how Nottingham Forest found the light after dark years


After hours of glory but also of difficulty, touching the peaks and touching the abyss, Nottingham Forest is making its return to the Premier League, seventeen years after leaving it.

It is a true footballing antiquity who returns to the Premier League this weekend, 23 years after leaving it. Nottingham Forest, the tenth oldest club in the history of football (founded in 1865) and double winner of the Champions Clubs Cup (1979, 1980) will return to the heights of English football. The 30,000 spectators at the City Ground will be able to proudly wear their Premier League colours.

However, the Nottingham club has come close to descending into the third division on several occasions in recent seasons, notably in 2020-2021 with a 17th place in the Championship standings (out of 24). Nothing suggested that the following season, after breathless play-offs, the « Tricky Trees » would find the elite of English football. For the record, a century ago, Forest had come close to descending to the third division in 1920-1921, before rising the following season, in 1921-1922. Like a sign.

1865, the beginning of the story

The English Football Federation was created on October 26, 1863. In the process, football took on a new impetus and the creation of clubs followed one another. It was on rue de Shakespeare, in Nottingham, one day in 1865, that the Nottingham Forest club was born, on the initiative of players from Shinty (the ancestor of field hockey), a very popular sport at the time in the British countries. The 15 creators of the club quickly decide that the official color will be red. In its early days, Nottingham Forrest was an all-sports club.

Recognized for being generous and charitable, Nottingham Forest is popular and inspires the creation of great clubs like Brighton, and especially Liverpool and Arsenal.

Summer 1976, the incipit of glory

The summer of 1976 marked a major turning point in the history of Nottingham Forest. Brian Clough, coach of Forest brought to his side, as assistant, Peter Taylor. The pair have previously worked together at Hartlepool, Derby and Brighton. A great relationship was born between them, and they now want to put it at the service of the Nottingham club. This collaboration marks the start of a great footballing era for the city in central England.

Two years later, at the end of the 1977-1978 season, the club was against all odds crowned champion of England and qualified for the Cup of champion clubs (ancestor of the Champions League). Behind, everything is linked. Forest won the European Cup the next two seasons, first beating Malmö 1-0 in the final in 1978-79, then Hamburg by the same scoreline a year later. The club has reached its peak, it is at the top of European football. It also remains to this day the only club in the history of football to have won more C1 than national championships.

The darkest hours

Nottingham, however, did not find the stability sought by the club, and the departure of the Clough-Taylor duo in 1993 plunged Forest into an unprecedented crisis. Between 1997 and 2005, in eight years, seven coaches succeeded each other on the bench, without anyone managing to breathe new life into the team. The club seemed at the end of its course, after being relegated to the second division, the inevitable happened and Nottingham Forest was relegated to League One (third division) at the end of the 2004-2005 season for the second time in its history after 1949.

The « Tricky Trees » write a new line which they would have done well on their record, Nottingham Forest is the first (and to date only) winner of C1 to experience relegation to the third national division. Three years later, the club manages to go back to the Championship.

The ambitious return to the forefront

Under the impetus of Evangelo Marinakis, president of the club since 2017 (also president of Olympiacos) and Steve Cooper, the coach, Nottingham Forest finished fourth in the Championship in 2021-2022 and qualified for the play-offs. The club have never been so close to returning to the top flight. The club also reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, beaten by Liverpool (1-0). Forest then eliminated Sheffield United on penalties, before beating Huddersfield in the final. It’s done: after years of trouble, Nottingham Forest is back in the Premier League.

Quickly, the president of the club wants to send a message, Nottingham does not return to make up the numbers: « Now that we are back in the Premier League, we want to be as high as possible. We must give the team every chance by bringing good players, » he told L’Equipe last May.

The Greek businessman did not lie. Three months later, at the dawn of the start of the Premier League season, Nottingham Forest present themselves with a competitive team, after a very aggressive summer transfer window. The club has notably welcomed Jesse Lingard, Dean Henderson, Neco Williams and even Moussa Niakhate and Taiwo Awoniyi, from the Bundesliga.

In a league as tough and competitive as the Premier League, it’s hard to imagine Forest playing the leading roles this season. But if the club manages to win its maintenance, then a new story will begin, in which TV rights can reshuffle all the cards. And in terms of history, Nottingham Forest knows it, and will not hesitate to continue to write its own.

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