Tuesday, September 27, 2011

English Leagues the 70s: Manchester City Nottingham Forest Division One 1978 1979

19th Round
23 December 1978
Maine Road,

Attendance 37012

  By the summer of 1978 Forest had won two major English competitions , gone close in another and several players who had previously been thought of as honest journeymen or has-beens were now household names with perhaps more to come. But where could the team go from here? Had too much been achieved too quickly? And how could this old club from a provincial city cope with the same demands again, plus the extra commitments from a resulting European campaign?  During the summer there was not really time to contemplate the future in too much detail. At the end of the previous campaign there had been many ceremonies to attend. The Forest staff, of course, was in huge demand. Brian Clough was named Manager of the Year and Kenny Burns the Football Writers' Footballer of the Year. Meanwhile the PFA had chosen Peter Shilton as their Player of the Year, while Tony Woodcock took the Young Player version from his peers. 

 There had been many celebrations in the city, too, and the folk of Nottingham were becoming bemused by the accolades given to their heroes. Everybody was trying to evaluate Clough's style and attitude. Did he just frighten and coerce people to play the kind of football he rightly knew would work or was it some unreal, unique vision he had of the game? He was certainly unorthodox. He would insist on great discipline, but gave the team time off on the whim of a moment. He told players they were awful one day and that they were world-beaters the next. Whatever it was, it had certainly worked so far. Interestingly, the traditional pre-season matches involved a much higher level of European competition. Clough was not worried about losing, he felt he could take care of player confidence, but the squad was very short on this level of experience, although the choice of AEK Athens was to prove a fascinating piece of foresight, or a spooky coincidence.

Certainly, by the time Forest faced Ipswich in the Charity Shield they appeared a finely tuned unit. They dominated the cup holders in a way no one would do for many seasons. The 5-0 victory suggested a flying start in the making, but strangely many league points were dropped as Forest's incisive attacking power was somewhat blunted. Perhaps the Reds had caught oppositions by surprise in that first season and their secret had now been discovered. The real test was to come in the European Cup. In another freak coincidence, Forest's first opponents were Liverpool. The Merseysiders had won the competition for the second time earlier that year with a victory over Club Bruges, and it was hoped that the two clubs might avoid each other until the final. It was not to be, and England's attempt to win the trophy for a third year would be halved after just one round. For many English neutrals it was a bittersweet experience. The Forest ideal was almost universally appreciated, but many felt that the country's best chance of European success had vanished with the passing of Liverpool. They had been double champions and even those in the know felt that Forest were just too inexperienced to go far. News of the World journalist, Reg Drury, wrote that the Garibaldis 'didn't have the know-how to win the European Cup', and it riled many at the City Ground, particularly secretary Ken Smales. Anyhow, all this had become irrelevant as Forest now had to face the challenge alone and, as usual, they would surprise everyone. Nottingham Forest, however, weren't 'good-time Charlies' and back in the domestic competitions there was the same drive and commitment as ever. In the league, the unbeaten run continued to extend to unheard-of proportions and yet another League Cup campaign was beginning to take shape with confident displays against Oldham Athletic and Oxford United. Nine goals in two games were enough to dismiss those early fears of a permanent scoring drought. The next challenge in Europe came from AEK Athens; a club Forest had already played in a pre-season friendly. The club had been extremely pleased to play host to the Greeks and their charismatic manager, the great Hungarian, Ferenc Puskas, but once on the pitch they showed no mercy and proceeded to put five goals past the AEK keeper. The Reds were in the quarter-finals and had a break in the winter months to concentrate on demands at home.

In December, the team passed two amazing landmarks. Firstly, they had gone 12 months without being defeated in the league. A week later, they completed 42 league matches without losing. At the end of the month Forest had to go back to Anfield for the league encounter. This time it was just one match too far and Liverpool regained some degree of personal pride by taking the game 2-0. However, it had been an amazing period of success. Forest had also gone 32 away games without defeat and also 40 games in all competitions without losing. All the figures are impressive but not merely as statistics. They are all probably unrepeatable performances, achieved by a side which just didn't know how to give up or accept being second best. Nor did they crumble on ending that run, for although a second league game was lost to an improving Arsenal side, there had been a great victory at Goodison over Everton in the League Cup, where Kenny Burns tore a cartilage muscle. Even with Kenny absent in the next round, the Reds dismissed Brighton to reach yet another semi-final.

January was also exciting. Villa were dismissed 3-2 in the FA Cup, quickly followed by that Arsenal defeat, then the emerging Watford side, full of potential talent such as John Barnes, Nigel Callaghan and Luther Blissett was beaten as Forest fought their way to a second successive League Cup final. A few weeks later Arsenal, who were becoming a bit of a bogey side, put the Garibaldis out of the FA Cup with yet another single-goal defeat, leaving Forest with only three trophies to chase. Liverpool were dominating the League, although Clough's side were trying to keep up the pressure. So Forest saw Europe as a necessity to continue the big-time momentum. To help achieve this ultimate dream, Clough finally landed the signature of another player he greatly admired. Trevor Francis had long been a household name since his days as a teenager with Birmingham City. He had become an England international and was obviously going to be expensive. The fee was to be an historic one million pounds. Clough refused to pay that figure and there was much haggling, including a reputed offer of £999,999, to satisfy all requirements. Nobody is quite sure of the exact figure, but it would eventually be worth it, although Francis was cup-tied for most of the season...

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