I Believe in Miracles

Every time I watch Liverpool now, I look for the flags on the Kop, because there’s a two-year gap in the dates.  They go from ’77 and ’78, to ’81. And I always think: ‘That’s us, that gap. We did that’.”

It’s Tuesday night, and three hundred Forest fans are milling around the Broadway.  Probably the first time that’s ever happened: probably the last time it ever will.

There’s a pre-match vibe—cinemas don’t normally hum like this.  There’s the older heads, and the younger ones—the ones who lived through it, and the ones who inherited their stories.  Wall to wall Forest fans, laughing and joking and swapping their adventures.  A hundred little myths and memories, contained within a single story—the one that we’re all here for.

“Eight pints of Bitburger,” says the man next to me.  The barmaid looks shocked—no one’s ever ordered this much lager in an arthouse cinema.  “And what crisps have you got?”

“Parsnip,” she says.

The man looks shocked, too.

It takes something special to bring these worlds together.

We already know the story.  Every part of it—every moment.

When Woodcock heads down Garry Birtles’ cross, we know what happens next.  When Robbo finally twists clear of Roland Andersson and Robert Prytz, wrapping his foot around that cross… we know where it’s going.  After the Cologne game, when Clough dared the world to write us off (with his keen, narrow eyes—with a smirk, that says I know something you don’t know)… we know they didn’t listen.  We know that they expected and demanded that the bubble would burst: we know that it never did.

It’s vivid, and beautiful, and it’s forever.  Trevor Francis falling into a shot put circle, the ball squeezing past Jan Möller.  That’s what Barry Davies wanted to see Robertson do.

We know this story.  Every part of it—every moment.

The UEFA rep always lifts the trophy a little too high, just before he passes it to John McGovern.  The roar comes a little too early.  And when he turns, and he lifts it, and a thousand bulbs begin to pop, McGovern always has that same, stoic look.

We know the story.

What we didn’t know (until Tuesday night) is that John’s dad died when he was eleven.  That he never saw his son play football.  That’s why McGovern isn’t smiling: that’s what he’s thinking about.

And that’s the real triumph of I Believe in Miracles—it doesn’t tell us the
story, because it doesn’t need to.  It doesn’t tell us what to think, or where to look.  There’s no narrator, and no hyperbole: there’s no voiceover, explaining why it was special.

Rather, it textures the miracle.  It’s an uncomplicated film, and it lets the subject speak for itself.  It gives us the people behind it all—the humanity, and the stories within stories.  The unremarkable heart of something that was extraordinary: not just a fairy tale, but the definitive Fairy Tale.  It gives us humour, and grace, and soul.

We laugh, when Colin Barrett’s wife tapes over That Goal with an episode of Dallas.

When Clough steals a washing machine, as part of Larry Lloyd’s signing bonus, and when the cleaning ladies catch up with him.

When Peter Taylor gets his hooks into the Scousers.

We feel for McGovern: we feel for Archie Gemmill.

I wasn’t there.  I wish I had been, but I wasn’t.  I’m 34, and it’s never been my story.  I’m proud of it, of course, but until Tuesday night, I was never really able to feel it.  Across the years, something wouldn’t quite connect—parts of it were just too abstract.  How could it make sense, unless I’d seen it for myself?  It all sits so absurdly at odds with what my own Forest-supporting life has been like.

But I Believe in Miracles makes it real.  For one night, Johnny Owen helped me to fall back in love with my football team, and my home.

We get Shirley Ellis, and lots of fuzzed-out glamour, and the happy chaos of football—and English life—in the ‘70s.  It shows us a time that’s gone now, forever: a time when you could smoke in the bogs during a team talk, and eat chips, and drink and shag about, and still be the best football team on the planet.

