LONDON: Almost 25 years after achieving the unlikeliest European Cup double in history, Nottingham Forest have 18 games in which to avert an embarrassing fall into English soccer's third tier.
Monday's appointment of Gary Megson as their seventh full-time manager in little more than eight years was indicative of the turbulence that has brought a club that once dominated Europe to its knees.
Forest's demise is all the more poignant in the season when their most famous former manager, the incomparable Brian Clough, died from stomach cancer.
Clough masterminded Forest's astonishing transformation from a modest provincial club into one that dethroned Liverpool as English champions, went a record 42 league games unbeaten and were twice crowned kings of Europe.
Those successive European Cup triumphs in 1979 and 1980 are now a distant memory. Forest are second bottom of division two with only five wins from 28 league matches.
If they do not escape the bottom three – they are six points adrift of fourth-bottom Cardiff – Forest will play in division three next season for the first time since 1951.
This season is shaping up to be the worst in living memory for depressed Forest supporters.
In August, Arsenal surpassed their proud unbeaten league record run.
The following month Clough's sudden death at the age of 69 dealt a heavy blow to the club and the city.
On the pitch, Forest had finished last season unbeaten in eight games. They started the 2004-05 campaign with four successive draws before deteriorating rapidly under manager Joe Kinnear.
Sadly for Kinnear, who quit on Dec 16, he will be remembered by Forest fans as the man in charge when Forest were thrashed 3-0 at bitter local rivals Derby County this season and 4-2 last season.
Caretaker boss Mick Harford was given little time to improve matters, although he signed off with an unexpected 3-0 victory at Queens Park Rangers in the FA Cup on Saturday.
Harford probably scuppered his chances of securing the manager's job full-time with a memorably acerbic assessment of the dreadful 3-0 defeat at Cardiff on Jan 3.
“From start to finish this was an atrocious performance, disgraceful,” Harford admitted. “It was embarrassing at times. The players showed no fight, no commitment, nothing.
“I wanted to haul two players off after five or 10 minutes.”
Forest's players can only imagine what the outspoken Clough would have made of it.
Megson has a good idea. “He couldn't trap a bag of wet cement,” was Clough's verdict on the former midfielder who spent four months at Forest in 1984 but did not play a single first-team game.
The mess is not confined to results on the field.
Eight-and-a-half years ago Forest's 30,000-capacity City Ground stadium was deemed worthy of being a venue for the European Championship hosted by England.
Since then other similar-sized clubs such as Bolton, Middlesbrough and Southampton have built sparkling new stadiums, but Forest have stood still, paralysed by boardroom battles and debts that can be traced back to 1993 when the Clough era ended with relegation from the Premier League.
Those debts, now some £15 million, continue to hamper the club's desire to build a squad capable of winning promotion back to the lucrative Premier League and staying there.
Right now, Forest look incapable even of preserving their status in the second tier, despite boasting a squad of considerable talent.
In 21-year-old Michael Dawson they possess one of the best young central defenders in England. Irish midfielder Andy Reid is another player of Premier League ability while strikers David Johnson, Neil Harris, Marlon King and Gareth Taylor have proven scoring records at Forest's current level.
If Dawson and Reid are sold to Premier League suitors in the January transfer window, Megson cannot count on the money received being made available for squad strengthening.
Should Forest succumb, they will become the first former European champions to drop down two divisions and next season trips to clubs such as Torquay, Colchester and Brentford will become a humiliating reality. – Reuters
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