“It brought back the memory of my goal against Coventry in the Trent End five minutes after coming on, or looking down the other end and seeing my header against Leeds where I smashed my head off the post whilst scoring. It was unbelievable.”
While Jason Longdon’s footballing career never hit the stardom that many who played with him assumed he was destined to reach, the memories he made during his time associated with the Reds were ones that stuck with him for his entire life, all of which came flooding back to him as the club welcomed him and his family back for a stadium tour last Friday afternoon.
Signing for an academy team that featured the likes of Andy Cole and Mark Blake in 1982 at the age of 11, Longdon spent 6 goal-abundant seasons at the City Ground before his release in ’88, a time at which he had since debuted for the U18’s as a fresh-faced 16-year-old.
His Forest side was one of a haul of success, as were the first team in this period of life, winning a league and cup double in four consecutive seasons, an achievement no team around them in the Notts and Derbyshire leagues had ever completed before.
It wasn’t to be long before such a powerful team was poached, however, with Longdon seeing many of his teammates leave for pastures new in the nearby seasons.
“We were doing so well but eventually the lads started to drop away. Some of them sacked football off but you had Andy [Cole] and Mark [Blake] getting scouted by Arsenal and Villa. And it just felt like all the lads were breaking up.
“I was still there though and enjoying it. I loved my Forest. I was banging in the goals once upon a time and towards the end I was playing with the 18-year-olds when I was two years younger, but it was after a bit that they pulled me in one day and told me I didn’t need to come back anymore.
“As a 17-year-old it was so hard to hear. I couldn’t find it in me to tell my parents until a few days after when I didn’t go back to training.”
Following his release from Forest, Longdon had a small spell across the Trent with Notts County, scoring in the FA Youth Cup quarter final shortly after joining.
“I remember scoring in the game and getting pulled to the side by the manager at the time who didn’t look too happy, and I remember he said “that’ll look good in the paper, won’t it? “Big lazy long-un scores winner!”” And I just thought “well, don’t like it here much” and I left soon after”.
Disillusioned with life in the top teams, but far from losing his love of the game, Longdon soon made his way into local football, scoring relentlessly for his friends local side before being told that he needed to go semi-pro by an opposition coach.
“What does semi-pro mean?”
“I went with my mate to watch Kimberley, who were apparently one of these semi-pro sides. And I was watching the game and was just thinking “I’m better than that forward.” So I went up to the gaffer in the middle of the game and asked him when training was, and surprisingly he said I could come down!
“I showed up on the Wednesday and banged in a load of goals in training and they signed me up for the reserve team where they played me in midfield, and I scored 10 goals in my first 4-5 games from there. After that is when they asked me who I was and who I played for, and when I mentioned I was ex-Forest they said “right, this makes f*cking sense now!””
Longdon’s non-league career took him far and away around the midlands, but the goals followed him wherever he went. In one of his best seasons, he recorded 67 goals in just over 27 games.
A life-long fan of Forest, it was his years in the academy that stuck with him more than any of his lower-league exploits. A fervent fan of the legendary John Robertson, he recounted his run-ins with the tricky Scotsman during his early life.
“Well, my cousin was one of his close mates, with him and Martin O’Neil as well actually.
“Me and a few of my mates were around his house having a kickaround on the front garden. All of a sudden, this car pulls up. This is only a few days after we won the European Cup, mind, the one where Robbo had scored with his right. But he steps out the car and gives us a quick hello and heads inside.
“At this point I’m totally starstruck, and my cousin steps out and says, “oh Robbo’s just come for a cup of tea, are you coming in Jay?” Of course I’m bloody coming in!
“Didn’t have a clue how to act. My mate was stood off the side with a bag of crisps, and my only thought was to swipe them off him, before I walked inside shaking and tried to be all cool and went “alright Robbo mate, do you want a crisp?” Mate, didn’t have a clue.
“I idolised Robbo. Every game I had to be him, nobody else was allowed to be him. I had to have his number 11 as well. I always wore that.”
Aside from rubbing shoulders with his on-field heroes, he also had moments to remember with none other than Brian Clough as a young player.
“I was sat on this step up against a big door with Franco [Gudemmi], and someone opened it and whacked it into my back. So I stood up and was about to be all “what the fu-“when I noticed it was Brian Clough, and I couldn’t believe it.
“I think my arse fell out a bit, because I tried to play it cool and went “you alright Bri?” instead of Mr Clough. I couldn’t believe I’d done that but thankfully he was either alright or didn’t notice.
“He just went “shouldn’t you be down at training young man?” and I said yes, and he went “well go on down there then and get on with it, go enjoy it, go work hard” before he went back around the corner. I was shaken.
“It wasn’t the only time as well. I remember we played Norwich on the same day that the first team had them in the evening. And I was with some of the lads and we noticed the team bus was parked outside when we were warming up, which confused us.
“We get further down the line and we see Clough in the stands with all the first-team. He’d brought all of them down to see us play our game before they went off to theirs. I was on fire that day, scored four goals.”
All those experiences and memories are what came flooding back to Longdon 41 years after signing for the club last Friday. After getting in touch with the club asking if his much-loved photo of him as a young player at the City Ground could get an “after photo” to match it, he was brought down alongside his family to capture an “unbelievable moment” (pictured).
“Asked my kids what they thought of it all and they thought I was the best dad ever. It was genuinely unbelievable. They took us pitch side and that’s where the memories came rushing back to me. I saw all my goals again, it brought back my memory of scoring against Coventry five minutes after coming on, or seeing my header against Leeds where I smashed my head on the post whilst scoring.”
“I really can’t put it into words. They brought their own photographer down for me on the day to get the photo I wanted, and they were amazing with us all. They showed us around all the changing rooms, dugouts, media bits. It was so much more than I was expecting.
“My kids will be happy that I don’t need to waffle about my football career to them as much now!”
A hero of the non-league years gone by and a man with all the love in the world for the famous old club, accommodating moments like this for an academy boy who departed nearly 40 years ago epitomises everything great about Nottingham Forest as of now.
Jason Longdon. Once a Red, always a Red. A statement seen through by his old employers even now.
*Article provided by Louis Wheeldon (Football Correspondent).
*Main image @NFFC Then and now as Jason Longdon poses at the City Ground 41 years apart.