COVID-19 has affected all our lives and has challenged each of us in different ways as we get used to a new more restricted way of life. But for some people, that change is permanent and life will never be the same. For Forest fan and Supporters’ Trust member, Kevin Marriott, following Nottingham Forest was something that he did with his brother, Nigel, who sadly passed away in early April. As we near the return of football, we pay tribute to Nigel and every member of the Forest family who has been lost to us from coronavirus. Nigel’s wonderful life story not only shows the importance Forest plays in people’s lives, but how it can shape and define them.
Kevin and Nigel Marriott grew up in Long Eaton. Nigel was born in 1959 with brain damage after a breech birth which would lead to a lifelong disability. Kevin joined his father, John, on trips to the City Ground from 1966, but after a few years, the family felt confident enough to take along Nigel.
Kevin explained: “I’ve acted as carer for Nigel as far back as I can remember – taking him to school and everything. Our mother, June, dedicated her life to Nigel’s wellbeing until she passed away in 2001. Nigel’s disability meant that he couldn’t write well. He made up for that by being a very fast reader. Educationally though, he struggled. He didn’t have any physical disabilities as such, but he looked different to most people. It proved difficult through the years, but he was always a very happy boy and man.”
The Marriotts were a Forest family through and through and Nigel’s first hero was Duncan McKenzie. The family stood on the old Main Stand terracing in front of the seating area.
“Then Cloughie arrived,” remembered Kevin. “All sorts of things started happening and we were going every week. That’s when Nigel’s passion for Forest really took off.”
Nigel supported Forest through the glory years of the late 1970s, with John Robertson firmly installed as his favourite player. Nigel even attended the 1978 League Cup Final replay as Robertson’s penalty won the trophy for Forest. These memories were to last a lifetime.
In 1984, the family decided to move and bought a pub in Cornwall. Nigel moved with his parents, helping them run the pub, collecting glasses and helping out. Kevin joined the family in the South West three years later, meaning that Nigel could continue his passion for Forest by joining Kevin on what surely became some of the longest trips made to support Forest on a regular basis.
“We continued to go every other match – about once a month. It’s a 600-mile round trip from Cornwall and my son, Seb, has been able at times to help with the driving. We picked up Nigel up in St Austell before going up to Nottingham,” explained Kevin. “We’d start at some ridiculous hour, seven in the morning, and get back at 11. There have been a few silent trips on the way back after a defeat.”
Nigel became a recognisable and popular figure in the lower Trent End in recent years, wearing his 30-year-old pin-stripe Forest cap. For his 60th birthday last April, Nigel received a shirt signed by John Robertson.
“We spoke on the phone every night without fail,” said Kevin. “He’d always ask me who Forest were signing!”
As COVID-19 started to take hold in the UK and the country headed towards lockdown, the family were concerned that Nigel would be isolated living alone and be without family support should he fall ill. Nigel was collected by family to stay in Castle Donington. Very shortly after his arrival, Nigel started to show symptoms.
Kevin recalls: “After a few days in Castle Donington, he started coughing. We had some Skype and Facetime chats with him and he didn’t look well at all. Over the course of the week he went downhill and was admitted to the Derby Royal for treatment. He received five days of antibiotics and had oxygen support but died a few days later. It was fairly quick really. The doctor felt he may have caught it in Cornwall – we just don’t know.
“My sister, April, was with him in hospital but started to show symptoms herself so had to go home to isolate, so he was on his own for the final few days. He was on painkillers just before he died and was in and out of sleep. April called him and he just asked when he could come home, which was heartbreaking.”
Kevin wasn’t able to reach Nigel by phone and had to join the funeral in Markeaton via video link due to restrictions.
Nigel’s life was defined by Forest. Kevin said: “Every single time we got to the City Ground, Nigel would say: ‘This is the place to be isn’t it?’”
When the family cleared Nigel’s flat they found a massive collection of Forest memorabilia, including around 30 Forest shirts. “He’d even got around the rules to paint his flat red and white,” said Kevin.
A celebration of Nigel’s life is planned in Cornwall next year and Kevin is planning to return to the City Ground in the future, but without Nigel. “It will be difficult,” he admitted. “Nigel was well known around the area we sat, to the point where no one talked to me – just Nigel!
“There have been times when Nigel said: ‘I’m not coming again! I’m not coming again!’ and we’d laugh and tell him it would save us a lot of money. Two days later he’d be saying ‘when are we going to the next match?’
“It’s been a lifetime thing for me going with Nigel. It will be strange, if it’s just me. I’ve always had to watch out for him. I’m hoping going back is going to be a positive thing, but it’ll be different. We have the memories and stories that have made people laugh, and that’s what’s all about.”