The Travels of Phil no’s. 14 & 15: Forest v Norwich, a.k.a. My day as an undercover agent, and Norwich v Forest, a.k.a. returning the favour.

One of the best things about Forest’s promotion back in May was the fact that they were now in the same division as Norwich City, a club supported by none other than my former Fruit & Veg colleague, Mr. Thomas Ripley Esq. As soon as Forest’s promotion was confirmed, we agreed to go to both of the Forest-Norwich clashes, and on each occasion sit in amongst the away fans in order to sample the superior atmosphere.

Part One: Nottingham Forest 1-2 Norwich City, Nottingham, Saturday 22nd November 2008

The first part of this double-header took place in Nottingham at the end of November. The match was being broadcast live on Sky, and so the kick-off had been put back from the usual 3.00pm to 5.20pm.

Tom kindly drove, and having left Bethersden at about 11.00am, we arrived in Nottingham after a long, clear run at 3.00pm-ish despite my somewhat erratic navigating. I worked out afterwards that it was something like five years since I had last been up to Nottingham in a car, and one entire section of the journey (around Melton Mowbray, home of the pork pies) had changed, and also I slightly misjudged the exit on one of the roundabouts, leading to us approaching the stadium from a slightly different angle from the one I knew. (See how I’ve crowbarred my excuses in already?) The only noteworthy occurence was a strange whining noise which Tom’s car emitted at irregular intervals on the M20, the source of which we were unable to identify.

Having eventually parked only a couple of minutes’ walk from the stadium, we wandered along in the bitter cold (more on this later – the cold became an enduring feature of the afternoon) and spent a brief period of time in a bar called Amici’s, before moving on to the club shop where I splashed out on a new Forest home shirt. We then returned to the car to drop the new shirt off – as we were sitting amongst the Norwich fans, we agreed it probably wasn’t sensible to sit there clutching a Forest shirt – and then made our way into the ground and took our seats.

After a while the match kicked off, and Forest looked the brighter of the two teams, though Norwich weren’t without their moments. The turning point of the match arrived early: as a throughball was played, the Norwich defence parted like the Red Sea, as Tom put it. Nathan Tyson, playing the part of Moses in this metaphor, sprinted through only to be completely wiped out by a late sliding challenge from the one and only Ginger Pele, Gary Doherty. ‘The Doc’ received his marching orders, and Forest were awarded a free-kick right on the edge of the Norwich area. Forest’s free-kick was well saved by Norwich goalkeeper David Marshall, and on the counter-attack Norwich earned a corner. Forest failed to clear the corner properly and Matty Pattison volleyed home at the back post to give Norwich the lead. These two events pretty much killed the game as Norwich became much less adventurous and attempted to keep what they had rather than look for more. Following Doherty’s dismissal, Norwich reshuffled their side, and replaced their midfield midget, Wes Hoolahan, with none other than Jon Otsemobor, described by Tom as "one of the worst players I’ve ever seen".

Forest equalised just over fifteen minutes later as Paul Anderson broke down the left, cut inside and curled a low shot past Marshall into the far corner. It was soon half-time, and the consensus of opinion amongst the Norwich fans around Tom and I was that Forest would come out in the second half and use their extra man to pound Norwich into submission. However, things didn’t quite turn out like that…

Forest made a small change at half-time, removing Matt Thornhill who was apparently struggling with an ankle injury, and replacing him with Garath McCleary. However, this change didn’t have much of an effect and Forest huffed and puffed without creating any clear-cut chances. Norwich retook the lead in bizarre fashion in the 73rd minute as a nothing ball in from Lee Croft was nudged into his own net by Chris Cohen. A small group of crazy East Anglians decided to celebrate by removing their shirts and windmilling them round their heads. As I may have mentioned, it was freezing cold at the time. This, and Jon Otsemobor’s erratic passing, provided the only entertainment to be had.

Having been very sluggish throughout the second half, it was difficult to see how Forest could come back from this, and even the introduction of Lee Martin didn’t help matters. Though they failed to create any clear-cut chances, an assortment of Forest players drew excellent saves from David Marshall in the Norwich goal. The game finished at 2-1, and Norwich went home with an unlikely three points.

We exited the stadium, and on my way I stumbled over some seats. After leaving the stadium it became clear how cold it actually was. Away from the close proximity of hundreds of other people, both Tom and I soon started shivering, despite our many layers. The car was a welcome retreat from the cold, and the heater made it more attractive, even if I had to share it with a Norwich fan…

The journey home went as smoothly as the trip up, aside from a small moment of confusion in the one-way system of one town which had us heading towards Leicester rather than London (my wonderful navigating again!). The bizarre whining made a reappearance, again on the M20 but there still seemed no obvious explanation. I should perhaps have pointed out earlier that Tom’s car is no old banger – it’s a rather nice Ford Fiesta – and so the whining isn’t likely to be due to any holes of loose parts!

And so ended the first half of the Norwich – Forest showdown. All our attention turned to five weeks later, when the teams met again at Carrow Road.

Part Two: Norwich City 2-3 Nottingham Forest, Norwich, Sunday 28th December 2008

The second clash began much as the first had. Tom drove again, and for most of the journey up there, we followed the same route as before, though we turned off in a different direction, and cut across the northern part of East Anglia towards Norwich. Tom brought a Sat Nav thingamyjig with him, clearly not trusting me to find my own arse with a map, let alone the way to a large city!

