Tales From The Bridgford Stand

Nottingham Forest vs. Chelsea : 1 January 2023.

I have detailed our season from forty years ago during the current campaign’s match reports and although many performances in 1982/83 were poor, very poor, I am sure that I would have concluded each of the four games that I physically attended in that season from long ago with a spirited round of clapping to show my support of the team, my team.

After the final whistle blew at Nottingham Forest’s City Ground on the first day of 2023, I gathered my belongings – camera, baseball cap – and began shuffling out along the row to the aisle, not wanting to lose any time before exiting the stadium and beginning the long drive home. I just didn’t feel that I could justify even the most basic show of support for the team. I couldn’t even be bothered to see how many players, if any, had walked over to our allotted corner of the Bridgford Stand to thank the fans.

And it brings me no joy to report this either. No joy at all. But it’s a sure sign that I don’t have much of a bond with this current set of players, unlike in days gone by.

My mantra has always been “players play, managers manage and supporters support” and although I still stand by these basic principles, there are occasions in my Chelsea-supporting life when the last part of this “Holy Trinity” of Chelsea fundamentalism becomes oh-so difficult.

Sigh.

Let’s not kid ourselves. That second-half performance at relegation-haunted Forest was dire.

So let’s leave 2023 for the moment and go back in time.

I have a few stories to tell.

The next match from forty years ago to re-tell is the West London derby at Stamford Bridge against Fulham that took place on 28 December 1982. Going in to the game, Chelsea were two thirds of the way down the Second Division in fourteenth place, with a chance of promotion looking very unlikely. Our local neighbours, however, were riding high. They had been promoted from the Third Division in 1981/82 and were a surprise package the following season, and were currently in third place behind QPR and Wolves.

In the mini “West London League” of the 1982/83 Division Two season, dear reader, Chelsea were third of three.

But that didn’t stop the huge sense of anticipation that I felt as I set off with my parents as we made our way up to London for this game. I can remember we stopped off at Hungerford on the A4 for me to buy a newspaper and I was elated with the size of the gates that had attended games the previous day. Now it was Chelsea’s turn.

Back in October, there had been a fine crowd for the visit of Leeds United, but I knew only too well that a sizeable proportion of that crowd had been lured to Stamford Bridge for the thrill and buzz of a potential set-to with the Yorkshire club’s support. For the Fulham game, the allure would be of a purely footballing nature, and I wasn’t sure if that would increase numbers or reduce them.

To be truthful, I can’t remember a great deal about the game. I was in The Shed, my preferred position towards the tea bar but just under the roof, just above the walkway. My parents watched the game from virtually the back row of the towering East Stand having bought tickets on the day. Fulham were in all red, and were backed by a pretty decent following on the large north terrace.

The Chelsea team?

Steve Francis, Joey Jones, Chris Hutchings, Gary Chivers, Micky Droy, Colin Pates, Clive Walker, John Bumstead, David Speedie, Alan Mayes (Mike Fillery), Peter Rhoades-Brown.

My diary notes that it was all one-way traffic in the second-half and we really should have sewn it up. Just like the Leeds game in October, it ended 0-0. But the real star of the show was the attendance figure of 29,797, and this bowled me over.

I have a distinct memory of waiting outside between The Shed and the East Stand for my parents to appear and being mesmerised by the thousands upon thousands of people streaming out of the ground. I waited for ages for my Mum and Dad to finally show up.

29,797.

I can hardly believe it forty years later.

1982 was an odd year for Stamford Bridge attendances. Despite us averaging just 13,133 in 1981/82 and 12,728 in 1982/83 during the Second Division league campaigns, the old ground served up a volley of super gates during that year.

In early 1982, we drew 41,412 for the game against Liverpool in the fifth round of the FA Cup, quickly followed by 42,557 for Tottenham’s visit in the Quarter Finals. Then, in the latter part of the year, Stamford Bridge witnessed 25,358 for the visit of Leeds United in October to be trumped by the huge gate of 29,797 against Fulham.

