On Sunday, this sleeping giant whose 23-year-old sleepwalker navigated his way through the lower echelons of English football, by turns arduous and almost comically humiliating, finally ascended to the Premier League.
Screamed by 40,000 imploring fans at London’s cavernous Wembley Stadium, the former European champions beat Huddersfield Town 1-0 to complete the most unlikely of comebacks, turning the club’s worst start to a season in 108 years into a promotion implausible.
For anyone over 40, Forest is a name associated with one man – the great Brian Clough, who guided him to promotion, an unlikely English top-flight league victory and then back-to-back European Cups between 1978 and 1980.
The club were a regular challenger for honors throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, but were relegated from the Premier League in 1993, their inaugural season.
Clough left, and although Forest briefly returned to the top flight under successor Frank Clark, his stay was short-lived and the club were relegated again in 1999.
Forest’s absence for a generation of footballing aristocracy had begun to take on an air of hopeless permanence. Two losing Championship playoff semi-finals, against Sheffield United in 2003 and Swansea City in 2011, had been honorable highs amid deep and painful lows.
Surrendering a 3-1 lead eight minutes into the 2007 League One playoff semi-final against Yeovil Town, only to lose 5-4 in extra time, is a memory that still haunts all Forest fans.
Clough led Forest for 18 years – over the next 29 years the club had no less than 35 different men at the helm. Ownership has also been turbulent, with the club changing hands four times in the post-Clough era.
Current owner Evangelos Marinakis, a shipping magnate who also owns Greek champion Olympiacos, took over in 2017 and has promised promotion within five years.
As recently as January of this year, that seemed highly unlikely. Forest had only managed a single point in their first five games, which led to the departure of manager Chris Hughton.
New manager Steve Cooper took over in September with the club bottom of the division.
The 42-year-old Welshman, the son of a referee and on the losing side of two previous playoff semi-finals, has seemingly transformed every aspect of the once-famous club, leading them to a relentless rise up the table.
“It was a massive atmosphere, a massive event. It felt like a European night to be honest. I know Nottingham had them a while ago, but the crowd is prepared,” Klopp said.
‘Messing Things Up’
Forest fans were certainly hungry for success, but they also learned to expect the worst.
“I’ve been so emotional for the past two weeks,” Forest fan Malcolm Cox told CNN Sport ahead of Sunday’s game.
“We’ve been so close before and we’ve always screwed it up. But this season has just been different, all about it. The fans, the unity, the feeling of something special brewing. I didn’t seen the City Ground rock like it has been this season before – even the glory days weren’t like that, something just fundamentally changed.”
Given their club’s historic propensity to ‘spoil things’, Forest supporters heading to the game were understandably nervous.
Matthew Beardsley carried his five-year-old son, Percie, draped in a Forest scarf, over his shoulders.
“With the birth of my son, I would say these are the most important two days of my life,” he said.
“Who are we?” Beardsley asked his son, “Red Army!” came the cry.
Estimates put the bounty for winning the championship playoff final at nearly $215 million.
The potentially transformative effect of such wealth on winners is clear, but the stakes were particularly high for a Forest side assembled with five players on loan, including Manchester United’s James Garner, plus at least two of their own youngsters. local stars – Joe Worrall and Brennan Johnson – whose performances have caught the eye of clubs with deeper pockets.
Had they failed to win on Sunday, retaining one of their big names would have been difficult.
Cooper understood how the pressure had been lifted from the shoulders of the whole club.
“We were desperate for something like this and I felt that for the last eight or nine months,” Cooper told reporters.
“I’m really proud of everyone connected with the club. It’s not about individual success. It’s about the club…it’s a magical football club and we just reminded the world of that. “
“I just can’t get enough”
Sunday’s playoff final was decided by an own goal – Huddersfield’s Levi Colwill kicked the ball into his own net under pressure from another of Forest’s young homegrown stars, Ryan Yates.
The second half saw two convincing penalty cries from Huddersfield controversially dismissed by referee Jon Moss, the first with the intervention of VAR. Forest held on and in the vast, curved stands of Wembley, the red-clad hordes erupted, bouncing to the sound of the club’s recently adopted anthem, Depeche Mode’s “I Just Can’t Get Enough”.
Worrall, who coached the team on Sunday, praised Cooper’s impact.
“He gave us that little bit of conviction,” he told Sky TV reporters. “It’s like a whipped dog, you treat any dog kindly and it becomes a nice dog, if you mistreat one it becomes aggressive.
“We were a mistreated team, and he came and he gave us that hope, gave us that belief. He killed us with kindness.”
For the fans, all that mattered was that their long wait was over.
“It’s the return of all those awful nights – losing to Woking and Yeovil – and thinking the story would never have a happy ending,” Cox said as he walked amid the ecstatic crowd of fans away. of Wembley.
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