A metal bolt bounced off the head of the lad next to me. Then a couple of half-bricks came down, followed by showers of stones like shrapnel. Welcome to Swansea! A bunch of kids had obviously taken a dislike to us walking their streets and, perched on a wall up the hill, decided we were fair game. ‘We’ were the under-18 Fairham Comprehensive football team on a Friday evening stroll through the suburbs. Still in school uniform after a long bus trip from Nottingham’s Clifton Estate, we hardly blended-in with the locals.
But revenge came sweet next morning when we beat the best Swansea could offer to reach the last four of the England and Wales Schools FA knockout cup competition. (For the record, the player whose head was hit turned in a decent performance but we lost the semi-final at home to some team from London way). Aside from that victorious trip to Swansea, south Wales was pretty much off my radar, apart from my reading anything written by the great Welsh bard, Dylan Thomas, a local boy. (When you’ve come across poems like ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’, they stay with you for life).
Fast-forward decades and me and Swansea get to meet again in 2011. Actually, that would be Forest v Swansea in a Championship play-off first leg at the City Ground. No missile greeting this time. In fact, the ‘Swans’ make an early gesture of goodwill to help the Reds. A poorly-timed pre-match pint has us in a late rush to our seats. Me, my brother and some friends are still filing through the turnstiles when we hear a
home-crowd roar. A first-minute goal? The tone’s not quite right for that. It’s more collective mockery than celebration and we soon discover Swansea are down to ten men, having had a player sent off.
We settle back and wait for Forest to put the ‘Swans’ to the sword (unfortunate phrase given they’re a protected species but you get the drift) yet it never happens and a 0-0 draw leaves the tie in the balance. Not for long. At the Liberty Stadium, the Reds are 2-0 down before half-time and whilst their performance improves to make the score a 3-1 loss, they’ve met their match. The ‘Swans’ take flight (groan) and
deservedly go on to become the first Welsh side in the Premiership since its formation in 1992.
Now, just over a decade later, the two are set to meet in Forest’s last home fixture of the season. And what a season, as the possibility of plummeting down to League One has turned into certain-place play-offs and the potential for automatic promotion. For the Premiership! Swansea, for their part, know all about play-off games, having made the mini-knockout for the last two years. (Forest fans can be forgiven for wincing at the reminder of losing out to a play-off position on the last day of Covid-stricken 2019-2020 to Swansea on goal-difference). It’s common knowledge that the manager who took Swansea to those top six positions was Steve Cooper.
What irony that he should now be leading out Forest against his old club, having secured their play-off position! Such is the stuff of football. The Reds have ridden the crest of the waves since their new manager took the helm, just as Swansea might have been accused of swanning around (more groans!) in the lower regions of the league without him. Their own recent rich form form, though, will be yet another test of Forest’s resilience.
To cap a tumultuous season for fans and the team, a capacity crowd at the City Ground will be wanting to roar the Reds on to victory and to acknowledge the Swansea team for making a game of it. When Forest beat champions-to-be Fulham in this week’s evening fixture at Craven Cottage, if was proof – as if it was needed – that they have the skill and self-belief but also the determination and fight to achieve the seemingly unimaginable. Steve Cooper had his team play with the spirit of the words – to take them out of context – of Thomas the poet: ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’. Whatever the result on Saturday afternoon there will be no let-up by Forest players, and supporters will show their appreciation for what they’ve given to them and the city this season: the smell of success and a genuine sense of pride.
*Article provided by Stephen Parker (Nottingham Forest Correspondent).
*Main image @NFFC Forest will be hoping for a big performance against the Swans this weekend.