Nottingham Forest FC — On the Eve of 2016/17
It’s not easy being a lifelong Nottingham Forest fan in the post-Brian Clough era.
I came of football-age around the 1995/1996 season. My older brother began supporting Forest a couple of years earlier so it was the natural choice. For him, the selection was arbitrary. He chose not to follow the herd; meaning he steered away from Man United and Liverpool. My dad doesn’t follow a team so there was no paternal influence; in one sense liberating us, on the other hand imposing on us a major life decision (potentially weighted with a lifetime of mediocrity, pain and suffering) that young boys are certainly not mature or informed enough to make.
One of my early memories is Forest being smashed 5–1 by Bayern Munich in ’96 at The City Ground in the UEFA cup quarter-final. Another is of Forest being drubbed 5–0 in the same season by United in the Premier League. I watched that game in the local pub packed full of United fans. My formative years as a Forest fan invoked the development of a thick skin. Forest finished 9th in the Premier League that season; an acceptable position for a team of Forest’s stature; a position I could stand over while facing the customary schoolyard scrutiny.
Twenty seasons have since passed as we stand on the eve of 2016/17. There have been few peaks and many troughs in that time. Forest have never recovered to the dizzying heights of ‘average Premier League club’ status.
Twenty years consisting of two Premier League seasons (relegated and finishing rock bottom on both occasions), fifteen Division One/Championship seasons, three League 1 seasons (becoming the first European Cup winning side to be demoted to the third tier of their domestic league competition), 2 promotions, 3 relegations, 4 failed play-off campaigns (losing out 5–2 at home to Yeovil Town in the League 1 playoff semi-final in ’07 is particularly prominent) and never having reached even the quarter-final stage of either the FA or League Cup.
In twenty years, Forest have had 16 permanent managers and 7 caretaker bosses (*I’m counting different Managerial spells; therefore both of Billy Davis’ spells are considered and Stuart Pearse counts as one entry in both categories). 16 permanent Managers in 20 seasons is excessive even by today’s standards. Leeds have had 16 permanent managers in same period and their ‘manager merry-go-round’ status is constantly cited in slants on the club. Is this simply the way the modern game has gone? Inflated expectations and increasing levels of impatience with modern football fans? Or are there conspiring forces at the executive level that lead an ordinary decent club like Forest into an immutable mire of underachievement?
Frank Clarke, who had been successful as manager in his first three years (securing promotion to the top flight in his first season in charge and subsequently a 3rd place finish the following season), had given all he could to the club by December of ’96. Stuart Pearse was instilled as Caretaker and Dave Basset took the reins full time in March ’97; but neither could avoid the inevitable slide towards relegation. Basset remained at the helm and took Forest straight back to the premiership as Division 1 champions the next season; undoubtedly my highlight as a supporter. Although we were competing in the second tier, the season was incredible. Forest were superb, in no small part thanks to the firepower of striker partnership Pierre Van Hooijdonk (34 goals) and Kevin Campbell (23 goals). They fought stiff competition from Middlesborough, Sunderland and Charlton to finish top of the pile. A season and a feeling I will never forget.
‘98/’99 was a disaster. Forest failed to strengthen adequately and were not helped by the decision by Van Hooijdonk to strike after the club refused him a transfer request. Basset was sacked by January. Forest finished rock bottom, accumulating a mere 30 points during the entire campaign. Manchester United also dished out one of the Premier League’s biggest ever drubbings to Forest in February on their way to their treble-winning glory; the game finished 8–1.
Thirteen different managers have passed through Forest’s doors since then (*remember, double counting Billy Davis for both his tenures with the club); bringing plenty of anguish and fleeting levels of success (some better, some worse than others).
This brings us to now, the eve of the 2016/17 season, and there is a fresh air of optimism. Kuwaiti owner Fawaz Al-Hasawi has brought in a Director of Football, Pedro Pereira, and appointed a French Head Coach, Phillipe Montanier. Forest have made 7 preseason signings and have had a decent pre-season.
The bookies don’t seem to give us much of a chance…but Forest fans believe.