Captains Come And Go

When the Titanic hit an iceberg in April 1912, on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York, Captain Edward John Smith went down with his ship. He was following a maritime tradition, though there was no legal obligation to do so. If ‘the last person to leave the sinking ship’ has a ring of the stiff-upper lip about it, the act of remaining aboard to oversee crew and passenger safety also illustrates the weight of responsibility that goes with a captain at sea.

You would not expect, despite sharing the word, that there is equivalence between the captain of a ship and captain of a football team. A pitch is not the high-seas and there’s no expectation that, if a team is relegated, the skipper should follow their club to life in a lower league! Still, there are qualities we connect with captaincy that get played out on the field.

As a young boy scampering around the windswept playing fields of the city, the captains of our local and school teams were always the biggest lads, the biggest mouths, the lads whose dads ran the club or a combination of all three! Then, aged 14 – how old it felt at the time – and picked to play for Nottingham Boys, I came across captaining a team in a different way, in the name of Howard Pritchett. (Hello, if you’re out there somewhere, Howard!) He was the best player, had positional sense I envied, and encouraged us with maturity well beyond his years. As well as football skill, he had the makings of leadership.

Football captains come and go. For even the most avid supporter, many will be forgotten or, at most, be registered in a line on Wikipedia. Others, though, achieve football immortality, whether it’s at local or national level. They are fondly remembered by fans, their names are passed down through the generations and appear in reverential detail in official club histories. Danny Blanchflower will be forever recalled as the player who captained Spurs in their history-making ‘double’, winning the First Division and the FA Cup in 1961. Bobby Moore – skipper of West Ham for years – will always be the captain of England who held aloft the World Cup in 1966. Tony Adams led Arsenal to four Premiership titles in the 1990s (and has a statue for his services) and Roy Keane lifted three trophies for Manchester United in 1999: the FA Cup, Premiership title and Champions League title.

Forest are no different. Favourite skippers – past and present – abound in their gallery of players who’ve led in Garibaldi red. In 1959 (I can still see him on the flickering black and white television now) Jack Burkett paraded the FA Cup at Wembley after their historic ten-man, 2-1 win against Luton. As well as gaining success, he was also a fine servant for the club, making over 500 appearances. Those two qualities stand out as being the makings of captains who go down in history: winning and length of time at a club.

Bob McKinlay certainly ticks the length-of-service box. Forest’s captain between 1962-66 and with over 600 appearances, his club record still stands. Success in the trophy department eluded him but he exhibited other characteristics that warmed him to the hearts of the City Ground faithful. My dad would announce to me with pride that McKinlay was never booked and admired his ‘gentlemanly’ attitude to the game.

A decade later, when another player from Scotland – John McGovern – captained Forest, it was a different story and felt like a fairy story. Except that it was real. Undemonstrative and industrious, John McGovern skippered the Reds through the glory years of 1978-83. Amongst other silverware, he brought back to Nottingham the European Cup … twice! How he worked to achieve success. Whenever I saw him and followed his movement, he was metronomic, plying back and forth, supporting in defence, then in attack. As he proverbially ‘covered every blade of grass’ in a game, another Forest favourite would wear out the left flank of whatever pitch he played on.

Stuart Pearce trained as an electrician, ‘a sparky’, and still advertised his services in the official programme when he first appeared as a player for Forest. When he became club captain, he truly took the honour to heart and endeared himself to the faithful and, after a while, to my dad. Win or lose, Pearce ignited the team with his presence and personality. As an example of raw, unadulterated commitment to the cause, he was a joy to watch from the terraces. The sight of his piston pumping legs down the touchline had crowds baying, knowing his run would end in a thunderous shot or sizzling cross-field pass. 88 goals in 522 games tells you how often he wore the Forest shirt and how prolific a goal-scorer he was but he was also a left-back with a tackle that cannot be expressed as a statistic! In short, Stuart ‘Psycho’ Pearce was Mr Motivator and England fans got to see that when he pulled on his three-lions shirt.

And so to the Reds’ current skipper, Nottingham born Joe Worrall, who only ever knew Forest as a Championship side until he led them (aside then official captain Lewis Grabban) to play-off victory at Wembley last summer. That’s quite a start to a career in captaincy and he retains the official title for this 2022-23 season, whatever fortunes lie ahead. He had a taste of responsibility captaining England’s youth team and has already demonstrated his capacity to inspire through his performances, Pearce-style. He’s rather more than the token skipper who shakes hands with his opposite number, guesses the toss of a coin and chooses which way to play. His focus – and measure of success for this season – is on helping keep Forest afloat in the Premiership.

*Article provided by Stephen Parker (Nottingham Forest Correspondent).

*Main image @NFFC Legendary left back Stuart Pearce captained both Nottingham Forest & England.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *