Forest on Betamax: “And Nottingham Forest are in the dark shirts”
A regular refrain for those watching on black and white TV in the 1970s.
Fast-forward 40 years and a fancy new TV bought renewed enjoyment from an industrial-sized Forest archive
Johnny Metgod’s Dad owned a Betamax.
I wished I’d known that in 1985.
Metgod Jr. has the retort of most son-of-Betamax-owners: “It was better technology than VHS, you know”.
I do know, only too well.
My own father resisted the new-fandangled video technology in the early 80s, whilst I cast an envious eye at my mates enthusiastically recording Star Soccer, Midweek Sports Special et al on their massive video recorders, carefully pausing and rewinding to estimate away followings.
My Dad spent many long years considering his options before choosing a beautiful Sony Betamax number with minimal orange detailing.
Rather like my first girlfriend, I recall it with great fondness despite some unexplainable features – such as a counting system that had no correlation with real time (the video that is, not the girlfriend).
And unlike my first girlfriend, I still keep it in my loft.
We were reacquainted again recently when I moved house (the girlfriend curiously lost touch) and it has maintained its’ attractive yet functional styling.
But it weighs the equivalent of a suitcase for a two-week family holiday.
Whilst we waited patiently for the local video store to stock some films in Betamax, there was sadly no football on TV either.
With luck that has doggedly followed me ever since, the belated introduction of a video recorder in our household coincided with a UK TV dispute at the start of the 1985/86 season.
Manchester United won their first 10 games that season and their visit to the City Ground on 31st August 1985 would likely have been selected for highlights.
After all, the aforementioned Metgod Jr. had crowned a “2-0 down, 3-2 last minute win” the previous December with one of his memorable free kicks - and even more memorable celebrations - in front of the Match of the Day cameras.
Hotly pursued by ecstatic SKOL-adorned team-mates, Metgod sprinted from the Trent End into Forest’s own half in front of the Executive Stand.
It was that touchline I patrolled in my Evening Post Junior Reds tracksuit (frustratingly not Adidas branded) when United returned in August 1985.
Chosen as a ballboy, my position opposite the gantry was ripe for the TV coverage that never materialised.
Instead, that day was memorable for other reasons.
Firstly, I saw John Robertson, for many fans - me included - Forest’s greatest ever player, furiously puffing away on a cigarette ten minutes before kick-off. At the fag end of his career, he was deep in his thoughts pondering why he hadn’t even made the bench.
Secondly, there was the piercingly hostile abuse towards the Forest players from the away fans behind me in the lower tier.
Nobody had even heard of this new left back Stuart Pearce and I wasn’t sure what the more highly-rated Ian Butterworth had ever done to upset Man United, especially as we’d only bought them both for a modest fee from the inoffensive Coventry City.
The politest refrain that I recall for Butterworth was the slightly curious: “You f****** baby-faced bastard!”. I was therefore almost relieved when United were 2-0 up in a flash, on the way to a 3-1 win.
As a consequence of that UK TV strike, arguably one of the best goals ever scored at the City Ground was not formally recorded for prosperity that day.
Mark Hughes swerving, dipping, thunderbolt (yes, all of those) is, however, hidden away in the depths of You Tube for those obsessive enough to search other team’s goals compilations seeking rare Forest goals (I’m hoping that’s not just me).
Oversized programme titles
One match per week was still broadcast outside the UK in 1985, presented by Brian Moore as Big League Soccer.
The visit to a sparse City Ground five weeks later captured Stuart Pearce’s first goal for Forest and a swashbuckling performance by Method Jr. in a 3-1 win against Ipswich - a match I “watched” in full on Ceefax.
I recently acquired a VHS copy of the programme and it’s notable for the high quality picture reproduction … ironically, much better quality than my Betamax recordings.
These matches - a forerunner of the top flight overseas TV rights that last fetched £4.35bn – were bundled together in a Christmas video, (not very) imaginatively titled Soccer ‘85.
It wasn’t a happy Christmas for me though – my Dad never did find a Betamax copy.
