LONDON: A quarter of a century ago Nottingham Forest were the kings of European football – now they are facing the ignominy of slipping into the English Second Division.
In 1979, the unfashionable team from the English Midlands and their eccentric but brilliant coach Brian Clough completed a meteoric rise from the Second Division to beat Swedish club Malmo 1-0 and win the European Cup for the first time.
Trevor Francis, a then record £1mil (US$1.8mil) signing, dived to head in the only goal of the game against Malmo in the final in Munich.
A year later, Clough did it again as Forest retained their European title with a 1-0 victory over German side SV Hamburg in the final.
Few recent European champions have suffered such a dramatic reversal of fortunes as Forest.
Having slipped out of the English Premiership in 1999, they have not returned to the top-flight since.
They overcame financial problems to reach the First Division playoffs last season, but lost in the semi-finals to Sheffield United.
This season has gone from bad to worse and relegation to the Second Division is beginning to seem a terrifying possibility at the City Ground.
The 1-0 home defeat to Reading on Saturday stretched Forest’s winless streak to 12 matches and left them fourth from bottom, just one place above the relegation zone.
Ironically, the team directly below them is Derby County, who Clough led to the then Division One title in 1972.
Forest have gone five league games without finding the net and have scored just three goals in their last nine games.
Garry Birtles, a member of the European Cup-winning teams, this week called for the club to sign a new striker on loan as a matter of urgency, but accepted it would not be easy.
“It saddens me to say it, but the club is not the same draw as it once was,” Birtles told the Nottingham Evening Post.
“They have financial problems and are probably at their lowest ebb in decades. If Forest are going to get any of these lads on loan, they will have to rely on their clubs to pay a significant portion of their wages.”
Forest manager Paul Hart continues to strike an optimistic tone, unlike some of the fans – the club announced this weekend it had closed down its Internet fan forum because of “continued abuse” aimed at “club officials, employees and others”.
After the reverse to Reading, Hart said: “We got the ball in the box an awful lot and on another day you might score three or four. But that has just been the way it has gone.
“We are not being beaten by many and we get punished for every mistake that we make. A break would be nice.”
Hart can at least congratulate himself for quashing speculation linking him with the manager’s job at Leeds last year.
The financially stricken club, whom Hart played for in the 80s as a distinguished centreback, are currently bottom of the Premiership and desperately seeking a new financial backer willing to clear their £83mil debt.
They are one of the few clubs in Britain in worse shape than Forest – if that is any consolation. – AFP