Six decades of Chris Hughton
A version of this article was first published in "Forest Review" on Tuesday, 20th October, 2020 versus Rotherham United
There isn’t usually much to be garnered from the platitudes of new manager press conferences but one of the comments at Chris Hughton’s recent unveiling struck a chord.
Delivered in that thoughtful and considered tone for which he has become both renowned and respected, Chris noted that he has closely followed our fortunes through the “eras”.
This was no throwaway soundbite.
In overseeing the late victory at Blackburn last Saturday in his first match, Hughton’s professional involvement against – and now for - our club spans a remarkable six decades.
He first played against us – the then European champions – in October 1979, when a brilliant Glenn Hoddle volley gave Spurs the two points in front of nearly 50,000 at White Hart Lane and millions more watching the ITV highlights the next day.
In contrast, the City Ground was a fortress in the days when the 70s became the 80s and Chris’s first professional visit in March 1980 was marked by a brace of second half braces from Kenneth Burns and Trevor Francis as we eased to a 4-0 victory.
Sadly, it also seemingly used up our goal allocation for that week, as just three days later we drew a fatal blank in our doomed attempt to win the League Cup for the third successive season.
Throughout the 80s and 90s, Spurs v Forest was a keenly contested affair with open, attacking and often thrilling football to the fore.
Spurs and England greats such as Hoddle, Paul Gascoigne and Gary Lineker strived to get the upper hand over our short back and sides lads from the East Midlands – and mostly unsuccessfully it should be noted, as we won seven out of nine at White Hart Lane from the mid-80s onwards (and the other were 1-1 draws where we led and should really have won).
1983/84 was a momentous season for us both. In early October 1983, amid much fanfare, ITV cameras were present at White Hart Lane for the first ever live league match shown in this country.
As a club with many “firsts” to our credit, it was somewhat apt when 80s favourite Colin Walsh popped up on the far post to score first … albeit only after our current boss was caught in possession at left back!
Spurs eventually won 2-1 late on that autumnal Sunday afternoon; ironic in that our own late arrival would have delayed ITV’s broadcast if it wasn’t for Cloughie commanding the police to escort our coach down the hard shoulder of the M1 an hour before kick-off.
The return fixture in February 1984 was also covered by ITV (this time highlights) and matchday was also recorded by BBC cameras, following the Spurs fans on their British Rail “Football Special” to Nottingham for a documentary entitled The Away Game.
Such footage is a fascinating document of the era, as the heavily policed away fans edge from the station to the City Ground away enclosure (coincidentally, a cutaway shot early in I Believe in Miracles features Spurs fans making the same walk in August 1978).
In fact, in 1984, some took an unwelcome detour to the Trent End but, in keeping with media coverage in that era, there wasn’t even a brief mention in the documentary.
However, ITV’s reverse camera angle replay of Steve Hodge’s opener reveals the motionless visitors in the Trent End before, immediately afterwards, they were escorted to the away end for their own safety.
That was a rare occasion when visitors intruded on our own hallowed shallow terrace. Chelsea and Southampton benefited from the police allocating them the Trent End in the 1970s but only Arsenal, Newcastle and Man City have survived our collective memories to be remembered as entering en masse with violent intent.
Alan Brazil and Walsh (again) then traded goals, before the clock on our aesthetically pleasing scoreboard blazed “90”.
With the whistle imminent - not much injury time in those days - intricate approach play released the Spurs left back to finish with some aplomb to a collective and audible gasp from the home crowd.
There is surprise in Brian Moore’s voice: this was one of only 12 goals in a distinguished career of over 350 matches … of none other than Chris Hughton.
Graham Roberts’ subsequent not-too-polite observations to our back four failed to evade the ITV edit, almost a pre-cursor to the Steve Sedgley and the late Justin Edinburgh with Roy Keane in the FA Cup Final seven years later.
As ever under Cloughie, there was barely a flicker from our lads, but I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who hoped one of our lot would occasionally respond in kind.
We should have then met again over two legs with the whole of Europe watching.
That is until Anderlecht president Constant Vanden Stock and Spanish referee Emilio Guruceta Muro intervened to fraudulently divert the course of the 1984 UEFA Cup semi-final second leg courtesy of 1.2m Belgian francs (but that's another story).
As we entered the 1990s, Chris was now plying his trade at second division West Ham and in the 1991 FA Cup semi-final we finally got some refereeing fortune courtesy of Keith Hackett’s first half dismissal of Tony Gale.
Gary Crosby nicked the ball off the Hughton's foot only to be bought down by Tony Gale. At the time it was highly contentious but not so watching it back now through 2020 vision.
West Ham had been on top at that stage but we then turned on the style with four second half goals finally taking Cloughie to his first FA Cup final – of course, where Spurs were the party poopers.
In the noughties, Chris started his successful managerial career (in fact, he was also twice caretaker manager at Spurs in the late 90s) and he visited the City Ground with his high-flying Newcastle side in October 2009.
Live on Sky in front of a full house and with the combustible Billy Davies starting to raise us from an extended slumber, Dexter Blackstock’s winner was wildly celebrated by a raucous crowd.
Indeed, it felt like a new era was dawning so it’s remarkable – and somewhat sobering – to note that was eleven years ago last weekend.
It was also October when Chris experienced a distinctly different City Ground atmosphere in the 2011/12 season.
Now managing Birmingham, and with Steve McClaren in our dugout, an extremely rare Ishmael Miller goal had given us the lead as we entered the last quarter of an hour.
But we then capitulated in a fashion not to dissimilar to the Stoke debacle last season (but this time with a barracking home crowd as an accompaniment) and Blues won 3-1.
Not long after the match, both McClaren and, sensationally, chairman Nigel Doughty resigned.
The second half of the 2010s bought Hughton regular victories at our expense, including a last minute Steve Sidwell winner for Brighton in April 2016.
Our manager that night? Paul Williams.
Brighton certainly had the upper hand on us before their promotion to the Premier League, however Chris’s last visit to the City Ground was a surprise 3-0 defeat in one of Gary Brazil spells as caretaker manager.
Brighton could have gone top of the Championship and, in contrast, we could have slipped into the relegation zone on that Saturday in March 2017.
We struggled for an hour until Zach Clough (now, of course, to be found under Chris’s management) put as ahead and then we put some gloss on the scoreline with a couple more unexpected goals late on through Ben Osborn and Clough’s second.
So now, after six decades of opposition, Chris Hughton is finally on our side.
With plenty of matches to go this season, I think there might be more drama to unfold in the Forest/Hughton story … best of luck to you, Chris, we’re (finally) all behind you.