On the banks of the River Trent, something is happening at the City Ground. A feeling of confidence, togetherness, pride and belief that hasn’t existed this century at Nottingham Forest is finally coming together, and the only question remaining is ‘what happens next?’
Something is happening at the City Ground. It might, for a time, have been premature to say that. But, regardless of the outcome this season, something is definitely happening.
The most important thing now is that that something keeps happening. Knowing Nottingham Forest, this is no time to get ahead of ourselves. But the confidence, togetherness, pride and belief that Steve Cooper has brought to NG2 — and let’s not forget Dane Murphy here — is something we haven’t seen this century.
The Championship play-off campaigns in 2003, 2010 and 2011 didn’t have this feeling. The near-misses (2013, 2020) didn’t have this feeling — although there was definitely a sense of what was to become under Sabri Lamouchi… before you know what happened.
To suggest that ‘something is happening’ means, come May, the thing we’ve been waiting/chasing/needing for 23 years will happen is not the point. No good will come of thinking these things. Steve Cooper is only ever focused on the next game, and the next game only.
But the feeling at the club now — the atmosphere at the City Ground against Liverpool; the belief, bond and trust between the fans, players and manager; Forza Garibaldi displays; the U23s sitting in the play-off positions in their first season in the Premier League 2; the U18s reaching the FA Youth Cup Final — is far beyond anything we could have imagined way back in September.
This is a feeling to be cherished, to remember, to savour… We’ve seen enough false dawns not to have reservations. But the new Peter Taylor Stand is moving closer to planning permission approval, the training ground is being redeveloped, the Academy is finally Category 1 status, and the recruitment team is vastly improved. While past performance is no guarantee of future results, many of these things are now permanent fixtures.
The ‘p word’ — let’s not say it — is not all or nothing. Sure, nobody wants this squad to split up. It’s inevitable that several of this season’s outstanding players will be in the Premier League come August. And the reliance on loan players is still a hangover from being run so badly in very recent times. But there is a future after some of our key players move on. Cooper is proving something that no manager has done on the banks of the Trent in decades — that this is not just a team game, but a squad game.
What will we do without Lewis Grabban? Simple: Keinan Davis and Sam Surridge. What will we do without Max Lowe? Jack Colback slots in there very nicely, thank you very much. What about Brice Samba? Ethan Horvath. What about Steve Cook? Tobias Figueiredo. What will we do without Djed Spence or Brennan Johnson or Joe Worrall?
Well, some of these questions are yet to be answered. We have yet to see the full potential of Loïc Mbe Soh and Braian Ojeda, while Richie Laryea and Jonathan Panzo are yet to feature. And if we sell one player for an eight-figure sum, our recruitment team have proved their worth so far in spending money. Indeed, clubs across the country will be eyeing Cooper’s Forest as somewhere to send their best youth players on loan.
So, while we all cross our fingers for the next seven (or 10) games, this is just the start of something happening. And whichever league we’re in next season, long may the journey continue.