Friday, October 28, 2011 started like any other work day. I fought traffic to get work, I got to my desk, had my peanut butter and honey sandwich and fired up my computer. Then it happened. My phone vibrated and up popped a couple of Twitter mentions from @jbnffc1865:
I think @bigwes needs to do a number on @mattyfryatt right from the off #nffc v #hcfc
#MilestoneMorgan @bigwes makes his 400th senior appearance for #nffc v #hcfc not many achieve that nowadays #nffclegend
After scratching my head a bit and searching the #nffc hash tag to see what all this was about, I replied:
@jbnffc1865 I think you have your bigwes’ mixed up :-) before today I did not know that #nffc v was coming up!
It turns out that #nffc is a hash tag for the Nottingham Forest Football Club in the UK, and the Big Wes that John was talking about was actually Wes Morgan. In the upcoming match, their Big Wes was about to play in his 400th game for Forest — a huge feat of sportsmanship and loyalty. I, on the other hand, was eating a sandwich and waiting for my spreadsheets to load. I was, for the most part, clueless about UK football clubs, but I was so impressed by Wes Morgan’s milestone and by the fans online, I continued to exchange Tweets. Tony and I immediately took to one another (and still do). Eventually I asked if I could be an honorary Forest Fan:
@Trent_End_Tony This is the most awesome thing that has ever happened! How do I become an honorary member?? #itsthewrongwes
to which Tony replied:
BREAKING NEWS: There is no longer only one big Wes….. @bigwes #nffc
and @ianred7980 replied:
@bigwes you are now forest for life ! It’s a good place to be!
It was at this point that I began to learn how much Reds love their club. After Tony tweeted he met an American that wanted to become a fan, I was embraced — no — enveloped by the Reds online. Twitter follows and mentions for me literally poured in. At one point, the notifications overloaded my phone and caused it to lock up. I received hundreds of followers over the following days, and I got more mentions that I was able to count. Then our local story went viral when @PeteRedDog along with @F_O_R_E_S_TBOY and @Barnfather organized a campaign to get a Forest shirt for me.
@bigwes Wesley Hall, he’s 7ft tall, he calls it soccer, not football #GetBigWesAForestShirt
Typical for Forest fans, it did take them long to band together and respond, and in short order the Forest family got me my own shirt.
The guys sent the shirt to me only a few days after this wonderful mistake happened. I was elated to get the shirt, even though I still joke how by sending an XL, they grossly underestimated the “Big” in Big Wes. Somehow The Nottingham Post found out what the fans had done, and they ran a story about the Forest shirt coming to America. This prompted calls from BBC News, Radio Nottingham, and even Four Four Two Magazine. Being Big Wes had now taken a life of its own. I was talking to people in the UK as much as I was people in the U.S., and I was sending and receiving so much stuff from across the pond, I was sure the U.S. Postal Inspector was going to start monitoring me. I got to tell our story to the mayor of my city which prompted him to write a letter to the citizens of Nottingham.
Along this journey I have had the extreme pleasure of meeting several Forest fans in person. Here are just a few:
- The first Forest Fans I met were @oscarforest1 and his brother, @JasperRose96. They were on holiday here in the states, and we were supposed to attend a friendly that Forest was scheduled to play in Florida. The match ended up being canceled, but my wife and I drove six hours to have lunch with them anyways. I was so excited to meet someone from Nottingham, I would have driven all night.
- I drove an hour away and brought @JamesLyner to my house for a Derby match while he was on holiday here. We drank beer at 8:00am and watched an online stream with my laptop hooked up to my TV. He brought me several books about Brian Clough and he kicked off my fascination with the legend.
@bally1001 and then @ozzyadams1980 were passing through Atlanta — and in keeping what has become the Forest Family Rule, we had a pint (or two) while they were here.
- @justinheaton72 and his whole family came to my home for lunch when their connecting flight through Atlanta was delayed. My wife and I had to drive separate vehicles to pick them all up, and meeting them holds a special place in my heart.
- @BalBansal visits Atlanta on business quite often. I have only missed his visit one time, and I was very unhappy about it.
- My always hilarious FaceTimes with @iSammo keep me from taking my self too seriously.
- My game day FaceTimes with @RedsReporter allow me to peek into City Ground.
Fate has smiled on every meeting I have had with fellow Forest fans, but she showered me with good fortune when I got to meet Wes Morgan. Morgan was playing for the Jamaican National Team in the CONCACAF Gold Cup Tournament and the semi-finals were held in (of all places) Atlanta. Morgan has moved on from Forest and is now playing in the Premiere League, so I had no idea he was even in town. But as is usually the case in matters of football, I had the Forest family looking out for me. @southamptonred tweeted:
See the other big wes is playing in Atlanta tonight @bigwes
His tweet sent me into overdrive. I sent several frantic tweets hoping Morgan would read one…
@Wes5L1nk when you wake to 100 tweets, its just me trying to get a pic with you in ATL. I’m #nffc b/c of you.
What finally got Morgan’s attention was an assist from fellow Forest fan @crackwhore1981 who has been with me since the beginning (and who gets the award for the funniest Twitter name). He contacted Morgan’s wife and MRS. Morgan told MR. Morgan that I was desperately trying to get a picture with him. That made all the difference because wives have that type of influence.
@bigwes big Wes it’s big Wes hahah we can definitely get this picture for all the fans! I will DM you #nffc #ATL #goldcup2015
In four years, all the pieces of this amazing story are coming together. Forest found me and I became a True Red, Forest for life, unwavering member of the Forest family. I have a band of friends that I love like I’ve known them my whole life. I got to meet Wes Morgan.
On October 3, 2015 I finally got to attend a Forest game at City Ground. Our trip to London and Nottingham turned out better than I could have ever imagined. I met friends that I have been speaking to online, and I shared hugs and handshakes with more people than I could count.
As I reflect on everything that has happened, I have to come to realize that even though I was the one doing interviews and on the pitch during half-time, this story is less about me and much more about Forest fans. Even though the narrative revolves around the fateful mistake and my visit, the subtext is built on the way I was accepted. Our club, The BBC, The Nottingham Post, and even ESPN would not have carried a story about a guy on holiday watching a football match if Forest fans had not embraced and enveloped me. You — everyone of you reading this post — are the real story here and you deserve the praise and all the accolades. I am a part of this story, and I love my role — but this story is about how much Reds love their club and how when you become part of this club you become part of a family.
I am ending this post with the admission that there is no way I can repay you for the love Forest have shown me, but I can try to return the love and pay respect by acknowledging:
- The Nottingham Forest organization — thank you for welcoming an inner-city kid into City Ground and making him feel like a big-shot.
- The wonderfully crazy fans at Southbank Bar — thank you for handing me more beer than I could carry, and thank you for more hugs and smiles than any man deserves.
- Everyone that flattered me by taking selfies — I seldom smile on pictures, but my heart was always overjoyed.
- My close friends that shuttled me around and took care of my wife and me — there is no way to describe my appreciation. Please, please know that I love you dearly.
- Those I am connected with on social media — YOU are what’s good about online connections. I wish I could have spent quality time with each of you, but time was the one thing that was not on my side. When I don’t answer back immediately, please know I am never ignoring you. My fingers only move so fast these days, and sometimes my phone cannot keep up with your well wishes. Please believe me when I tell you I read and appreciate every positive message, even if I don’t answer straightaway.
Lastly family, let me encourage you all to take a moment and appreciate what we have in Nottingham Forest. There is truly something special here. You life-long supporters that make the club have much to be proud of and I feel lucky to be part of it. On behalf of my wife and me — thank you again.