This article was originally published on Tale of Two Halves in September 2018
Standing as one of the most iconic grounds in English football, the City Ground marked its 120th year in Nottingham at the turn of the month. Home to two-time European Champions Nottingham Forest, the Trentside stadium has brought jubilation and devastation to the most ardent of fans.
Freelance sports writer and lifelong Forest fan Patrick O’Kane takes a look at some of his highs and lows at the stadium.
The City Ground. Capacity 30,445. Home to Forest. A mecca for all Forest fans. Moments of complete ecstasy and utter agony. It’s the only way to describe it but whatever way I think of the stadium, it’s home. There is a feeling of belonging.
Having grown up in Northern Ireland, before working across the UK, France, Holland and now Italy, my visits have been few and far between, but even on the bad days, there is a feeling that “we’re all in this together” when it comes to being a Red.
The butterflies ring out, the nerves are there for all to see. No Forest match is ever as clear-cut as one might hope for. Even the 3-1 victories are tinged with the impending doom as the away side grab a consolation – we’re going to lose 4-3.
120 years of the City Ground. There are fans across Nottingham, who have more stadium experience than I have and they will have witnessed greatness. European triumphs against Liverpool and 5-1 defeats to Bayern Munich will sure to be mentioned by those who own Season Tickets, but my story is somewhat different.
Born in 1984, I missed the European Cup victories – although pictures of my three-week-old sister in the trophy mean it will always have a place in my family history. I was lucky as a four-year-old to see Forest lift the Simod Cup at Wembley, but from that point on, it’s generally been 30 years of hurt.
A European adventure in 1995 as Forest lost to Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals and promotion back to the Premier League in 1998 are among my highlights, but since then, Forest fans have had to settle for third-tier football under Gary Megson, play-off heartache to Sheffield United, Yeovil, Blackpool and Swansea.
The derby-day triumphs, including the awesome Robbie Earnshaw-inspired 5-2 win, always sit with me though as I dream of better days to come. A return to the promised land is often motioned, none more so than in the current campaign under Aitor Karanka – if we can get it together – but generally I’m used to disappointment with Forest. Landing top-flight football could spell the end for the City Ground.
World Cup bids have seen stadium plans around Nottingham canvassed for, and our days at the banks of the Trent could be limited. These might not be the finest matches you’ll be asked to recall from NG2 5FJ, but these are some of my most memorable.
Teenage Terry gets the terraces talking
April 29, 2000: Division One
Nottingham Forest 2 Port Vale 0
After relegation from the Premier League, the Reds were hotly-tipped to bounce back to the top tier of English football, but a disastrous season under David Platt beckoned.
As the season drew to a close, Forest were set for a mid-table finish but there was one shining light – John Terry.
Yes, John Terry of Chelsea fame, got the City Ground bouncing, albeit for six games.
A drab 2-0 affair saw Forest end their home campaign against Port Vale with Stern John and David Prutton grabbing the goals in the April sunshine, however, the talking point was the 19-year-old, who would go on to captain England.
The Platt era was abysmal for any Forest fan but for those six games, there was a glimmer of hope around the City Ground. Even as a teenager, the Londoner had a grace about him. He had poise, dedication and an unyielding passion beyond his years and it was a pleasure to say I was among the few thousand that saw him in the Garibaldi Red.
A bid to get him back Trentside failed to materialise and as Forest stood still in the years that followed, Terry prospered.
Pesky Paul takes plaudits
March 22, 2002: Division One
Nottingham Forest 0 West Bromwich Albion 1
Not the most riveting of encounters on a dreary night at the City Ground but one that sticks out for me for one man. Paul Peschisolido. The nifty Canadian had the last laugh as the Baggies nicked the points in a close affair.
Mazy runs aplenty, the veteran was on hand to head home to an empty net after a Neil Clement free-kick was tipped onto the bar by Forest keeper Darren Ward. Peschisolido ran out the league’s top scorer as West Brom clinched promotion but it was just the start of the agony for Forest fans.
