Warts and all personal account of Nottingham Forest v Celtic in 1983

No second-class single to Nottingham for us (Tunes advert). We met at Brent Cross tube station for the short walk to the start of the M1. Hitching was our way of getting up the road. The choice was train – a bit expensive and the stagecoach bus. Hitching, just as easy, more interesting, took the same time and no cost.

Off we went the two of us, thumbs out and wait. Confident and relaxed, we had all we needed. Yes, it was cold, so on with the Army surplus overcoat that gave the student look good for hitching. Just check, padding the pockets: money, keys, fags, skins, lighter and a bit of blow. Tickets were coming from Jimmy in Cumbernauld, meet outside the ground, no problem it will all happen.

Got a lift to Watford Gap, don’t have any real memory only that we on our way. Watford Gap somewhere, but nowhere and a bit of doubt setting in looking at the clock. Check, those guys with scarfs on, up we went “any chance of a lift to the game we going there as well”. Three of them, they looked at each other doubtfully but could not say no. Five of us cramped in the car. We smiled and settled in knowing we were getting to the match, while they were annoyed but nothing they could do about it. They were from Luton, a little small talk and we got to Nottingham about 5ish. As we readied to leave, “what about some petrol money” one of them asked, we gave the hitcher don’t pay petrol money and off we went!

Entering the cold Nottingham evening and the smell of trouble in the air hit us. Pubs and shops shut, people milling and the Police geared up with a RUC type response to the sight of green. Need to find a pub, but where? Somehow, we found one that was mobbed with Celtic fans although it was big. Took stock, bar unreachable, but most tables heaved with carry- outs. Signposted to the off licence, through the back door to return with drinks aplenty to join the revelry of a pub full of Celtic supporters at various levels of euphoria and excitement. The best part was watching the fruit machine being dragged out of said back door to be liberated of its two and ten bob bits.

Getting to the match, we found Jimmy, got the tickets who was with some guys you would not often see at Celtic Park, but this was an away day and their wild wide eyes glistening in the cold night air, meant body swerve. At the ground, the queue seemed to go on forever and with kick off getting nearer the tension rose with the demand to get in. Shoving, shouting. The police had us lined up against a wall, but nothing was moving until it did.

The push: Feet touching the ground, every two or three steps and momentum swept us along. Forget the turnstiles, the exit became the entrance, the large double doors buckling were cast aside as we all piled into the City Ground with only on thing in mind, seeing the pitch, the Hoops, the Celts. Being young then we were able to shimmy through and about the crowd and scaled a couple of the pens made of 8’ pointed railings with a top and bottom rail. This gave us refuge from the increasing throng that came behind us and the eventual spillage of fans on to the pitch. Then old Big Head coming over to tell us off.

We knew we were lucky to not be in the crush. It was a situation we all knew from experience that could happen at any time. All part of terraced football that we all accepted.

The game was quite even as I recall, but in the next pen to us we had uneducated Celts who found it funny to abuse the black players of Forest. Des Walker and a think a forward. We through the pen told them to shut up and the exchanges became heated and they could not make the correlation of ‘No Blacks No Irish’……… “you’re as bad as the Rangers.” The pen prevented a fight.

The game was played in the backdrop of the crush, songs and mayhem that was an excursion to England in those days. What lingered was the Paul McStay shot that was just over the bar near the end, a good opportunity for the away goal and we knew Forest would still be a danger at Paradise.

Now to get home. I don’t remember this part and Frank had to fill me in, must have been erased by what was to come: we got a lift to a service station on a lorry. At the service station, we met and asked for a lift from another English man in a fast car, yes, great, in we got. He told of us as we went on to the M1 that he was in Amsterdam for the game v Ajax (McCluskey and Charlie) and how he loved the Celtic fans and became one. We had affinity, warmth, a lift and he had no problem with us skinning up as we headed home.

There was a closure on the M1 and diverted on to country roads that have a queue of traffic all heading south. Your man then dips into the glove compartment for a cassette and bangs on heavy metal music full blast, starts screaming and laughing desirously as he moves to the oncoming lane. Faster and faster he drives, taking each bend blind, crazy laughter and mental music. We hold on for dear life crapping ourselves and it goes on for what felt ages. Sitting in the back seat, I thought my time was up and I was heading for heavy metal hell.

Thankfully, we ran out of country bends, back on the motorway he relaxes having had his fun scaring the life out of us, calms down and belts down the M1 to London. Dropped off a by the north circular, in the early hours I am tired, happy to be alive, but disappointed we never got the win.

Fair play to Mr heavy metal he takes Frank to his door in Chiswick. Frank thinks he is that a member of Judas Priest (is it you Rob). Me I don’t know but what do, is that I thought were in need of another kind of Priest that night.

Over & Over

Phil Kane

About Author

The Celtic Star founder and editor, who has edited numerous Celtic books over the past decade or so including several from Lisbon Lions, Willie Wallace, Tommy Gemmell and Jim Craig. Earliest Celtic memories include a win over East Fife at Celtic Park and the 4-1 League Cup loss to Partick Thistle as a 6 year old. Best game? Easy 4-2, 1979 when Ten Men Won the League. Email editor@thecelticstar.co.uk

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