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NOTTINGHAM, ENGLAND - Sunday, March 20, 2022: Liverpool's Kostas Tsimikas with a smoke bomb during the FA Cup Quarter-Final match between Nottingham Forest FC and Liverpool FC at the City Ground. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The Liverpool-Forest rivalry gets a modern reboot – and old wounds reopen

If you could get your hands on a ticket, the FA Cup quarter-final at Nottingham Forest wasn’t one to miss, for either old-timers or younger generations alike.

Into the semi-final with a narrow victory we go, with added perceived and ultimately unrequired controversies, of wounded shouts over offside calls that never came and penalties that weren’t awarded.

Liverpool made heavier weather of their task than necessary, but got the job done, having given the home side a glimmer of hope – thus handing ITV their ‘romance of the cup’ klaxon.

An old rivalry of immense purpose, as a child of the 1970s and 1980s, during my formative dealings with football the main threats to Liverpool didn’t come from Old Trafford and Goodison Park, they didn’t even come from London, but instead, they emerged from the Midlands.

Forest to the east and Aston Villa to the west, as they collectively won two league titles, three European Cups and three League Cups within a six-season span between 1976/77 and 1981/82, a stretch of footballing time when Bob Paisley hoovered up four league titles, three European Cups and two League Cups.

Compelling cup exploits aside from Ipswich, Tottenham and Arsenal to an extent, for our more traditional rivals, this was an era of either feeding off scraps or living in the shadows.

Bob Paisley - archive-205330-2

Generally, 1976/77 to 1981/82 meant open-top bus tours were more likely to be seen on the streets of Liverpool or the Midlands than they were anywhere else.

While Villa more or less garnered their success without a direct impact on Liverpool, Forest were an undeniable bone of contention; when Liverpool won the 1981 European Cup final, “are you watching Nottingham?” was one of the chants that circulated the Parc des Princes night sky.

For the players and supporters who lived that era, Liverpool-Forest was combustible.

Sunday offered diluted elements of that cryogenically frozen rivalry, one which can be compared to maybe the Liverpool-Leeds of Bill Shankly and Don Revie, the Liverpool-Arsenal of Kenny Dalglish and George Graham, the Liverpool-Chelsea of Rafa Benitez and Jose Mourinho and the Liverpool-Man City of Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola.

Each generation has its own version of it.

A rivalry that temporarily rises in invectiveness, only to eventually subside as football’s fashions and trends change, still leaving a recall memory of an intriguing past that is stirred every time the two teams in question meet one another.

Hillsborough, 1989, referee Ray Lewis (Image: Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix / Alamy Stock Photo)

The Liverpool-Forest version of this is a bit different, only really challenged by the one we have with Leeds, due to the infrequency of games between the two clubs in more recent times, but also for a disaster shared 33 years ago.

Forest supporters are essentially split into three subsections when it comes to their dealings with Liverpool.

One category is understandably obsessed with our 1977-81 rivalry, where league title and European Cup punches were exchanged, a second struggles to reconcile itself with Hillsborough, and a third tags along with the tired, old poverty stereotype that virtually every set of opposing supporters now trots out as part of their checklist of matchday ‘must-do’ activities.

Some of them arguably drift through all three categories within one afternoon.

Football and pantomime are closely related though; they sing about poverty, we sing about scabs and Tories in response, and moral superiority is fought out more keenly than the ball on the pitch at times.

A delegation of Forest supporters came to Anfield a few days before the game to lay floral tributes at the Hillsborough memorial, while 97 seats remained empty for the game.

Nice touches, from a club and fanbase that struggles with the topic.

NOTTINGHAM, ENGLAND - Sunday, March 20, 2022: 97 seats left empty in memory of the victims of the Hillsborough Stadium Disaster of 1989, pictured before the FA Cup Quarter-Final match between Nottingham Forest FC and Liverpool FC at the City Ground. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Outside the City Ground, I got talking to a Forest supporter who was at Hillsborough, and he struggled to find the words to convey his feelings.

There was guilt at their initial reaction to events at the Leppings Lane end of the stadium, when they booed and chanted at those who managed to escape the pens to spill onto the pitch.

He also spoke of Brian Clough and the damage his 1994 words had caused, stuck between his love of the man who led his club to previously unimagined glories and the shame of the uneducated opinions of a strongminded and part-time uncompassionate bigot, who had been more than happy to peddle the lies of South Yorkshire Police and an enabling media in the name of selling more copies of his autobiography.

Prophetically, he predicted there would be small-minded members of the home support for the game ahead. He was, however, delighted we were there, and asserted many of his like and age were.

NOTTINGHAM, ENGLAND - Sunday, March 20, 2022: Nottingham Forest supporters' banner "Forest are Mucking Fagic! (Sic)" during the FA Cup Quarter-Final match between Nottingham Forest FC and Liverpool FC at the City Ground. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

As ever, football offers an amplified projection of society in general.

After the match, on the walk back to the car, a younger Forest supporter, probably in his mid-20s, clocked my mother tongue and unsuccessfully tried to poke me with a metaphorical stick.

Looking around for the validation of his fellow Forest supporters, he found nobody that was of the mind to either back him up or shut him up. They all just shuffled away, making sure to avoid eye contact as they did.

Unbeknown to me, behind me, back at the City Ground, bottles flew and clashes fleetingly erupted, fuelling new needle for an old rivalry, a rivalry in which we know not when we will meet again – although it may be sooner rather than later if Steve Cooper’s impressive on-pitch work continues its current upward trend.

Football will never be as black and white as we would like it to be.

NOTTINGHAM, ENGLAND - Sunday, March 20, 2022: Liverpool and Nottingham Forest players line-up before the FA Cup Quarter-Final match between Nottingham Forest FC and Liverpool FC at the City Ground. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

We like to compartmentalise entire fanbases as good or bad, when in reality football clubs attract all manner of personality traits, and disorders, inclusive of our own.

It just works on a sliding scale, and some have more supporters of a questionable nature than others, and even those questionable natures can flick on and off like a light switch, depending upon the circumstances of an inflatable orb being kicked around a rectangular patch of grass.

Man City it is in the semi-final it is, then, quite probably for more of the same.

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