I don’t usually do birthdays… Trawling over Social Media on a daily basis it seems everyone has one, if you celebrate one you then need to celebrate them all… It can be a minefield of what to like or retweet… So I pretty much leave them alone… Hence why Nottingham Sport don’t really get in on the act… But then there’s always an exception to the rule…
Brian Clough…. Jimmy Sirrel… Carl Froch (perhaps?) you know what I mean… Those that have made a difference in Nottingham, those that have made a difference to the people of Nottingham and those that have earned legendary status from it… Like a certain one who celebrates his birthday today and who stands out on a personal level to me, because for me at a time in my life right now it reminds me of something very special all of 30-years-ago.
In the summer of 1990, Gazza, Waddle, Pearce, Pavarotti, New Order, penalties, tears and all, a young Irish kid, unknown to the world would be the only underwhelming signing of Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest during a post-season where they had finished ninth in the Football League First Division the campaign before (this was basically the Premier League before the Premier League began for anyone under 35).
I remember thinking “Roy sounds like an old mans name” as the only ‘Roy’s’ I otherwise knew back then was that of ‘Race’ and ‘Castle’ two big favourites of mine from Melchester Rovers and Record Breakers…
£47,000 was paid to Cobh Ramblers for a player that I presumed (age 11 and a half) was going to be in the Reserves for a year or two as he slowly dwindled out of existence and back down the football pyramid… Roy was 19 on August 10th 1990 and yet to make his Forest debut… The Reds were about to kick off their new campaign on the 25th of the month at home to QPR and more importantly (for me)… That was the day after my mother gave birth to my sister.
I remember it well, I wanted to go to the QPR match but couldn’t because my dad had to be next to mum all day… We drove up to the city hospital where I saw my sister for the first time, holding her, posing for pictures, my mum looked exhausted, my dad proud as punch… All I wanted to do was try and tune in hospital radio playing about with the headphones to get the football on… I couldn’t get anything… Other than a bit of ‘Hanky Panky’ by Madonna and ‘It Must Have Been Love’ from Roxette… Then they announced the score through Trent FM… 1-1 at the City Ground it ended… Nigel Jemson with the goal… A home point against QPR… It was all a bit underwhelming…
A few days later, my mum was still in hospital but ready to come out… It was Tuesday night and Forest had a tricky tie at champions Liverpool… We never expected to get anything from there in the days of Dalglish, so me and dad in writing off the game went to pick mum and sister up in the evening, by this time I had worked out the radio situation and got wind of the team… This boy Roy is playing!
Turns out Mr Clough had took Roy along for the bus ride and told him little more than half an hour before kick off in typical Clough style to ‘get your boots on young man’… ‘You’re playing’…
Forest lost 2-0 but Roy by all accreditation did ok in his debut at Anfield… The rest of his time I suppose… Is pretty much well-known history.
When people ask me about Roy Keane at Forest I so often say he was a completely different player under Clough than what he was at Manchester United. Known through football for being a fierce, nasty, enforcer that would kick and intimidate his opponent out of the game, at Nottingham Forest Football Club young Roy Maurice Keane couldn’t have been anything further from the player he turned out to be.
In some ways I believe we had his best years… You know what it’s like, when a young boy, the next superstar comes onto the scene, like Gazza at Newcastle, Owen in 98, Rooney at Everton, the years that make you sit up, notice and say ‘wow’… ‘and this kid is how old’???
Keane at Forest was a whippet, skinny, frail, he had legs with energy to burn, would run all day long, would support the attack with darting late runs and would only ever think about going forward often carrying the ball past opponents in a positive manor that seen him score 33 goals in his three years at the club.
Linking up with Pearce, Clough and the leagues top scorer before moving to Sheffield Wednesday, Nigel Jemson who also celebrates his birthday today. He combined beautifully with footballers like Gary Crosby and Gary Charles, he ousted the likes of Garry Parker and Steve Hodge to the bench whilst those were in the prime of their careers.
Keane was fantastic, a player who could get forward and score goals, who could power past players at pace, he could head and tackle and nobody would work harder in the centre of the park. The best I’ve seen in his position at Forest.
His early days were a massive learning curve and Keane is still indebted to Brian Clough for the unparalleled influence he had on his game… Rumours of Gazza making him cry in a 2-1 win for Spurs at the City Ground, famously often seen in the Black Orchard, it wasn’t all plain sailing but performance after performance Keane just got better and better as he grew older and more confident in Nottingham.
Keane’s first season ended with an FA Cup Final at Wembley and along the way included some crushing league performances like in scoring the winner against Derby, and his two goals in a 6-2 win at Norwich and netting in a 7-0 thumping at home to Chelsea.
The following year Keane played a part in the side that reached two Wembley Cup finals and was brilliant in a League Cup semi final win at White Hart Lane, whilst in the league one of his stand out performances came at neighbours Notts County, newly promoted who the Reds crushed 4-0.
The year later was a disaster for Forest with Brian Clough coming to the end of his distinguished career the Reds went down whilst Keane was asked to play a number of roles including at centre half for a side slowly dismantled bit by bit.
As the Premier League era opened it was common news that Keane was touted by England’s best and newly crowned champions Manchester United were long chasing the Irishman to replace the ageing Bryan Robson… With Forest’s selling history to United (Birtles, Davenport, Webb) it looked a gamble for Alex Ferguson at £3.5m but by the end of Forest’s disastrous relegation season, Clough’s last in charge, it would see Keane moving and a record transfer fee between British Clubs was the only viable option. The Cork born star far too good to play second tier football.
What followed was Keane settling in at Old Trafford slowly before emerging from Paul Ince’s shadow as the player that took on the responsibility for eventually the best team in Europe. Not so much the driving forward box to midfielder of Forest but instead, a tough tackling ball keeping captain figure of high regard.
I sometimes think ‘what would of happened’ if Roy had stayed with Forest, promoted in a team with Collymore and Bohinen and still involved when Bryan Roy came along ‘could the Reds have achieved what the likes of Blackburn Rovers and more recently Leicester City incredibly did?’
I suppose that question will always remain unanswered but one thing that we’ll always be sure of is that Roy Keane love him or hate him for whatever reason may be, he was certainly one of the finest footballers ever to play for Nottingham Forest and us that can remember it can be proud to say, all be him of Irish decent, he was and always will be very much, one of our own.
Happy 49th Birthday Roy… Maybe next year we’ll do an interview to celebrate the big five oh!
*Article provided by Daniel Peacock (Editor).
*Main image @classicshirts Roy Keane made 154 appearances for Nottingham Forest between 1990 & 93.