Forest From Freemantle

Between Alexandria in Egypt and Dubai, Forest put in a decent performance against the might of Manchester City at the City Ground. Cruising at 550mph and an altitude of 36,000 feet, flying over parched land and through blue skies, I don’t know this at the time. When we land in Perth, Western Australia, it’s a new day and I catch up with results. Match reports suggest the Reds put in a decent performance but lacked what City had: clinical finishing. A 2-0 loss is no disgrace but, at this stage, no good.

My experience of Forest’s final fate this season is to be lived-out in Fremantle on the west coast, where we’re based for the month of May. The birth of a first grandson is reason enough to be here and there’ll be time to induct him into the rituals and rites of what it is to be a Reds supporter. Not that he’ll remember much – or anything! – but you’ve got to start them young and he’ll be a fifth generation fan in the family, all being well.

Nurturing team affection from afar will be a challenge. In conversation with his dad during our first evening, I learn this could be made even more difficult by the fact that mention of football here means Australian Rules Football. Football as we know it is American-style ‘soccer’.

Through the week, between local beach walks with our grandson in his pram, evenings watching the sun set over the Indian ocean and sampling local beers at a fine brewery by the port, I can’t help wondering about Forest’s upcoming game against Sheffield United. Relegation is already a done deal for them and the Reds simply must win but we know how unpredictable these fixtures can be. As it happens, Forest are up to the task … eventually!

When I get to watch brief YouTube highlights of the game, I see that Callum Hudson-Odoi has taken his shooting boots to Bramhall Lane – scoring a fine brace of goals – but that the Reds’ defence is like melted butter, sliced open time after time by the Blades. Whilst Forest’s second half performance is much improved, giving them that vital win, there’s still much to be done to ensure survival, even if they do have the proverbial ‘fate in their own hands’.

Following that screen catch-up, it’s time to tune into live Aussie football and my induction! Featuring local team, Fremantle Dockers away to Richmond Tigers, the game is played in the enormous Melbourne stadium (capacity well over 100,000). From the moment the umpire starts the match with ‘bounce-down’ I’m hooked. Four quarters of twenty minutes (with the clock stopped for every dead-ball situation) slip through Sunday afternoon. It’s a fast game, demanding high levels of kicking, catching and throwing from the players as well as tremendous stamina. 100 metres square is a lot of ground to cover!

Aussie football is also high scoring and prone to dramatic fluctuations, given that a goal struck between two upright posts gifts success with six points. The Dockers are the newest team to enter the professional league of 18 teams, gaining access in 1995, but the game began back in the 1850s on the east coast and that’s where most clubs are based. With Fremantle family supporters sat beside me, I pick up the sentiment and now consider myself a fan! My knowledge of the game might be rudimentary but the emotional connection soon kicks-in.

The Dockers run out as convincing winners, 103-49. A quick check of the fixture list soon follows and it turns out that they’ll be hosting current league leaders, Sydney Swans on Friday evening. We’ve got tickets and will be off to their new Optus stadium in Perth (capacity 60,000). The Dockers are based in Fremantle but outgrew their ground so it’s a twenty kilometre trip north along the coast, over the Swan river (think Trent for significance) and into the city.

The next evening, of course, Forest play Chelsea back in Nottingham. If my initiation into ‘Aussie footy’ continues with watching it in real life, my experience of whatever happens at the City Ground will be 9,000 miles distant. Nevertheless, a lifetime’s support means the outcome remains close to the heart.

I wonder if, in years to come, my grandson will feel the same for the Dockers (should he choose to follow and support them) and for Forest? That would be something! I’ll keep on whispering in his ear as he feeds and sleeps in his cot. For my part, I will now keep track of Fremantle’s progress, whilst I’m here and when I’m back in the UK. Perhaps that team bonding will be reciprocated some time in the future.

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

*Main image @NFFC Callum Hudson-Odoi scored two for Forest verses Sheffield United.

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