Many Chelsea supporters of my generation often quote the huge gate at Christmas in 1976 for the home game with Fulham as a quick and easy response to the “WWYWYWS?” barbs of opposing fans. With Chelsea riding high in the Second Division, and with George Best and Bobby Moore playing for Fulham, a massive crowd of 55,003 flocked to Stamford Bridge on 27 December 1976.

It’s some figure, eh?

Yet I think the 29,797 figure in 1982/83 is even more remarkable.

In 1976/77, our average home attendance in the league was a healthy 30,552.

55,003 equated to 1.8 times the average.

Yet in 1982/83, we floundered all season long and our average gate was a lowly 12,728.

Here, the 29,797 gate equated to 2.3 times the average.

Put it this way, if the Fulham gate of 1976 had matched the 1982 coefficient, it would have been a ridiculous 71,524.

Regardless, these were huge numbers, in both years, for Second Division football.

On New Year’s Day 1983, Chelsea travelled to Gay Meadow, the quaint home of Shrewsbury Town and lost 2-0 in front of 7,545.

Oh my bloody God.

1983 was going to be a tough year.

But I still look back upon those times with a lot of fondness. I suspect that the Chelsea players were on four of five times my father’s weekly wage as a shopkeeper, and I certainly felt – undoubtedly – that they were my team. A few of the players were only a few years older than me. There was a bond, no doubt. And I love it that three of the players who lined up against Fulham forty years ago – Pates, Bumstead and Chivers – are still part of the match day scene at Stamford Bridge as hosts for the corporate hospitality crowd.

In forty years’ time I can’t imagine the same being said of any of the current squad, some of whom earn in a week what I earn in several years.

It’s a different ball game, eh?

Fast forward forty years and we find ourselves on New Year’s Day 2023.

My car was full as I made my way north; alongside me in the front was Paul, while in the back seat were Donna, her son Colby and Parky. I had set off from my Somerset village at 9.30am. By 2pm, I found myself edging towards the Trent Bridge county cricket ground, with the floodlights of the City Ground beyond. As I turned right along Radcliffe Road, I spotted the large “Trent Bridge Inn” and my mind raced back to 1987.

On my first-ever visit to Nottingham Forest, in late February, I had travelled by train from Stoke with my football-mad mate Bob, a Leeds United supporter from Bramley in West Yorkshire. And, quite unlike me, I had totally forgotten that we had dived into this pub before the game.

My diary tells of the day.

We had caught the 11.07am from Stoke to Nottingham, changing at Derby, and the fare was only £2.30. Celery was all the rage at Chelsea in those days, and Bob took a photo of myself brandishing a clump of the afore-mentioned “apium graveolens” on Trent Bridge with the City Ground in the background.

We bought £5.50 tickets in the away section of the main Executive Stand and then sunk a few pints in the pub. After a pie at a local chippy, we got in at 2.45pm. I can well remember large piles of celery outside the turnstiles after some supporters were searched and the offending vegetable taken off them. The local police were quite bemused that so many of our away support were bringing the stuff to the game. I must have hidden my stash in my voluminous jacket because I remember throwing the stuff around at key moments once inside. We had around 1,500 in the seats and maybe the same number on the open terrace to my left. I wasn’t impressed with their rather poxy home end, the simple Trent End terrace with its basic roof. My good mate Alan was a few seats in front of me.

It wasn’t a great game, but I made a note that Micky Hazard played well in midfield. A goal from Pat Nevin on sixty-five minutes gave us the points but we had to rely on a fine penalty save from Tony Godden, late on, from Gary Birtles to secure the win. The gate was 18,317.

