Thursday, 16 November 2017

The game that no-one watched: The last time I saw Forest at Birmingham City

I'm looking forward to joining the 2,800 travelling Trickies at St Andrews on Saturday but, as the fixture approaches, I can't help but think back to the time I visited the ground and a game that was momentous for a couple of bad reasons.

Photo by Florian Müller on Unsplash
While most sane people enjoyed a leisurely start to 2002, perhaps sleeping off New Year's Eve excess, I spent January 1 taking in the midday kick off between us and Birmingham.

The game had been shifted to noon in order to cater for the viewers of ITV Digital, which then had the rights to show second tier games.

When we arrived, it seemed touch and go as to whether we'd actually see any football thanks to the freezing weather. Yet, perhaps with a view to putting on a show for the visiting cameras, the hosts encouraged home fans to come onto the pitch and do their bit to clear off the frost and snow. We could merely watch - heaven forbid the away fans should get on the pitch and potentially clash with the Brummies! - and hope that the army of amateur groundsmen could save us from having ventured down the A42 for nothing.

Yet, if the grand effort was for the benefit of the TV cameras they needn't have bothered. That's because, while the 20,000 crowd might have appreciated the spade work, the official viewing figure for the fixture was zero. Now, apparently, a zero rating is given to any programme with fewer than a thousand viewers but, let's face it, that doesn't sound too impressive either does it? Basically, and probably sensibly given the timing, no-one was watching beyond Bordesley.

Was this the final nail in the coffin for ITV Digital? Who knows. It was certainly not an endorsement of its unpopular scheduling arrangements. Indeed, I recall that many anti-ITV chants were sung in that period in protest of games moved to daft kick off times. Oddly, there are now more games than ever moved for TV in the second tier and yet there's much less protest. Maybe we're more accepting now or maybe Sky's coverage is just better. One thing is certain: by May 2002 ITV Digital stopped broadcasting.

What did people miss? Not much in truth. I don't remember too much about the action - save for the fact that Stern John cancelled out an early Birmingham opener and that Jim Brennan missed an absolute sitter that could have secured all three points.

Yet the equaliser that day was to be the second reason why this fixture proved to be significant. The goal was the 14th of the season for the Trinidadian striker and also his last in Forest colours. John was finally finding his feet in English football yet apparently had a clause in his contract that would have triggered a further payment to former club Columbus Crew. Given our perilous financial predicament, we then couldn't afford for our top scorer to net another goal and, soon after, flogged the £1.5 million man for a bargain £100,000 to promotion-chasing Birmingham.

That's a tale that serves as a timely reminder of the mess we were in in the immediate post-Premier League days. Indeed, it was shortly after the 2002 Birmingham away game that we sold Jermaine Jenas to Newcastle too. While the folly of the Fawaz era left much to be fixed, it isn't the only time we've been in trouble. Indeed, as the excellent Steve Wright said on Matchtalk this week, we've never really been known as a well-run club. Nigel Doughty tried to mop up the mess of the 2002 era - and we owe it to him too to go one step further than he managed.

So, all in all, with fans mucking in to clear the pitch, no TV viewers and the sorry end for our top scorer, that game nearly 16 years ago left an impression. I'm hoping that Saturday is memorable for better reasons.

Oh, and while we're here, here's the starting XI for that 2002 game:

Ward, Vaughan, Brennan, Hjelde, Scimeca, Williams, Prutton, Summerbee, Jenas, John, Lester. Subs: Johnson, Roche, Bopp, Thompson, Gray.

Feels a long time ago doesn't it?

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