Adventures in Football #26: The City Ground (Nottingham Forest)
September 12, 2021
NOTTINGHAM FOREST vs. CARDIFF CITY (Championship)
Founded in 1865, Forest have played at the City Ground since 1898. Nottingham became a city officially in 1897 so it was a symbolic sign of the advancement of both the team and its home. The previous ground had been called the Town Ground. Across the River Trent from Forest is Meadow Lane, home to Notts Co. Aside from Dundee and Dundee Utd, they’re the two closest footballing grounds in the UK. They were the two closest in the league until Notts Co tumbled into the National League a few years ago (that honour now belongs to Merseyside neighbours Liverpool and Everton).
Nottingham Forest are a sleeping giant. Their ground is one of the largest outside of the top division and they are a former champion of Europe. Given the format, back in the day, you had to win the league or win the European Cup to be involved. They won back to back European Cups in 1979 and 1980 before a shocking first round defeat to CSKA Sofia in 1980-81 put a stop to their historic run. Forest’s run in the late 70s is the stuff of legend but they only won one league title, 1977-78, and have only two FA Cups. The latest being 1959. Their weird European success was also matched by consistent success in the League Cup, which they won four times (1978, 1979, 1989, 1990).
Brian Clough masterminded much of Forest’s time as a top club, bossing the team from 1975 until his departure in 1993. He saw in the Premier League era and was swiftly relegated out of it. Without Cloughie, Forest would have far fewer trophies in the cabinet. Clough’s statue isn’t outside the City Ground but in the centre of Nottingham reflecting what he meant to the entire city, not just the club.
Mike stayed on my sofa bed after the Walsall game so we were up pretty early to attack the city of Nottingham. Mike was driving up and we managed to get stuck in a seven mile long traffic jam. When we finally got to the end of it there was a bloke with a sledgehammer banging the central reservation back together. Howling. We’re also amused by passing Burton where there is a huge motorway turn off sign that just reads CONKERS.
CONKERS! Why is it all caps? The rest of the journey is less eventful and driving towards Meadow Lane we easily find a car park. It costs £5, which is about standard for most grounds but pleasingly low for Championship level. We decide to go and walk around Meadow Lane, as it’s a pretty famous old ground. Emphasis on old. I’m looking forward to visiting Notts Co. They’ve fallen on hard times but their stadium looks like a proper old beauty. We also spot a dead rat in the middle of the pavement so it’s swings and roundabouts.
The bits of Nottingham I see make it a city of contrasts. Some of it looks terrible but we stop in a pub called the Brewhouse & Kitchen just over the river from the ground and it’s really nice. Great view of the Trent. Lovely couple of pints. Nice mild. Cup of nuts. We get to have a nice chat about life and such. It’s so relaxing we are almost late to the game. We’re not alone with a massive flow of people heading over the bridge and into the two main entry points. Past the club shop, which we nip into, and into the Peter Taylor stand or where we have to go; alongside the river to get into the Trent End.
Just to the left of that flow of people is the river Trent. It’s a literal stone’s throw away from the ground. There’s a fella showing the river to his son and he’s stood on one of these little floating barge things. Insanity. Falling into the Trent after a few beers ahead of a Forest game would be a terrible way to check out. As we approach the ground Mike gets given a free Skinny Chocoholic Pot Dip. “Thank you for your support!” On the way in there are plaques dedicated to famous players on the walls.
I find myself standing next to Viv Anderson. Not the actual Viv Anderson, naturally. We queue up at different gates and Mike says “I’ll race you”. I never saw him again. I’m kidding, he won. I got into the stairwell and started getting obsessed with the stairs. It’s a cool stairwell as you head up into the top tier of the Trent End. I’ve only been on the upper tier of a big stand once before and I wanted to properly take in how it feels.
We’re sat right in the corner, at the far end of a row. The Trent End is the twelfth man. Directly opposite us is the Bridgford Stand, which houses a mixture of Forest and away fans. The Cardiff fans are on the left side of this picture. You can just about make out the swaythe of blue. The previous trophies won are listed around the middle of the stand and it has this weird little drop down from two tiers to one in the corner.
Off to our right is the Peter Taylor Stand and visible above it is the back of the Pavillion of Trent Bridge, the county cricket ground, which is right next door. Having three major sporting stadiums all so close together is a bit weird considering they’re all independent of each other but it does create more parking for match days. To the left, but not visible at all, is the Brian Clough stand. Having found our seats it became quickly apparent that the City Ground has decent legroom and it’s a great ground.
There’s lots of room around the pitch and the technical areas are some of the largest in the country. As we warm up for the game the flags are unfurled in the opposite corner. “When times are tryin’ we keep the red flags flyin” is apt when you’re bottom of the division. The crowd belt out “Mull of Kintyre” before the game kicks off and that’s proper intense, big stadium atmosphere build up.
It’s all good in the first half too with Forest taking a 1-0 lead through Lewis Grabban. It’s not a convincing performance but they’re ahead. There’s a weird atmosphere in the stadium though. A nagging doubt that the team can’t get over the line and there’s concern any time the ball is near the Forest goal. They make it into half time and Mike finally gets a pie! It’s a chicken balti Pukka pie and it smells so good I go and get one too.
The second half is pure misery. It’s like being at a funeral. Kieffer Moore comes on and Cardiff score two goals. The Forest fans start pouring out and I’m like “it’s only 2-1″. Is there that lack of faith? These Forest fans are feeling the pain of a team that’s not been good for a while. It should be. This is a huge club. I’ve seen first hand how well supported Nottingham Forest are. You could hear groans and swearing towards the end. “You twat. You fucking twat” was on repeat from the punter behind me.
24,153 here. The biggest attendance I’ve been at all season so far. Only the visiting Cardiff fans had a good time. The frustrations of the Forest fans were palpable. The one Cardiff player upset them a lot and went off injured, after lying down for a while on the pitch (the ref had no idea how to control the game) and a bottle was thrown. As we were leaving we were in a sea of discontented fans. “He’s got fucking dentures” is the complaint of one about Lyle Taylor. He’s only 31 lads.
Mike headed off and I was left with some time before my train so I popped across the river and went into Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem. According to Wikipedia it’s the “oldest inn in England”. It even says so on the outside! It probably isn’t but it is a cracking place to go. It’s dug into the rock under Nottingham Castle. I’m going to try and check out some quality boozers this season. This has set the bar quite high.
Overall, I really enjoyed the City Ground. I probably wouldn’t recommend it to any Groundhoppers this season because it’s going to be a painful season and I wouldn’t want to encourage morbid tourism. It is a proper stadium though. Sprawling, historic and on the banks of the Trent. You can feel the history in there. That walk along the Trent before the game felt like a proper footballing experience. Under different circumstances I would have held this experience along the finest in football but on a cloudy day with a miserable fanbase, wallowing at the bottom of the Championship? Perhaps my timing could have been better.