“I wish I was a Leicester fan,”
Johnny said to the old man
Who sat beside him every game
(Johnny didn’t know his name)
“I could be one, by right of birth
We used to live in Lutterworth.”
The old man thought him best ignored,
And turned his wrath on Jamie Ward.
And when the final whistle blew
(Forest 0, United 2)
The old man asked “how old are you?”
Johnny said “Fourteen next month”
The old man said “I had a hunch
You’re new to this, and ‘cos of that
I’ll disregard your Leicester chat.”
And with the slam of folding seats
The scrape of concrete under feet
The chuntering, all full of spite
They headed out into the night.
Out into the sweat and smoke
The thousand-headed snake of folk
That wound its way towards the bridge
(It spanned the river, like a ridge
Of lights and horns and shoulders slumped)
A voice rang out from near the front:
“I promise I’m not coming back,
It’s thirty quid to watch that crap.”
Johnny saw the old man grin
And said “but I agree with him!”
And thrust his hands into his jeans
And listened to the venting spleens.
The old man only shook his head,
He sighed and laughed, and then he said:
“You say that now, and that’s just fine
But you’ll be back in two weeks’ time.”
And then he stopped, and lit a fag
And took a long and thoughtful drag
And pointed at the flapping flag
Atop the stand, against the night
Green and black and red and white
“Now blokes like him, they’ll come and go,
But what you really need to know
Is what we are, beyond all that:
This rubbish team—this present tat.
It’s who we are, and where we’ve been
It’s so much more than what you’ve seen.”
“It didn’t used to be like this
And if you’ll let me reminisce—“
“I’ve heard the stories,” Johnny said
(The old man – smiling – shook his head)
“I don’t mean what they used to be
It’s more the possibility
That out of nowhere, things can turn
A lesson Cloughie helped us learn.”
“It’s more than just a game, you see,
It’s more than Cohen’s injuries.
It’s more than Wilson’s lack of care,
And more than Henri’s bloody hair.
It’s everything, from start to end,
The time you’ll spend with all the friends
You’re going to make, because of these –
This forest full of tricky trees.”
“It’s walking from the Market Square,
That sense of something in the air,
The meat and smoke and beer and brine.
It’s every week, the only time
To leave behind your real life,
Your bills, your boss, your job, your wife
And lose yourself, and feed your soul
With something that you can’t control.”
“It’s the hot electric light
The yellow bruise on winter skies
And rolling mist, and grass that’s green
The kind of shade you’ve never seen
It’s orange balls in heavy snow
It’s red and white (and sometimes gold)
It’s sounds and songs and smells and sights
But it is never black and white.”
“It’s that feeling, every time;
Tear your ticket, stand in line,
Not knowing what they’ve got in store,
Expecting nothing—wanting more.
Through the gates and up the stairs,
Out into the special air
That’s full of who-knows-what-might-come.
It’s singing till your throat is numb.”
“It’s never seeing round the bend
The nerves and hope, the special blend
Of threatening to walk away,
But knowing you don’t have a say.
They wait until you’ve had enough
And then they’ll go and call your bluff
Their magic rubbing out your woes,
A lifetime of ‘we told you so’s.”
“Football—it’ll teach you rules
The things that they can’t say in schools
Like fortune’s fickle, life is rough
And sometimes wishing’s not enough.
And that’s its value, that’s its truth:
Forest make you bullet-proof.
But just like life – when things go right –
You soon forget about the shite.”
“You’ll be like me one day,” he said.
“An hour getting out of bed,
And banging on about the past,
Moments go, but stories last.
Trev in Munich, Dessie’s goal
Rice at Highbury, London Road,
Going up by accident
That Neil Warnock, what a …”
“I wouldn’t swap a thing for them.
If I could do it all again
I’d pay the money, waste the years
Sit through all the hurt and tears
Of ’93, and ‘99
(And all of Gary Megson’s time)
And stick it all, just to declare:
Whatever happened, I was there.”
Johnny stopped, and turned to say
“You reckon they’ll be back one day?”
The old man laughed, and said “my friend,
That’s just the thing—there in’t an end.
There’s no such thing as finish lines,
But that just means they’ve got the time
To balls it up, and even then –
They’ll get a chance to try again.”
John (once Johnny), arms out wide
Sung the song, and at his side
His son sang too, all loud and shrill
As John looked out to Wilford Hill.
The boy said “who you looking for?”
“A friend,” said John, “from way before.
That seat you’re in belonged to him,
A lovely bloke—his name was Jim.”
Forest won (they usually did,
and it was worth the sixty quid)
And as they walked back to the car
The boy said “daddy, is it far
To Wembley, when we go in May?”
John said “just enjoy the day.
The journey’s all part of the plan,
When you are a Forest fan.”