Most people won’t be able to tell you much about Nottingham Forest’s history before 1975. And rightly so, really: they won the FA Cup in 1898 and 1959, but beyond those two isolated successes there wasn’t much of a story to tell before Brian Clough arrived.
Apart, perhaps, from 1967. That season Forest came reasonably close to winning a fairly implausible double, still an almost mystical feat in those days, at that point only managed by three clubs ever and only Tottenham in the 20th century. Having avoided relegation by only three points the season before, few would have expected anything like achievement, but Forest came second in the league behind Matt Busby’s Manchester United, and lost in the semi-final of the FA Cup to Tottenham.
But how they reached that semi-final was the real story of that season. Against Everton in the quarters, on a typically boggy 1960s pitch, Forest were involved in one of the great FA Cup ties, the sort of encounter that fizzed with chaos and the crowd undulated with the sort of excitement usually found at Beatles concerts.
‘Anyone who witnessed this particular cup tie need not embellish the story to younger listeners,’ wrote David McVay in ‘Cult Heroes: Nottingham Forest.’ This was a talented Forest side that featured a granite defence and attacking flair, Joe ‘Zigger-Zagger’ Baker the creative hub with doughty centre-forward Frank Wignall the focal point.
But this game belonged to Ian Storey-Moore. A winger who would later begin a fine tradition of Forest players who Manchester United signed at great expense only for them to either get injured or forget how to play football, Storey-Moore had joined Forest aged 17 and by the time this game rolled around, he was established as probably their most threatening player.
He made over 200 appearances for the club, but this is the one that people remember. “It’s strange,” he told Bandy and Shinty (a Forest quarterly that – full disclosure here – your correspondent contributes to) recently. “I didn’t think I played particularly well.” High standards indeed.
Heavy rain fell on Nottingham and turned the pitch into a stodge that would see games called off today, but was fairly standard back then. Baker injured an ankle early in the game, eventually replaced by Alan Hinton (with Storey-Moore moving inside from the wing) after half-an-hour of brave/foolhardy soldiering on, then Everton took the lead when Jimmy Husband flicked home a lofted Alan Ball pass.
For half-an-hour the teams slugged away at each other, chances battered at either goal, until Forest broke through. Wignall shot from the edge of the area, it was parried and there was Storey-Moore to turn it home.
The slugging continued, the crowd whipped into some sort of trance only punctuated by goals. And another came when Wignall headed down to Storey-Moore, who swept a glorious shot into the far corner. “Oh what a goal by Ian Storey-Moore!” said Kenneth Wolstenholme on the BBC commentary, sounding like he was bouncing up and down with excitement.
Everton equalised not long after. Sandy Brown spun his way into space on the right, fired in a low cross and it was turned home again by Husband. At this point Wolstenholme nearly started whistling with steam, like an old kettle: the sort of commentary that screams ‘I can’t believe they’re paying me to watch this!’
A Forest corner from the right was met by McKinlay, but it was cleared off the line just as the pulsing crowd behind the goal in the Trent End started to celebrate. For Everton, Johnny Morrissey had a shot brilliantly saved by Peter Grummitt, then John Hurst found the side-netting with a header that Wolstenholme thought had crept in.
By this point the tension and excitement had swirled to bursting point. And it popped with seconds remaining: Wignall again was there to nod a long ball down, Storey-Moore took one swing and missed, another was saved, he looped the headed rebound over the keeper and onto the bar before, at the fourth attempt, he nodded in.
Limbs everywhere. Fans, overcome by the whole affair, tumbled onto the pitch, dealt with robustly by the law. “Oh, a great rugby tackle by one policeman there,” noted Wolstenholme, breaking the unwritten commentary rule that one should not refer to “incidents” beyond those in play. This was a game that even the most sober observer got carried away in.
It was the sort of game that made the more florid occupants of the press box sharpen their quills. ’The voices of history gather,’ wrote Geoffrey Green in the Times. ‘Everton, the holders, are out of the FA Cup and Nottingham Forest… find themselves a step nearer the chance of a League and Cup double neither they nor anyone else thought feasible at the season’s start.’
‘When endeavour conquers science and willpower defies logic, the victory is as full of emotion as it is drama,’ was the assessment of the Guardian’s David Lacey. When you’ve been at a game that thrilling, it’s not a surprise that purple prose begins to emerge.
“It was probably our finest hour as a team, if not my finest game,” said Storey-Moore. Forest would ultimately fall in the semi-final, losing 2-1 to Tottenham at Hillsborough. But if the purpose of a football team is to provide entertainment, excitement, escapism, belonging – whatever – to their fans, then that season Forest had done their job with this 90 minutes alone.
Oddly, despite it being played 16 years before I was born, this was one of my earliest Forest memories, because it was so significant in my family. Uncle John was supposed to take mum to queue for a ticket, but the warmth of staying in bed was too much.
John eventually paid a tout two weeks’ wages for a ticket on the day, but he shuffled home that evening, a combination of elated and guilty that he’d made his sister miss the game. He did drive her up to Sheffield to buy a ticket for the semi, but still 51 years later, she’s never quite forgiven him.
“I always think I’m something of a nearly man,” says Storey-Moore told the Daily Mail this year. “One cap, nearly won the League, nearly won the Cup. I scored a lot of goals but I’d have liked to have won something.”
That game against Everton means nobody at Forest would agree with that.