No man is bigger than a football club. However, for the last two years, Nottingham Forest has been Steve Cooper.
The two things became one. Fans, players, board members. United. Like we have never seen before. All because of the work and goodwill of one man. A man who came in as the fans’ third choice and with two frustrating play-off defeats behind him. Hardly the glamorous appointment.
But he became a special one. Instantly, the man showed he was different from any of the previous bunch in my lifetime and beyond, arguably back to the days of Clough and Clark.
His infectious smile grew and reflected onto the whole club. Like never before, be brought positivity and genuine belief to the City Ground that hadn’t been seen on the banks of the Trent this century. Besides Clough, it is hard to think of a man who has played such an integral role, and for that we will forever be indebted to him.
Whilst Forest had employed the likes of Stuart Pearce and Martin O’Neil, guys with a connection to the club, none of them showed a passion like Cooper. He was one of the fans. Wins delighted him more than most and defeats struck him down more than anyone. He was one of the fans and would give anything to see Forest succeed. That is somewhat of a rarity in modern football.
Every fan will have their own favourite Cooper memory: for many, that first win remains the best. Barnsley away was looking to be yet another drab performance in the Championship, but the Reds overcame adversity and grabbed a victory, the moment the spark was lit.
Two stoppage-time goals from Lyle Taylor away at Bristol was the time that many gained belief that something special was on the horizon, while the FA Cup run when Forest competed and outplayed three Premier League sides provided the platform for their future success.
Wembley was a day that nobody associated with Nottingham Forest will forget, the best day of my life — as I’m sure it is for many other supporters. Nottingham Forest rose from their rubble and were reinstated in England’s top division, all because of the turnaround Steve Cooper championed.
Our Premier League success last season was down to the bond that was formed and maintained throughout the season. Beating Arsenal for survival, drawing against Manchester City and creating one of the best atmospheres in Premier League history, vital wins at the back end of the campaign; no man was better suited to turning around Forest’s fortunes than one of their own.
For Cooper, it was never about him. He wanted what was best for the football club and you could see his genuineness when he spoke about turning things around. He never once threw the players, fans or club executives under the bus, but fronted up and took the bullet when many deserved it to be heading his way. That’s what formed the love between him, the players and the supporters.
That special bond was the reason he remained in his post — many managers would have lost their job three of four times where Cooper didn’t. He always seemed to get a result and performance when he needed it most, but 5-0 at Fulham seemed to be the final nail in the coffin, despite the two games that followed.
Cooper was seemingly the only piece of stability remaining at Nottingham Forest, with the merry-go-round of players, club officials and development plans. With his sacking, it remains to be seen whether this level of unity will ever be replicated, regardless of the man who leads the club. And if results don’t improve imminently, the fans will likely be less patient than they were under Cooper.
What Steve Cooper has done for Nottingham as a city and Nottingham Forest as a football club should not and will never be forgotten. We’ll never get to see those famous fist bumps again. We’ll never get to see that warm and loving grin again. We’ll never get to sing his name again. It feels like a part of Nottingham Forest has died today, because Cooper was and will remain a part of everyone’s heart around this club.
Thank you, Steve. Thanks for Wembley and for creating some of my most cherished and unforgettable moments. We love you and we will miss you dearly.