It’s been a tumultuous week in football, particularly if your team is in the Premiership, even more so if your team is Nottingham Forest! it’s worth taking a deep breath and to remind ourselves of a slogan – which you can find on just about every sort of merchandise these days – that first appeared on a motivational poster issued by the Ministry of Information in 1939. ‘Keep Calm And Carry On’. It was intended to raise the morale of the British public prior to the outbreak of World War Two.
War was declared on September 1st. These days, that date happens to be the football transfer deadline and, this year, as well as the Premiership clubs spending more than the top German, Italian and Spanish leagues combined, the Reds hit the headlines with their own dealings. They signed more players in one summer than any other British club ever. At the last count it was 21, basically a new squad to get to grips with!
Wind back to World War One and hundreds of thousands of men enlisted for the army at local recruitment offices, often signing up with their mates from work, the same town or in the same sports club. This was encouraged by the government because it came with a ready-made ‘esprit de corps’, team spirit. Called The Pals Battalions, they trained, travelled, fought – and frequently came to their untimely deaths – together. Go to a military war grave in France or Belgium and you’ll see dedications to them.
Creating a spirit of togetherness is, of course, one of the key components to success in any team sport. A player has individual and collective responsibilities. We talk of a team having a ‘never say die’ attitude or a ‘don’t know how to lose’ mentality. The pals who went to war had years to consolidate a sense of fraternity in the factory and on the sports field. Now we seem to expect players to bond in a week! No time to ‘settle in’ or ‘form an understanding’ over time. Time equals now.
The spending spree is over and clubs can concentrate on what happens on the field rather than in the transfer market. Which brings us to the mammoth task manager Steve Cooper has in moulding his new recruits into a unit fit for survival. Football fans aren’t known for their patience but these are extraordinary times. Despite a torrid, three game, point-less week, Forest fans are still in good voice and they need to be. It’s set to be a tough – ‘challenging’ as they say these days – season.
A dose of nostalgia can help calm the nerves like a comfort blanket. Flicking back through the memory archive for inauspicious Forest starts to a season, I chanced upon 1966-67. The summer of World Cup success for England was followed by this stat to kick-off the first weeks of their Division One (pre Prem) campaign: played 15, won 6, drawn 3, lost 6. The last game of that unpromising run was against Liverpool at Anfield on November 5th where they suffered a 4-0 thrashing. Were there fireworks in the dressing room after that performance?
I read about most of the rest of that season rather than witnessed it. As I spent my schoolboy days turning out for my Clifton team across Nottingham’s windswept playing fields on Saturday afternoons, the nearest I got to the City Ground was a pitch on the Embankment. But I gobbled-up every match report I could find as I followed the fortunes of Forest over the remainder of that season. For the next 27 games, they lost only three times! The mood in our house shifted from shrug-of-the-shoulders, ‘usual struggle’ expectations, to ‘what’s-happening-here?’ near-top-spot shock. In the end, the Reds finished runners-up to Manchester United and losing their FA Cup semi-final to Tottenham Hotspur at Hillsborough. When my dad returned from that game, I don’t think I’d ever seen him so post-match deflated before. Such was the momentum Forest had garnered in the city.
If it was a case of so-near-yet-so-far, it does show how fortunes can change through a season. It’s also a reminder – as always – of how the game in England has changed almost beyond recognition. That year, Forest bought one player, Barry Lyons. Terry Hennessey, who I viewed as the conductor, the mastermind behind the team and who became a wonderful captain at the club, had arrived the season before but there were few shifts in personnel each year. Compare that with the current situation at the city Ground. Different era, different game, same hope. Remember – to use the old adage – ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’. Dare I say, let’s ‘Keep Calm And Carry On’?
*Article provided by Stephen Parker (Nottingham Forest Correspondent).
*Main image @NFFC the Reds will be looking to put their recent results behind them at Leeds on Monday.