A Nottingham Forest blog with a concern for the wider game
It was Eric Barnes, as the last millennium was drawing to a close, who said that he wanted to “put the Nottingham back into Nottingham Forest”. The club signed Julian Bennett and Kelvin Wilson, two local lads who had grown up within the shadow of the City Ground, to instil some local pride in a team that was struggling to cope with the rapid changes fuelled by the burgeoning power of the Premier League.
Players inevitably come and go, but the sentiment of rooting the football club firmly within its locality is a good one to my mind. That isn’t to say that you cannot support Nottingham Forest if you do not hail from its surrounding area, far from it, but that as the club seeks to forge a strong and distinct identity for itself a key factor has to be that it resides in this particular location. And if it wants to draw from the history of Nottingham it has some rich historical seams from which to do so.
If you travel away from the city and mention Nottingham you tend to get at least one of two immediate responses, Robin Hood or Brian Clough, and so we will top and tail this very brief journey with those two giants of our past. Perhaps Robin Hood is too familiar to us having being turned into countless movies, TV adaptations and even a cartoon fox, but at its core this is a story of a rebel, anti-establishment figure who stands up against injustice. In very practical ways, he stood alongside those at the bottom of the pile and gave them hope and this theme stretches throughout the history of Nottingham.
One of the lost links to Robin Hood’s era is of course a castle that visitors feel appropriately reflects those stories, but the loss of the castle is central to another dramatic period in the city’s history. Charles I had set his standard at Nottingham to rally his armies for civil war, but the castle was fortified and held by parliamentarians and once Charles was beheaded it was torn down to prevent it being used in war again. A palace was later built to replace it, but this was destroyed during three days of rioting in the city in protest at the House of Lords’ rejection of the Electoral Reform Bill of 1831.
The demand for electoral reform was strong in the city and Nottingham became a hub for the Chartist movement, which sought to break the hold of the landed gentry on democracy by widening the right to vote to all men over the age of 21. Whilst this falls a long way short of our modern expectations and reflects the still disenfranchised position of women in that society, the strength of feeling behind workers’ rights continued to run powerfully through the city.
This was further reinforced by the earlier actions of the Luddites. Sometimes now used as a term of insult the Luddites were not against progress per se, but understood that if handled incorrectly technological advance would be used to make the already wealthy even richer at the expense of the worker. Framework-knitters in Nottingham rose up in protest against low wages, the use of unskilled workers to further cut costs and the production of cheaper and inferior products that undermined their craftsmanship.
It tallied not only with the history running back to Robin Hood but also forward to Forest manager Brian Clough who during the miners’ strike of the 1980s fed miners at the City Ground and stood with them on marches. In the aftermath of a chaotic few years and with an opportunity to re-invigorate what it means to be Nottingham Forest, through new ownership and new energy and creativity amongst our supporters, it should also feed into the values of our football club now.
We are not moaners and whiners who sit on the sidelines complaining that things aren’t as good as they used to be or ought to be. We are rebels and agitators, innovators and influencers, creators and change agents, imagining something better and then getting stuck in to make it happen.
The context may have changed but many of the issues remain not just in our society but in the game of football itself, whether it be the relationship between rich and poor, the role of women and other excluded groups or reform of an out of touch governing establishment. We gather in a stadium every other week or so to meet with our friends and cheer on our team to new glories and, sometimes, new depths of despair, but we can also be a part of something bigger. It’s time to be bold. Our roots run deep and can draw up the waters of inspiration to bring new life to this Forest on the banks of the river.