In October of 2011, I unwittingly became a Nottingham Forest fan. In October of 2015, I went to Nottingham, England to watch my first Forest game. As we were arranging our trip and making our final plans, I very anxiously set out to learn the “Oh City Ground” song that Forest fans sing before the start of match play. I still well recall having several bouts of fear over remembering the words to the song. This is, after all, a fundamental part of being a Forest fan. Starting match play with this song is a well dated tradition, and I feared looking like an absolute buffoon, if I weren’t singing – or even worse – pretending to sing the words.
Before we left for England, I watched videos of fans singing “Oh City Ground”, and I practiced the song a hundred or so times. I learned to play the tune on my bass guitar. I downloaded the original Mull Of Kintyre by Paul McCartney. I even listened to the several Mull of Kintyre bagpipe versions. I was as ready to sing as one man who had never actually been to City Ground could be. As the match started, I didn’t know what to expect, I imagined maybe there would be a count-off like we had in my music classes. Maybe someone would get on the PA system, tap the microphone, and start us off “and a-one, and a-two, and a-three…”. But it was nothing like that. Singing with 20,000-plus people was much more surreal and much more powerful than I could have ever imagined. To my surprise, I did not hear a large number of different voices singing. In almost an instant, I could only hear one voice. One beautifully blended and harmonious voice. The singing was loud but somehow things seemed quiet – peaceful even. For those twenty or so seconds, nothing else in the world mattered. I was not an out of place American. I was not a poor kid from the inner-city. I was not goofy or overweight. I was a Red. We all were Reds. It was transcendental. When the song was over, I looked around half-stunned and wholly excited. I had just experienced one of the most powerful drugs on Earth. I understand now how folks end up addicted.
To this day, I still reflect on what is was like to be in City Ground singing with fellow Reds. I marvel at being part of a tradition that countless other people have shared in. I am filled with pride knowing I was in unison with a group of folks that had welcomed me into their own. I had travelled more miles than anyone in my immediate family had ever gone – and more miles than I had ever imagined for myself. For the second time that day, I found myself fighting back tears. Not just because I was in City Ground, but because I was part of something so much bigger than me. By singing with those loyals, I was pledging my allegiance, and thanking my lucky stars to be a Nottingham Forest Red. I cannot wait to do it again.