Thankfully, by the time of the return fixture with United in January 1986, Match of the Day was back on a Saturday night and, of course, Manchester United v Nottingham Forest was the first match chosen.
And, in keeping with some titanic Man Utd-Forest battles throughout the 1980s, Forest won in dramatic fashion. Yes, younger viewers, I know it is difficult to comprehend that we were rivals but ask your Man United mates’ Dads. This time a “1-0 up, 2-1 down, 3-2 last minute winner” game at Old Trafford.
Colin Walsh was a trusty Forest servant throughout the barren TV years of the early to mid 1980s, deservingly having his talent showcased nationwide with two clean strikes, before young Nigel popped up with the late header in front of the jubilant away end.
Clough Sr. enjoyed the win so much that he asked the BBC for copies for the team. Presumably ten VHS copies and a Betamax for the Metgods.
For me, my obsession with Forest on TV started as this was the first game I taped.
In fact, I even took pictures of the winning goal on TV with my new camera. When developed, unsurprisingly, they photos looked, well, shit.
From then on, every Forest TV appearance was diligently recorded - albeit usually by my Dad on his beloved Betamax, as I was at the match itself.
For those watching in black and white
Like so many of my generation, though, my TV obsession was ignited by late 70s football coverage.
In particular the brighter, more vivid, yet lower budget ITV coverage every Sunday afternoon on ATV’s Star Soccer in the Midlands.
The phrase “dulcet tones” is now a well-worn cliché when referring to commentators of that era.
But let’s be clear: dulcet tones begins and ends with the magnificent Hugh Johns - or “Huge Ones” as he was affectionately known.
Unusually, ATV’s policy was to mostly steer away from local derbies and, even worse, much of the Mdlands' Star Soccer catalogue was later taped over.
Thankfully, some of the Forest archive from that era is still intact due to frequent coverage on The Big Match, the regional highlights programme for London viewers (see how I use that ITV phrase, even now).
“The pictures are from ATV, your commentator is Hugh Johns, and Nottingham Forest are in the dark shirts” was the frequent refrain from the brilliant Brian Moore as the key moments from “Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest” surge to promotion and league championship were packaged into a thrilling five-minute segments.
A couple of years ago I subscribed to BT Sport but not, like most, for the £2bn+ investment in the glitzy Premier League and Champions League.
No, it was solely to watch the 20 new episodes of The Big Match Revisited from 1976/77 on my new oversized TV.
My collection of football from the era is so silly that I have seen the vast majority of games but I still hugely enjoyed the series.
The quality of football varied wildly from decent to downright awful; there is outrageous fashion on and off the pitch (never mind double denim, there is triple denim in the Trent End); and the production by London Weekend Television is surprisingly innovative with probing interviews by Moore.
There is much debate about goal music these days, not least at the City Ground, but in the 70s the same song was sung - seemingly without fail - after every goal by the away team: “You’re Gonna Get Your Fucking Heads Kicked In”.
And, unfortunately, sometimes that was the case as this was the last season before properly fenced segregation at many grounds, so there would often only be a thin line of police separating the hardy band of away fans from a trip to the local hospital - just read the account of Forest v Wolves in August 1976 on the Molineux Mix forum to understand the experience of away fans at the City Ground in the mid-70s.
There was a quirk in the BT Sport re-run of the 6-1 rout of Sheffield United in October 1976, with Huge Ones erroneously calling it “Six Nothing!” as Viv Anderson scores his first ever Forest goal.
My fancy new TV revealed the City Ground terraces in all their glory and I found myself transported back to my Betamax in 1986 as I paused to study the fans.
The genuine elation on fans’ faces (and Viv’s) is really heart-warming, including a long-haired couple in the midst of the Bridgford End snogging furiously in the delirium.
Over on the BBC, Motty and the Match of the Day cameras visited as the mist rolled in from the banks of the Trent in November 1976 for the visit of table-topping Chelsea.
Like with Wolves earlier in the season, this match was also held up by serious crowd trouble and it is notable for Martin O’Neill’s opener at a motionless Trent End.
Again, it might difficult for our younger fans to fathom but both Forest and Chelsea fans had well-earned fearsome reputations in the mid-1970s and Chelsea were allocated the Trent End in attempt to curb the inevitable disturbances.