I caught up with Al on the walk back to the station, but we had to wait a while for the 6pm train to Derby. At Derby, I devoured another pie – and chips – and then Bob and I stopped for a few more pints outside the station before catching the 8.09pm home. On returning to Stoke, we narrowly missed a ruck at our students’ union involving some Blackpool fans, whose team had played at nearby Port Vale that afternoon. Such was life in ‘eighties Britain.

Pies, pints, cheap rail travel, pay-on-the-day football, celery and ad hoc violence lurking like a dark shadow.

Oh the glamour of it all. But I would not have missed it for the world.

I was parked up at my JustPark space on Radcliffe Road at 2.15pm. We walked towards the “Larwood & Voce” pub but this was home fans only. Next up was the “Trent Bridge Inn” but this was home fans only too unlike in 1987. Eventually, we headed over the bridge towards Notts County’s Meadow Lane stadium where their bar was open for away fans. But I didn’t fancy the queues so excused myself and set off on a little mooch around the City Ground. Both of the football stadia and the cricket ground are all with easy reach of each other. It’s a real sporting sub-section of the city.

This would be my first visit to the City Ground since February 1999 and only my third visit ever. I must admit that it felt so odd to be walking around the same area almost twenty-four years after the last time. On that day, with Chelsea very much in the hunt for the league title, I had travelled up to the game with my then girlfriend Judy. On that occasion, we had managed to get served in the “Larwood & Voce” and I remember it being full of Chelsea.

Forest were fighting a losing battle against relegation and Chelsea easily won 3-1 with two goals from Bjarne Goldbaek and one from Mikael Forssell. Pierre van Hooijdonk scored for them. We had seats in the lower tier of the Bridgford End towards the small stand along the side, close to the corner flag. The gate was 26,351.

What I remember most from this game took place in the busy car park after the match had long finished. I had decided to wait for the Chelsea players to board their coach back to London to hopefully take a few photos, and I have to say there were fans everywhere. It wasn’t exactly “Beatlemania” but not far off.

Now then, I have to say that Judy absolutely adored our manager Gianluca Vialli and she was keen to meet him. I snapped away in the melee and took photos of a few players including Marcel Desailly, Frank Leboeuf and Vialli. All of a sudden, I had lost Judy. I then spotted her, next to Vialli, looking all doe-eyed. After a few moments, she walked towards me with a huge grin on her face.

Luca had autographed the back of her hand. She was ecstatic, bless her.

So, as I walked down a little road towards the slight main stand, the colour red everywhere, and across that same car park, my mid cartwheeled back to early 1999, another time but the same place.

There are plans afoot to replace the stand on this side with an impressive new structure. Once built, the stadium will hold 35,000. I could not help but notice Forest’s two stars everywhere. They won the European Cup in 1979 and 1980 in a period when English teams completely dominated football’s main prize.

1977 : Liverpool.

1978 : Liverpool.

1979 : Nottingham Forest.

1980 : Nottingham Forest.

1981 : Liverpool.

1982 : Aston Villa.

With both Chelsea and Forest able to sport two stars apiece, was I hopeful for a high octane four-star game of football?

No, sadly not.

I wolfed down a hot dog with onions, then a quick spin around to the away turnstiles. This time, Chelsea were allocated the side towards the Executive Stand which is now named the Brian Clough Stand. I was standing around twenty-five yards away from where I watched in 1987. I chatted to Jonesy, who did not miss a single match in 1982/83, and still has the mental scars to this day.

I sidled up alongside Gal and John – Al was unable to make it this time – and Parky soon joined us too.

My third ever game at Nottingham Forest and the first game of 2023 was moments away.

Our team was announced.

Kepa

Dave – Silva – Koulibaly – Cucarella

Zakaria – Jorginho – Mount

Pulisic – Havertz – Sterling

Faithless’ “Insomnia” was played before the game began. Additionally, there was a minute of applause for Pele, the World’s greatest ever player.

Rest In Peace.

I was soon distracted by a rather wordy banner on the balcony at the two-tiered Trent End.

“The Garibaldi that we wear with pride was made in 1865.”

