I can clearly recall sitting in my grandmother’s front room on a gloomy Sunday in the spring of 1992, cheering Nottingham Forest on as they beat Tottenham Hotspur in the second leg of their Rumbelows Cup semi-final.
While I was a veteran Arsenal supporter of a good year and a half by then, I didn’t have any ill-will towards Spurs, but Forest were something of a second-favourite side to this seven-year-old, as they played nice football and fellow Corkman Roy Keane was making a big impression in midfield.
Even back then, my interest in kits had blossomed in tandem with my love of football and the fact that Forest were wearing red shorts at White Hart Lane, when there was no clear need to, was somewhat perturbing. I didn’t actually realise that it was the final successful activation of what we can only surmise was a Brian Clough superstition.
Clough did enjoy his routines – such as wearing a green jumper on matchdays, having initially worn one around the training ground to remind Peter Shilton who the ‘real number 1’ at the club was – and while we don’t have proof of exactly why the red shorts became a fixture at Spurs, we can examine the facts for an Occam’s Razor conclusion.
Having won 3-1 at Spurs in November 1978 as defending champions, Forest would then go on to lose on their next seven visits to N17, up to the end of 1984-85, six league games and one in the FA Cup.
In January 1986, though, that run would end with a 3-0 win and they triumphed 3-2 at Spurs in November of that year, too. What was different in those seasons? Well, as Spurs were wearing an all-white home kit at the time, Forest were forced to switch to all-red, and it seems that that was hit upon as the magic serum.
Through 1987-88, 1988-89, 1989-90, 1990-91 and 1991-92, Forest remained unbeaten away to Tottenham, a run which included a Littlewoods Cup quarter-final replay in 1990 as well as 1992 semi, all the while wearing red shorts.
That semi in 1992 – coming after a league win there on Boxing Day – was to prove to be Forest’s last time avoiding defeat at Spurs in red shorts. In 1992-93, the team deemed too good to go down disproved that notion, and included among 22 defeats in the inaugural Premier League was a 2-1 loss at White Hart Lane.
Interestingly, though, when Spurs visited the City Ground in April 1993, Forest switched shorts again – though, rather than to red, they donned the 1990-92 home set with their 1992-93 shirts, the skimpy shorts contrasting with the baggy jerseys. Coming off the back off three straight losses, was this one last jinx-buster from Clough? Either way, the 2-1 win was his last as a manager
By 1996, Forest had ceased the tradition after their return to the Premiership but Spurs belatedly returned the favour when they wore alternative white shorts, and socks, in Nottingin the FA Cup, with the snowy weather making things difficult in terms of visibility.
Spurs kit expert Jeff Maysh reckoned that the all-white for Spurs was to do with the navy shorts and socks being laundered – they were at home to Sheffield Wednesday the Saturday before and hosted Southampton three days later, so it is a possibility.
All of the above was planned and written with the sense that the mystery had been solved satisfactorily, but then a few days ago, Lee Hermitage put the cat among the pigeons once more when he unearthed a picture from the first game in Forest’s losing run at White Hart Lane, the 1-0 reversal in 1979-80, featuring an all-red adidas kit.
It was the look they had worn in beating Malmo to win the 1979 European Cup – and won don again in seeing off Hamburg in that season’s decider – but it was a one-off at Spurs until the enforced change in 1985-86. Why they did it, we just don’t know. And perhaps we never will.