Note to Self

A letter from 36-year-old me in May 2022 to 13-year-old me in May 1999.

*First written for an issue of the Trevor Francis Tracksuits fanzine in 2022*

Ayup lad.

I hope this letter finds you well.

You don’t know me yet, but I know a little bit about you. If I’m correct, you are about to begin your SATS at the end of Year 9, but I know that your thoughts right now are dominated by Martin O’Neill, the prospect of signing Hugo Porfirio and early musings about getting straight back into the Premier League. I’m also wondering which PlayStation game it will be that is consuming the rest of your time this summer. Do at least try and revise. I know you won’t but try.

I know you’re saving up, working numerous paper rounds, to buy your first ever season ticket. You’ve done a fair few games over the last couple of seasons, including your first ever away matches, but I’m fully aware how desperate you are for your very own seat in the Trent End. Right at the back, T3 Row Z, Seat 85 is a good shout if you need any suggestions. I remember it well. It used to be mine.

Remember to be nice to your Mum & Dad too, you could come up short with the cash you need, and they might just help you out…

Like you, I’m a huge football fan. I know you attended your first game against Leeds in ’93, I was there that day on the old Trent End like you, and it’s clear that you love your football club as much as I do. I saw my team at Wembley today, can you believe that? I’m on train home from London as I write this and I’m just taking a moment. What a day. The feel of it, the sound, the joy. And all that dancing. And just now it was you that popped into my mind.

I couldn’t help but think about your despair at the end of the terrible season you have just witnessed, but also your infectious desire to get going again in August. You’ll be scanning the pages of the Evening Post every day this summer before you shove them through the letterboxes on your rounds and you’ll be hooked to Page 302 of Ceefax, hunting for scraps of news on a new owner, a new manager, and new players. A busy few months lie ahead but my advice to you is to not to get too hung up on it all and certainly, whatever you do, don’t get carried away. I know you were there at Ewood Park at the end of the season singing ‘We’ll be back as champions’ and I know you revelled in the chants of ‘Martin’s coming home’ against Leicester but it really isn’t going to be that simple.

I’m afraid to tell you that the coming years aren’t going to be very pleasant for Forest. Our years in the sun have probably come to an end and it’ll be a rough ride for a new generation of supporters like yourself. But don’t get too down heartened, because it’s you and others of your age who are more important than ever right now. Some of your school mates take the easy way out and follow United or whoever, but that’s not being a football supporter and don’t you forget to tell ‘em that. Sure, you’ll probably be horrified by the days that lie ahead but there is no replacement for being there in the stands. I’m sorry to say that there will be some wallopings at Tranmere and at Charlton and there isn’t likely to be any prospect of an immediate return to the Premier League like before. And just when you think it’s getting better it’ll only get worse. Brief rays of hope will be dashed, and dreams will be trampled again and again and again.

You’re going to visit places you never thought possible. Woking, Milton Keynes, Hartlepool, Scunthorpe. You’ll go to Gillingham so many times you’ll be on first name terms with the locals and for reasons only you will know, you will visit twice in four days following up a league game with a Johnstone’s Paint Trophy tie (don’t ask, you’ll find out one day). And Walsall, oh Walsall, the team that will creep up on you from behind and haunt your dreams like the bogeyman.

Forest, I’m sorry to say, are going to lurch from one crisis to another. The very survival of the club will come into doubt and don’t ever think that the second tier is as bad as it can get. Because it can get worse, much worse. You’ll be humiliated at Chester; you will be humbled by Plymouth and you will be mortified at Oldham. You might think Pierre going on strike or Big Ron clambering into the wrong dug out was bizarre but there are things that will happen down the line that are so ludicrous that you won’t believe me when I tell you. A coffee cup will send us on the way to defeat in a local derby, a future owner will steal our FA Cup and a charming French manager will serve cheese at his press conference. One manager will lose the plot to such an extent that he’ll ask fans to conduct the half-time team talk and another will develop such paranoia that he will bug his own office. You’ll meet Raffik Djebbour, Gino Padula, Andy Impey with his lack of neck, Nicolao Dumitru and, very soon, three Italians who you’ll never ever forget. Some players will be so bad you’ll want to gouge your eyes out. Alan Wright limping around the pitch will be burned into your mind, George Elekobi will eat you alive and Gil Dias will inexplicably fail to kick a ball at Norwich that will ruin your year. Remember the words, ‘We’re serious about promotion, are you?’ and do not ever, for one single second, take them seriously.

