Forest on TV: Late 70s defeats & New Year return to Leeds
A version of this article was first published in "Forest Review" on 1st January, 2019 versus Leeds United
As 1979 became 1980, we suffered an unusual occurrence in that amazing Clough and Taylor era - a run of poor form.
We’d started the 79/80 season encamped in our usual dwelling of the top two but a 4-1 defeat at Southampton in early November triggered a spectacular - but thankfully short-lived - fall from grace.
That game was broadcast by Southern TV, with commentary by David Bobin, and such was the shock at Peter Shilton conceding four goals that the highlights were also shown on numerous regional ITV stations the following afternoon.
The TV cameras then followed us around for six league games where we only had a draw for our efforts, courtesy of a last minute Garry Birtles equaliser at the Bridgford End versus Arsenal on BBC’s Match of the Day on the first day of December.
The week after Southampton was our first home defeat in 51 league matches as lowly Brighton finally halted BBC's Grandstand and ITV's World of Sport regular refrain in their 4.40pm results services: "Nottingham Forest undefeated at the City Ground in the league since Cardiff won in April 1977".
And, into the bargain, was a rare John Robertson penalty miss, Tony Woodcock leaving for Cologne and the unusual sight of an opposition manager (Alan Mullery) claiming a deserved victory in a post-match Match of the Day interview.
If we thought that was a bad day at the office, even worse followed a week later when we returned from the Baseball Ground licking our wounds at another incomprehensible 4-1 defeat (with the goals - thankfully not the highlights - covered by the BBC). Our friends from the down the A52 were later relegated.
The previously invincible Shilton then let one through his legs as Crystal Palace beat us by a single goal covered by ITV's The Big Match (the week after Arsenal) and soon we'd lost six straight aways as, three days before Christmas, Manchester United went 3-0 up inside 23 minutes.
This match was produced by ITV’s North West station Granada but confusingly commentated on by ATV’s and our own Hugh Johns rather than Granada’s Gerald Sinstadt.
The highlights reveal we actually played pretty well for the remainder of that game and by the time Match of the Day were at Coventry’s Highfield Road a week later, normal service was resumed: 3-0 to us: Viv rampaging down the wing; and Robbo in amongst the goals (with accompanying modest post-match interview).
With such heavy coverage in recent weeks, it was a pleasant surprise we were again selected for Match of the Day coverage the following Saturday – this time a bristling FA Cup 3rd Round atmosphere as Cloughie returned to today visitors, Leeds, on 5th January 1980.
The respected David Coleman was on the microphone, in his penultimate Forest commentary before he stepped back from football to concentrate on Athletics and A Question Of Sport.
His presentation of the BBC’s Grandstand was particularly memorable – making or breaking your weekend by dramatically calling the results from the Vidiprinter, just as Jeff Stelling would many years later on Sky.
Coleman’s distinctive phrase was “One Nil”, with his minimalist commentary so definitively delivered that it somehow enhanced the pictures.
On the pitch, it was a cold Yorkshire afternoon with us all in red, matching the stripe on the innovative Stuart Surridge ball.
In the first minute, our future favourite Paul Hart fouled Birtles on the edge of the box and a player who’s family is synonymous with our opponents, Frank Gray, rifled home the free kick.
A typical lightening break and comprehensive Birtles finish then doubled our lead on the stroke of half time.
Bomber made it 3-0 early in the second half before Leeds benefited from an unusual Larry Lloyd own goal, a feat he repeated three months later on Match of the Day at Aston Villa (and again against Villa on ATV’s Star Soccer the following Christmas).
But there was no comeback as Robbo curled a delicious shot to complete a 4-1 win at the end where our support was enjoying the start to the bright new decade.
Peter Taylor then conducted the post-match interview duties, as ever, sharply attired, this time in scarf and sheepskin coat.
Only two weeks later we were back at Elland Road, with Martin Tyler and ITV’s Yorkshire capturing another away win.
Young Terry Connor put Leeds ahead before Birtles classy header, again on the stroke of half time, and then Trevor Francis hooked home with eight minutes left to seal a 2-1 win.
In-between, we had also beaten West Brom 3-1 on Star Soccer and, remarkably, we were selected yet again for TV coverage the week after as our reward for that FA Cup victory at Elland Road was a 4th Round tie at home to our old foes, Liverpool.
We’d beaten Liverpool in midweek in the first leg of the League Cup Semi Final, with Robbo’s last minute penalty broadcast on BBC’s Sportsnight. But Liverpool - finally - got the better of us, winning 2-0 in the FA Cup thanks partly to an uncharacteristic Shilton error in Coleman’s last ever Forest commentary.
However we had the final word by safely negotiating the League Cup second leg. The highlights were presented that evening by Brian Moore on ITV’s Midweek Sports Special - including the obligatory telephone on his desk.
Only David Fairclough’s irritating last minute equaliser prevented a rare Anfield away win after more coolness from the spot from Robbo in front of The Kop midway through the first half.
In that era it was rare to be selected for TV coverage in consecutive weeks. The BBC only showed highlights from three matches across all divisions on Match of the Day and the ITV regions would cover just one local match as their main feature.
The Liverpool FA Cup match made it an unprecedented eleven consecutive Saturday matches we had been shown on TV - we really were the Manchester (or should that be Leeds) United of the day.
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