I had to enquire to what that referred but I presumed it was the type of shirt. In fact, it was the colour of the shirt. What was it with the people of Nottingham and Italy? Forest choosing the colour of an Italian general and County giving Juventus their black and white stripes.

Chelsea attacked our end in the first-half. That’s not usually the case at away games. It felt odd. We began with much of the ball, with the home team hardly having a sniff. In the first part of the game, many of our moves inevitably involved moving the ball to the two central defenders, Silva and Koulibaly, who dropped aerial bombs into the Forest box.

Silva, I can understand. Koulibaly, not so.

Regardless, there were a couple of half-chances, nothing more.

The home fans were soon singing a dirge that I remembered from 1999 if not 1987.

“City Ground.

Oh mist rolling in from the Trent.

My desire is always to be here.

Oh City Ground.”

This song was from 1977/78 when Forest won the league under Cloughie. The badge from that era still features on their shirt to this day. I am not going to describe it as a design classic, but it’s not far off. It always seemed to be ahead of its time when it debuted as long ago as 1973. It still looks decent to this day, though I still squirm at the lower case “e” being used. It is almost perfection.

On then minutes, right against the run of play, Morgan Gibbs-White sent a ball through for Brennan Johnson but Kepa was able to save his low effort and the follow-up too.

It was a warning against complacency.

A couple more half-chances for us, but nothing concrete.

On sixteen minutes, Mason Mount pushed the ball to Christian Pulisic who chose his moment to pick Kai Havertz at the near post. The ball looped off the shin of a defender up onto the bar but Raheem Sterling was on hand to wallop the ball in from close range.

Get in.

Sulphurous blue smoke rolled in from the Bridgford End.

The rest of the first-half did not produce a great deal of note. Silva, as ever, exuded class throughout and was on hand on a few occasions to snub attacks with consummate ease. Forest defended deep and tried to raid on the occasional counter attack. There were rare shots at goal from Dave and Pulisic.

Our support was only roused occasionally.

It was hardly a classic.

The second-half began and how.

Forest were on the front foot right from the off and Kepa made two decent saves in the first two minutes, the first from Taiwo Awonyi, and again from Johnson, who really should have passed to the free man inside.

On ten minutes, Gibbs-White – a footballer, but also a brand of ‘seventies toothpaste – crashed a shot against Kepa’s bar, with the ball bouncing back up off the line. No goal.

To our dismay, we were letting them run at us at will.

The first substitution and Mateo Kovacic for Zakaria.

Just after, on sixty-three minutes, a corner from down by us, and a scramble at the near post. A header, the ball bounced in the air again, but the Chelsea defenders miss-timed their leaps. The ball was prodded home by Serge Aurier.

Fackinell.

The place erupted.

“Come On You Reds” has never sounded louder.

The Forest fans around us, excitable at the best of times, were now besides themselves.

The substitutions continued with three at once.

Hakim Ziyech for Sterling.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for Mount.

Conor Gallagher for Jorginho, who was apparently still on the pitch in the seventy-third minute. Who knew?

But this was dire stuff, both on the pitch and off it, with our support reduced to a murmur amidst moans of discontent.

Carney Chukwuemaka for Pulisic.

There was one, remarkably late, half-chance, a deep cross from Ziyech – who was criminally under-used during his brief cameo – just evading a Chelsea touch, any Chelsea touch, at the far post.

At the final whistle, groans. But I am sure I detected a few boos too. This was such a dire second-half performance and it almost defies description. Thankfully, our exit out of Nottingham was painless, and I reached home bang on midnight.

We now play the high-flying Manchester City twice in four days.

Oh, and in the West London League of 2022/23, echoes of forty years ago, Chelsea lie third behind Fulham and Brentford. On we go.

1987 : “Pies, pints, cheap rail travel, pay-on-the-day football, celery and ad hoc violence lurking like a dark shadow.”