Tuesday 6 May ~
With a dramatic 3-2 win over Yeovil, coupled with Doncaster's 2-1 defeat at Cheltenham, Nottingham Forest, the only club to have won the European Cup more times than their domestic league, finished second in League One and are now back in the Championship. According to their manager Colin Calderwood Forest played “horribly” but ended up having the “perfect result”. Having won six of their last seven games Calderwood is also confident for the season ahead: “We've been very respectful to the future of the club” and “We can compete with anyone financially in certain areas of the Championship”. Forest supporters will hope that the club have finally recovered from the effects of a disastrous managerial appointment nine years ago.
For many the certain villain of Forest's decline was their ex-manager David Platt and he continues to be deeply unpopular at the City Ground. Never more so than when he issued a writ over a £50,000 performance-related bonus allegedly promised by former Forest chairman Eric Barnes during Platt's second season in charge. While in the job, between June 1999 and July 2001, Platt spent £12 million on players, including three expensive Italians. He managed two mid-table finishes at the second level but as the financial situation as Forest became more difficult – certainly not helped by Platt's transfer policy – he left to coach the England Under 21 team.
The following season came the collapse of ITV Digital, which plunged many clubs into massive debt. With Paul Hart as manager, a very young team Forest finished 16th but there seemed to be cause for optimism. Hart held a very different philosophy to Platt – his 11 years as Forest youth-team coach saw the emergence of a number of talented players including Marlon Harewood, Jermaine Jenas, Andy Reid and Michael Dawson. In an interview with WSC in 2002 Hart spoke firstly of improving technical levels at Forest: “In the schools, and Sunday league football there is definitely a ‘winning at all costs’ environment. But when the players come to us, we talk about performance more than winning.” Secondly he explained how youth investment had meant Forest were “well placed to deal with the financial problems the club had in that we worked hard in our academy for four years and it was called upon in the fifth year – because of the hard work the staff, not just me, put in, the players were well prepared to step up.”
Yet despite these strong foundations Forest sank into decline. Hart departed the year after his side had lost in the play-off semi-finals to Sheffield Utd and a procession of managers – Joe Kinnear, Mick Harford and Gary Megson – was unable to prevent the club falling into the third tier for the first time in 54 years in 2005. Colin Calderwood became Forest's 12th manager in 13 years in May 2006 but his first season brought only a famous play-off defeat to Yeovil. Despite a mostly solid defence which had produced 24 clean sheets in 46 games, inconsistency seemed to have scuppered hopes of automatic promotion. But five wins in the last six games brought scenes of celebration to the City ground at the weekend. Calderwood described it as a “a wonderful story – not the best story in Nottingham Forest's history – but there are people here who have never seen success, young supporters, and that's why the players this season will become heroes to them”. Next season's Championship has gained another sub-plot.