Forest on TV: Forestrail to Swansea, 1981
A version of this article was first published in "Forest Review" on Saturday, 30th March, 2019 versus Swansea City
Swansea memorably took the First Division by storm in the 1981/82 season, under the management of John Toshack and in their on-trend slim fitting Patrick kit.
On the first day of the season the Swans overwhelmed Leeds 5-1 with some fantastic goals, accompanied by sun-drenched pictures and beautiful Welsh-infused commentary on Match of the Day by Idwal Robling.
Earlier in the programme, we were the main feature, beating Southampton 2-1 with Trevor Francis scoring his final goals for us before moving to Manchester City.
We were around the top six for the first half of that season with a new side and sour own stylish new pin-striped kit.
By the time we were due to visit the Vetch Field on 12th December 1981, Swansea were still undefeated at home.
The scene could not have been more different to those pictures of the Leeds match as the UK – seemingly except Swansea - was in the grip of a severe bout of snow and ice such that our match was one of only three in the First Division to survive postponement.
However, we nearly didn’t make the match – nor get back. “Forestrail” was bought out of mothballs for this match - a popular concept in the 70s, where the players travelled to away games on the train with the fans. Just imagine that now ...
On this day, the train was heavily delayed, such that we only arrived at the Vetch at 2.45pm and the game kicked off eight minutes late. Hardly ideal preparation against a team who hadn’t conceded a goal at home for three months.
The BBC also somehow made it to South Wales and we enjoyed extended highlights on that evening’s Match of the Day, with John Motson commentating.
Unsurprisingly the only other game to feature was at QPR, with their new all-weather plastic pitch next door to the BBC Television Centre.
Despite the extreme weather, in opening the programme Jimmy Hill had to apologise to viewers for the bright sunshine which blurred the pictures in the first half.
On the pitch this was the era of Jurgen Roeber (who had worn a spectacular combination of contemporary terrace sportswear in photos to announce his arrival), Stuart Gray and Mark Proctor, with Justin Fashanu and Ian Wallace up front.
Many of the players wore trainers to combat the icy pitch, most strikingly Viv Anderson in a pair of white and green Pumas.
Swansea went ahead in the first half when an unmarked Robbie James headed home a Leighton James corner – “Leighton James…Robbie James”, quipped Motty seamlessly.
The home fans were singing “We’re Gonna Win The League” and, at half time, Swansea were indeed on course to go top. Peter Shilton then made a number of important saves - “remarkable” according to Motty - and we staged an unlikely comeback deep into the second half with the sun long since set and the pitch becoming increasingly treacherous.
With 12 minutes left, Willie Young on his Forest debut after his midweek £150,000 move from Arsenal, headed home a John Robertson corner in similar circumstances to Robbie James an hour earlier.
A few minutes later Motty was enthusiastically noting that Young was penalised for the unusual offence of winning a header without calling.
Then, in the last minute, Swansea full back Neil Robinson handled a deep Roeber cross and you-know-who duly dispatched the subsequent penalty in front of the 600 or so extremely hardy souls in the away end.
We went sixth in the table and, in the first season of three points for a win, were just one win away from Manchester United at the top and a point behind Swansea in fourth.
Match of the Day then confirmed the FA Third Round draw which had been made earlier that evening on Radio 2.
We were drawn at home to the Swans’ rivals from the north, Wrexham. Amazingly, due to the weather, we didn’t play again until that match in early January 1982 (and even that was initially postponed), which we disastrously lost 3-1.
Swansea eventually finished a creditable sixth but our form tailed away alarmingly to finish 12th - the only season we finished outside the top ten under Clough, apart from the Annus Horribilis of 1992/93.
We scored a paltry 14 goals in the 22 league games ahead of the return fixture against Swansea - which we lost 2-0 - culminating in the sad resignation of Peter Taylor.
Back in Wales, “Forestrail” spluttered to Cardiff before another heavy delay.
At 2.25am on Sunday morning, the train finally got back to Nottingham Midland station – eight hours and 45 minutes after leaving Swansea and long after Match of the Day was over.
An eventful way to close another year in the history of Nottingham Forest FC.