With the game coming up on Saturday, I thought this would be a good opportunity to draw upon some Forest Derby memories from years gone by to try and sum up what the fixture means to both sets of fans across the A5-2 (spot the deliberate typo).
It was 2011 and at the time, I was working at an inner city school in Derby. Not quite a stones throw from Pride Park but it was hardcore Derby County territory. Whilst there were the obvious numbers of Man United, Arsenal and Chelsea shirts worn by pupils in PE, it was clear that in this part of the city, the Derby White was the shirt most proudly worn.
It was well known in the school that I was a ‘Red Dog’. It was well known because I told them all; proudly wearing my selection of Forest ties on a day to day basis. If I had a pound for every time I was asked ‘What’s that s**t you’ve got on your tie Sir? I’d have enough money to pay an over extortionate amount for the sale of Pride Park. Well almost. This wasn’t a time to be reporting kids about their language, it was a time to pretend I’d not heard them correctly…
That question wasn’t just asked by the kids though. Walking down the school corridors on many a day, I’d be asked the same question by my fellow colleagues; teachers, receptionists, technicians and dinner ladies. Even the parents would pass comment from time to time. The school knew what it meant to have a ‘Red Dog’ on their premises and they certainly let me know about it.
I couldn’t quite put my finger on the hatred at times, I didn’t dislike Derby half as much so why was it so deep rooted? The explanation for the hatred came from a seasoned Technology teacher who supported the Rams. ‘You took what we should have had’, referring to Brian Clough’s achievements with us and not them. ‘But didn’t you sack him’? I asked. ‘Yes, yes we did’ came the dejected response. Ouch. That’s a tough one to swallow isn’t it? We had what was theirs to give away…
My school link with the Rams had come up trumps for the emphatic 5-2 Christmas Derby drubbing at home in 2010. Forest striker at the time, Marcus Tudgay was an ex-pupil at the school and had gotten complimentary tickets for his old PE Teacher (another red in exile). I was lucky enough to be going as his plus one. I can’t think of many better nights at the City Ground, getting to meet the players afterwards and see what a Derby win means at face value. After a great evening, I didn’t half fancy going to the return fixture just a month later. Forest were looking really strong under Billy Davies at the time and we’d never beaten Derby at their place. Criminally, I hadn’t been to see Forest play Derby in a league fixture at Pride Park either. It felt like it was time for my very presence to be the difference and break the 10 game hoodoo. This was all about belief….
As part of my role at school, I was responsible for arranging extra-curricular activities. We had a group of disengaged Year 11 kids who needed motivating to improve their GCSE grades. When I looked at the class, I knew that the majority were football (Derby) mad and thinking about how football motivated me to write as a kid; the seed of an idea grew to create a project.
The project in a nutshell was an English GCSE booster programme. Two after school sessions a week; one at school working on exam techniques, the other session at Pride Park to develop writing skills around their number one passion; Derby County. I’d have to swallow my pride of course in facilitating the sessions down at the sheep dip but in truth it was for the good of the kids. The carrot for attending all of the previous sessions would be a free ticket to the Derby Forest game to write up their match day experience.
Not all of my friends agreed with what I was doing of course. Working for the enemy; I was affectionately known as ‘Rammie’ for a short while by my Forest supporting friends.
The project had gotten started and student uptake and engagement had been a success. I vividly remember going into a session and being stunned at the level of engagement with some of the lads. This was the same lads who wouldn’t/couldn’t put pen to paper but now had smoke coming off their exercise books as they were writing about their true passion. Don’t underestimate the power of football.The masterplan had come together. Attendance for the sessions was great and the Derby Forest game was going to happen. Craftily, I’d gotten myself a ticket under the guise that I’d be supervising on the day. Whilst I’d have to give up the day to work; I didn’t mind. This was going to be a very different Derby day experience and I knew the kids would get a lot out of the day. It was certainly an eye opener being amongst Derby fans pre-match.
Reporting to Prideless at 10am, BBC Radio Derby (the late Colin Bloomfield) had kindly given us a talk about commentating on the game and how he’d try to stay neutral for as long as possible to give a good summary of matters on the pitch. The TV cameras were busy setting up for the highlights programme and the stewards were getting their debrief as we walked down from the press box onto pitch side. It was a great insight into Derby day being behind the scenes. You could sense the magnitude of the game at Pride Park. I was buzzing, let alone the kids.
