‘Two games at the City Ground that’ll forever be etched in my mind’

From the first match after Clough's death to a FA Cup mauling, it's not always been plain sailing in Nottingham

Our first away game this year takes us to Nottingham and a game at the City Ground against a rejuvenated Forest team.

They will, of course, play a side containing a certain mercenary they have recently purchased from Manchester. 

But it’s amazing to think that we have not played Nottingham Forest since January 2014 and in the league it’s a further two years before that. 

I find that statistic hard to believe as it seemed for an age that we almost played them every year.

Although we have a decent record against Forest since their glory years of the seventies, many will always think back to a certain game at Villa Park in the FA Cup semi final as their everlasting memory of games against Forest. 

But I was not there on that day so it’s not a memory I could share. Looking at my own personal history of games I have attended when the Hammers have played Forest, there have been just 10 and if I look at away games, there have been just four.

Different reasons

There are two away games that stand out for me for two very different reasons. Those games were played in September 2004 and then the last time we visited the City ground in 2014, and here’s why.

On 20th September 2004 one of the greatest football managers not to have managed England passed away at the age of 69. That man was Brian Clough.

Cloughie was the first great footballing pundit in my eyes. He was a celebrity away from the game but it’s what he achieved as a manager that exalted him to greatness.

Firstly he took an unfashionable Derby to a league championship and then his legacy was cemented when he took Forest to not one but two European Cups, an amazing achievement.

Just six days after he passed, it was the Hammers that became the first team to play Forest at the City Ground. 

The pre-game was all about tributes to Cloughie and I still have the programme from that game that was full of Brian Clough information.

Green jumpers

Forest fans had also been asked to attend the game wearing Brian Clough’s trademark green jumpers, and as I arrived in Nottingham, there were green jumpers everywhere.

But there was another factor that makes me remember the game most of all and that was to do with the ground itself.

The game had been tense but with almost an hour gone, Marlon Harewood popped up to put the Hammers in front and possibly spoil the wake.

But it was then that things went pear shaped for us Hammers supporters. I was in the away stand and to prevent Forest fans from throwing things down onto the travelling supporters, a netting had been put in place attached to heavy metal girders.

Half way through the second half one of those girders decided that it had enough and came unattached, the City Ground was a little dilapidated in those days.

Only the netting prevented it from falling all the way down. So was the game abandoned? Not a chance. 

Danger

After the travelling support pointed the danger out to the stewards, we were instead crushed in together and away from that dangerous area. During all the confusion Forest scored two goals.

The result now became almost irrelevant as with each goal that went in the upper stand bounced and that girder looked as if it would finally collapse. 

Fortunately we didn’t come away with a result but we did come away with our lives. 

Now let’s look at that second game that sticks in my memory, the infamous FA Cup third round tie of January 2014, oh how I remember it well. 

The first thing to say is the stand had been repaired. In fact in 2011, I had been to the ground to see us win and also to witness that it was now safe.

Arriving at the ground in 2014, there were rumours that our then manager Sam Allardyce was going to rest some players with a big League Cup semi final tie against Manchester City just a few days later. 

What I didn’t realise was just how many changes there was going to be. 

Research

When the team was read out I had to check the internet to find out who half the players were who were in the claret and blue that day. 

Here’s a few of those names from that day; Calum Driver, Sebastian Lletget, Danny Whitehead and George Moncur all started.

And how about the bench? Does anyone remember Jaanai Gordon Hutton? 

It was a recipe for disaster. As the final whistle was blown the Hammers walked away with a 5-0 defeat and we were lucky at that.

Forest even had a hatrick hero in Jamie Paterson. It was a football massacre. 

The game had a far reaching effect on the club as in one fell swoop a group of academy players were destroyed and never recovered.

So there you have it two games at the City Ground in recent memory that will forever be etched in my mind. 

Let’s hope our return after eight years away will be a happier one.

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