Sign up for our weekly newsletter
Green Light in the City

Why I Became A Magpie

1 December 08 words: Martin Naylor
illustrations: Rob White

When I walk my dog on the local park every day I try not to become too disheartened by the number of kids wearing Chelsea, Arsenal, Man Utd and Liverpool shirts

When I walk my dog on the local park every day I try not to become too disheartened by the number of kids wearing Chelsea, Arsenal, Man Utd and Liverpool shirts. After all, in 1974, when I was six years old it’s exactly what I was doing.

I had the full white strip with the numbered garters, and hand-stitched on the back of the shirt by my Mam was the coolest shirt number to have – seven. You see, I was a Leeds United fan back then.

They were the league champions, had the best players and - most importantly for me - they had Peter Lorimer playing for them. He played number seven. Peter Lorimer had black tousled seventies hair and possessed the thing that sparkled like a stolen jewel to a six-year-old lad from Aspley: he had the hardest shot in football.

Of course in those days, both Forest and Notts were slugging it out against each other in Division Two; what we now, rather alarmingly, call the Championship. This meant that the first match my Forest-supporting Dad ever took me to was over the border in what seemed like another country – Derby. So, clutching a white, yellow and blue woollen bar scarf, I stood right at the front, behind the goal at the old Baseball Ground waiting for a glimpse of my hero.

When Leeds won a corner close to me, this thirteen-stone Jock ambled over towards where I was standing and stood there with his hands on his hips. 'Peter, Peter!' I shouted waiting for him to wave over to me, give me a cheeky wink or, goddamit, even wander over and ruffle my hair. But there was nothing.

In the car on the way home with a down-turned smile like the saddest of clowns I told my dad I didn’t support Leeds anymore. His relief was clear to see. His broad smile practically said 'Thank fuck for that, I haven’t got to drive this bleddy Vauxhall Viva to Derby again next season.'

A few weeks later, I was sat at my gran's house in the Meadows reading the Beano when my dad said, 'Come on son, we’re off to the match.' Would this be it? Would this funny team in red and white be the ones for me? Or would I spend two hours staring at the sky wondering why Plug from the Bash Street Kids had ears that stuck out like that, as Forest huffed and puffed their way to a 0-0 draw with Cardiff?

The following week however, this was it. March 19, 1974 was the day I fell in love with football. I was crammed into the County Road stand of decrepit Meadow Lane. Everything seemed to be made of wood and the air was thick with an aroma that combined Players Navy Cut, pies and piss with bad breath, Bovril and burps.

This funny little team that played in black and white stripes had just come back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 with Manchester United. Yes, the actual, real Manchester United! I have no idea who played for United that day; I can’t even be bothered to look on the internet as I sit and type this because thinking back almost 35 years I can feel the grin start to appear on my face.

At half-time, my Dad was chain-smoking and telling the bloke next to him that Notts would never come back from this. But they did and as we made our way back to my gran's house again, crushed by the crowds walking down Arkwright Street, I pulled at his arm; 'That was skill dad! Can we come again?'

Kicking a ball around the playground at Robert Shaw Primary School on Western Boulevard on the Monday lunchtime I distinctly recall cutting one in between the jumpers from a fine angle. As I wheeled away in celebration I shouted out the name of my new hero. 'What a great goal from Steve Carter' I told anyone and everyone who could hear. Steve Carter, as I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear, wore the number seven shirt for my new mob of heroes.

On his Topps playing card (five in a pack, plus a stick of chewing gum that tasted like soil) he handsomely smirked out at you wearing a shark’s tooth necklace. I wanted one of those necklaces of course, but the only place you could find them was in the 5p-a-grab machines at Mablethorpe that were impossible to win on.

Of course my Dad still used to take me down to Forest with him, but I was never that bothered by who won or scored, my eyes were always firmly fixed on the half-time scoreboard. As the whistle blew and the fella behind the windows started lifting 3ft numbers around, everyone waited to see what would be placed in window J.

QPR 1…Notts County 0. The crowd booed. Why would they boo when their closest rivals were losing? Surely, like everyone at Meadow Lane did, they should cheer when their rivals are losing? I didn’t understand it, but then the rivalry in Nottingham is not the easiest one to explain to an outsider anyway.

Unlike cities such as Bristol and Sheffield, there is no north/south divide. A Nottingham lad doesn’t follow the Tricky Trees because he lives in Ruddington, like a Magpies fan doesn’t follow them because he’s from Bulwell. We’re not Catholic, Forest aren’t Protestant or vice versa. Hell, my Dad followed Forest home and away throughout the sixties and seventies, while my idea of fun on a Saturday is a road trip to Rochdale. There’s simply no rhyme or reason to it.

One thing that is clear on the rare occasions that we meet in a fixture these days is that when it resurfaces, that rivalry is as strong as any other in the country. The plain fact is that we Magpies hate Forest because they’re like that bigger, older brother who gets you in a headlock while his mate raps his knuckles on your head. When he eventually lets go, you try to swing back but miss and fall on your arse. Then, as you sit 'round the dinner table with holes in the knees of your new school trousers and your mam asks you how you did it, you keep quiet… and that makes you hate him even more.

These days, with my Dad living away, his weekend visits to Nottingham require him to sit in the Jimmy Sirrell stand with me, Ken, Thommo, Dave, Adrian, Liam, Martin, Laurence and the rest of us. Ignoring the dross that we’ve had to endure on the pitch for the last fifteen years or so, we idle away another afternoon by testing each other to name a team of eleven ginger Notts players over the years, or whether there’s ever been another Delroy to play for us other than our current striker, Delroy Facey.

Dad loves it and as we walk back home from the pub analysing why we could never seem to beat Rushden and Diamonds, I ask him if he misses going to Forest these days: 'I fell out of love with Forest 25 years ago,' he answers. 'These days I’d just rather come to watch Notts with you and your mates and have a laugh regardless of the result.'

A few years ago, when I had a different job and more time on my hands, I was watching a reserve game at Meadow Lane on a Tuesday afternoon with my mate Phil. As two old blokes sitting in front of us berated the linesman for a dodgy offside decision I turned to Phil and said: 'Do you reckon that’ll be us in thirty years time?' 'I hope so,' came his reply.

We have a favour to ask…

LeftLion is Nottingham’s meeting point for information about what’s going on in our city, from the established organisations to the grassroots. We want to keep what we do free to all to access, but increasingly we are relying on revenue from our readers to continue. Can you spare a few quid each month to support us?

Support LeftLion now

You might like this too...

Lost City

You might like this too...