Ken Smales’ incisive programme notes provide a brilliant and sobering record of this era, as throughout the 1970s and early 80s, he vigorously debates numerous possible solutions to the seemingly insolvable hooligan problem.
Sadly full highlights of the game have been lost or, more likely, mislabelled - more of that shortly - but the goals can still be found on You Tube.
As old games became increasingly available via club-produced videos, and then the advent of You Tube, my collection of Forest matches grew to faintly ridiculous proportions, all neatly filed (now digitally) in a manner only those with OCD will truly appreciate.
But there is both a happy ending and some symmetry to the story.
Central replaced the much-loved ATV midway through the 1981/82 season as the TV franchise for the Midlands and Huge Ones was packed off to HTV Wales at the end of that season to be replaced by Peter Brackley.
Hugh's final Forest commentary was a 1-0 home defeat to Wolves at Easter 1982. This was during a brief phase where we occasionally and inexplicably wore white socks, with our dreadful form seemingly the penalty for such kit crimes.
Johns then returned utterly unexpectedly - and to the delight of us kids from the 70s now discussing Central Sports Special down the local pub - to cover Port Vale v Man United in 1994 when Fergie played some unknown kids, including two-goal Paul Scholes on debut.
Our loss go Huge Ones was the gain of a young Jonathan Owen, watching football on HTV with his Dad on their telly in Merthyr Tydfil.
Ironically, Jonny would later work at HTV and, many years later and now producing films and living in Nottingham, he observed that the miracle of Brian Clough’s late 70s silky-Adidas-clad team wasn’t really discussed - almost as if that era was the elephant in the room for us Forest fans.
We fans had lived the dream but were now seemingly growing old living a humdrum life with a rather ordinary girlfriend, struggling to comprehend that we’d once dated a supermodel.
So, we raided the vaults of ITV and BBC to find the footage for the I Believe In Miracles film.
One afternoon we had a five foot pile of Brian Clough tapes at ITV's offices in London to sift through.
It was mesmeric.
We were transported into a different era where Clough on TV was like Mohammed Ali holding court, or Ian Botham coming out to bat.
Like millions of others, you just had to watch it.
Clough was handsome - more so than I remember, despite my mate’s Mum fancying him - contrary and razor sharp.
With the cushion of having all the big games already - albeit on Betamax - we sought the obscure to try and make the film look different to previous commentaries on that miraculous team.
Footage of League Cup wins against Aston Villa, Notts County, Oxford and Everton makes the cut (not seen since the time on local news); rare FA Cup goals against Bristol Rovers at Villa Park and versus QPR; plus, goals at Cardiff in 1976 (shown by HTV the week after Chelsea, fact fans), that we inadvertently found on a montage of ITV's On The Ball footage; and plenty more besides.
The full highlights of that Chelsea game eluded us as the BBC tape labelled as the fixture was actually Grandstand coverage of swimming from Crystal Palace.
We did, however, unearth footage of the Notts Police Chief Constable the following Monday on ATV Today commenting on the crowd trouble by calling fans “sub-normals” and suggesting that “the watching of football matches as we know it might be coming to an end”.
That didn’t make the film but hopefully more truthful was the Clough line that “football belongs to everybody”, which we found from an interview with David Coleman on BBC's Sportsnight in April 1978 and now features on the pre-match film at the City Ground.
The story ends with the Metgods.
Metgod Sr. also had a Betamax camcorder that he transported on his back, proudly documenting his son’s journey at Real Madrid - yes, kids, Forest actually signed somebody from Real Madrid.
My Dad was still at home methodically recording our matches whilst I was at the City Ground in the middle pen of the Trent End.
Metgod Jr.’s goal v West Ham in 1986 that also features in the pre-match film is not from the BBC archive – it’s actually my Dad’s recording on his Betamax.
I’m sure that both our Dad’s would therefore also be pleased that Metgod Jr. has asked for a short film of his goals at Forest.
On Betamax, of course.
A version of this article was first published in issue 6 of Bandy & Shinty in Nov 2017