I’ve been watching Forest since the 1990/91 season, my first game being a 1-1 draw against a QPR side containing the, at that time, dangerous Roy Wegerle who scored that day but his team were denied the points by a Garry Crosby penalty. I got thinking the other day about all the dross I have seen since then, missing out on the European Cup victories and dominance of the late 70’s and the league cup runs and high placed finishes of the mid-eighties. Although I missed out on them, these achievements and the ‘Forest way’ were continuously mentioned to me by older friends and family throughout my childhood which always made me feel quite jealous and bitter towards them experiencing success compared with the meagre pickings I have had as a Forest fan for some twenty two years now.
It got me thinking, what has been Forests greatest achievement whilst I have been a supporter and does this achievement really justify me spending £400 on a season ticket plus at least half a dozen journeys away every season?
I’d like to take you back to my Forest highlight, the 1994/95 season when I was a bright eyed, uncynical Forest fan sat in the Lower Bridgford End as the Trent End was being redeveloped. I remember eagerly going out to see the huge red girders which make up the Trent End being delivered to the City Ground, enthusiastically reading about our pitch being relayed and seeing a certain Mr Bryan Roy, being signed from Foggia and standing on the City Ground soil with a Forest flag above his head. We also had a decent squad spearheaded by the best footballer I have ever seen in a red shirt, Stan Collymore but also with talented support in the likes of Woan, Stone, Cooper, Bohinen and Stuart ‘Psycho’ Pearce achieving even higher cult status after scoring a diving header through Peterborough’s players outstretched feet at London Road on a balmy Summers day. In fact thinking about it more deeply, that really wasn’t a bad squad. The tenacity and skill of Stone, the sweet left foot of Woan, the string pulling and ability to lob goalkeepers of Bohinen, the combativeness and leadership of Cooper and Pearce and the steady eddy’s of Philips, Chettle, Gemmill and Lyttle and the utility ability of Haaland made for a talented if somewhat unspectacular group of players. I remember entering the season with a positive mentality, particularly with Stan up front. Stan scored 19 goals in 28 games in our promotion season and at times seemed completely unplayable. Stan could score pretty much any type of goal but there was nothing better than seeing him get the ball into feet, turning, shimmying and using his brute strength and pace to burst past the opposition to score a blinder. He carried this into the Premiership and one of my favourite goals of that season was against Wimbledon at home. Receiving the ball on the halfway line he span out of a challenge by I think Peter Fear, skinned another defender before finishing from 25-30 yards, it sticks in the memory so well that I can picture it to do this day, nearly twenty years later. Stan was something else and he was loved no, adored, by the Forest fans and afforded time by Frank Clark to continue to live in his beloved West Midlands and skip training, a luxury which, to most other footballers would infuriate me but with Stan, I was happy as long as he was a Forest player.
We made a cracking start to that season, unbeaten in our first eleven games with a stellar performance against Tottenham away beating them 4-1 with one of those delicious Bohinen and a surprisingly brave diving header by Bryan Roy. I recall watching the highlights of our victory over Sheffield Wednesday at home early on in the season and hearing the joy in Barry Davies’s (one of the finest sport commentators ever in my humble opinion) voice at the football we were playing and Wednesdays inability to deal with Roy and Collymore up front. We even beat Manchester United 2-1 with another classic Collymore goal which, I believe, was nominated for goal of the season. Roy and Collymore continued to score throughout the season helping themselves to a couple each in a brilliant 7-1 away victory again against Wednesday.
It was a great, happy season, one I can, sadly I know, remember in vivid detail and it ended with Stan having scored 22 goals, Roy chipping in with 13 and Bohinen, Woan and Stone all getting a decent number from midfield with Pearce still chiiping his share from full back. We finished third behind Manchster United and Blackburn, and with a summer of further re-building ahead and the money of the Premier League to count on as well as lucrative European Cup run when it was still judged a worthy competition we finished the season on a high and it felt like a return to the good times, the times I had never witnessed, was possible.
How quickly times can turn. Imagine a team now in the Premiership finishing third and being relegated two seasons later. It is different to the Leeds story almost a decade later. Their struggles were more about their ruinous financial plans under Risdale and the stories of the expensive goldfish need not be repeated again. Ipswich had a brief dalliance towards the top of the Premiership but as I remember finished top six. Forest had signed sensibly, not pushed the budget too much yet still over the next two seasons disappeared from sight and their subsequent decline since is evident for all to see. Although players like Bart-Williams, Campbell, Silenzi and Jerkan arrived, Forest did not go down the Bradford route of frittering lots of money on players like Petrescu and Carbone on huge wages who did not live up to expectations and caused huge financial problems later on. In fact Campbell and Bart Williams proved pivotal players in our return to the Premiership under Dave Bassett and the ‘Bart Man’ eventually became a libero captain in Platts ill fated 3-5-2 formation. Collymore replaced by Saunders led to an up and down season where we finished eighth and enjoyed a decent European cup run, Bryan Roy’s late goal against Malmo and a subsequent molestation on him by Ian Woan sticks in the memory. But the season after that we were relegated, finishing bottom and after a brief flirtation with the Premiership again under Dave Bassett we have been gone ever since. Its fair to say that since that glorious season, I have never since experienced that quality of football, and it has been pretty poor pickings since with the Megson, Platt and Kinnear regimes being pretty awful and the winless run under Steve Cotteril around the turn of this 2011/12 being the nadir for me. The loss of Stan was really the catalyst and it seemed to have an impact on both him and us, Stan never really scaling the heights like he did with us and never fulfilling on all the promise he showed. It was always with great excitement I read subsequent rumours of a return to the City Ground, perhaps to try and recreate some of the emotions of that season in my own mind but alas (or probably just as well so his memory isn’t tarnished), it was never to be.
Am I simply chasing those feelings, the excitement I felt heading to Old Trafford expecting to win, am I setting myself for failure by having had my bar set so high by that great season? Probably yes, even the somewhat successful Davies era didn’t come close, the spikiness of Davies and his need to be in constant quarrel with someone was, to me at least, a little distasteful when he could have just taken a step back and thought to himself, “Do you know what I haven’t got it too bad here.” My only hope is that we are heading in the right direction now. A decent, honest and proactive forward thinking coach in O’Driscoll, owners who, though its very early days, seem passionate about transforming this club and players in the likes of Cohen, Blackstock, Lascelles and Guedioura who I could, potentially, one day look on in the same light as Bohinen, Stan, Cooper and Stone. The bickering amongst the fans seems to have subsided too, I remember being present at a fans protest against Nigel Doughty and Mark Arthur last year purely as an observer and was threatened and called all manner of names when I didn’t sing along with the “Out Out Out” chants.
Here’s hoping we can get somewhere near that season of 1994/95, sadly as a fan now pushing 30, it is the only yardstick I have to compare all else too, I hope in the next 10 years under a new regime with a new ethos I will have another season to look back on as fondly.