It’s All Over … Now!

Many in the game felt this season’s teams promoted to the Premiership would soon find themselves back in the Championship. And, much to the relief of Forest fans, so it proved to be. Sheffield United, Burnley and Luton Town have sat in the basement all year, emphasising – as if it were needed – the gulf between the two divisions.

The predictability of it all! Manchester City’s domination goes on, despite being pushed to the last game by Arsenal, and the usual suspects – aside from Aston Villa – swept up European spots for next season. Even the last gasp scrap down below, unless Forest staged an almighty collapse against Burnley and Luton won, was done and dusted. Whilst the Reds ended the season with a win, fans will be left wondering why avoiding relegation became an achievement.

No matter: the season is done, the squad will scatter for a summer break and Nuno Espirito Santo and his coaching staff can plan for the season ahead from the start rather than pick up the pieces in December. And, instinctively, we football fans look to the future and what might be, what is possible. It is hope laced with realism.

Kenneth Wolstenholme, the voice of football on the BBC in the Sixties, gave us the phase now embedded in the history of the game. It came in the 1966 men’s World Cup at Wembley. With England leading West Germany 3-2, a few supporters invaded the pitch during injury time as Geoff Hurst was about to make it 4-2. ‘Some people are on the pitch … they think it’s all over … it is now!’ A commentator’s spontaneous words forever sealed into our memories and one of the very few occasions when my dad leapt to his feet from the armchair in unselfconscious joy.

It was a day to be mesmerised as my young eyes feasted on the occasion via our temperamental black and white TV. It was also the first World Cup I was old enough to understand and follow. I knew the teams, the grounds and the fixtures. I felt as if I’d planned my own summer holiday treat. Hard on the heels of the end of the domestic season made it even more special. When football fills your childhood – forges it! – summer can feel to be an enormous vacuum.

The thud of each end-of-season shutting of gates at the City Ground resounded through our house. If childhood reading is fed by fantasy stories where you enter worlds through portals like wardrobe doors and mirrors and down rabbit holes, Forest’s ground was my entry to a world of magic. It felt exotic, full of colour and collective energy and I loved those occasions when my dad gave a thumbs-up that we’d get to a home game.

Nowadays, of course, football is played almost round the calendar with ever-expanding competitions and pre-season confections. All games – and angles – are covered. Come June 14th, the Euros 2024 will kick-off and England will play under the usual weight of expectation. It’s the nature of the beast that fans will gather and travel and pub-watch and phone-share their progress. The media will salivate over new heroes and desperate defeats. It’s all material for news to them. But fans know something more. Football remains – remarkably – the people’s game.

A recent report by the think-tank ‘British Future’ said as much. It works on issues around national identity and says the increasing cultural significance of football clubs needs to be harnessed by government to develop social connections between communities. Football can be the fulcrum for cohesion at local and national level and clubs need to be proactive in seeking the voice of its fans from all directions. Government should help clubs to consider long term supporters, new ones and those from different ethnicities. It says ‘clubs occupy an important role in the social infrastructure of our towns and cities’.

Forest’s success – and, yes, maintaining a position in the Premiership is a success – has helped galvanise the Nottingham public into a feeling of shared pride. A single visit to the City Ground on match-day amplifies that statement. It puts the city ‘back on the map’. Those of us lucky enough to witness Forest in their Clough-Taylor prime, pass on our memories of the glory days to younger generations. That is a wonderful legacy. But hope (likely the most commonly used word in the supporters’ dictionary) is bound up with the future and success of any kind soon makes bonds with fans. Dare we hope, again, that Forest can consolidate their credentials as a top-flight club? I’ll be watching and following their progress, as always, but not scribbling and sharing my thoughts on this platform. It’s farewell from me, ‘It’s All Over’, as I blow the whistle for full-time on my football pen. New ventures and family commitments await. Come on you Reds!

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

*Main image @NFFC Forest’s Danilo & Murillo have adapted to life in Nottingham.

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