Little did I know, when I began writing this column back in March, that I’d be penning a line with ‘Forest’ and ‘Premiership’ in the same sentence! And that play-off win against Huddersfield is enough to have any Reds supporter burst into song. They were already in fine voice when colonising Wembley on Sunday with a misty-eyed, mass-choir rendition-come-rallying-call of ‘Mull Of Kintyre’ and mists rolling in from the Trent.
May 29th was the culmination of an extended season. The Championship, with its 46 matches, is a slog any year and it did not begin well for Forest on August 8th when they lost their opening fixture. Followed, though, by a remarkable recovery, an impressive FA Cup adventure and the play-off lottery and relief might be the defining emotion as the whistle blew to bring 2021-22 to a close. Instead, of course, it was jubilation. That they finished with the prize of promotion means the players and staff can now finally settle into the satisfaction of a summer break before preparations for the Premiership begin.
Shades, the smell of suncream and azure seas await. And a spring in the step and a song in the heart. The summer season itself always inspires popular song-writers, whatever their quality. The words of Cliff Richard’s ‘Summer Holiday’ have resounded through the airwaves since 1963. Its blue skies and ever-shining sun didn’t work out for me on family holidays to Skegness and Mablethorpe but I understood the sentiment. I got the raw message of Alice Cooper’s snarled ‘School’s Out For Summer’ as a teenager though it lost its bite when I worked in Phoenix, USA, and drove past his multi-million pound mansion on a hill each day. The Kinks gave us lazing on a ‘Sunny Afternoon’ and that was good enough for me.
As a boy, the end of a football season left a vacuum in a simple life of following Forest’s every move and playing for two, sometimes three, teams each weekend. Mum would even insist my boots be removed from next-to-the-back-door convenience and get shoved in a cupboard for the close season. Gradually, melancholy – just the state of being miserable, really, as I didn’t know that word then – would give way to endless days playing cricket with mates, fishing, and that chilly family week on the east coast. Then thoughts of a new season would seep in and I’d sense September and school and team-training again.
These days, I’m far more welcoming of the summer break – and a holiday! – and the prospect of Wimbledon and tennis duels and the thwack of a cricket ball at Trent Bridge and the gruelling cycling spectacle of the Tour De France. Entertainment, distraction, source of admiration, shared experience: sport is all of those and more. But there is still something deeply ingrained into the psyche of anyone who’s been marked by football. Other things may come and go but to be a fan is part of your identity.
So, when the curtains come down and the lights go off to bring another season to an end, there is that bare space of a football pitch – that empty stage – to fill. Mostly, we do it with memories, the dramas that have taken place through the year. Experts in such matters tell us there are only seven basic story plots. Think of all the video games played, novels read, films and plays watched, tales listened to and told. They can all pretty much be reduced to one type, from the likes of Rags to Riches, Rebirth or Comedy, to Tragedy.
I reckon the City Ground – and most football grounds for that matter – will have experienced a taste of all of those but we know that the story of Forest this season goes deeper than that. Echoes of past glories (not forgotten) have finally been met with a new optimism bouncing around the stadium and into the city of Nottingham and beyond. Because a football club is part of a collective identity, too, connecting people and providing a sense of continuity. It can both represent and help shape its community. The ‘feel-good’ factor of success can be shared and spread and sport – at certain times in particular circumstances – can touch the soul.
There’s much to celebrate and sing about in Nottingham at the moment and it’s a city that’s waited a long time for that moment. The players might not want to break into song – they’ve already set the mood-music on the pitch with their achievements – but the rest of us might. The team has given voice to the fans. Let the team rest and renew whilst we ease through summer with the smile they’ve put on our faces and the spirit of ‘something special’ in our hearts. I never thought I’d be penning lines on songs and soul and spirit come the season’s end but that’s the sort of season it’s been. Happy Summer!
*Article provided by Stephen Parker (Nottingham Forest Correspondent).
*Main image @NFFC lifting the trophy on the end of a magnificent season for Nottingham Forest.