Sat on Santa’s knee in the Griffin and Spalding department store by Market Square, aged five, I was tongue-tied until my mum mouthed ‘a Forest shirt’. She had primed me on the bus journey to the grotto as to what to ask for but the words deserted me. Come Christmas Day morning, I got my v-neck, short-sleeve shirt (along with lots of plastic soldiers and farm animals). Dad remarked that it had come from ‘Redmayne & Todd sports shop where Forest players get their kit’, and Mum said, ‘You’ll grow into it’. And so I did and I grew into the habit of asking for something related to Forest most years through childhood though there wasn’t much to choose from.
Nowadays, a club shop for any professional team is a given and items sold need have no connection with football aside from a print of the badge or kit colours. And why wait for opening hours when you can buy online? Manchester United seem to have perfected their retail business and fans will have plenty to choose from in the lead-up to December 25th. Baubles, curtains, razors, wrapping paper: pretty much anything is available. Arguably more ‘Merchandise United’ than Manchester!
Still, there is footie stuff, too. A signed boot, worn by Paul Scholes and mounted in a glass case (giving another twist to ‘hanging up your boots’ when you retire) retails at about £250, for example. Meanwhile, if you want to find out about players currently wearing the United shirt, check out their TV station, glossy magazine or one of their internal sagas that regularly swamp the sporting section in newspapers. The Ronaldo soap-opera reached ‘EastEnders’ proportions with tales of subterfuge and deceit. And managerial changes in personnel – always good for a story – have rivalled even those of Forest since Alex Ferguson retired!
The rumour-mill is never far from Old Trafford, nicknamed ‘The Theatre of Dreams’ by Bobby Charlton. The BBC boasts, in particular, about its coverage of the ‘Red Devils’. Perhaps it’s something to do with the Munich air disaster in 1958. Few clubs have such a tragic episode written into their history and there are plenty of football followers who have a soft spot for them. That said, it was Roy Keane who famously
accused United fans of having gone soft when he called them out as the ‘Prawn Sandwich Brigade’ because of their lack of vocal support. The one time I visited Old Trafford, a dozen years ago, I was taken aback by the hospitality culture. So many ‘fans’ appeared to prefer the restaurants to the live football.
Who’d want to argue with Keane and his rant anyway?
Mention of his name brings to mind other players – some of Forest’s finest – who’ve headed Manchester way through the years, including Ian Storey-Moore and Gary Birtles. Our Reds have needed the money and the Red Devils usually have plenty of it. Income from commercial enterprises, sponsorship deals, a 75,000 capacity stadium, TV and Champions League appearances help fill the coffers. All has not been smooth-running, though, and fortunes have fluctuated. They’re certainly not one of England’s most successful teams in recent years on the trophy count. Yet their world fame sticks and they’re still the biggest crowd-pulling club in the country.
With the festive season upon us, what a fine present it would be for Forest fans if our Reds claimed victory at Old Trafford in the day-after-Boxing Day fixture. Imagine: United bloated with Christmas hospitality; Forest, hungry, lean and mean. The stuff of dreams? Maybe. Anything is possible in football, especially at Christmas.
Months after World War One was declared in 1914, British and German troops held unofficial ceasefires along the Western Front around Christmas Day. Many of them met in no-man’s land between the trenches and exchanged food, tobacco and souvenirs like buttons and hats. They carried out joint burial ceremonies and sang carols together. The truce brought a time of silence and then renditions of ‘Silent Night’ drifted across the battlegrounds. All of this culminated in impromptu football kick-abouts, played up and down the line. Accounts of the occasion vary but some say the two sides at war played an organised game.
Manchester United v Nottingham Forest 2022 – or any other fixture – will never compare with the symbolic nature of that ceasefire event but it’s an enticing prospect for supporters of both teams. The former are desperate to claw their way into the top-four and a place in Europe’s elite competition again and Forest are determined to polish their Premiership credentials after over two decades’ absence. Christmas matches always come with added spice, real and imagined, as festive spirits spill through stadiums up and down the country. And if Christmas represents birth and regeneration, it’s also the midway mark for the football season and the beginning of the second half. Time to lift our glasses in the hope that Forest’s return to league games opens with more points. Christmas is, after all, also a time when we toast hopes for the future.
*Article provided by Stephen Parker (Nottingham Forest Correspondent).
*Main image @ManUtd Forest will head to Old Trafford for their Christmas fixture.