BY DAVID MARPLES
Sunday 11th October was a very special evening at the City Ground.
If you ever want to witness for yourself a living embodiment of confusion, befuddlement and disbelief, try this: find a football-loving teenager and ask them if they know of any clubs that have retained the European Cup (you may have to use the term ‘Champions League’ here so as to avoid confusion, but a brief explanation should be easy enough to provide should the necessity arise). They will probably blurt out words such as Barcelona or Bayern Munich. If they are worth their personalized Nike Tiempo V boots, they might venture Liverpool, Real Madrid or Milan. If they do so, kudos to them.
But here’s the kicker.
Look them in the eye and tell them that Nottingham Forest achieved this very feat while also lifting a bucket load of other trophies in a three year period between 1978 and 1980: League title, League Cup (twice) and also the European Super Cup. Just for good measure, tell them that Forest also claimed the European Super Cup in 1980, defeating Barcelona in front of 90,000 fans at the Nou Camp.
Then stand back and watch their tongue flop out in disbelief and incredulity.
After a period of adjustment, they might point out that this was before the Champions League format, before it got so much harder.
Resist the temptation to punch them hard in the face – this will be difficult – but do so and then inform them that just four years previous to lifting the European Cup the FIRST time, the club was treading water in the second division (again, you may have to use the word ‘Championship’ here but if this is the case, just refer to it as the ‘Championship’ and on no account should you include the sponsors’ term).
Such a story is exactly what inspired actor and director Jonny Owen to get busy with creating his feature length documentary, ‘I Believe In Miracles’, chronicling the miraculous journey from shambling mediocrity to football greatness.
In his wisdom, Owen decided that there was simply no better place to showcase his film to the public than in Nottingham before the loving eyes of 3,000 fans in the shadow of the Brian Clough Stand and the newly crowned Peter Taylor Stand while the mist rolled in from the nearby river, swirling around and engulfing the modern Trent End.
Determined to make the most of such an event, the club looked around the place and dug out the finest china, opened the windows, sprayed some air freshener, bought some proper biscuits rather than own brand and welcomed the Miracle Men back to the old place for the evening’s proceedings.
Prior to this unique World Premiere, the players and guests arrived in the team coach and took turns to speak to the assorted press pack. In wandered, Viv Anderson, Tony Woodcock and Ian Bowyer, casual as you like. With Woodcock and Anderson being local, one can only imagine what it was like for these lads during this dizzyingly exciting period.
Jonny Owen then ambled in with his partner Vicky McClure, happy to tell of the first time he saw this exciting team from deep in the Welsh valleys in their shimmering shirts ripping it up at Old Trafford and teaching them a lesson in football on their patch.
Trevor Francis, David Needham and Colin Barrett were up next. Needham is the subject of this rather glorious takedown from Brian Clough after he deputised at the heart of the defence for the injured Larry Lloyd:
“David, you’re probably wondering why I’ve left you out. You’ve done ever so well since I bought you. David, I really can’t fault you. You’re a lovely boy. If my daughter were looking to bring a man home to marry, you’d be that man. You’re that nice, David, I’d have you as my son-in-law’.
Clough then pointed at Larry Lloyd:
‘I hate that fucking bastard over there. And that’s why you’re not in the team. You’re not a bastard like Larry Lloyd. And, son, I want a bastard in my defence.”
You all know about Trevor Francis’ goal in the final but you should also know about Colin Barrett’s sweetly struck volley that did for the reigning European Cup holders in the first round.
Like worshipped and unique animals being preserved for eternity, they entered three by three: Archie Gemmill, Kenneth Burns and John Robertson. Frank Clark, Garry Birtles and Peter Shilton. Larry Lloyd, John McGovern and Gary Mills. Only Martin O’Neill was unable to attend due to his commitments with the Irish national team that very evening.
It became quickly apparent how courteous and generous with their time each and every one of them was. Considering the countless number of occasions they must have been asked about the events between 1975-1980, not once did any of them give the impression that they wouldn’t happily while away the time chatting about this glittering period in their careers. It was also obvious to all how quickly and easily they slipped back into each other’s company – like a hand into a particularly snug glove. Kenneth Burns and Larry Lloyd were particularly vocal and jocular. The band was indeed back together.
They paraded past in front of two gleaming European Cups, providing all and sundry with a very real visual reminder of what all of the fuss was about. A team picture was encouraged and they obliged, insisting that Owen lay down on the floor in front of them – a particularly cruel act given that the Svengali like figure who got the band back together was recovering from major back surgery only a week earlier.
What isn’t clear is how welcome the current owner, Mr Fawaz Al-Hasawi, was as he took his place on the back row…centrally placed.
From there, it was out onto the pitch for a presentation of the players to the Trent End as dusk fell. Darren Fletcher did a sterling job in his introductions although if truth be told, the crowd required little in the way of warming up – they were ready and willing to celebrate their returning heroes.
The film barrelled on like a particularly smooth and well-oiled train providing laughs, applause, cheers and poignant moments. The scene in which John McGovern describes his feelings on lifting the big old trophy while thinking about his father who died when he was 11 years old is a particularly moving one – an awful lot of people wiped something from their eye in unison and wondered aloud about all the dust in the air.
Afterwards, the players and guests reconvened to the Southbank bar for a party. The players once again were more than obliging in the ceaseless requests for signatures, photographs and in most cases, just for the opportunity to speak to a hero.
All of which meant that film crashed in at number 11 at the Box Office on Monday morning thanks solely to the only World Premiere held at a football ground for a film. Come Tuesday, the film leapt to number 1 in Amazon’s ‘pre-orders’ sports DVD chart but number 9 in the main pre-order chart. Not bad for a seemingly niche film about some footballers for a provincial city.
Mercifully, in spite of everything, this game of ours retains the capacity to stun, to awe, to reduce us to quivering wrecks. Now go and make a football-loving teenager’s day and beguile them with how miracles can and do happen.