We arrived very early indeed, the Sat Nav having done its job very well, and got us to Norwich inside three hours. We parked in a large car park Tom had used before, and set off for the short walk to the stadium. Fifteen minutes later, we were still wandering around, this time in another car park with only a vague idea of where we were. It turned out we’d missed our turning, and having walked most of the way back to the car we found the right road and then spotted the stadium through the trees. After stumbling (in my case) down a set of wooden steps and along a dirt track at the back of some houses, we emerged blinking into the grey winter sunlight only a couple of hundred yards at most from Carrow Road.

After a short period of time wandering around the stadium in search of somewhere warm other than the large Morrisons just across the road, we devoured a better than expected cheeseburger and made our way to the club shop for a browse before moving back to the area just outside the turnstiles we would need to go through to get to our seats. Imagine our surprise then as Glenn Roeder, Norwich manager and relegation specialist strode past, and entered the ground through the double doors intended as a quick exit for fans at the end of the game. This, and the subsequent arrival of some (but not all for some unknown reason) of the Norwich players explained why there was a gaggle of home fans lurking in this area which Tom had remarked on as we got there.

Once the doors opened, we made our way inside, and having found our seats and admired the view (Forest’s goalkeeping coach warming up Paul Smith whilst wearing a pair of thermal tights – nowhere near as erotic as it sounds…), we went back inside in search of a hot drink. Both of us opted for the hot chocolate, surely a bargain at £1.60 a cup? Erm… yes, if you consider boiling water with a little, vaguely chocolate-tasting, sugar dissolving at the bottom to be pretty much the same thing as hot chocolate. Delia would be ashamed!

The match carried a lot more interest than the average one for me due to the fact that after a shambolic 4-2 home defeat to Doncaster (who were only a place below us at the time), Forest’s manager, Colin Calderwood, had been sacked and his replacement had yet to be named, leaving reserve team coach John Pemberton in charge for what was an very important game itself. Norwich started the match five points and only two places above Forest, and a defeat would drag them right into the relegation scrap. Another thing that made this game special was the four-page interview with Jon Otsemobor in the Norwich programme – it just had to be him!

Forest dominated from the off, and aside from a couple of half-chances, Norwich didn’t look like creating many chances. It was no real surprise when Forest took the lead in the 17th minute, Nathan Tyson breaking down the left and putting in a deep cross which found Matt Thornhill on the edge of the ‘D’. Thorhill took the ball down and his shot bounced in off the post. Lewis McGugan added to the lead right on the half hour mark, winning the ball, beating one defender and slotting the ball under David Marshall. The score remained 0-2 through to half-time, and Forest looked pretty comfortable.

During the break, Norwich replaced David Bell with Darel Russell, and while this change didn’t have an immediate impact the introduction of Antoine Sibierski just before the hour signalled an upturn in Norwich’s fortunes. His added aerial threat had the Forest back line looking a little worried, and it was only a matter of time before the pressure told. Forest failed to clear a corner and the ball fell to Darel Russell on the edge of the area. His shot was heading for Lee Camp’s bottom right hand corner until Ian Breckin stuck out a foot to block it and merely diverted it into the top left corner of the net.

However, this seemed to signal the end of Norwich’s pressure, or possibly it was the kick up the backside Forest needed as they seemed to reassert their control on the game. The moment of the day came in the 89th minute as Rob Earnshaw, the former Canary himself, latched onto a throughball from Joe Garner, turned inside Gary Doherty and chipped the ball over Marshall to rub salt into the wounds of the Norwich fans. He celebrated with his trademark forward flip right in front of the travelling fans. This should have been the end of things, but with Forest nothing is straightforward. Two minutes into the five which the referee added on, Joe Garner dived to clear a Wes Hoolahan cross, only to get things completely the wrong way round, and send the ball flying into the top corner of his own net with what Tom and I agreed was the best header of the day. This made things a little nervier than necessary, but Forest held out and took all three points home.

As the players celebrated, and applauded the fans, Lee Camp threw his shirt into the crowd. With the benefit of hindsight, this was a clear goodbye as this match marked the end of his loan spell. In conjunction with some later comments regarding his return to QPR, it seems logical to suggest that he knew something that the club had yet to announce regarding the new manager, and knew that despite his impressive performances his loan was not going to be extended or made a permanent transfer.

The journey home took a lot longer than necessary, due to a vehicle fire on the M11, which caused a massive tailback that had us sitting on an elongated sliproad for about an hour and a half. During this time we were entertained by a dozing pensioner and the funniest urinating German I have ever seen (admittedly, he’s the funniest from a field of one but don’t let that detract from his comical behaviour), who insisted on doing part of his urination, and then running in the campest way possible for about twenty yards in order to keep up with the creeping traffic before resuming his bladder-emptying. He repeated this several times before his family relented and pulled onto the hard shoulder.

The rest of the journey was nowhere near as amusing and nowhere near as slow either. The whining noise of a month before returned briefly near Maidstone, but still couldn’t be identified. We finally returned to chez Tom about 9.00pm in the end, whereupon I returned home with a broad smile on my face.

YOU REDDSSSS!!

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