Thursday, 28 August 2014

Spurred to Succeed

That a Capital One Cup 3rd round tie away at Tottenham Hotspur has elicited such interest amongst Nottingham Forest fans shows how long it is since the Reds were dining from English football's top table. After all; it's within the lifetime of many Forest fans - myself included - that Spurs were just another top-flight rival, one who Forest - FA Cup Final aside - enjoyed a pretty good record against. However, as I write this Forest and Spurs are separated by some 20 positions in the footballing ladder, sitting proudly atop the Championship and Premier League respectively.

Some of our more recent matches against Spurs have proved memorable for various reasons, so here's three of the biggest:

FA Cup Final (Wembley Stadium - May 18th 1991): Nottingham Forest 1 - 2 Tottenham Hotspur (AET) 

There's a school of thought to say that, if it weren't for Cup Final referee Roger Milford's lenience toward Spurs maverick Paul Gascoigne, Nottingham Forest might not have endured the wilderness period that they have done. If Milford had sent Gascoigne off for his two horrendous challenges - on first Garry Parker then Gary Charles - Spurs would've been down to 10 men and Forest might have won. Brian Clough, having finally captured the one trophy to elude him, might have retired and left Forest on a high, rather than the devastating, relegated low which he eventually departed to. That's joining a LOT of dots however, and we'll never know what might have happened.

What did happen though was a heartbreaking defeat in extra time, courtesy of an own goal by Des Walker. This after Spurs' midfielder Paul Stewart had equalised a brilliant Stuart Pearce free-kick - awarded after the second of Gascoigne's fouls, the same foul which was to put Gascoigne out of the game for the better part of a year. One can argue that, if Milford had booked Gascoigne for his first challenge, he might have done him a favour as well as Forest. Once again we'll never know.

Premier League (White Hart Lane - September 24th 1994): Tottenham Hotspur 1 - 4 Nottingham Forest

Following the aforementioned relegation, Forest were to spend just one season out of the Premier League before making a triumphant return by finishing 2nd in the Championship. After a strong start to their campaign, Forest were to face a stiff test away to Spurs. Or so it seemed on paper. It didn't quite turn out like that as a Spurs team boasting a forward line of German superstar Jurgen Klinsmann and ex-Forest man Teddy Sheringham were put to the sword by a sensational Forest display, and in particular their own striking partnership of Stan Collymore and new Dutch signing Bryan Roy.

Though Collymore didn't net that day, he set up the first goal for the industrious Steve Stone, who was a constant menace to Spurs throughout the match. Bryan Roy scored twice himself before a wonderfully audacious shot by Norwegian maestro Lars Bohinen put the cherry on top of a delicious cake of a performance near full time. Forest would finish the season in 3rd - still the equal highest finish by a team promoted to the Premier League.

FA Cup Round 5 (City Ground - February 19th 1996): Match Abandoned; rearranged match (City Ground - February 28th 1996): Nottingham Forest 2 - 2 Tottenham Hotspur; replay (White Hart Lane - March 9th 1996): Tottenham Hotspur 1 - 1 Nottingham Forest (AET, Forest won 3-1 on penalties)

In all my years supporting Forest, I have never known weather conditions like those which forced our FA Cup tie against Spurs in 1996 to be abandoned. What started as a light dusting of snow turned into a blizzard so severe that the match didn't even reach half time. The journey home from the City Ground to my mum's house, which usually took around half an hour, took nearly six times as long as my poor brother could only crawl along the snow-clogged roads in his Ford Sierra. We were lucky though, as many abandoned vehicles littered the streets where their drivers had left them, giving up the ghost.

The rearranged match nine days later was a cracker, with two sublime Ian Woan free-kicks cancelling out Tottenham goals by Chris Armstrong. Then the replay saw the spoils shared again; a 1-1 draw this time with Bryan Roy and Teddy Sheringham the Forest and Spurs scorers respectively. This resulted in a penalty shootout which Forest won 3-1, thanks mostly to three of the best penalty saves I've ever seen, by Forest keeper Mark Crossley. Annoyingly and typically though, Forest were to bow out in the next round, beaten 1-0 by Aston Villa with another ex-Red Franz Carr scoring the only goal.

There are many more fascinating historic matches between the teams, such as the bomb-scare League Cup semi-final in 1992, notable for a thumping Roy Keane header in the rain; and the 2-2 League draw at the City Ground which saw Jason Lee turning the game as substitute. Hopefully the forthcoming game will give fans of both clubs another treat. And, even more hopefully, we'll be playing Spurs on a more regular basis in the Premier League again soon. A man can dream...

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