Nottingham Forest fans recently paid a touching tribute to some of their former players who served in WWI. COPA90 caught up with Matt Oldroyd, co-founder of Forest supporters group, Forza Garibaldi, and the brains behind the banner, to find out more.
Last weekend saw grounds up and down the country observe a minute’s silence to pay respect to those who had lost their lives while serving for their country. It’s always a poignant moment in the football calendar but, this year, Nottingham Forest supporters group Forza Garibaldi decided to take their tribute to the next level.
“It always appears that football feels it needs to pay tribute around Armistice Day. The tributes, while always well meaning, are perhaps done without much actual thought,” explains Matt Oldroyd, co-founder of Forza Garibaldi, to COPA90. “What we wanted to do, like with other displays we have done, is actually remember people and tell a story.”
“It felt like such an important tale to tell but it’s not really one that anyone has heard. These are heroes on and off the pitch.”
Matt Oldroyd, co-founder of Forza Garibaldi
And that’s exactly what they did. After days of research – with the help of club historian, Don Wright – Forza Garibaldi were able to put together a concept that honoured five former Forest players who served in WWI by way of a massive banner. Those players were Percy Ashton, Tom Peacock, William Fiske, George Hazard and Joe Mercer.
“After much thought we decided it was a story that should be told. Like with the Nottingham Rebels display we did previously, we got to know these men and their stories,” Matt continues. “It felt like such an important tale to tell but it’s not really one that anyone has heard. These are heroes on and off the pitch.”
The banner was made even more prominent by virtue of the fact it was displayed in a fixture against East Midlands rivals, Derby County. Both clubs have past players who served in the Sherwood Foresters regiment, and it was a moment where the rivalry was put to one side in order to pay respect to something far bigger than sport.
“The story of the Sherwood Foresters first came from the individual front and centre of the banner – George Hazard. He never got a chance to play for the Forest team. War robbed him of that,” Matt says. “He would for sure have fought alongside brave men with affiliations to Derby County, and we realised that this story could rise above the typical rivalry.”
Forza Garibaldi’s commitment to fan culture and history has led to a great relationship between the group and the club, to the point where Forest’s CEO has even offered to support them financially. It’s an invitation that the group have graciously declined due to their proud, fan-funded roots.
It’s partly because of these roots that Forza Garibaldi are so well respected by the rest of the club’s supporters and the wider city in general, something that is evident from the reception that the tifo received. “Forest fans appreciate the effort that goes into these tifos and how we go further than other clubs in this country to make these truly special,” Matt notes.
“Ours aren’t necessarily the biggest or the most expensive in the UK but they are amongst the very best because of the thought and passion that goes into them. We have lost count of the amount of people who have contacted us to say the display moved them to tears. While that certainly wasn’t the aim it shows we are getting it right.”
English football fans often get a bad rap from the media, but it’s thanks to brilliant initiatives like Forza Garibaldi’s that this is becoming little more than a lazy stereotype. When COPA90 asked Matt about future projects the group had planned, he simply replied: “there will be more to come, for sure. But we don’t tell.” We can’t wait to see what they are.