Forest v Liverpool: The Return To History

To quote Liverpool’s legendary, ex-player, and manager, Bob Paisley, after they defeated Club Brugge to win the European Cup back in 1978, “Forest will be our biggest threat to retaining it next season,” a rivalry that had previously lasted more than a century, two World Wars withstanding, will be resumed this weekend.

The last time the Red half of Nottingham opposed the Red half of Liverpool was in the closing throes of 1998-99 campaign, at the City Ground, as two of the biggest clubs in the British game shared four goals on the field, and it would be a season that be Forest’s last at the top table.

On the early April goals from Dougie Freedman, and a last-minute effort from Pierre van Hooijdonk, saved Forest from defeat, Liverpool having netted through Jamie Redknapp and Michael Owen on their way to a poor, by Anfield’s standards, seventh place finish.

The line-up for Forest, the last time these two sides met, was that of Mark Crossley in goal, a defence of Alan Rogers, Richard Gough, Christian Edwards and Mathieu Louis-Jean, a midfield trio of Andy Johnson, Carlton Palmer and Thierry Bonalair, and a front three including Marlon Harewood, alongside van Hooijdonk and Freedman.

The history between the two sides however, dates back over a century prior to the last meeting, the pair having played each other three times during the 1894-95 season, in the, very old, Division One; although it would be ‘Pool who’d take first blood, in January 1895, Forest exacted immediate revenge by taking the next two.

The first FA Cup meeting between the two clubs arrived a month later, Forest winning 2-0, whilst in the early April, in the League return, Forest went one better and claimed a 3-0 win; in the cup success, both of Forest’s goals arrived in the first period, through Alec Stewart and Tom McInnes.

In the following Monday’s Liverpool Mercury, (18.02.1895) it was reported that –

“The home club were in sore straits as to the composition of their team as Hannah, Kerr, and the two McLeans were ill, while D. Hannah was not sufficiently recovered from his injury to think of participating in the fight. The Forest, however, were at their full strength……”

Whilst Forest’s second goal, scored by McInnes, was described as –

“However, as half-time arrived, McInnes was given possession, and racing off, sent in a long high shot as Curran approached, and McCann, either not being prepared or in proper position, fumbled with the ball for a moment or two, and then let it slip over his head.”

Forest’s line-up, for this first FA Cup encounter between the two clubs, was –

Dan Allsopp, Archie Ritchie, Adam Scott, Alec Stewart, John McPherson, Peter McCracken, Horace Pike, Albert Carnelly, Thomas Rose, Fred Forman, Tom McInnes.

And thus would ensue more than a century’s worth of rivalry between two clubs who’d, for their respective part, go on to claim varied success on the British, and European game.

A ten-goal thriller was played out in April 1910, in Liverpool’s favour, they winning 7-3, whilst in the last forties, after the playing out of the Second World War, three games were witnessed between the two sides, again in the FA Cup, thirteen goals being registered across 1948 and 1949

Liverpool would emerge victorious on both occasions, winning 4-1 in ’48, and 4-0 in ’49, the latter in a replay following a 2-2 draw, the latter of this trio being only the sixth time the two famous sides had met in the world famous cup competition.

Three decades on from those FA Cup matches, and in what was pretty much the immediate aftermath of the opening quote from Bob Paisley, defending European champions, Liverpool, were drawn against the Division One champions, Nottingham Forest, in the European Cup First Round.

Paisley’s words would certainly come back to haunt him, Nottingham Forest reigning supreme as they began their own journey to back-to-back, European Cup glory.

September 1978 would see the two sides play, home and away, with Brian Clough’s side winning the first, at the City Ground, 2-0, courtesy of goals from Garry Birtles and Colin Barrett, one in each half; and, with the second leg, a fortnight later at Anfield, finishing goalless, it would be the Reds of Nottingham who’d progress to the next round, and ultimately on to European glory.

In Don Wright’s Official 150th Anniversary History, ‘Forever Reds,’ this particular period in Reds history was described as –

“Before the draw for the first round, players had hoped for a European adventure with a trip to Spain or Italy and a game against Real Madrid or Juventus. The pairing with Liverpool was a bit of a downer…..

