When you visit the City Ground, there is every chance that the football will leave you disappointed, but you will never come away doubting the quality of the stadium it was played in.
The City Ground has been home to Nottingham Forest since the third of September 1898, 33 years after the club was established and 6 after their admission to the football league. And oh, how much it has seen since then. From Brian Clough’s European Cup winning side to the 2007 heartbreak to Yeovil Town. From a relegation-denying Chris Cohen belter in 2017 to the most cataclysmic of collapses to Stoke City in 2020. The “World-Famous” has seen absolutely all of it. And that sometimes painful, sometimes adorning history is what you feel every time you come through those Garibaldi red turnstiles and take your seat. With a list of silverware wrapping around the Brian Clough and Bridgford stands and ferocious home support befitting of only a Nottingham establishment surrounding you, it’s very hard not to fall in love with the City Ground. Unless you support Derby or something unfortunate like that.
On this occasion I was treated to maybe the coldest football game I will ever attend in my life. Remember my trip to the One Call Stadium of Mansfield Town? That felt like Barbados in comparison to this trip to Sheffield United at home. The perfect time for me to go out in just 2 layers. Pillock.
Now usually a trip to Forest would consist of a visit to the local home-fan-only Wetherspoons, the Trent Bridge Inn. But due to a shocking lack of irritating yellow E-Scooters at the train station we were strapped for time. So, I was forced to part ways with £4.70 of my hard-loaned money for a bottle of cider at the ground, that I had to neck anyway as we headed straight to our seats. Fantastic start. One thing I didn’t get was any food. It’s your usual Pukka Pie arrangement and some hot-dogs, so nothing to write home about. But a Chicken Balti pie on a freezing Midlands night is an ideology so romantic not even Shakespeare himself could better it.
Let’s have a word about the fans. Things are looking better for Nottingham Forest this season, with only 1 defeat to note since Steve Cooper replaced Chris Hughton earlier on this season. Yet throughout all of it, rain or shine, the passion shown in the stands every game is near unmatchable in the Championship. A team that has been through so, so much is due only to have emboldened voices heralding (or heckling) their beloved Reds from the terraces every week, and the Forest faithful rarely disappoint on that front. As a season ticket holder for the last 3 years, I’ve seen the ground right on top of the world roaring on every touch of the ball, to right at the bottom, calling for managers heads and holding anyone to blame to account. I wonder how Hughton is doing these days.
Onto the match itself. Sheffield United were in town, and I jotted it down as 8 minutes and 34 seconds into the game before the first “scab” chant started. Impressive that they managed to hold on for that long. In truth, the United fans were surprisingly quiet all game. After their delightful song about chip sandwiches they rarely had much to say, until Morgan Gibbs-White scored against Forest for the second time this season for 2 different clubs, after which they went absolutely insane. That was, until Lewis Grabban blasted home maybe the scrappiest finish the league has ever seen to send the City Ground into raptures. I even saw a pyro coming from A-Block for a 1-1 draw. I have nothing but the upmost respect for the shamelessness.
The inside of the ground feels very retro. There were plans in place for a complete stadium overhaul which have since gone cold, but the stadium as is is perfectly good. In the era of soulless bowls in English football (coughprideparkcough), the City Ground has 4 separate stands with 3 of them tiered. The most majestic of them, perhaps, is the Trent End; the most recent of the stands to be re-furbished or expanded, way back in 1996, just in time for the European Championships. Rolling high into the air ahead of an immaculate playing surface, this used to be where the most vocal of home supporters would sit. Nowadays, this is the responsibility of the Bridgford Stand and A-Block in the Peter Taylor stand, but the Trent End, emblazoned with a message about the famous Garibaldi red, is still just as stunning to look at as it was when it was first made. It’s also really bloody cold, as an added bonus.
It’s kind of difficult to write about the City Ground from a groundhoppers perspective, seeing as I’ve been going there for so long. But I think the fact that I’ve been able to describe what a fantastic place it is anyway is testament to its grandeur; it’s part of my bi-weekly routine to attend Forest games, but the magic of the building still can’t be lost on me. Every visit to the City Ground feels like the first, and the sheer level of history, heartache, passion and glory is etched into every brick of the ground. It is very simply one of the must-see trips in the groundhopping diary.
*Article provided by Louis Wheeldon (Football Correspondent).
*Main image @NFFC James Garner ready to deliver on a cold night at the City Ground.