Many things are considered synonymous with matchdays at the World-Famous City Ground. A roaring atmosphere, a distinct lack of hot water, pre-match carlings in the Lower Bridgford concourse (if you sit where I do, anyway) and a football team that we love and adore to bring substance to it all.
Arriving at the City Ground on a mild Tuesday night, predicting the game beforehand, placing a few last-minute bets, and piling into your season ticket spot before the heroes step out onto the hallowed turf, adorned in that glorious Garibaldi red. Oh, it’s giving me goose bumps already, especially seeing as I haven’t been able to go yet this season. One league home game before the internationals? Farcical.
Through all those wonderful things that we associate so tightly with the atmosphere at the City Ground, one man in particular has been synonymous indeed with it through all of the highs and lows that the club have suffered and succeeded with over the last 20 years. That man would be stadium announcer and former BBC presenter Mark Dennison.
In this latest edition of my “Making a Matchday” series, I sat down with Mark to discuss his career, his role and atmospheric contributions as an announcer, his favourite memories as a Forest fan and much more!
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Mark Dennison, and I am the matchday stadium announcer and host, amongst a few other jobs as well, at Nottingham Forest! And I as well, for 13 years, was a presenter for BBC Radio Nottingham, where I left at the end of June, and I’m also starting off a few other bits and bobs, which will be starting quite soon.
Let’s start with your radio career, I believe you found an interest in radio whilst at university?
Yeah, so I was doing a bit of hospital radio before I moved down, I did that when I was at sixth form, and then I came down to Nottingham in the late 80’s, where I went to Nottingham Trent and did Humanities, whatever that is. While I was there, I wanted to carry on with hospital radio, so I started doing that at Queens, and I spent a good few years there. While I was there as a volunteer, a few people mentioned to me about applying for jobs for regular radios and making demo tapes to send off and what have you, which I never really understood.
I made some demo tapes and sent them off, and ended up doing some weekend shows back in the Norst-East, so I went to and fro on a weekend before I got some work at Trent, before I graduated and went back to the North-East, I then lived in Hull for a couple of years before coming back to Nottingham in 1996. I joined Trent, and then joined the BBC in 2010. And then of course I spent 13 years there and left in June.
Of course, many a Forest fan will note you for your role as stadium announcer since 2003. That’s the year I was born!
Great! That’s made me feel really old!
But yeah, this year is my twentieth year. I think when I joined it was the League One days, the Gary Megson, Joe Kinnear type era.
While I’ve been there, I’ve been counting up the managers I’ve kind of survived, if you like. It goes to show that up until the last two or three years, everyone has acknowledged that the club needed stability, in ownership and management, and it now feels like the club is in a place where we are really getting that right.
I mean certainly from what I see on a matchday, the clubs going in the right direction and is in really good hands. I think in Steve Cooper we’ve got the best coach that I’ve encountered at Nottingham Forest, or anywhere else really.
But it just feels like it’s all going in the right direction really, and not even just because we are in the Premier League now, which is obviously a massive deal, just generally behind the scenes, I think about things like the open letter that the owner put out the other day, things like that are brilliant and show a lot.
How did you make your start as a stadium announcer?
Well, I always used to go along to games with my son, and he is a huge Forest fan. And at the time I was working for Trent, which is now Capital, and someone at Forest said that the guy who does it is leaving, and did any of us fancy taking over?
And initially there were three of us that would job share, and one dropped out, so then between the two of us we had a go at it, but it just ended up with me doing it anyway, I think the other guy just didn’t enjoy it. And I’ve just done it ever since really. So, League One, Championship, Play-offs, Wembley, Premier League! So, as you can imagine, it’s been a massive rollercoaster!
What is your favourite memory of your time at the club?
Well, honestly, every single Premier League game feels like a real occasion. Thinking back to last season, the cup run, beating Liverpool, City at home, I know that’s a few there. But even before we got promoted, every single game against Derby was quite special.
Even the most recent, which was a couple of years ago where Johnson scored. But going back, like Nathan Tyson running over with the corner flag? I’ve never encountered something like that. And a lot of people talk about those derby days being special. Do I miss it? I don’t really think so, it is quite funny that they went down, made a big deal of them bouncing straight back up and us coming back down, and neither of them happened!
But those games were always special. But the Sheffield United second leg was incredible. For me, the noise of the stadium and the energy within that place is just off the charts. And I felt for a long time that it had been building over the years, and then when Steve came it just became something else. When the crowd began to see what was happening, and now every game the crowd brings it, and that lifts the players. And they really ride that wave of emotions, and then the crowd gets a lift off that. When it works how it has been, it’s a really beautiful thing.
I certainly remember the play-offs, particularly running onto the pitch and celebrating with Figueiredo! Speaking of players, who would you say is your favourite of all time?
Wow, that’s tough.
