For Nottingham Forest, 2022 started on January 9th, when they faced Arsenal in the FA Cup. As Dom Allin explains, the Gunners were firm favourites, supporting a wonderful charity ‘No More Red’ against knife crime in London. It was the start of what would prove to be a huge year for Forest, the Championship part of which is covered in the second of this Forest trilogy. Find part one here.
In that Arsenal game, I felt the story was written for us to lose. However, Grabban’s 84th-minute winner not only got national attention but showed the football world that Forest are a good side. The Reds played a low block and attacked with intense youthful pace, creating various opportunities. This was not just a scrappy one shot wonder win, this was deserved!
I can remember enjoying the special social media reaction and the recognition from the national media, but importantly it was seen as Forest playing a style of football that could be replicated in the Premier League. And it just pricked my ears… Forest could be in the promotion hunt, but my years of Forest disappointment meant I completely buried that idea as soon as I thought about it! I was not going to be hurt again!
We were in the ascendency and Derby were the crumbling club Forest once were
Later that month came superb wins over local rivals Derby County before the smashing of FA Cup holder’s Leicester City in the fourth round of the same tournament. Beating Derby sparkles in my memory, they had for so long held the high ground after years of financial struggles; but the 2022 game felt like the clubs were embracing for the last time as the Reds were on the road up and the Rams on the way down. The game was typically hard-fought with a sumptuous atmosphere, a miraculous feeling too good to be true! We were in the ascendency and Derby were the crumbling club Forest once were.
The Leicester City result further catapulted Forest into the public’s imagination! Little old us on BBC One for the first time in my life! That’s the station for World Cups, Euros, and FA Cup finalists, not us! We felt box office! The players’ individual performances require each a 2000-word footnoted essay on them. Djed Spence ripped apart a trophy-winning defence without mercy! One Leicester fan’s behaviour juxtaposed with the unreal verbose and auspicious spirit of the City Ground transferred a great deal of football fans’ second team from the Foxes to the Trees.
In the 150th FA Cup, Forest brought some magic back into the occasion
A prominent theme of the coverage was the atmosphere, always compared to the European nights of old. We felt special once more. It showed Forest in the best of lights, our history on the nation’s biggest channel followed by a historical performance, which was all we could ask for. For many years we had bumbled out of the FA Cup or had a brief flash and then gone out anonymously. In the 150th FA Cup, Forest brought some magic back into the occasion.
Over the coming matches and weeks, Forest began to assert new positions in the football hierarchy: Spence became a player to look out for, Samba’s antics were becoming well known, and Forest were attracting positive comments from my Premier League mates. Attendances had become steady sell-outs, and every week a new Forza Garibaldi display showed the fans’ love to the world. Questions about who we were became people asking whether I could get tickets for them.
Successive wins were only interrupted by miraculous late draws against Sheffield United and Stoke City. It couldn’t get much better. A fun, somewhat relaxed, win against Huddersfield brought Forest to the quarterfinals, as far as they had been in the FA Cup since 1996. A club bound by history, finally finding a way to forge a new historic chapter.
Then came the Liverpool game. When Liverpool’s social media page were posting about us, our rivalry, the club felt special, it felt respected. The game was a tight loss, but the respect shown by Klopp after the game, the fans on social media and the pundits softened the blow as we looked towards the business end of the campaign.
I wouldn’t recommend it, but I also couldn’t tell you anything that feels as wonderful
After a clumsy end to the season, Forest made the playoffs. The first in 11 years. Bitter memories of Yeovil, Blackpool, and Swansea haunted my dreams. Surely, such a good team couldn’t crash out now. Well, they did try their hardest to! Blowing a two-goal lead and requiring Brice Samba to save the day three times was a little bit too much for my heart. I have never seen Forest in a penalty shootout in person before. I wouldn’t recommend it, but I also couldn’t tell you anything that feels as wonderful. Which brought about another momentous moment of 2022…
Forest hadn’t played at Wembley since 1992. Charles and Diana were still married! ‘Cloughie’ was still in charge! A historic source of embarrassment, being part of a collection of seven out of 92 clubs who hadn’t played at the new national stadium.
My dad had told me stories of his annual trips to old Wembley. The more I was told, the further away it had always felt to me. Legends like Pearce, Walker, and Clough lifting trophies in the summer sun. A glorious past. But this wasn’t for me. This wasn’t my experience of Forest. Going to the new Wembley was something Man City did. My team couldn’t grace the same grass as the Euro 2020 final. Strangely it felt more appropriate for Super Bowl Legend Tom Brady to play there than Ryan Yates.
The gradual build-up of recognisable shirts on the tube, the view of Wembley Way, the spectacle
The whole day was surreal, finally being able to be proud of our club, the hoards of red jerseys swelling every train station in the Midlands. The gradual build-up of recognisable shirts on the tube, the view of Wembley Way, the spectacle, it makes me emotional just remembering it. For the first time, I was able to have a historic anecdote about Forest that my dad could not claim. Three generations of my family have seen Forest win at Wembley. I was the first to see our team at the new Wembley.
In my head, I had created the visage where as soon as Forest were promoted the opening bars of It’s been a long long time, the song many of you will know from Avengers: Endgame, would be played. A song about a distanced couple finally reuniting, its timeless brass opening I could always imagine a slow-motion video of the limbs’ n’ scenes of our celebrations played to. Just Can’t Get Enough and Freed from Desire, were the soundtrack to our emotional celebrations and, whilst not as sentimental, it was perfect. It allowed a city to bounce with joy, reverberating Wembley that May day, shaking even the ghosts of the old Wembley and of Forest’s history!
Glorious victory meant it was time for the Premier League experience… and that’s part three of this series! Find it on the Impact sport page here.
Featured image courtesy of Dom Allin. Permission to use granted to Impact. This image was cropped with permission from Dom Allin.
In article image courtesy of @officialnffc via Instagram. No changes were made to this image.
In article video courtesy of @officialnffc via Instagram. No changes were made to this image.
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