But more than that, it shows us ourselves.  Not just Britain, but Nottingham, and Nottingham people.  Because it was never England’s triumph—it’s ours.  It puts the legend back where it belongs—on our grassless pitch, by our embankment, in our streets, and in our Market Square.  Things have changed in 36 years, but they haven’t changed that much—it’s the same folk, and the same buildings, and the same world, all just a little younger.  It’s an intimate story, and it belongs to the people and the city, in a way that it couldn’t belong to London, or Manchester, or wherever the European Cup next lands.  Those players jogged the same towpaths as us, stretched out by the same river, wore the same clothes, drove the same crap cars, and drank in the same pubs.  I Believe in Miracles manages to bring it all a little closer to home.

The trend in recent years—starting with The Damned United, and carrying on through to Nobody Ever Says Thank You—is to get into the bones of Clough the
man.  What have we found in those bones?  Complexity, neuroses, and no little darkness… but is that really a surprise?  Even at his worst, Clough’s was the kind of conceit peculiar to anyone who’s ever truly achieved something.  There’s sides to Clough, granted, but the depth and significance of his shadows are conditioned only by the magic of what he and Peter Taylor achieved, together.  A moment’s shared genius, powered by a sheer force of will.

It all makes for a beautiful film.

If they haven’t already, I hope that Dougie and the players sit down and watch it.  Not necessarily to aspire to it, or to look at what they’re self-evidently not… but to understand what football can still mean.  To understand that what they do and how they do it has the power to unite people: to give them things to share, and talk about, and remember.  To come together in picture houses, years down the line, and smile.

I watched it with my dad, and my wife.  My dad, of course, loved it.  But I wanted to know what she thought of it.  The only reason Forest have ever mattered to her, after all, is because they matter to me.

We got down to the foyer of the Broadway, and she took my hand.  “That was incredible,” she said.  And as we stepped out onto the same streets that birthed the miracle, she gave me a quick kiss.  “I get it now.  I really do.  And I can see why it means so much to you.”

I’m glad she gets it.  I hope that others do, across the land.  I hope it moves them.

Our story.  Our moment.

Because Nottingham Forest are magic.  And don’t you dare forget it.


3 thoughts on “I Believe in Miracles

  1. Since the dawn of social media there has been a proliferation of sports blogs regurgitated, nay, spewed up, by people that think they can write, when clearly they cannot.

    Yours Sir is a shining exception to the detritus.

    Your beautifully written piece titled ” I Believe In Miracles ” oozes with a personally shared sentiment and I applaud the crystal clear clarity of your observation.


  2. The finest words ever written…

    We got down to the foyer of the Broadway, and she took my hand. “That was incredible,” she said. And as we stepped out onto the same streets that birthed the miracle, she gave me a quick kiss. “I get it now. I really do. And I can see why it means so much to you.”


  3. Great piece.

    I lived in Nottingham then and was between the ages of 5-7 when this happened. I started going to watch Notts from 82 although was never anti-Forest, it’s just that I went with my granddad and he was County. Not seen the film, all my family went tonight ( I live in Spain). I’ve been watching all the YouTube documentaries about anything connected to Forest, pretty much non-stop all weekend. Wow. It’s amazing. Didn’t they all seem to be having so much fun? Don’t they all seem to be great blokes? I can vaguely remember our primary school (Brooksby in Clifton) singing along to The Whole World’ around that time. Yes, it’s true, it looks like they were training near the suspension bridge where I went to 6th form. BC comes across as slightly mad but maybe we should never underestimate the power of someone who knows how to engender ‘warmth’. It seems like he was genuinely liked. I don’t think O’Neill would go as far as impersonating him ( in front of him) if he hadn’t had that respect for him that men sometimes have towards others.
    It seems from all the clips I’ve seen that ‘Spider’ was wholly integrated as a pioneering black player. God – he was good. Notts had some of those players in my time watching them. Larry was a bit immobile by the time he joined but Birtles was class, mainly at centre half ( and well liked). Martin O’Neill was excellent, my granddad really rated him. But I think the best of those players I ever saw in black and white was Gary Mills who was just a class above everything else we had. He never, ever seemed to misplace a pass.
    So, it’s not my club and never has been , but it’s my town and it’s great to hear about all this. It makes me smile.

    ‘We ( kind of) all agree…’


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