Meeting the players as they arrived in the car park was good fun too. The kids couldn’t point out quick enough to the Derby players getting out of their cars that ‘Sir is a Red Dog’! Robbie Savage didn’t see the funny side. He was almost dismissive of signing the kids autographs as he muttered something derogatory about Forest under his breath. Robbie seemed a bit uptight for some reason. Maybe he was just focussed on the game; this wasn’t a time for niceties after all. The Forest game was a big one to Robbie as essentially those wins over us in a previous season had really helped to reignite his Derby career. I couldn’t bare his scarf waving before so after this encounter, I was wondering how I’d cope if I had to endure it again.
Surprisingly, Kris Commons on the other hand was a proper gent. Having heard the dogs abuse he’d experienced after switching clubs, he laughed when the kids told him of my allegiance. He laughed a bit more when I told him he was brave for signing for Derby in the first place as a so-called Forest fan! I asked Kris about media speculation linking him to Celtic and whilst he didn’t reply; a raised brow and smile almost confirmed it that he might be off. From his reaction, I got the impression that our ‘Judas’ and tormentor wouldn’t be quite up for this one as he had been the previous season. I had that instinctive feeling that sometimes you get on match day; ‘we’re going to do this today’ I thought to myself.
You’re maybe thinking that it was a shallow act to secure a ticket for the game but I’d actually paid for one in the away end, little did the kids know. As kick off approached, I made sure the kids were being led to their seats as I made my retreat to the away end. ‘Where you going sir’? ‘No way am I sitting with the sheep’ I replied! Not wholly appropriate from school staff, granted, but it was a non-school day. Derby Day in fact. The kids loved the banter and started chanting anti-forest songs as I headed towards the red and white, mindful that some Derby fans might not be as understanding of the situation.
Things felt a lot more familiar when I took to my spot in the away end, meeting up with my brother. Similar to the good feeling I’d had in meeting Kris Commons pre-match, I had the same instinctive feeling about 30 seconds into the game. Guy Moussi smashed through half of the Derby side in two tackles from the kick off. Talk about setting the tone. I just knew it was going to be our day. I still watch that moment back from time to time and I can’t think of many better starts to a Derby day (apart from Raddi’s rocket at home).
The game was a tense affair with no real quality but we took the points when Robbie Earnshaw bagged from the edge of the box after great play from Nathan Tyson and Paul Anderson. Earnie’s trademark somersault in front of the away end was amazing. Limbs everywhere. You could taste the salt in the air. It just has to be Earnie who couldn’t hit a barn door for Derby.
The goal had knocked the stuffing out of the sheep and the wheels had fallen off. Commons had contributed little and the icing on the cake came when Robbie Savage was substituted after struggling to control the game as he had done the previous season. Throwing his boots off in disgust at Nigel Clough will live long in the memory. This was real Karma for their scarf waving captain as 3,000 Forest fans laughed and heckled him from the away end. Marvelous.
‘Tell me mam, me mam;
to put the champagne on ice;
we’re gonna beat Derby twice;
tell me mam, me man’.
At full time, the players and Billy absolutely were absolutely loving it and I had a smile as wide as the Brian Clough Way as we got back on the school minibus. I didn’t gloat to the kids, that wouldn’t have been fair or appropriate. Silence was probably the best thing. I saved the gloating on the texts to my Derby supporting mates. As an avid Forest fan, it’s not always been too often that your faith is repaid but boy, did they do me proud that weekend.
There was no better feeling walking into work on the following Monday morning. Some Derby fans were more gracious than others whilst some of my colleagues scuttled back into their classrooms at the very sight of me. Walking along the corridor, I was keen to be more diligent than ever about shirts being untucked and shoe laces being tied. Most will have seen the picture of Leonardo Di Caprio in The Wolf of Wolf Street as he basks in the delight of his peers. Well imagine that image, in a Derby secondary school, as I walked the length of the school in my Forest tie looking every bit the cat that got the cream. Beautiful. This is what it means….