did not deserve to go behind and Joel Lynch grabbed a late equaliser. Then it was photos and autographs from the players back in the Robin Hood Suite. I love meeting the players and ex-players so much. I’m a collector at heart, always will be and Forest autographs mean a lot to me. My checklist for the Robin Hood Suite is: permanent marker pen, camera, wife, brother, niece. Yes I realise the order looks bad, but it is the order of importance. No debate.
All the team were really friendly, my own personal highlights were meeting goalscorer Joel Lynch, Andy Reid, Chris Gunter, four-goal Garath and George Elokobi. Some players like to come into the Robin Hood Suite and mix with the fans and some prefer not to.
Following Forest is always a series of highs and lows. It just does not get any higher than this. If you love this club and can’t afford to save up – the package costs from £160 per person – mug your granny to do this. Being the match ball sponsor really is a very special and unique experience. Wives, girlfriends, lovers please note, this just might be the best Forest present ever.
Final comment from niece, ‘Can we do this every game?’ I wish we could.
I’ll see thee.