Forest heading towards football wastelands

  • Other Sport
  • Wednesday, 11 Feb 2004

LONDON: Twenty five years ago Nottingham Forest were the champions of England and closing in on the summit of European football. 

A 1-0 win over Malmo in the European Cup final followed a year later by a similar result against Hamburg SV established Brian Clough as one of English football’s greatest managers and completed Forest’s transformation from a provincial club into one of the world’s elite. 

This season, as the heroes of those triumphs return to celebrate the anniversary of that first European win, they must shake their heads in disbelief at the club’s plight. 

Third from bottom of the First Division after a run of 14 games without a victory, Forest are sliding towards the forgotten wastelands of English football. 

On Saturday Paul Hart, the man who guided the club to the verge of the Premier League last season, was sacked following a 1-0 home defeat by Coventry City. 

At the start of the season, Hart was touted as one of the country’s brightest young managers, having stepped up from running the thriving Academy two years earlier. 

After the club’s failed attempt to spend their way back to the top flight during the David Platt era, Hart set about rebuilding the team with youngsters and astute lower league signings. 

Marlon Harewood, Jermaine Jenas, David Prutton, Andy Reid, Michael Dawson and Jack Lester were all instrumental in the club’s return to playing the attractive football that symbolised Clough’s golden era in charge. 

Last season, Forest stormed into the First Division playoffs, only to lose to Sheffield United having led 3-1 on aggregate with 30 minutes to go in the semi-final. 

It was to prove the beginning of the end for Hart, who had been widely tipped as the man to revive the fortunes of his former club Leeds United. 

Without the extra money guaranteed by promotion to the Premier League, Forest sold Prutton to Southampton, Harewood to West Ham and Lester to Sheffield United. 

To make matters worse defender Ricardo Scimeca also moved to Leicester City and striker David Johnson suffered a broken leg, leaving Hart with precious few options. 

Hart could not stop the rot and as the goals dried up, chairman Nigel Doughty wielded the inevitable axe. 

Whoever takes over from Hart faces a tough task, though. 

Joe Kinnear is favourite to replace Hart. The former Wimbledon manager held talks with Doughty on Monday and is expected to be confirmed this week. 

Glenn Hoddle, sacked by Tottenham Hotspur this season, is another in the frame, while Trevor Francis, the man Forest made the first £1mil signing and who scored the winner in the 1979 European Cup final also reportedly said he was interested in the job. 

Those fans with memories long enough to remember the glory days, however, may yearn for a return of a Clough, Nigel Clough. 

The son of Brian is learning the managerial skills that made his father as well known in Nottingham as Robin Hood with minor league Burton Albion after a distinguished playing career with Forest and Liverpool. – Reuters 

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