Over the years, the Forest Recreation Ground has been used for many, very varied, sporting activities. Here is a modern map:
In the medieval period, bear baiting had been probably the first activity on the Forest, with a horse racing course eventually being constructed on the very same site.
Originally the racecourse measured four miles long, but in the early 1700s, this was shortened to two miles. In 1797 a new track in the form of a figure-of-eight was laid out. Unfortunately, this rather strange layout was not successful, and another more conventional course, therefore, oval in shape, was constructed soon afterwards
By the 1860s though, the racecourse was in decline, offering only small prizes, and attracting only second rate horses. The last race meeting took place on September 29th-30th 1890, and Nottingham’s horse racing subsequently moved to Colwick.
Around 1800, the centre of the racecourse had been used as a place of exercise by the many officers of the cavalry who lived in a distinctive Georgian building on Forest Road. Familiar to all High School pupils, it played host to a tiny sweet shop originally called “Baldry’s” and, more recently, “Dicko’s”. It is now a bakery. Most of those cavalry officers were destined to charge at the Battle of Waterloo:
By 1849, cricketers were using the western end of the Forest for practice, and they soon moved to the centre of the racecourse to play professional games for large sums of money.
It is not really known when football was first played on the Forest. A group of young men regularly met there in the early 1860s, to play a primitive kind of field hockey called “shinney”. They soon thought of giving this up to play the new sport of football.
An initial meeting was convened therefore in the upstairs room of the then Clinton Arms in Shakespeare Street, and the “Forest Foot Ball Club” was duly formed in 1865.
Their first fixture on the Forest was on Thursday, March 22nd 1866, a friendly game between Fifteen of the Forest, and Thirteen of the Notts Club. The game was eventually played between Seventeen of the Forest and Eleven of the Notts, and, according to some sources, was goalless, Nottingham Forest’s first ever goal being scored in their third game, another friendly on the Forest against Notts County, which finished as a 1-1 draw.
Other contradictory sources say, however, that the initial game finished as a 1-0 victory for Nottingham Forest, with Old Nottinghamian, William Henry Revis, providing the decisive score.
One early newspaper article, described how:
“When the men were spread out, the field looked exceedingly picturesque, with the orange and black stripes of the Notts, and the red and white of the Foresters.”
One of Nottinghamshire’s greatest early footballers, E.H.Greenhalgh, who played for England in the first ever international match against Scotland in 1872, was to write, of football on the Forest:
“The first set of players who came out were regarded as a company of harmless
lunatics who amused themselves by kicking one another’s shins, but did no great harm to the public at large, although in earlier days they would have been put in the stocks.”
Richard Daft, wrote in similar vein…
“When a young man I played regularly with the Notts County Football Club when it was first formed. I believe I played centre forward, but I am not quite sure about this as we were never very particular in those days about keeping in one place. Charging and dribbling were the chief features of the game at that time, and often very rough play was indulged in.”
The exact location of Nottingham Forest’s pitches has never been ascertained for certain. My own researches have led me to believe that they must have been immediately to the east of what is now the “Park-and-ride” car park, at the bottom of the slight slope, but I have no way of being totally sure about this. Look for the orange arrow:
Forest certainly had major problems with their location, however, when they entered the F.A.Cup from 1878 onwards. The Forest was common land, with free access for all, but the regulations of the F.A.Cup stipulated that an admission charge had to be levied. For this reason, “Forest Foot Ball Club” had to move to the Meadows area for the 1879-1880 cup campaign.
This was not, of course, before the club had introduced various innovations. Samuel Weller Widdowson had invented the shin guard, which was first worn on the Forest in 1874. In 1878, the first ever referee’s whistle in the world was heard on the Forest, most probably in a game between Nottingham Forest and Sheffield Norfolk. It was blown by Mr C.J.Spencer, and marked the first step in a long, long journey of what shall we say, talking points?
The club’s departure however, did not mean that the Forest itself was suddenly devoid of football clubs. Throughout the Victorian era, football was always to remain the main sport, played by scores of different local teams, all wearing their own unique and brightly coloured shirts and shorts.
Indeed, at this time, there were so many local teams using the pitches that the High School were frequently unable to fulfil their own fixtures on Saturdays, but instead had to play on Wednesdays, occasionally Thursdays, or even Tuesdays. At the time, of course, Wednesday was half day closing for shops and businesses in Nottingham, and Thursday was half day closing in Sherwood.
On these half days, it was by no means unusual to see footballers on buses and trams, travelling to their game, already changed into their kit. A newspaper at the time wrote of
“persons hurrying to the Forest football grounds, and dozens of players in full
rig making their way in the same direction,”
Notts County wore black and orange hoops, and at least three other kits:
Nottingham Forest had always worn their famous “Garibaldi Red”. Here are some of their oldest kits, with only minor changes from year to year, and those sexy shorts getting shorter and shorter:
By the way, all the illustrations of old football kits came from the best ever website for the soccer nerd and all those boys who had more than twenty different Subbuteo teams. New Brighton Tower 1898? Oh, yes.
Forest and County were not the only football clubs in Nottingham. Next time I will look at some of the less well known local teams in the area at the end of the Victorian era and before the First World War.