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Nottingham Forest: Top-flight football returns to city ground after 23-year absence

Nottingham Forest manager Steve Cooper led the club to promotion to the Premier League last season

Longtime Nottingham Forest fan Dave Marples put it succinctly when asked his thoughts ahead of the first Premier League match in 23 years at the City Ground.

For the past seven years, Marples has written a column for The Forest Program. He has written a book on Forrest and will publish a history of the club’s bitter rivalry with Derby and his County later this year.

Marples understands Forrest. It’s safe to say he sees the club differently than most outsiders.

“Many neutrals wished us luck, thanks to Brian Clough,” he said. “It’s so beautiful, I never get tired of it.

“But we dropped out of the Premier League at exactly the wrong time. We didn’t embrace the changing football and financial situation. We were just left behind.”

“Since 1999 we have been an incredibly poorly run club.

“We are a ‘big’ club in terms of reputation. But while people like you see Forrest as Clough, John Robertson and John McGovern, I am at home in Cardiff on Tuesday night. Losing and just watching the seemingly endless reel of the last 22” years. ”

1999 is a long time ago

Brian Clough and Peter Taylor in Nottingham Forest
Bryan Clough and Peter Taylor (left) lead Nottingham Forest to back-to-back European Cup titles

The team that disbanded in 1999 had links to Forrest’s glorious past.

Steve Chettle rose to fame after winning the 1990 League Cup final against Oldham and losing to Tottenham in the FA Cup final the following season, with goalkeeper Mark Crossley saving Gary Lineker’s penalty.

Both started their last Premier League match against Leicester, which turned out to be Ron Atkinson’s last as manager, but by then Forest was already down.

This forest was very different from Clough and Peter Taylor’s past image, back-to-back European Cup images with Peter Shilton, Bib Anderson and Kenny Barnes. ‘s Pierre van Hooydonk was one of the teams to retire before the start of the season. They won one of their 25 league games and lost 8-1 at home to Manchester United.

Still, no one could have guessed that it would take nearly a quarter century and 19 managerial appointments for Forrest to return to the top flight.

Former Forest captain Stuart Pearce told BBC Sport: “I always felt that Forest were the type of club where you could come back pretty quickly.”

Pierce made more than 500 appearances for the club over a 12-year period from 1985, before returning as manager for an ill-fated seven months in the 2014-15 season.

“But the championship is a very difficult place to get out of and history means nothing,” added Pearce.

“When I came back as manager, the club was not united. There is unity in every team that rises from the championship, from the terraces to the academy, and all the way down the road. It wasn’t there before. Now. I get it.”

downward spiral

Here are some sobering reminders of what happened to Forrest when he left the top flight. In 2006, they failed to even make the play-offs in their League One campaign, and eventually Southend United (now the National League) were promoted to champions.

Promotion to the second tier for 2008 was only secured after Doncaster lost on the final day of the season, and once again looked play-off ready as they started nine points clear of the South Yorkshire side in April. Later, Forrest was able to jump over them.

Then came the controversial Fawaz al-Hasawi era. The era was marked by bold statements, broken promises, ridiculous decisions, huge losses and fan unrest.

Shipping tycoon Evangelos Malinakis, owner of the famous Greek club Olympiacos, presided over Forrest’s revival and was a controversial figure following an investigation into allegations of match-fixing and drug trafficking. None have been proven.

Marinakis has had to swallow the disappointment of 2020. Despite Forest heading into the final game at home against Stoke, Steve Cooper’s Swansea side had a three-goal lead and he missed the play-offs by six goals.

“That night was brutal,” chairman Nick Randell told BBC Sport.

“We were four or three points behind with 20 minutes remaining, but it evaporated. It was a big blow.”

super cooper

When the call came to Cooper last September, Forest were bottom of the championship with one point from their first seven games.

The Welshman, who led England’s Phil Foden and Jadon Sancho to 2017 U-17 World Cup glory, resigned from his job at Swansea last July.

The change was miraculous.

“The thing about Brian Clough and Steve Cooper is that they didn’t need time. It was an almost immediate success,” said Forest European Cup-winning captain John McGovern, who is now a club ambassador. .

“We live in the past a little bit and that makes Steve more difficult, but he proved last season that he can do it. ing.”

The City Ground may have sold out many times due to West Ham’s visit on Sunday. The club has submitted plans to redevelop the main stand, which will allow it to accommodate up to 38,000 people.

For the new season we had to expand the changing rooms. Needed better floodlights. The number of media outlets around the world covering Sunday’s game far exceeds what existed for Forest’s top flight his exit 23 years ago.

For Marples, this is a true step into the unknown.

“To be honest, many of us just wanted to spend the day at Wembley.

“I saw a lot of opposition fans celebrate on our pitch. For just one day, I wanted it to be us. And we got it.” I did.

“I’ve been supporting this ridiculous club for years and the trip has been as much fun as being here.

“What’s next? Can we have a season in Europe, or a League Cup final, even if we can lose 6-0 to Manchester City? That might be as good as we hoped.

“Can we have two or three moments this season? That’s what we stick with.”

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