It’s 1988 and my tenth birthday is upon us. A big box wrapped in teddy bear paper is about to be ripped open, I’ve wanted this all year since marking it off in the toys section of the Argos catalogue, Subbuteo is the game that every boy of my era must have.
As I open it and unfold the creased green pitch I notice goals with nets that need putting together, a job for my dad perhaps, a ball that is bigger than the players, but as standard, two teams, one in blue shirts, white shorts and blue socks, every player painted pink with black hair, the other in red shirts, white shorts and red socks, the perfect match for any football set up, there’s something about these two simplest of colours that works in the world of football attire, I immediately know who those two teams are, in red we have Nottingham Forest, in blue we have Everton.
As dad helps peel the sticky labels on the back, I number them as were tradition back then, one to eleven, naming each player unforgettable still to this day… Everton line up Southall in goal, Gary Stevens, Pat van den Hauwe, Paul Bracewell, Dave Watson, Kevin Ratcliffe, Trevor Steven, Stuart McCall, Greame Sharp, Tony Cottee, Kevin Sheedy…. Forest with Steve Sutton, Brian Laws, Stuart Pearce, Terry Wilson, Steve Chettle, Steve Hodge, Gary Crosby, Garry Parker, Nigel Clough, Lee Chapman, Brian Rice… The lack of variation of the players colour of hair and skin annoys me, I can’t play Des Walker and Franz Carr because they don’t look the same in pink, thankfully these days that’s been updated to include a wider range of skin tone, but back then I would get out the felt tips to create my own favourite black players.
The red and blue scheme just seemed to work when playing football games, bar football, or fussbal as it’s known on the continent, always looked more iconic this way, another game I loved and owned, called Electric Super Cup Football (please google it) by Tomy, would also have red and blue wearing players, but the infuriating all red that Liverpool would more often wear.
Funny enough one of the first TV games I remember was very much red & white verses blue & white and relevant to this conversation too, Nottingham Forest would play league champions elect Everton in January 1987 where Neil Webb would score the only goal of the game.
I still hazily remember curling up with my dad on the sofa to watch on the old Toshiba colour TV. The grainy images of a half full City Ground on a Sunday afternoon in what looked like ideal conditions to stay at home. Webb scoring on the stroke of half time, the dark haired handsome faced midfielder who my mum always fancied. The first ever goal I can remember watching being scored on live TV.
Forest would tussle with Everton quite regularly back then. Most iconic for Reds fans at least, the 1989 Simod Cup Final at Wembley Stadium, ending 4-3 in extra time with that stunning Garry Parker goal one of two for him, Lee Chapman scoring two including a late late winner after Tony Cottee (twice) and Greame Sharp netted for the Toffees.
I couldn’t go to the final as it was in the aftermath of Hillsborough and we didn’t have Sky which was the only way to watch the game live, so I listened in on my dad’s radio in his shed, I kept nipping in and out, too nervous to listen to the whole game, I always found it more nerve racking listening in to BBC Radio Nottingham or Gem AM (who back then covered the games) than I did watching.
Luckily we won that day, to my joyous ten-year-old celebrations, I was even allowed to stay up for the highlights and my uncle also taped the match in full on VHS, I had it on repeat (along with the two League Cup Finals v Luton & Oldham) for around three years after.
Everton did get us back, in quite a big way, a season later, in 1990 they thumped us 4-0 in front of the TV cameras on a Wednesday night.
It was a game, again, that I was desperate to watch (then shown on ITV with Elton Welsby at the helm), excited that we could take something from Goodison Park, which was always a tough task for us, a proper football ground with a proper side back then, Everton were decent and always challenging, with us, and Liverpool, for trophies.
They did us 4-0 that night and I remember Forest capitulating in front of a miserable looking Brian Clough, it was something I wasn’t used to, I remember Arsenal beating us 4-1 at the City Ground, Liverpool smashing us for five at Anfield, but we didn’t get done big often, so this one hurt for days.
Norman Whiteside and Tony Cottee scored two each that night, one to forget for Forest fans, but one that always stands out for me as one of our toughest nights at Goodison.
Better times followed in the Premier League when Forest returned under Frank Clark from relegation (The Toffees did the double over the Reds in Brian Clough’s last season in charge). Forest beat Everton at Goodison in August 94 thanks to an Andy Hinchcliffe own goal and a Colin Cooper bicycle kick, former Notts County striker Paul Rideout headed a consolation for a nervy last twenty minutes but the Reds clung on during an impressive unbeaten run to start the season.
In the return at the City Ground in March 1995 it was probably the first game I remember being in attendance watching the red and white taking on the blue and white sat in the front row of the newly built Trent End, another game which ended 2-1 in ‘our way’.
Stan Collymore scoring a header and Stuart Pearce grabbing a winner in between a Stuart Barlow leveller, by then Forest were much the stronger team than their opponents who were fighting off relegation.
A few months later the Sky cameras were back at the City Ground for a thriller that ended 3-2 to Forest. A Dave Watson own goal and Jason Lee strike had the Reds 2-0 up at the break before Paul Rideout pulled one back, Ian Woan responded with a cracker before Rideout again netted, Forest clinging on to win an entertaining specimen of football, it seemed that many games, especially at the City Ground were like that, but Everton always had the edge at Goodison, that same season the Toffees thumping Forest 3-0 with Andrei Kancheslskis, Dave Watson and Duncan Ferguson all netting.
In 1996/97 Forest were relegated from the Premier League following a dismal season that ended with Stuart Pearce taking caretaker charge, the Reds lost home and away to Everton, before gaining promotion under Dave ‘Harry’ Bassett and another miserable campaign ahead.
Forest lost 2-0 early on in that season at the City Ground, to two Duncan Ferguson goals, but one of the few highlights saw the Reds win at Goodison Park, January 30th 1999, quite amazingly the last time these two great clubs have played each other, a winning goal by Pierre van Hooijdonk, fresh from his one-man strike, enough to separate the two sides on the day.
These days, Subbuteo has much more than just red. white & blue, to choose from. Champions League editions, club editions, the England Team addition now has a Lionesses version, but the game isn’t what it used to be, thanks largely to improvements in the video game world. Kids don’t play it, kids won’t even remember that red & white verses blue & white was a thing… But come Saturday afternoon, at 3pm in Liverpool, England, for the first time in 23 years, those traditions that are great football institutions meet again, pitch perfect under the August sun, nothing beats watching the royal blue shirts of Everton take on the Garibaldi red of Nottingham Forest, and long may this fixture continue at the highest level, following its lengthy, long-awaited, much anticipated return.
*Article provided by Daniel Peacock (Editor).
*Main image @SubbuteoOficial the perfect colours synodic with the the table top game.