EXCLUSIVE: Stuck in a blizzard with Viv Anderson on racism, knife crime and Forest’s ‘new Clough and Taylor’

Viv Anderson (Picture: @NFFC)

It’s a cold, dark January morning and Forest legend Viv Anderson, with the heaters on full blast in his car, is travelling from London up to Leeds – when he gets stuck in a snow storm on the M1. And it’s at the time Notts TV has an interview over the phone with him to step in the mind of a local icon. Alex Mason speaks to the first black footballer to play for England about being pelted by bananas, tackling the knife crime epidemic and how Nottingham Forest can finally find their long-lost mojo.

“We can reschedule to a more convenient time if you would like, Viv?”

“Absolutely not. Fire away; this will help me kill time”, the 62-year-old replies swiftly. “Come and be an imaginary passenger in my car.”

Anderson, born in Clifton, Nottingham, played in Brian Clough’s legendary Forest squad who rose from obscurity to win back-to-back European Cups in 1979 and 1980 – going on to make more than 400 appearances for the club.

The former defender was awarded an MBE in 2000 and inducted into the National Football Museum Hall of Fame in 2004.

Starting with Nottingham Forest, Anderson thinks the latest manager and assistant manager ‘could be the new Clough and Taylor – who knows what could happen’.

Video: Martin O’Neill on Anderson’s comparison with Clough and Taylor

Club legend, and European Cup winner himself, Martin O’Neill was appointed Forest’s new boss on January 15, and is targeting promotion within the 18 month contract he signed.

Since then, iconic Irish midfielder Roy Keane, who won seven Premier League titles and a Champion’s League with Manchester United has returned to the City Ground as Martin O’Neill’s assistant.

O’Neill was an integral role in Forest’s golden era, and spent most of his playing career with the club.

“I’m excited about the two people who have been appointed, but Rome wasn’t built in a day and it will take time”, said Anderson. “Everybody has to be patient.

“They have the psyche of the football club. They have been through the good and bad times. They know how passionate the supporters are and they know what it takes to win trophies.

“They’ve been at a top level.”

Roy Keane on his return to Nottingham Forest (Picture: @NFFC)

Keane had spells as manager of Sunderland and Ipswich Town before being part of the Republic of Ireland set-up when they reached the last 16 of the 2016 European Championships.

As a player, he appeared in FA Cup and League Cup finals for Forest after joining from Irish club Cobh Ramblers in 1990.

“If you’re going to have two people in charge that know everything about the football club and have been through the good times and bad times you could not get two better appointments”, says Anderson.

“I hope they’re given enough time to get the right things across to the players and get them promoted. If anyone knows how to get out of that league, Martin O’Neill is right at the top of that list.

“They are both winners and they both know the history of the football club. I am sure they will instill that in the players. That takes a while though and it means a lot of chopping and changing. Players need to have the same mind-set of the two men who are at the helm.”

Still at a standstill on the motorway not having moved an inch, Anderson recalls his playing days during the 1970s, where racism was common in football.

In his autobiography, First Among Unequals, he tells the story of what it was like to be subjected to racism.

In one particular game for Forest at Carlisle United, he was told to go and warm up by manager Brian Clough.

And as he did so, he said the home fans threw bananas, pears and apples at him.

clough, forest, nffc, brian clough
Nottingham Forest legend Brian Clough, (Photo by Paul Townsend)

“I went to sit back down and when Clough asked me why I had sat down, I told him that the crowd were throwing fruit at me.

“Clough said that I could not let them put me off.

“You cannot let people like that dictate to you or you will never make a career.

“Clough would say to me that I wouldn’t be at the club if I couldn’t play football. He installed a lot of confidence in me and helped me establish myself during my younger years.

“I took on board what he was telling me because I wanted to make a career. I never let anything like that affect me again and I just got on with playing football.

“It would take a bomb to stop me from doing what I wanted to do.

“It would never ever deter me from playing with people that I have grown up with.

“It taught me an important lesson: that you just had to ignore the abuse and show them what you can do.”

Viv Anderson (top row, second from right) playing for England

Anderson became the first back footballer to play for England more than 40 years ago.

On November 29 1978, in front of a crowd of 92,000 at Wembley, he helped the team beat Czechoslovakia 1-0 on his debut.

“A lot of people interpret that I was the first black footballer to play for England in different ways.

“Some say it is because they look at the Forest team, as I was a part of that, and see how well they did.

“Others see that I was the first black man to play for England.

“In terms of recognising what else I achieved in the game, it is what it is and there is not a lot that I can do about it really.”

Anderson managed Barnsley throughout the 1993-1994 season, and was then assistant manager at Middlesbrough.

But he has not found a coaching job since.

“Paul Ince, Dwight Yorke and Rio Ferdinand have all played at a top level and they’re not involved in the coaching side of football”, says Anderson.

“I think it is a shame because their experience could be vital to young players coming through the ranks and trying to make a living.

“The perception is that they’re good footballers but not good managers. They have not been given the opportunity to manage.”

“Do you believe black players are put off by management?”

“Oh, yes!” Anderson passionately replies.

“We do not see enough black faces getting in to those roles.

“We should have more involved in football and trying to help the next generation of footballers.

“We are in a diverse society where there are different mixtures on a day-to-day basis and I think football management should be a part of that more as well.”

England’s starting 11 against Croatia in their 2018 World Cup semi-final (Picture: Антон Зайцев, cc-by-sa-3.0)

At the 2018 World Cup, England had the most diverse squad to represent the Three Lions at the tournament – 11 out of 23 players were from an ethnically diverse background.

Since Anderson’s debut, 85 black and mixed-race players have worn the famous shirt since Anderson first played for his country in 1978.

“It’s a completely different world now to when I started.

“There was only a handful of black faces when I was playing. Now, when you go up and down the country, most football clubs have black faces in their team, and the England team is no different.

“It is made up of all different colours and it is a very successful one that got to the semi-final.

“It has changed a hell of a lot but we still have so much to do.

“Anyone who thought we had cracked racism a couple of years ago would be completely wrong.

“We will never eradicate racism completely because you will always get the small minority who want to spoil it for everybody else.

“I do think that it is very difficult to stop but if you say forty years on, the progress from when I started to what it is now; it seems to be a completely different game. And, in the next forty years, it will be another different world.”


As the traffic starts to slowly creep along the motorway and with the view of a ‘different world’ fresh in his mind, Anderson calls on more players and staff involved in professional football to tackle the issue of knife crime.

The number of fatal stabbings across the UK is at its highest level since records began in 1946, according to the latest figures.

285 people were stabbed to death in the year of April 2017 to March 2018, with attacks ‘most pronounced’ in young men, the Office of National Statistics revealed.

Anderson is exasperated about the rising numbers.

“When we were young you wouldn’t go out with a knife in your pocket.

“The knife culture is completely alien to my generation and me.

“Therefore, what makes these youngsters go out with a knife in their pocket? Just in case there is somebody around they might want to stab?

“It is the ghettos, the areas where people are deprived. It is the gang culture, and we have to get away from it because too many kids are dying.

“These stabbings are unbelievable.

“We need to eliminate this issue by making sure professional players are involved more.”

Anderson then bids Notts TV farewell as the traffic starts to move, releasing him from the blizzard so he can continue his journey.

And what a journey that was.

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