The silky striker bagged a 2004 derby day brace for the Rams but living longer in the memory will be his strike in our agonising 2003 play-off semi-final defeat against Sheffield United at Bramall Lane. The pain is still real.
East Midland ecstasy
March 19, 2003: Division One
Nottingham Forest 3 Derby County 0
Every Forest fan has their derby day triumph and their sick stories. This was mine.
Flying over from Belfast on the morning of the match, I was already anxious at what lay ahead, but the 10-hour wait in the airport for a new flight to the Midlands did not help my mood after a flight cancellation. I made it to England at 7.30pm and with the kick-off set for 7.45pm, I was sick as a dog.
All that money paid and I wouldn’t see the match. As luck and family connections would have it, I was taxied from the airport (where my bag was left with an airport-working, Derby-supporting relative) straight to the City Ground.
Arriving at 8.25pm Forest were already 2-0 up, the radio ensuring I didn’t miss the action – but it wasn’t the same. The taunts from the terraces to the away fans were nothing less than you would expect after Marlon Harewood and Darren Huckerby had put us 2-0 up inside 15 minutes.
But that didn’t stop me from joining the party! My City Ground trips had been few and far between and this was Derby! Before long, I had picked out my father’s relatives in the away end and the banter bus was in full swing.
It turned out I didn’t miss all the action though as Harewood slotted home from the spot after Johnson was fouled in the box. Forest’s domination over our arch-rivals left me ecstatic and left us all dreaming of a return to the big time.
Fascinating Forest catch fire
March 22, 2003: Division One
Nottingham Forest 4 Norwich City 0
Four days later, the goals arrived, and this time I was there for all of them! The best Forest side I have seen live. Quite a claim to make but under the leadership of Paul Hart, this was our time – except a play-off defeat to Peschisolido’s Sheffield United meant it really wasn’t. Darren Huckerby was the main man, pulling the strings in a thrilling diamond-attack.
The team sheet didn’t suggest a team of great experience, but Hart got the best out of his youthful squad. It was the season of David Johnson and Marlon Harewood, but Hucks came in for a late-season cameo to sure up our attacking options.
Huckerby grabbed a fifth goal in six games – what we would give to have a striker with that goal-to-game return now – and Harewood doubled the lead midway through the first half. Gareth Williams made it 3-0, before Jim Brennan completed the rout with his only goal for the club.
The noise inside the ground was deafening and the heckling of ex-Leicester City striker Iwan ‘no teeth’ Roberts made for a memorable day out. Hart’s heroics fell short as the first of several play-off defeats ensued and I’m still to see a Forest side gel like that one did in the 15 years that have since passed.
Soul-destroying defeat leaves Reds sulking
May 18, 2007: League One Play-Off Semi Final, second leg
Nottingham Forest 2 Yeovil Town 5 (AET)
The gut-wrenching memory of being seconds from Wembley still haunts me 11 years later as a Forest side, who went into the game with a 2-0 lead from the first leg, blew their chance to get back into the Championship.
They are dark days in League One, anyone who has experienced the drop from the Premier League will tell you that. But we were going up. I drove from my new abode in Skegness for almost three hours, with the hope and anticipation of a Wembley trip just 10 days later.
But we threw it away like only a true Nottingham Forest team can.
Aaron Davies gave the Glovers a lead before Scott Dobie levelled for the Reds. An Alan Wright own-goal gave Yeovil a 2-1 lead, although as the clock ticked into injury time, we were going to Wembley with a 3-2 aggregate lead.
Taking my phone out, I was videoing the exuberant Forest crowd as the City Ground rocked to the tune of Que Sara Sara. Seconds later, I had captured footage of Marcus Stewart’s thumping header and we were going to extra-time.
David Prutton’s earlier red card left Forest on the back foot and Lee Morris gave Yeovil the aggregate lead minutes into the added-time. Grant Holt restored hope for the Reds but an injury to Wright effectively reduced us to nine-men and Davies was on hand to complete the trauma as Yeovil saw out a 5-2 victory and left Colin Calderwood’s Red Army in tatters.
After sitting in my car for 30 minutes to compose myself, it was a very lonely drive back to Skegness.