I’m inclined to go for a homegrown lad. Brennan was an obvious one, but of course he’s gone now. I had a lot of time for Joe Lolley as well. And in that Sheffield United game, if there was one person I wish had scored his penalty, I would’ve loved him to do it and not miss. I had a feeling he was going to go, but I’m sure both me and him would’ve loved him to have signed off with the one that sent us to Wembley. But yeah, loved him.
I’m stalling for time a little bit, but I think overall I’m going to go for Ryan Yates. I think he epitomises what a Steve Cooper team is. When he came here and made Joe [Worrall] captain and Ryan vice, and his reasoning being he wanted them, as local lads, to show the team how important success and promotion was to not only the club, but the city and whole area.
But Ryan in particular, he is one of those that has been through the mill, had a lot of stick, come through that with a lot of doubters and learning the hard way. And I think now, when you look at a team without Ryan Yates in, the team is just lacking something. He brings a certain dynamism that you notice is lacking when he isn’t in the side.
But yeah, I just think that he is the heartbeat of the team, and Steve Cooper has a juggling act with a lot of top, top players in every position who I think will really buy into that sort of thing, because that’s something that Cooper really wants from everyone. But yeah, I’m going to have to go for Ryan Yates.
And one other thing, as I say he has had a lot of flack. And I’ve spoken to a few people about this, which I don’t think is just a Forest thing, but homegrown players seem to get more flack than others. Osborn did, Brennan has, Worrall does, Yates certainly as well. But if we count up the number of managers that Ryan Yates has had, they have all played him. None of them have let him go, he might be on the bench here and there, but everyone has rated him. And that surely speaks a lot about his ability and character.
And I could’ve picked David Johnson, Harewood, Collymore, Walker, I loved watching all of them! But right now, it has to be Ryan Yates.
How do you think Forest will get on this season and thereon?
As much as we would love something spectacular, fighting for Europe and everything, I’m slightly below that. But I think a really good model to look at is Brighton over the last 5-7 years. All they’ve done is slowly, quietly, steadily climbed the league, improving the squad year on year. So first they stayed up, and then their aim was to improve on that every year.
So, in Forest’s case if it goes from 16th to 14th this year, then 12th to 9th and then onto something really special. There might be people reading who think we should be pushing now with what we have, and of course there’s no issue in being more ambitious, but when you look at the table there’s plenty of teams up there who have been in this league for a much longer time. We are still relatively new!
It does take some getting used to. Especially after this window, we have got some excellent players in every area, so nobody can complain about that. But I would be happy with anything upwards of 16th. Without wanting to be disrespectful of other teams, with Forest strengthening in good areas and having a year under our belts now, I think there’s a few that come to mind that would be below us, so I can’t see it being as tense as it was last season either.
How special is it to get to announce those big goals and big moments to the City Ground?
I mean that’s amazing. Being as close to the action as I get to be, going back to the playoffs, I mean I don’t announce every penalty, I could barely watch! But being as close to the pitch, the manager, the staff, it is a real privilege because I really feel like a part of it.
And of course, the atmosphere, as we spoke about, is just incredible. The passion and noise from the stadium is unbelievable, the players love it and I think that’s really starting to get noticed now that we are in the Premier League.
Klopp spoke about the noise of the place, and to hear that from a manager like him is pretty special. I think at the moment, from a point as a stadium announcer, I’ve felt like I’ve had to lift the mood and what have you, but I cannot remember the last time I felt like that. My job now is just to announce and not any of the real atmosphere stuff, so my job is half-done by the fans!
What are your plans for the season and going forward?
Since I left the BBC, I’m really enjoying working for Virgin, and loving my stuff at Forest too. The role at the club has expanded as time has gone on too, so as well as announcing I also do some hosting and a few Q+As in two of the lounges, with former players like Earnshaw and Bart-Williams before I go pitch side.
And I’m enjoying that because it’s giving me something else to use my brain for, planning out what I’m going to say and do. I’ve also got a few other things that I am working on, which aren’t radio-based, as such. I was keen after the BBC to branch out into some different things which I am excited for. But still based in Nottingham, I’m not moving away!
To round off, is there any message you’d like to give to the fans?
I really feel that the club is really together. That’s from ownership and board all the way down to the players and fans. I’m only there on a matchday and very occasionally in through the week, but I have never known Forest like this. We had a bit of a rocky period last season, a lot of speculation about what might happen. But even through all of that, the crowd never moaned. There was never any booing or discontentment. It was just like everyone just wanted to get behind Steve and the team.
I’m not naïve enough to think there will be no other rocky stages, I’m sure there will be. But I genuinely believe we have the best fans in the world, the best home in the world. So, let’s enjoy the ride! That’s what my mentality has always been, and it’s been a hell of a ride so far, so let’s keep enjoying it!
*Article provided by Louis Wheeldon (Football Correspondent).
*Main image @markdennison Mark Dennison on the Wembley big screen during the playoff final.