• Matt Appleby

Forest on TV: Last known sighting of PL promotion

This article was first published in "Forest Review" on Saturday, 11th August, 2018 versus Reading

The visit of Reading brings back memories of two very different matches broadcast live on Sky Sports in our Championship winning season of 1997/98.

Harry Bassett hasn't always got the credit he deserves for building an exciting yet solid team: 28 wins in the season and a goal difference of plus 40.

Pierre van Hooijdonk and Kevin Campbell scored a remarkable 57 goals, with some high quality pros still present from Frank Clark’s team: Cooper & Chettle; Woan & Stone; Bart-Williams & Gemmill to name just a few.

Of course, this team was also the last Nottingham Forest team to achieve promotion to the Premier League (and, yes, it was in the last century).

Other than the midweek Simod Cup game in 1988, we hadn’t visited Elm Park since 1950 so a sizeable away following braved the Friday night traffic in late October 1997.

Despite us being top by four points and Reading being in a lowly 19th, either team could have won a truly-topsy-turvy 3-3.

Indeed, at 2-0 up early in the second half thanks to a van Hooijdonk brace, we on the open away terrace were anticipating a convincing away win such was our dominance.

But an inexplicable decision to send off Dave Beasant for successfully avoiding the onrushing Martin Williams turned the game in the 56th minute.

It took a while to extract Lurch from the pitch as his rage was exceeded only by his response to Michael Branch’s despicable act of gamesmanship at Molineux two seasons later.

Steve Chettle went in goal and was promptly picking the ball out the net from Williams subsequent penalty.

Kevin Campbell restored the two goal cushion but Reading stormed back to level, had a goal disallowed and forced Chet into some impressive part-time keeping.

However, the game will not be remembered for any of that but instead an astonishing first half miss by Steve Stone at 1-0 up.

Kevin Campbell was clean through and, in typical unselfish fashion, squared the ball to Stone, completely eliminating Steve Mautone in the Reading goal in the process.

Stone just had to roll the ball into the empty net from ten yards but somehow skewed the ball horribly wide to deep amusement of home and even away supporters.

In one of the most understated observations in football history, Alan Brazil on Sky co-commentary explains "... and he’ll be very disappointed in that”.

On closer inspection, the ball does not really appear to bobble (yes, that is a "not").

And he skews it so far wide that the ball ends up off screen left.

It was a miss on a par with Ronnie Rosenthal's famous "finish" at Aston Villa for Liverpool.

Albeit at least Rosenthal hit the bar.

Stoney, of course, suffered no retribution from us Forest fans such was his indisputable dedication to our cause and the affection with which he was held. To be honest, we were all a bit embarrassed on his behalf.

By the return in April 1998, the levity had been replaced by stifling tension.

We were top by three points with two to play, desperately keeping Middlesbrough and Sunderland off our case.

Reading, in contrast, were bottom, four points from safety. Only a win would suffice. And having lost 11 of their last 14 not many other than their hearty yet small knot of supporters in the Lower Bridgford thought they would.

However, our flowing football that had heralded 82 goals was absent.

As the game progressed Reading created the better chances and, agonisingly, hit the inside of the post through striker Paul Brayson.

This misfortunate seemingly dogged Brayson throughout his Reading career of a single goal in 42 appearances, although success was later to be found winning the Golden Boot ... at Blyth Spartans.

Then with two minutes remaining, Colin Cooper chipped a free kick into Reading’s packed penalty box at the Bridgford End.

Chris Bart-Williams was a wonderfully technically gifted footballer.

In his mind, he would have pictured the following: control the ball with back to goal; feint; turn with right instep to create a yard of space; rifle low left foot shot across the face of the goal and into opposite corner.

And that’s exactly what happened.

Shots across the face of goal create additional drama.

As the ball leaves the foot there is a collective gasp in the ground.

Then a split second of silence from all 29,302 present.

And, eventually, an ear-shattering explosion of sound as the ball crashes in. Forest are promoted and Reading relegated.

Bart-Williams wheeled away ahead of ecstatic team mates, maintaining a sense of cool fully in keeping with the breathtaking skill he’d just administered.

A truly memorable City Ground moment.



©2020 by Matt Appleby
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