“The pace of the Forest attacks exposed weaknesses in a Liverpool defence fames for its tactical awareness and organisation……”

Whilst defending a two-goal lead going into Anfield –

“Clough, who scoffed at talking tactics, nevertheless tweaked things a little. Archie Gemmill was employed on the right flank with responsibility for helping Anderson deal with the forward runs of Liverpool left-back Alan Kennedy and John McGovern was posted in front of Lloyd and Burns as cover for the back four. It worked, Liverpool were stymied. The game was goalless and Forest had a 2-0 winning aggregate.” 

Forest would line-up for their opening, European Cup contest, against Liverpool, as follows –  

Peter Shilton, Viv Anderson, Colin Barrett, John McGovern, Larry Lloyd, Kenny Burns, Archie Gemmill, Ian Bowyer, Garry Birtles, Tony Woodcock, John Robertson

Forest’s only change for the second leg, at Anfield, was bringing in Frank Clark in place of first leg scorer, Colin Barrett.

The two sides would face each other on a regular basis during this time, with 1980 alone seeing a good five matches contested as two were played in the league, two in the League Cup, and one FA Cup as Forest won one and drew two.

The late eighties would witness another couple of FA Cup meetings and, although Liverpool would emerge victorious in both, winning 2-1 in 1988, and 3-1 in 1989, it would be the second of those which would see an immersion in the annals of footballing history.

The Hillsborough Disaster!

April 15 1989, Hillsborough, the home of Sheffield Wednesday, was to be the venue for the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

Disaster struck that day, in what was, and still is, a much-publicised occasion in sporting history, one that would see 94 supporters die, a further three over the ensuing years, along with close to 800 injuries.

Rearranged for the start of May, at Old Trafford, home of Manchester United, Liverpool winning 3-1 thanks to an own-goal from Brian Laws, and a brace from John Aldridge, Forest scoring through Neil Webb, midway through the first half.

In Forever Forest, author Don Wright (Ch. 27, pp205-210) states –

“’Good afternoon. Welcome back,’ was the message from Sheffield Wednesday chairman to the visiting fans of Liverpool and Nottingham in the programme for the abandoned FA Cup semi-final on 18 April 1989 forever known as the Hillsborough Disaster….

It was a welcome because of the previous years’ semi-final, Liverpool winning 2-1, was also held at the famous, Yorkshire stadium.

One sentence in the chapter sticks out, quite a lot –

“There is a side of the story that is unconsidered, unacknowledged, rarely heard; the Forest side,” something Steve Hodge recalled in his autobiography, ‘The Man with Maradona’s Shirt, whilst “author Danny Rhodes followed Forest to Hillsborough that afternoon and he graphically tells what it was like in an outstanding 2014 novel, Fan.’  

Whilst the Forest midfielder that fateful afternoon said, after the rearranged semi-final –

“’We thought what’s the point?’ The whole country away from Trentside demanded an Everton-Liverpool final. ‘We were in a no-win situation. We didn’t get any counselling or anything and I don’t think people realised how it affected the people of Nottingham.”

It was to be an occasion that ‘just adds’ to the unique history of the Nottingham Forest-Liverpool rivalry, but as with everything, there is always TWO sides to EVERY story.

Within a decade though, and following the advent of the Premier League, and Sky TV, and their multi-millions, Forest would find themselves in a decline, and with it meetings with their rivals from the banks of the Mersey, the two sides only playing each other ten times in English football’s top division.

Forest would win just the two of those ten, both by a 1-0 score-line, Teddy Sheringham netting in August 1992, and Steve Stone in March 1996.

The last time the two sides met, that 2-2 draw, was as long ago as Forest fans care to remember but, this season’s impressive change of fortune, under Steve Cooper, with the race for the play-offs in the Championship, and this, an FA Cup quarter-final with Liverpool.

Victory over Liverpool will seem extend their current, unbeaten run, to ten matches in all competitions (won six, drawn three), whilst adding their rivals to a list of Premier League scalps this season that includes Arsenal, and holders Leicester City.

It is a game in which both sides will honour the fallen at Hillsborough, some thirty-three years earlier, with the Reds having posted on socials –


“97 seats will be left vacant at tomorrow’s match in honour of those who lost their lives at our FA Cup semi-final in 1989.

“We look forward to welcoming Liverpool FC to The City Ground.”

Win here, and this could well be one of Nottingham Forest’s biggest successes over Liverpool, certainly up there with the European Cup success of 1978.

*Article provided by Peter Mann (Senior Correspondent).

*Main image @LFC action between the two sides in 1988 as John Barnes takes on Des Walker.

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