NOTTINGHAM is at fever pitch as Forest fans await the return of Premier League football after an agonising 23-year wait.
Boss Steve Cooper and new recruits like Jesse Lingard launched Forest’s Prem bid with a 2-0 loss at Newcastle but now prepare for a City Ground partyCredit: Getty
Forest fans went wild with promotion and will celebrate again when top-flight football returns to Nottingham at home to West Ham on SundayCredit: AFP
The man behind their play-offs miracle, Steve Cooper, has been hailed as the greatest influence on Forest since Brian Clough and Peter Taylor hit town almost half a century ago.
Yet one prominent Forest fan says Cooper reminds him more of iconic Liverpool boss Bill Shankly, who led the revolution at Anfield in the 60s.
Andy Caddell, chair of the Nottingham Forest Supporters’ Trust, says Cooper won Forest fans over before he even won a Championship point.
He sees similarities between the way Cooper reignited the city’s passion for football — just as Shankly did on Merseyside.
Caddell told SunSport: “Everything felt different from the moment Steve Cooper replaced Chris Hughton in September.
“Within days — not weeks — I got a call from Forest saying one of Steve’s highest priorities was meeting the fans.
“I’ve been involved with the Supporters’ Trust since it was set up five years ago and that was unheard of.
“Many managers pay lip service to fans being important but I’m not sure most of them believe it.
“For Steve to prioritise meeting the fans and, more importantly, listening to us, was the first positive sign.
“For me there are parallels with Bill Shankly when he first went to Liverpool.
“I watched the Jonny Owen documentary The Three Kings, and he talks specifically about Shankly harnessing the power and energy of Liverpool’s fans.
“Liverpool weren’t a great side when Shankly arrived but he used the fans’ enthusiasm to create the modern Liverpool. I’m not making parallels between Steve Cooper and an all-time legend like Shankly.
“But I do recognise getting the supporters on board instantly was critical in creating that 12th-man feeling at Forest again.
“Instead of being on the players’ backs if they went 1-0 down it was a case of, ‘Let’s get after them, we’re only 1-0 down, we can do this.’
“I’d never witnessed that at Forest in all the years I’ve been going and you have to put that at the door of Steve Cooper.”
Cooper embraces Forest’s history and one of the first things he did when he arrived in September was invite club legends to watch training sessions before going to the pub.
The gaffer revealed: “I love talking for hours with John McGovern and Garry Birtles and John Robertson.
“I love the fact they all meet on a Thursday for a pint and I do my best to get there. Those guys who are still around the area should always be involved.
Nottingham Forest legends Brian Clough and Peter Taylor formed one of football’s greatest-ever managerial partnershipsCredit: Getty
“Whether they come and watch training sessions, pop into the office after games, they’re always welcome.
“I like it when they’re here because when other people come they can see a real joined-up club of past and present. It’s a really good image and what we want.
“I’m so interested in the club’s history as it helps me be the best head coach for Nottingham Forest that I can be, because you know who you’re representing.
“I just love hearing fascinating stories and you’re always picking up things. So it’s a bit of a selfish interest really and I’m really grateful for the history lessons.”
Caddell missed Cooper’s first fans meeting due to Covid but his fellow Trust members raved about how impressive he had been.
He said: “Steve was incredibly positive and didn’t avoid any questions. He was humble, engaging, and explained exactly how he planned to rebuild team spirit.
“Only a couple of dozen fans were there but they came away massively impressed, and all agreed, ‘He’s a really, really nice bloke!’
“Brian Clough is a Forest legend who could be pretty acerbic and wasn’t always easy to deal with. Cooper is very different.
“But despite being thoroughly decent, he’s very focused, very driven, and knows what he wants. To reach where he has in his career, I’m sure he’s just as demanding as Clough.”
Despite losing 2-0 at Newcastle last week, Forest fans pinch themselves at the prospect of Premier League football returning to the City Ground.
Forest were bottom of the Championship when Cooper, 42, arrived in their worst start for 108 years!
He wanted to be the first one after Brian Clough to bring success back to Nottingham. I can’t speak highly enough of him.
Caddell said: “At that point I was thinking, ‘We’re going down’. It’s fair to say I didn’t set the bar high for Steve, I just hoped he’d keep us up.
“After 14 managers in a decade, my hope had been to end the season with the same manager we started with.”
Previous Forest managers had been intimidated by the weight of history.
Photos of Clough’s 1978 title-winners and back-to-back European kings had been put into storage.
Cooper ordered them to be returned to the corridors of the City Ground and reached out to Clough’s legends to draw on their experiences.
Double European Cup-winner Birtles said: “One of the first things he did was to ask if we would meet him and his backroom staff and we had a couple of hours and a couple of drinks together.
“He was so interested in the history of the club and how we did things under Brian Clough.
“He’s maintained that — it wasn’t just a one-off. He invites us to training. He invites us to most things.
“We went to the civic reception in the city centre and met the players after we won the Wembley play-off final.
“It feels really nice that he wants to embrace the whole football club and the whole city.
“He wanted to be the first one after Brian Clough to bring success back to Nottingham. I can’t speak highly enough of him.
“He’s so professional and yet he makes everybody feel included.
“There is a massive smile on the city and you can’t wipe it off people’s faces.
“It’s been a long time but everyone’s looking forward to moving forward as a Premier League club.”
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