I might get a discount when I go for a haircut next week. I might leave my visit a while longer, depending on Sunday’s outcome, or I could end up with a style I hadn’t asked for or a scissor nick – ‘sorry sir’ – to the neck. The young barber who sometimes cuts my hair is a passionate Liverpool fan and his response to results is always heartfelt. He knows where my sentiments lie. We’ll see.
In the meantime, it’s Reds v Reds on Sunday at 6pm. (Note to self: there’s an article to be done on TV schedules and football.) We Forest fans have days to ponder and speculate and analyse and look at form and stats and tea-leaves and anything else that may hint at victory for our Reds. Let’s be clear, Liverpool are formidable opposition. They’re in contention for hoovering-up four major trophies this season, including the UEFA Champions League, and have already bagged the League Cup. But what is the FA Cup for if not for upsets, underdogs and usurpers? The ‘unfancied’ will always fancy their chances over ninety minutes.
First, let’s level the playing-field of comparisons between Forest and Liverpool and match them up as equals. (The idea here is to help us see Liverpool as less than formidable!) Both teams belong to a city boasting two (admittedly with varying fortunes) professional clubs. Both cities have significant rivers to add character and commerce to their lives and both have well-known airports nearby: John Lennon on Merseyside and East Midlands. (Someone should petition for a name change. I suggest Jake Bugg, the supremely talented Nottingham singer-songwriter who even sports a Beatles haircut!).
On the football field, both clubs have lifted the European Cup (precursor to Champions League) at least twice and both teams are currently in rich form. Both answer to the ‘Reds’ and have, in their different ways, impressive managers. Jurgen Klopp has rejuvenated a trophy-hungry club over the last few seasons and Steve Cooper (who spent five years on the coaching staff at Liverpool’s Academy) has led a remarkable renaissance at the City Ground in a few months. Klopp’s reputation on the international stage is sealed; respect for Cooper is fast growing.
On the team sheet, Liverpool have strength in depth in every position and an abundance of talent sat on the bench in waiting. And, in Mo Salah, they have one of the most clinical and consistent goal-scorers in the world. They have youth and they have vast experience in all competitions. I’ll stop there. Forest have a new self-belief. From the stands, you can sense they’re working for one another and taking personal responsibility when things aren’t quite right. They also have several players who’ve developed a taste for goal-scoring of late. As Liverpool know from their sometimes imperious performances, winning is habit-forming and the biggest confidence-builder. So, three wins out of three so far in the competition, including the last two cup holders – Arsenal and Leicester – for Forest. That bodes well, surely?
An awful lot has happened since Forest and Liverpool last met in the FA Cup. It was a semi-final, sunny April day in 1989 at Hillsborough, Sheffield. It is a dark chapter in the history of football in Britain. As a slow-motion horror took shape and mass confusion turned to catastrophe, I sat in the rose garden at Wollaton Park with my parents, wife, and first-born child in a pushchair. We were up from Portsmouth for the weekend and intended to keep abreast of the match with quick trips back to the car radio. Then a bloke with a transistor radio to his ear passed by and said something was wrong at the game. Crowd trouble. With my younger brother at the ground, it made for a very unsettled afternoon as Mum wondered if he could be caught up in any disturbance.
Later that day, we and the nation learned of an alarming death toll in the Liverpool end (97 victims in total). It was a tragedy that had acts of bravery and heroism mixed with incompetence and mismanagement. The game was abandoned and Liverpool won the re-match but I recall that many fans didn’t have much of a stomach for that fixture.
The repercussions of Hillsborough still resonate through law courts, inquiries and investigations. It served as a wake-up call for ground-safety and multiple other improvements that have helped transform the experience of watching a match live. Some said all-seater stadiums would impair the atmosphere of a game. I haven’t noticed it. Passions still bounce round the stands, chants ping back and forth between opposing supporters and goals get celebrated as ecstatically as ever. Check out the atmosphere at the City Ground these past months for proof of that!
Finally, to Sunday’s game. Liverpool have not won at the City Ground in their last twelve visits. Forest have not beaten Liverpool in the FA Cup for 127 years. Make of all that what you will. What we will get is a wonderful atmosphere as Nottingham rediscovers what success smells and tastes like. We might get to celebrate a win. A scissor-nick in the neck next week would be a small price to pay for that.
*Article provided by Stephen Parker (Nottingham Forest Correspondent).
*Main image @NFFC some Forest fans will be old enough to remember Colin Barrett’s heroics in 1978.