The town crier of A Block
‘Those Forest Men’ is a unique football book that mixes the history of the club with personal reminiscences, written by local author and regular LTLF contributor, Mark Collar (aka Me Owd Duck). In this exclusive extract, Mark profiles a familiar voice in the A Block…
Six days after Forest had put four goals past Manchester United at Old Trafford in December 1977, Richard Lewis was born. Three days later Forest met Liverpool in the league. The game was a prelude to the mammoth clashes between the two sides vying for complete supremacy of both English and European football.
After twenty minutes of Forest dominance, Anderson fed Gemill who blasted in a vicious twenty yard shot past Ray Clemence. Poor defending on the right allowed Heighway to get Liverpool back in it. Ray Kennedy fouled Woodcock in the box, but the ref refuses the penalty. 47,238 fans are furious with the referee but Clough’s men make no protests. It’s not the Forest way. The game ends as a 1-1 draw.
This presents the young Rich with a dilemma. He asks the question, which is the best football team to support and the one that’s most on the telly is Liverpool. Rich makes a large cardboard Liverpool crest and writes on it every night before bed Liverpool 2 Forest 0. Every night while Rich is sleeping the football fairy changes the score. Liverpool 2 Forest 3.
The football fairy is Mr Lewis who cannot understand what his son is thinking. His hometown club are playing superb football and have a Messiah for a manager. Finally, enough is enough. Rich is told he HAS to support his home town club. Five-year-old Rich is taken to the City ground on February 1, 1986. Sutton, Fleming, Williams, Walker, Metgod, Bowyer, Carr, Webb, Clough, Davenport and Walsh beat QPR 4-0. Walsh scores twice and Webb and Carr grab a goal each. For Rich, ‘that was it.’ Rich’s biggest worry once he left the game was the rumour Clough was selling Nigel to QPR for £300,000.
When you hear the Forest fans sing on the television now, many of those songs come from A Block in the main stand. A Block songs start with Rich. His throaty muscled roar is like a town crier of old and calls the Forest faithful to get right behind the team. What surprises you when you meet Richard is that great bull’s roar you hear at the game comes from a slight, outwardly shy man.
An early Forest memory is of being one of about 600 people in Keyworth watching Keyworth United, not much more than a pub side, lose 8-1 to Forest in a friendly game in July 1988, Clough losing his temper over Nigel’s performance despite the effortless victory. Rich was afraid to even look at Clough. It was just the aura Clough gave off. He suggests that the Kuwaiti takeover of Forest in 2012 had a lot to do with events in Clough’s time:
‘Forest always played these mid-season friendlies so on a Thursday night we’d be playing Tampa Bay Rowdies right in the middle of a really busy season. Fans thought Clough did it to make money both for himself and the club, which he did, but he was also way ahead of his time. He was marketing Forest as a worldwide brand.
‘On November 1, 1982, a Forest side of Van Breukelen, Swain, Young, Bowyer, Proctor, Wallace, Davenport, Walsh, Robertsion drew 1-1 with Al Qadsiya in Kuwait. Two days later the same team beat Al-Hilal 8-0. The current owners of Nottingham Forest Football Club, the Al-Hasawi family have nearly seventeen years of history with Qadsiya SC.
‘Clough was like a father sowing seeds for his children with matches like that and the one against the Kuwaiti national side at the end of the previous season in Morocco. The Al-Hasawis could have chosen any team in England. They chose the famous one; the fallen giant; the one from their history.’
Forest fans know pain better than most. Rich remembers chanting with his dad at the tiny hotel room television in Corfu. A sensitive 14-year-old crammed in a room with twenty Tottenham fans. It was his habit of starting chants at games on the television, which he himself recognises as illogical because it has no impact on the team, but win, lose or draw, it makes you feel better.
Growing up as a supporter when he did, Rich feels Stuart Peace was the most influential player at Forest he has ever watched: ‘I remember Psycho’s first game as manager and we had been awful. The atmosphere was unbelievable as he wound A Block up from the corner flag. We beat Arsenal 2-0.
‘I don’t think when I first tried to start chants anyone joined in. There was a bloke in B Block you could hear right round the ground and he started all the Bohinen chants but I’d try and start a chant and no one joined in.’
Against West Bromwich Albion in the second Billy Davies season there was a moment of silence and Rich roared out ‘who are WE?’ The whole block roared back and from then on his confidence grew.
By the end of that season, Rich was the lone voice of A Block. The fans waited for him to start them. All the songs came from the left. Rich was hoarse for days after each game.
‘It’s like choosing from a set of CDs which music you want to play. What’s my mood at the time? What do I want to sing? Music has always been important to me, sometimes more than football even, but one day I fell out of love with music and came back to football. It was almost like, “I am back home.”
‘There are certain situations in which I do try and get chants going, to try and avoid the atmosphere going sour, for instance an example is when we concede a late goal. I start the ‘Nottingham’ chant straight afterwards to try and keep peoples spirits high. I keep people positive as we all know how quickly fans can get on players’ backs.
‘I honestly don’t know how I do it, or why people in A Block respond to me, but in a way when I get through that turnstile and into my seat I kind of change into a different person. All the passion I have for Forest seems to come out in a vocal way.
‘It’s important to me that I start “Who are we?” straight after we have sung “Mull of Kintyre”. I always think that if I don’t, we will lose.
‘The music you make is the key. You are the twelfth man.’
Again, Rich recognises his superstitions are illogical. He once had to place a bet on every single game in a season, despite having little money. If he didn’t, Forest would lose. In May 2008, as Forest beat Yeovil to gain promotion back to the Championship, Rich listened to the radio at home. He didn’t want to jinx the result. The first time he stood at the back of A Block was the disastrous Yeovil play-off game. It’s a wonder he ever stood there again.
A Block is the nearest section of the ground to the away supporters. Out-singing the away fans is all important. The atmosphere in A Block depends on the banter between the home and away fans.
‘If you can out-sing the opposition fans then you have done your job. Every kid dreams about playing for Forest when they grow up. This is the second best alternative to that. You’ll never play for Forest but you will make the other fans silent. Forest have always been a family club and after a time when violence was a part of football matches, that’s where we are back to now.’
Sadly for Rich, the history of troubles between the fans and stewards in A Block means his 13-year-old son can’t stand with him at games. Tickets for A Block cannot be purchased online. It is considered unsafe for under-21s as some of the fans stand up there.
- Those Forest Men is available from Lulu at £19.99.
- Mark will be launching the book at an end-of-season celebration after the Leicester match at the Poppy and Pint in Lady Bay, with special guest Ian Bowyer and live music. All are welcome – for ticket details, please see the LTLF Forum and contact Steve, aka ‘The Vicar’.