The City Ground 'oozes football soul' and it's imperative we stay at our 'place on the river called home'

A detailed view of a tifo of Morgan Gibbs-White, organised by Forza Garibaldi, before the Reds took on Fulham at the City Ground on April 2, 2024.
-Credit: (Image: Getty Images)

'Wherever I may go, wherever I may roam, you won't ever change the way I am'. For those of a Nottingham Forest persuasion unfamiliar with these words, they once hung from the Trent End during one of the many spectacular pre-match displays the Forza Garibaldi supporters' group have treated us to over the years.

This one in particular took place before a Championship game with Birmingham City back in August, 2018 (A 2-2 draw and an 87th-minute Daryl Murphy equaliser, if you're asking...). A move to Toton and playing outside of the city boundary just wouldn’t have sat right, and would have threatened to lose the tradition and soul the club is built on. So that message, unfurled on the Trent End back in 2018, feels all the more poignant now.

The overriding feeling is one of relief now that the Reds’ hierarchy appear to have listened to the majority fans and put the politicking to one side, with the club continuing to work to agree a deal to buy the freehold of the ground from landowners Nottingham City Council.

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So much is centred on the romance attached to the City Ground. Every fan can remember their first home game and the buzz one gets on the morning of a big game never goes away. A night under the lights. The programme sellers, the linger of the hotdog vans on the approach and there it is glistening at the top of Trent Bridge. For 125 years, generations have been coming here, the place on the river we call home.

We’ve had some excellent sides, played some truly brilliant football. Many heroes we have seen on the banks of the River Trent, the team that won the FA Cup in 1959.

Morgan Gibbs-White of Nottingham Forest celebrates scoring his team's third goal during the Premier League match between Nottingham Forest and Fulham FC at the City Ground on April 02,
Morgan Gibbs-White of Nottingham Forest celebrates scoring his team's third goal during the Premier League match between Nottingham Forest and Fulham FC at the City Ground on April 02, -Credit:Getty Images

Brought up on stories from our grandfathers and fathers of those halcyon days standing in the Trent End cheering on the Miracle Men under the great Brian Clough, the back-to-back European Cup winners. John Robertson turning his full-back inside out. John McGovern in the middle. And if the opposition ever did get past the late Larry Lloyd and Kenny Burns, there was Peter Shilton between the sticks.

It's where Roy Keane first made his name in the game, Ian Storey-Moore scored goals for fun, Stuart Pearce bombed down the left flank, saluted to the crowd and had what seemed like a telepathic relationship on the field of play with Nigel Clough.

Stan Collymore had us on the edge of our seats and it's where Morgan Gibbs-White let out a bellowing roar after winning a tackle late on in a 1-0 win over Arsenal in May of last year which secured another season of Premier League Football.

Some fans have even got married on the pitch, while the ashes of some of our dearly departed loved ones lay peacefully around various parts of the stadium.

And there's more. It was a host venue for Euro '96, and where a Paul McGregor goal under the lights against Lyon in November 1995 had us daring to dream of more glory in the UEFA Cup.

It was at the City Ground where Des Walker scored his one and only goal for the Reds to salvage a 1-1 draw with Luton Town on January 1, 1992, and where the hands of Brice Samba pushed us to a play-off final at Wembley and promotion back to the top tier for the first time since 1999 just over two years ago.

It's witnessed countless wins over that lot from the wrong end of the A52, including the 5-2 drubbing under Billy Davies and when Paul Hart's young Reds ran out 3-0 winners in March 2003.

In essence, it's witnessed the great, the good, the bad and the downright ugly (a 4-0 loss to Scunthorpe United, losing to Darlington in the first round of the League Cup, anyone?!) Generally any game under Gary Megson. And more recently it's hard to forget Jordan Rhodes' 37th-minute hattrick in the 4-0 loss to Sheffield Wednesday back in 2019.

Things haven’t always been rosy but the one constant has been the City Ground, so intrinsic to Nottingham and the cornerstone of our club. The picturesque Trentside location is represented in the club crest and Mull of Kintyre in our DNA.

As Steve Cooper once said, the club "oozes football soul". It wasn't been the first time the club had been linked with a move away and perhaps now it would be an even harder decision for the Reds to commit to the City Ground in the current footballing climate, navigating the choppy waters of profitability and sustainability rules to maximise revenue opportunities.

A visual of Nottingham Forest's proposed City Ground redevelopment.
Nottingham Forest goalkeeper Brice Samba saves the penalty of Sheffield United's Oliver Norwood in the Sky Bet Championship play-off semi-final, second leg match at the City Ground, in May 2022.

The Reds have since moved to offer clarity, after the new City Council leader Neghat Khan said on record a deal had been all but been rubber-stamped for the freehold. Forest maintain they "continue to work on the terms for a conditional deal for the purchase of the freehold".

But the club say any decision to buy the freehold "will be entirely conditional on Nottingham Forest first being granted the relevant permissions that will allow us to realise our hugely ambitious plans for a significantly larger stadium capacity".

But let's hope we can go on making more precious and magical memories at our footballing home. Plenty of work evidently now lies ahead, from overcoming planning hurdles such as the relocation of the boat clubs, to providing a consistent supply of hot water in the loos against a backdrop of wincing season ticket price hikes.

But the vast majority of the fanbase will hope the club are moving in the right direction and able to draw a line under the uncertainty and look forward to bringing the City Ground up to modern standards, pressing forward with plans first announced in 2019 to rebuild the Peter Taylor Stand to take the famous old ground to a 40,000 capacity under the stewardship of hugely ambitious owners.

The club have seemingly balanced the books in recent weeks (Cheers, Lyon...) and this apparent breakthrough in the negotiations with the council now represents hugely significant news. Signing the freehold papers would, absolutely no doubt, be welcomed just as much as those who have walked through the main entrance over the many, many years to defend the badge on our hallowed turf.

Similar to how the famous chant goes: Our desire, is always to be here.