The day Sammy Chapman was the first man sent off since the war

On November 27, 1971, referee Syd Kayley gave Sammy Chapman his marching orders in an English First Division soccer match. This was the first Nottingham Forest sending off in a league match since 1939.

Location: Nottingham, England.

For us to fully understand the context behind this moment, we must start at the beginning.

In late March 1939, Nottingham Forest defeated Millwall 3-0 in an English Second Division match. Late on, Forest’s George Pritty “came to blows” with Millwall’s J.R. Smith and both players were sent off. Based on every report I can find, that would be the last time a Reds player was dismissed in a league match until Sammy Chapman’s fateful day in 1971.

I don’t have the time, nor the ability, to fact-check every single Nottingham Forest match between Pritty’s and Chapman’s sending offs. This would be a massive-scale research project, and one that might be impossible due to missing/limited match reports.

However, we do know of three instances of non-league dismissals between the two cases. The first came in merely a friendly, according to a former Nottingham Forest assistant secretary, Dennis Marshall. That sending off happened in May 1949 when Forest visited a German club in Osnabrück and Horace Gager had “a flare up” against an opposing player.

Then, in September 1967, the referee showed Frank Wignall the way to the dressing room during Nottingham Forest’s 1-0 victory over another German club—this time Eintrach Frankfurt—in a rainy European Fairs Cities Cup match.

Two years after that, Chapman himself received a sending off after a kerfuffle with Barrow’s Jim Mulvaney during a second round League Cup tie (the Reds won that match 2-1). Chapman was struck with a six-week suspension for his actions.

However, none of the above dismissals happened during an English league match, meaning that Forest didn’t lose a player to the law in its country’s prime competition for a whopping 32 years. And when it did finally lose a player, it happened at quite an inopportune time.

During the 1971-72 English First Division season, Nottingham Forest was flirting with relegation after 18 matches. The club’s 19th match, at home against Leeds United, didn’t start off in a way that could help right the ship.

Venue: City Ground, shown here during the 1960s (Source: Pinterest).

In that meeting at Nottingham’s City Ground, Leeds shot out to an early lead behind a brilliant chip from the edge of the penalty box by midfielder Peter Lorimer in the 11th minute.

Nottingham Forest rallied somewhat and won a corner three minutes before halftime, but then the looming train of the law finally caught up to the team that had escaped its thundering wheels for over three decades.

Before the corner could be taken, one of the linesmen called head referee Syd Kayley over and the two spoke for several moments. Once breaking from his assistant, Kayley pulled the book from his pocket and marched straight for Chapman, who was in the Leeds box preparing for the corner.

Kayley explained his decision and Chapman pleaded his case, but the referee wagged his finger towards the dressing room nonetheless and Chapman was sent off the pitch.

The dismissal was doubly brutal for Chapman: The 25-year-old defender had been threatened with a six-week suspension if he failed to toe the line following the numerous bookings he had received the previous season.

It isn’t exactly clear what prompted Chapman’s sending off. The match commentator, Hugh Johns, speculated that Chapman had said something to the linesman who waived Kayley over. Mike Beesley wrote in the Nottingham Football Post a day later that Chapman’s offense was presumably for an off-ball infraction against Leeds striker Mick Jones (later reports corroborated Beesley’s claim).

Whatever the reason, Chapman was off, and he was the first Nottingham Forest man who’d been sent off in a good long while.

The hosts limited the damage the next few minutes and things remained 1-0 Leeds going into halftime. However, just four minutes after the teams returned from the dressing rooms, forward Allan Clarke doubled the visitors’ lead by capitalizing on a Nottingham Forest turnover and slotting the ball into the net’s lower right corner. Now in a 2-0 hole and down a man, the Reds failed to mount any sort of rally and the score stood the same the rest of the way out.

And he’s off! Sammy Chapman is off! Sammy Chapman has been sent off! I’m not at all sure that Sammy Chapman isn’t the first Forest player, certainly since the War, to be sent off in a league match.

Hugh Johns
The match’s television announcer


Despite having a six-week suspension looming over his head, Chapman was received no further discipline from the Football Association, England’s governing body of soccer.

Herbert Bird, the FA’s disciplinary committee secretary said that because Chapman had been improving his since being handed down the sentence in January 1971.

“The commission took into account that since Chapman appeared before them on January 20 last year, when he was given the suspended sentence, his record had shown a remarkable improvement,” Bird said. “He had obviously made a big effort.”

The commission’s ruling came over a month after the incident on January 10, 1972. There was a further stipulation that if Chapman stayed out of trouble for another 10 days, he would be rewarded with a clean sheet.

Chapman’s sending off otherwise was a talking point among the press and public. Mike Beesley of the Nottingham Football Post wrote:

The referee, 20 of the players and, I venture to suggest, 99 percent of the crowd have been unable to throw much light on the incident between Mick Jones and Chapman, which led to the Reds’ defender getting his marching orders.

Beesley further noted that it was “a strange coincidence” that referee Syd Kayley was the same man who sent Chapman off during a League Cup match in 1969. He also suggested that the linesman may have been unsure of what he saw.

Sammy Chapman, shown here in 1976 (Source: Pinterest).

In response, Stephen Ashmore, a local referee, wrote back that Beesley should not “referee from the grandstand” and that the linesmen are “well qualified” to offer advice to the head referee. In response to that, a C.J. Chellis called referees “little Hitlers” who were jealous of players’ wages.

Following Chapman’s dismissal in 1971, Nottingham Forest didn’t even come close to another 32 years free of sending offs. The club did lack such incidents the next season, but in 1973-74, three Forest players received their marching orders. Chapman, who was elected the side’s captain in December 1972, would later repeat the feat twice, in October of both 1974 and 1975.

It is unlikely that Nottingham Forest’s 32-year streak without a league dismissal is ever matched. Chelsea has the current longest streak in the English Premier League, having not had a player issued a red card in league play since the 2017-18 season.

As for Nottingham Forest’s league record in 1971-72, the team finished 21st in the First Division and was relegated. Thanks to the work of manager Brian Clough, the club returned to the top flight in 1977 and won the First Division title the season after.

I questioned all of my players, not one of them saw the incident.

Matt Gillies
Nottingham Forest’s manager in 1971


News coverage of the match that shows goal highlights, as well as the moments surrounding Chapman’s sending off, is available online:

This club has always been sporting. It comes from the example set by the club committee and the older players.  We’d rather lose playing fair, than win with dubious tactics.

Johnny Carey
Former Nottingham Forest manager in 1964 on Forest’s long streak without a sending off


  • In March 1939, George Pritty of Nottingham Forest was sent off during a 3-0 English Second Division victory over Millwall. Pritty would be the last Forest player sent off in a league match for over 32 years.
  • Finally, in November 1971, another Nottingham Forest received his marching orders when Sammy Chapman was sent off shortly before halftime against Leeds United. Chapman was presumably sent off for an off-ball infraction.
  • Nottingham Forest would avoid another sending off until the 1973-74 season, when four players were pointed off the pitch by the referee.


Print (book)

  • “Nottingham Forest Miscellany: Forest Trivia, History, Facts & Figures” by Peter Attaway (buy on Amazon)

Print (newspaper)