The last time Hull City hosted Nottingham Forest competitively, Billy Bremner scored the winning goal.
That Bremner died more than a dozen years ago tells less than half of the story, mathematically and figuratively. Forest were under the command of Brian Clough when Boothferry Park hosted that game in the autumn of 1976 (photo shows City’s Jeff Hemmerman being challenged by Larry Lloyd), a little before the riches of domestic and European honours would come their way.
This weekend, in a Saturday late kick-off game to account for Sky’s astute choice of televised fixture, the two will finally meet again. Forest were promoted at the end of that 1976/77 campaign – which was at the same level as that which the two find themselves today – and while they went on to win five major trophies in the next three seasons, City began to sink.
Forest spent 16 consecutive years at the top level while City huffed and puffed and on a few occasions nearly expired entirely while bumming around the other three divisions, but even when Forest left the top flight for the – so far – last time in 1999, the prospect of the two meeting up looked unlikely unless a Cup draw brought them together. Which, of course, it never did.
Forest’s relegation to the third tier in 2005 coincided, typically (though nobody noticed, of course), with City’s promotion from it under Peter Taylor. Forest returned to the second tier in 2008, the same year that City succeeded in leaving it via the correct route and into the Premier League. The dual failures of last season – City to avoid the drop, Forest to win the play-offs – finally brings the two together this season.
One genuinely hopes there is an anticipation among the travelling Forest fraternity who pitch up in the North Stand of the Circle this weekend, as certainly there will be plenty of East Yorkshire hands being rubbed in glee when the Tigers venture to the City Ground in the spring for the return game. Aging members of the Tiger Nation who talk fondly of the Boothferry Halt, a supermarketless North Stand, Garry Parker’s goal against Leeds and leading Liverpool at half time, are experiencing something new in the same way as the most recent supporter whose head was turned by the Premier League.
Anyone who has seen Nottingham Forest visit the home of the Tigers before in a competitive fixture is possibly ancient, maybe lying and almost certainly life-deficient in so many ways. But it took a hardier and even older soul to attend away games in the mad old, bad old 1970s and so when the City Ground beckons in March, those who can say – from the stricter wing of the ground tick debate – that they are not making a first ever visit should be nought but admired.
Though this author hasn’t bought a programme this season, one assumes that the “previous fixtures” feature still exists? If so, then it’ll have the most ardent of archivists scrambling through dusty articles and faded photographs that have had no practical use whatsoever for 34 seasons. They will have earned their pre-match lager and free copy of the brochure.
There are more recent connections between the two of course; City famously and sadly sold that man Parker to Forest in 1988, calling time on the short but wonderful spell this gifted midfielder had at Boothferry Park and, of course, the club he joined was able to utilise his skills to the limit over the next three years, and many a proud City fan became Forest sympathisers for the day on the numerous occasions Parker turned out for a Wembley occasion.
Warren Joyce then appointed Forest’s most successful ever captain, John McGovern, as his assistant upon becoming a reluctant manager of the club after the ventilator was finally switched off on Mark Hateley’s regime, and many a Tigers hero of the Great Escape talk warmly of McGovern’s coaching style and his insistence on putting out the cones himself (and putting them away) as they added assessment points to his coaching badges.
But generally, the fixture of Hull City and Nottingham Forest, in both guises, represents something of a black hole for a generation and more of supporters from both camps. One has a vivid image of ground tickers from the East Midlands pulling on their red shirts and dribbling with glee at the thought of this match, as there will be plenty doing the same while dressed in amber and checking the route to Nottingham come the spring. It will do no harm to offer a genuinely warm welcome and best regards to Forest and their fans today. And then beat them.