Can you remember the last time Nottingham Forest beat Manchester United in a final, or the time when Eric Cantona played for Sheffield Wednesday?
The answer is The Guinness Soccer six tournament; an annual competition that the country’s elite took very seriously indeed. Fellow forest fans will remember this with fondness (those old enough), because we were consecutive finalists, in both 1987 & 1988.
For the record; Eric Cantona featured in the competition whilst on a trial, at Sheffield Wednesday. Former Forest legend Trevor Francis allowed the Frenchman to move on to Leeds United without signing him up. (Wonder whatever happened to him?)
The G-Mex arena in Manchester played host to the event and the crowds were healthy, having began back in 1981 it had gained some serious momentum by the time Forest lifted the trophy. The Reds were crowned champions in 1987, after a nervy encounter with Man united, who were technically on home soil.
United had fielded a host of first team regulars as did pretty much everyone else, with the exception of Coventry who played David Speedie in goal! Forest and Man United couldn’t be separated during normal time in that final, but we took the honours via a penalty shootout. Tommy Gaynor calmly slotted home the winning kick to elevate himself into pub quiz folklore.
The winning team photo consisted of the following players; Steve Sutton, Nigel Clough, Calvin Plummer, Neil Webb, Colin Foster, Stuart Pearce, Gary Charles, Darren Wassall and of course, Tommy Gaynor. Considering that this all took place in mid season, December in fact, it is all the more remarkable that Forest went on to finish third in the top flight that same season. An accolade that would see you into the Champions League today!
Could you imagine the likes of Sergio Aguero, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Eden Hazard turning out for their respective clubs, to play 6-aside, on a cold night in Manchester? Me neither but it does make a mockery of the “over play and Tiredness” gripes that reverberate from the mouth of the Premier League lion.
Such was the momentum of Soccer six, the following year 1988, every top flight club took part as well as a little club from the second division called Manchester City. Forest once again passed their way through their opposition and progressed to the final. When you think how Brian Clough had them playing on muddy fields back then, it was no surprise that the likes of Clough junior and Neil Webb were untouchable on the Astro-turf. FA cup holders Wimbledon were notable victims of the forest fire power, the long ball specialists were well out of their comfort zone and were beaten 4-1. Once again though, the likes of Vinnie Jones, John Scales and Dennis Wise were all in attendance. Forest then sneaked past Norwich City to set up a second, consecutive final against Charlton Athletic.
Another thing to remember here is the tournament was played over a couple of days too. Not just your average competition at Power league followed by a session in the bar.
Forest’s side had only changed slightly from the previous year; Des Walker, Terry Wilson, Franz Carr and Brian Laws had entered the fray this time out. Such was the consistency of Clough’s philosophy; whoever came in would play to feet at all times.
When the holders took on Charlton in their second final, you could just feel the determination of the London club and their Chairman, who was on the sidelines, shouting support. Again; could you imagine Roman Abramovich doing that, down at the G-Mex?
In truth, Charlton outplayed Forest that night and fully deserved their silverware. They took a deserved lead through Peter Shirtliff and it wasn’t until the dying seconds of the half that Franz Carr drew us level. The second period again belonged to the Addicks and they were rewarded with a fine winner by Paul Mortimer. The celebrations from the Londoners were something to behold, you could see that it really meant something; the kind of attitude long gone in this country. Worth noting too, was the fifty thousand pound prize money for the winners; to Charlton this equated to triple the gate receipts of their recant league tie with Forest.
Ironically, Forest went on to lift the League cup that same season and celebrated with similar elation. How many clubs even field anything close to a full strength side in that competition these days?
Football and footballers have changed, so too have the fans to an extent. But, looking back on the crazy days of The Guinness Soccer Six it fills me with great pride; knowing that any time I paid my hard earned cash to watch my heroes, they’d put in a shift, no matter what competition it was.