Goals are great aren’t they? Let me rephrase that: goals are great unless they’re scored against the team you support! The glut of goals currently being conceded by Forest (12 in the last three matches) is a bitter pill to swallow and a 6-0 defeat doesn’t look good on paper or the pitch, even if it was against Manchester City in rampant mood. Still, there have been worse defeats for the Reds, such as a 9-2 thrashing by Spurs at White Hart Lane in 1962 and the occasion in 1999 when Manchester United left the City Ground as 8-1 winners. (For the record, that United team included the likes of David Beckham, Paul Scholes and captain Roy Keane).
Football results which read as ‘Goals Galore’ for the winners make dire reading for the defeated. At such times, we talk of teams ‘shipping goals’, a term pinched from the world of seafaring when vessels take on water over the side. The result can be listing and then sinking. More light-heartedly, big scores bring to mind childhood kick-abouts, played for hours and racking-up preposterous scores like 32-26.
There was a time – aged about six – when I was reckoned to have the best ‘proper’ football on the block. I’d sit on the back step to our house and watch, mesmerised, as my dad wrestled with the intricacies of inflating the inner bladder and then trying to tuck its nozzle into the slit of the leather casing. That took some doing. Next, and this was the crucial move, he laced the opening neat and tight to make the ball as round as possible. (A bit like tying your shoelace so that both sides meet seamlessly over the tongue.) That done, the ball was treated to a good coating of Dubbin to protect the leather and left under the stairs for a couple of days to let it soak in.
For a while, my ball got an outing on a patch of grass opposite our house, just inside the gates of my infant school. But I couldn’t resist the call. Literally. Behind the school buildings was the football pitch and every Sunday morning I heard lads and dads shout from back gardens and then clamber over gates and fences onto the field. I could see all of this from my bedroom window but was under strict instructions not to venture beyond my own patch. One time, though, the temptation became too much.
A tip-toe trip downstairs to pick up my ball and head across the road and school field soon had me pitch-side. The game was mayhem to me, about fifteen a-side and full of all the ripe language I knew not to speak. Then a bloke spotted what I held under my arm, asked if he could have a kick of it and, in the blink of an eye, it became the match ball. I waited to be invited to play but was told I was too small. By this time, everyone had forgotten whose ball it was they were kicking around and my pleas for its return were in vain.
Not until a neighbour came by to say my mum was shouting my name up and down our road did I rescue the cherished ball. A dad I’d watched from my window and reckoned to be the best player there, picked it up and beckoned me over as he made for the nearest goal. With the game on pause and everybody a bit non-plussed, I was invited to take a penalty. The keeper barely moved and the ball only just trickled over the line but it was my first goal for a sort of team in a sort of match on a marked out pitch. Tears turned to cheers and I set off to face the wrath of my parents, ball in hand. I’d be scolded for wandering off but the taste of elation stayed with me.
We watch some players experience that elation week in, week out. The ‘natural goal-scorer’, the ‘deadly striker’, the ‘super sub’, all ignite the flame of fandom, induce the feel-good factor. To celebrate a goal from the stands is always special. (ignore the fact that Forest, of late, haven’t turned goals into wins!) Some goal-scorers stick in the memory not only because they’ve hit the back of the net or produced the match-winner but because of their own celebration. Robert Earnshaw comes to mind and, for me, one particular match when he scored a hat trick and set the City Ground shaking with delight. (In fact, he had quite an impressive record for hat-tricks if stats fans want to look him up).
Earnshaw’s trademark move after scoring was a quick sprint, a somersault and a smile. You knew it would always happen but it didn’t detract from what he did. In that little performance was a sense of fun, the sheer delight in doing what was expected of him. So, in 2009, there I sat – then stood – and admired his three goals in a Championship game against local rivals Leicester City which finished 5-1. That might be of little comfort at present, given that both of the East Midlands clubs prop up the Premiership table but, remember, it was only back in February of 2022 when Forest secured an impressive 4-1 victory against the Foxes in the FA Cup. Every goal tasted sweet that day. Next Forest fixture? Leicester City.
*Article provided by Stephen Parker (Nottingham Forest Correspondent).
*Main image @NFFC Robbie Earnshaw certainly knew how to celebrate v Leicester.