Grudges will last for years. Fan Zhyyi, Jorge Leitao, Michael Branch, Kevin Friend, Simon Grayson. It will be irrational, but you’ll find it totally reasonable to despise these individuals for their crimes. You’ll experience many false dawns. Managers will come and go; players will change and your relationship with Forest might even border on toxic at times. At one point you’ll be reduced to tears in the T.B.I after a game against Yeovil.

And how do I begin to tell you…? You’ve got over two decades of it to come. And through it all the club will rely on people like you. To stick with them.

You might wonder why I’m telling you this and why I know so much. I wouldn’t blame you for thinking it’s all a load of tosh but it’s not. It’s not a happy story and I apologise for that, but it is, I think, something you might need to hear. And it’s a tale I now feel ready to tell you. You see, the coming years are not kind, but they do have moments of light, flashes of wonder. And it’s these bits that you will live for. The reason you’ll keep hopping through the turnstile, boarding that Silverdale or skipping onto the train.

You will conga at Grimsby, you’ll celebrate so wildly at Portman Road you’ll nearly fall into the lower tier, a victory at Leyton Orient will feel like another European Cup win and there will be pandemonium at Man City. You will erupt at the sight of our old No.3 walking out as manager and burst into delight when he takes us to victory at Derby. There will be carnage when Lewis Grabban scores our fifth at Villa and delight when Arsenal are trounced in the cup. These times, even if they are few and far between, will be what you cling to.

Away from the football itself, you’ll always be proud to be a Forest fan. Fellow supporters will become friends and you will travel the country together and even beyond on pre-season tours. It won’t be conquering Europe like your predecessors, but they will be special days, nonetheless. Times with these mates will become as important as following Forest. You’ll sing, cry and laugh together and you’ll eventually realise that the division we are in, and the result is not the be all and end all. A loss at Plymouth will be mainly forgotten but you’ll never forget your mates’ jeans falling down when we celebrated an equaliser. A scoreline at Peterborough won’t readily spring to mind but etched in your memory will be when a friend’s cigarette goes AWOL in the chaos of a goal and sets his hair alight. You’ll bend over laughing when one of the lads think he’s found a dead body in Blackpool only for the body to get up and walk away as the ambulance he calls turns up.

You will find nothing more special than the comradeship and kinship your Forest brothers and sisters will provide. In victory or defeat. The fleeting moments of success on the pitch and the magic of following a football team you love unconditionally will never be bettered. And one day you’ll experience the magic of taking your own son across Trent Bridge and watch him begin his own adoration for the team in Garibaldi Red. A feeling that is hard to put into words. Don’t be too hard on him when he sings about Joe Lolley or Scott McKenna in B&Q at the top of his voice, remember how it feels to discover football chants and throw them around the school yard. I did it and I know you still do.

Keep all of these experiences close; the amazing, the dull and the horrific, because they all matter. They’ll be part of something pretty extraordinary in your life. And, as unlikely at it may seem, you’ll come to cherish them. Okay, maybe not Yeovil. Sod that. But you’ll see what I mean. You follow the most bonkers, ridiculous and wonderful football club in the land. They’ll drive you mad, and they’ll break your heart, but you’ll never put them down or leave them behind.

You’ll serve your time, and you’ll come to terms with the likelihood that Forest are probably heading nowhere good season after season. There will still be the moments of horror, but you’ll almost learn to deflect away the worst of it after years of practise. You’ll grow up and you’ll meet new people, go to Sixth Form, university and find yourself a career and a family. But it’ll all somehow continue to revolve around Nottingham Forest. This football club is who you are. Then, now and always.

For over twenty years you’ll exist in an almost permanent state of suffering when it comes to football. Hope of what might be will get you through even though you’ll start to wonder if it will ever happen. I’m here to tell you it will. Not as quickly as you like but the time will come. And it will be worthy of the wait, I can promise you that. One fine day everything will fall into place, and you’ll realise exactly what it was that inspired me to write this to you. And like me you’ll look back not with a frown but a smile. Remembering where you came from and how you played your part.

And do yourself a favour while I think about it and just remember that Wembley will expect the card you put on 18,000 seats to be fire retardant. Don’t ask, just remember, and save yourself the pain.

The train is just pulling in now, it’s taken longer than expected but we’re finally back. So, it’s time for me to say goodbye.

I’ll think about you, on your way here.

Be good.