When a fervent Nottingham Forest supporter describes life’s delights thus: “Nottingham Forest are magic, as are Fab ice lollies. Muse also make the grade. I’m an editorial assistant, festival goer, uncrushed saboteur and bassist”, you just know he’s going to be interesting to talk to. This guy has also played football with Muse bass player Chris Wolstenholme!
So without further ado, meet the admirable Mr Christian Brown:
Hi Christian. We always seem to rub along quite well with you guys – there has never seemed any animosity between us – do you feel the same way?
Yeah definitely! Given how tribal football can be, it’s a bit odd having passive anomalies, but Norwich certainly fall into that category for us. Ironically, my first ever football match was a Norwich game – it was either against Palace or Bristol City – and we met Phil Mulryne, who I believe signed our programme! So from a personal perspective, no issues with Norwich at all. We also share an affection for Darren Huckerby, who was a class act when we (briefly) had him.
I well remember walking to our ground with both your lot and our lot together singing something extremely obscene about a traveller site in Essex. Are you naturally friendly people?
Difficult one to say! By and large, I’d say our fan base is friendly enough, but they can be a bit prickly and stuck in their ways sometimes. All fans are fickle, but ours seem to take pride in being so – we could be 1-0 down after 10 minutes and it’ll be “sack everyone”, then five minutes later we’ll equalise and it’ll be, “promotion is on the cards!” On the whole though, I’d say we’re a friendly bunch who love having fun – the Forza Garibaldi boys have gone a long way to ensuring that as well with a host of fan events, which have been brilliantly received.
So how did you and Forest find each other, Christian?
My dad grew up in Nottingham, so – despite living in Kent – I was taken along when I was five, and have been hooked ever since. Despite the 400 mile round trip, we try and get up to The City Ground at least once a season – we even had a season ticket a few years back! – so it’s fair to say we’re pretty committed. Or addicted to disappointment and punishment, I’ll let you decide! (I’ve decided. The latter, just like us – MP).
Your history is immense and well respected by all genuine supporters of all clubs everywhere. My favourite memory was that unlikely Trevor Francis header against Malmo in one of the European Cup finals. How about you?
I wasn’t alive to see it, but it fills me with immense pride when I speak about the things we’ve done. I mean, look at the teams who’ve retained the European Cup/Champions League. Real Madrid, Ajax, Bayern Munich, Benfica, AC Milan, Inter Milan, Liverpool… and Forest. It’s the football anomaly to end all footballing anomalies, and something no-one can take away from us, no matter how far we’ve fallen.
I think – if pressed – my favourite individual moment would be in the 1979 European Cup against Liverpool. Not only were they reigning European champions, it was probably the best team in their history. To make matters worse, the game before they played us, they fisted Spurs 7-0. It really wasn’t a good draw for us, and we had them at home in the first leg of the first round, and it looked like we were gonna go out of Europe before even leaving the country. However, Clough worked his magic, and we took the lead through Garry Birtles.
From that moment, Phil Thompson was supposedly in his ear giving it the big one: “one goal won’t be enough, we’ll do you at Anfield” etc whenever he got a chance. Birtles would later burst down the left wing, beat his man and ping in a stunner of a ball for Tony Woodcock, who headed it down to Colin Barrett – a centre back who had no reason to be there – to rifle home. 2-0. On his way back to the centre circle, Birtles apparently said to Thompson: “will two be enough then?” leaving him completely speechless.
We defended with our lives at Anfield, grabbed a 0-0 draw, and progressed. Holders out in the first round thanks to yours truly. As Birtles said, an indicator of how well we did is by looking at Anfield – look at the flags. They have a roll of honour celebrating their best ever team, that – while very impressive – leaps from 1978 to 1981. We caused that gap.
There are two people I simply have to ask your thoughts about: – the demigod that was Cloughie and our best-known example of “something in common”, Martin O’Neill.
Clough is the best manager England never had, and O’Neill doesn’t get anywhere near the credit he deserves as a manager. To replicate what Clough did with us would be like turning QPR into back to back European champions in five years. O’Neill did spectacularly well with Villa – who fell into the trap of expecting more – and has now proved with a shambolic Ireland squad that having a manager who knows what he’s doing is priceless in football. I’d have loved him at Forest as manager with Keane as assistant, but I think that time has passed now.
I occasionally used to work at one of the old Boots places when my firm took them over and always stayed in West Bridgford, at the Rufford Arms, I think. What’s it like to live in Nottingham? Seeing your ground, the other NCFCs and Trent Bridge so close together really freaked me!
Yeah, the sporting scene is crazy! Whenever England play at Trent Bridge, there’s always an aerial shot which gets Meadow Lane, The City Ground and Trent Bridge in, which is always stunning. I’ve never actually lived in Nottingham per se, but I’ve got a lot of friends who do, and whenever I’ve been up there, it’s always been an energetic, vibrant place. For people who aren’t cut out for the country but find London too busy, it’s great. Outstanding night life and music scene, too.
Last season wasn’t too productive for you – what are your hopes for this one? You’re shaping up pretty well by the looks of it.
Literally if we finish 16th, it’ll be a good season. Fans have notoriously short memories and the damage caused by our previous owner will take more than a few months to heal. It speaks volumes that our new chairman said that the club – when the new owner took over – wasn’t fit for purpose. Mark Warburton is a superb manager, but he needs time. We can see what he’s trying to do, but it’s gonna take time and patience. It will be worth it eventually, I’m convinced of that, but it could means a season of us finishing mid-table in order for us to ensure that. Generally with Forest, we either flirt with promotion or dance with relegation, so a mid-table season may be what we need to build properly.
Yeah, you’re on-pitch situation sounds not dissimilar to our own. Who would be your favourite Forest players past and present?
My favourite Forest player is the Irish Maradona that is Andy Reid – the term ‘wand of a foot’ is thrown about a lot, but what Reidy couldn’t do with his left peg isn’t worth knowing. Unbelievable talent. As for today’s crop, a special shoutout must go to the metronome that is David Vaughan, who makes a huge difference when he plays, but Barrie McKay will be the one to watch. Stupidly, Rangers let him go for £500k, and he’s already racked up seven assists and four goals in 14 games. The way he glides past players is a joy to watch, and if we do anything against you, chances are it’ll come through him. One of our better loanees in recent years in Nelson Oliveira will no doubt pop up against us, and we don’t draw games either – eight wins and nine losses so far – so it could be an exciting one.
Considering the way we currently play away from home the excitement isn’t exactly nailed-on. I guess I’d better end by pushing you for a score prediction?
I’ll stick my neck out and say a 2-1 Forest win, but realistically, I’m expecting a 2-1 reverse!
Many thanks to Christian for his time and his thoughts. I’ve just remembered that in my playing days one of my sides used to sport the red sparkly three white stripe Admiral kit, as worn by Man U and Forest. I hope that recollection isn’t some kind of omen…