A couple of months ago, Beeston Film Club had a special screening of ‘I Believe in Miracles’, a superb documentary about the astounding success of the Forest side of the late 70s/early 80s. Taking in place in the upstairs room of The White Lion, a great night was had by all.
The film is very accessible to fans of Forest and those of other clubs (and even people not that into footy), mixing archive footage of games and interviews, together with plenty of commentary of the stars of that time. An added bonus at the showing was the presence of one of the key men, striker Garry Birtles. He very generously gave up his time after a long trip down from covering a match at Sunderland (he now works as a pundit/co-commentator for Sky), in order to come.
Garry is a local lad, having lived in the Long Eaton and Chilwell areas for the majority of his life. Definitely had no trouble navigating his way to a pub in the middle of Beeston! Forest signed him from lowly Long Eaton United as a young man (you just have to say ‘young man’ in a Cloughie voice!), and after a few years he had won a bagful of medals, including two European Cups. He was also capped by England on three occasions.
I am slightly too young to remember Garry in his pomp as part of that amazing Forest side at the time. I was also brought up elsewhere in the country supporting a different team. They happen to be the side where Cloughie cut his managerial teeth though, so I like to think that without the gritty experience of managing Hartlepool United, he never would have enjoyed the success he did. Therefore, I Believe in Miracles filled in a lot of gaps in my knowledge about the astonishing rise of a middling, unfashionable second tier side who went on to become the best side in Europe within a couple of years.
After the film finished, the questions and answers began. Garry was an absolute star, pulling no punches with the answers to a variety of questions. I managed to rile him unintentionally by asking how he would compare the exploits of Leicester City to what Forest achieved. He quite rightly pointed out that people in the media now tend to have fairly short memories, and that football definitely existed before the birth of the Premier League in the early 1990s. Perhaps if Leicester win the European Champions League next year they can start to see if they might measure up.
I often thought that I might have affected his game, but now I realise that I maybe just ruined his marriage and made him sell his house.
Perhaps the funniest moment of the night came when a member of the audience didn’t ask a question, but instead issued an apology. Ace local carpenter Peter Urbacz confessed to being the little scrote who used to ride his skateboard down Garry’s drive at various antisocial times! I asked Peter about this afterwards, and he explained in full.
“In my teenage mind, Blenheim Drive in Chilwell was like one of those wide Californian streets. The banked concrete driveways with a channel of steps were steep enough to skate and a perfect obstacle to do a backside kickflip. Every morning and often very late at night I would pass his house. I would skate down there and do a Frontside Ollie over his channel of steps.
I must point out that the trend then was to have very hard and small wheels, so it would have been proper loud. I often thought that I might have affected his game, but now I realise that I maybe just ruined his marriage and made him sell his house.”
I managed to catch up with Garry whilst he was covering the Euros in France. Over the phone I hasten to add – I did fancy a trip over there to see him in person, but it would have been a bit dearer than the cost of a day ticket on the tram and a couple of pints.
He very kindly spared some of his time during a hectic schedule, chatting about the success and popularity of the film, what a great time he had as a player, and how there is no comparison to be made between NG9 and France. Also how badly run Forest are at present, in sharp contrast to his time there, when Clough and his assistant Peter Taylor were thoroughly trusted to do what they thought best.
He also talked about his time at Manchester United, when he wasn’t able to buy a house in the north west due to difficulties in selling his home in Long Eaton. This really struck me as indicative of the vast wealth players of today enjoy. When explaining to my wife who Garry is and what he achieved, it made me think of what he would have been worth these days.
A bang average Premiership player these days is more or less guaranteed to be a millionaire if they have a career in the top flight lasting 5 or so years. The monetary rewards are now astonishing for those winning a sackful of trophies and playing for England.
Garry lived in a modest house, drank in his local – ‘The Cadland used to be a truly great pub’ – and is still an incredibly down-to-earth and approachable bloke. I for one am really glad that the film has shone a spotlight on the achievements of Garry and the rest of that Forest side, and together with the success of Leicester City, proves that the beautiful game doesn’t have to be all about the biggest clubs with the most money.