If you have ever been to a Nottingham Forest game you might have heard a chant emanating from opposing fans.
In fact, if you have seen them playing against a Yorkshire team or against Cardiff, it is usually a very vocal chant.
I heard it when I was at Uni in Sheffield and went to see Sheffield United v Nottingham Forest.
So why are Nottingham Forest fans called scabs?
Let’s find out…
Why Are Nottingham Forest Fans Called Scabs?
Nottingham Forest fans are called Scabs as a reference to the area’s role in the UK Miners’ Strike of 1984. Whilst the majority of miners across the country supported the year-long strike, those in Nottinghamshire kept working and were seen as traitors. Eventually, after 12 months with no pay or benefits, the other miners returned to work with no concessions from the Government.
It is Because of the UK Miners’ Strike in 1984 (and 1926)
When I went to see Sheffield United play Nottingham Forest years ago, I heard United fans chanting:
“Scab, scab, scab!” and then “Who let the miners down? You did? You did!”
The second part of the chant (nb – there is some debate over whether that second part of the chant did happen) gives a clear hint at why Forest fans have been given this unflattering nickname.
It is a result of the UK Miners’ Strike of 1984 and to a lesser extent a similar strike back in 1926.
But why have Nottingham Forest fans been singled out for this treatment?
The year-long strike was observed almost universally by miners across the country, with the exception of one main area – Nottinghamshire.
Miners at Nottinghamshire coalfields kept working whilst the rest of the country’s coal miners went without pay or any kind of benefits for up to a year.
This has led to deep-rooted resentment, particularly from fans of teams based in Yorkshire and South Wales.
These areas were very robust in their backing of the strike.
On 19 November 1984, more than 8 months after the strike had begun, 97.3% of Yorkshire’s miners were still on strike, as were 99.6% of South Wales miners.
In contrast, just 20% of Nottinghamshire’s miners were.
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But Why ‘Scab’?
The word ‘scab’ has long been used by trade unionists to refer to people who cross picket lines to return to work.
It is uncertain of the real origin of the term, but it is thought to refer to disease and ugliness and the fact scabs cover a wound.
What Caused the Miners’ Strike of 1984?
The nationwide miners’ strike lasted from March 1984 to March 1985 and was an attempt by the mining unions to save an industry that appeared to be staggering towards a collapse.
For a little context, at the start of the 20th century there were over 1,000 collieries in the UK producing coal. Over 1 million people were employed in the industry.
By 1984, only 173 collieries were operating, employing around 230,000 miners.
The 1984 strike was prompted by the National Coal Board announcing its intention to close a further 20,000 pits at the expense of another 20,000 jobs.
Around 100,000 miners went on strike. They were not only not paid, but they were also deemed as being ineligible for benefits as their industrial action was illegal.
The strike pitted the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) against the government led by Margaret Thatcher.
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The strike officially started on 12 March 1984, with the NUM attempting to force the Government’s hand by creating an energy shortage.
The Government had already sought to build up a backlog of coal supplies and was attempting to keep as many miners at work as possible. They also used the police to break up attacks by picketing miners.
The belief is, that with the rest of the country on strike, miners from Nottinghamshire (and a much smaller Leicestershire contingent) thought that their pits would be safe from closure so carried on working.
With the stockpile of coal the Government had built up, and the supplies produced in Nottinghamshire as miners kept on working there, the Government won the battle against the miners.
On 3 March 1985, a year later, the miners voted to end the industrial action and return to work with no concessions from the Government.
The support for the Government brought little in the way of favour in the long term for Nottinghamshire.
Over the next decade mines were periodically close.
The death knell was effectively rung with the privatisation of the industry in 1994, which left just a few collieries in operation.
The country’s last deep coal mine, Kellingley Colliery in Yorkshire, closed in 2015.
By 2017 little more than 1,000 people worked in an industry that employed over a million people a century earlier.
Why Do Cardiff Fans Call Nottingham Forest Fans Scabs?
It is easy to understand the resentment from supporters of Yorkshire clubs towards Nottingham Forest fans in the context of this situation.
The two areas are geographically close and Yorkshire miners had been militant in their support for the strike, unlike their compatriots in Nottinghamshire.
So why the disdain in Cardiff?
In March 1984 only 10 of 28 pits in South Wales voted in favour of striking.
The following day miners from Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire arrived to picket the collieries.
This led to miners in South Wales almost unanimously coming out in support of the strike as they wouldn’t cross the picket line.
Yet the majority of the Nottinghamshire miners, after leaving the picket line, went back to work in their respective collieries.
It is something older Cardiff fans haven’t forgotten.
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What About the Miners’ Strike of 1926?
There were already age-old divisions between miners in many counties and those in Nottinghamshire, due to the 1926 General Strike.
This strike was called due to worsening conditions and wage reductions for over 1 million coal workers.
The General Strike took place in May and lasted nine days, but many miners held out for almost eight months.
Except it wasn’t anywhere as near strictly observed in Nottinghamshire.
By October 1926, 65% of miners in Nottinghamshire were back at work, compared to 4% in Durham and 14% in Yorkshire.
A month later, 80% of Nottinghamshire miners were working, compared to just under 6% of Durham miners and around 19.5% of Yorkshire workers.
If you have been wanting to know why Nottingham Forest fans are called scabs hopefully this has cleared up the issue for you.
You will hear Nottingham Forest fans being called scabs most vociferously by fans of Yorkshire teams and of Cardiff City.
And it all goes back to the UK Miners’ Strike in 1984.
The strike was supported strongly by nearly the entire country, the main exception being miners in Nottinghamshire.
The majority in this area continued working and were seen by other miners as traitors.
Whilst many went without money for a year in support of their industry, those in Nottinghamshire continued working and getting paid.
It was felt this led to the Government winning its battle against the National Union of Mineworkers, who went back to work after a year with no concessions at all.