1999 feels like a lifetime ago. Tony Blair was Prime Minister, the Spice Girls were still grieving after Geri Halliwell had quit the group and Y2K was on everyone’s lips.
Another event of that year was Nottingham Forest's relegation from the Premier League. Fast forward 23 years and Forest are once again at the pinnacle of English football. We take a look at their previous Premier League campaigns, what happened in the generational gap since and whether they’ll be ever able to rediscover their former glory.
Forest Under the Management of Brian Clough
Under the stewardship of Brian Clough, Nottingham Forest was one of the 22 founder members of the Premier League, after its breakaway from the Football League in 1992. The manager at the time at the City Ground was the infamous Clough who is regarded as one of the all-time greats of the sport.
When you mention the name Brian Clough in the streets of Nottingham, unless you’re speaking to a Notts County fan, only one word will spring to mind. God. Clough’s tenure at Forest brought unimaginable success.
After a disastrous 44 days in charge of Leeds United, Clough went to Second Division outfit Forest, a team marooned in midtable. Two and a half years later, Forest achieved promotion and the success had only just begun.
Following the end of the next season, Forest were the champions of England, the last team to win the top flight after being promoted. A League Cup win was also achieved that season.
Being on the European stage for the first time, many thought Forest would struggle. Two short years had passed and as the 1980s had started, the men from the City Ground had become back-to-back European Champions.
By the time the Premier League started, Clough and Forest had amassed nine trophies together. An opening weekend 1-0 win against Liverpool, the first to be broadcast by Sky, proved to be a false dawn however as Forest struggled throughout the season.
Losing their next six matches, Forest remained in the relegation zone for the majority of the season. A run of five wins in seven after the new year briefly lifted the Reds out of the bottom three, but Clough couldn't keep the momentum up. Forest’s 2-0 defeat at home to Sheffield United on May 1st relegated the club. Clough would resign at the end of the season.
Promotion was achieved at the first attempt and the following season, the club achieved the joint best season ever seen in the Premier League for a promoted club. Matching Newcastle’s third-place finish seen the year before and points tally of 77, Forest had once again qualified for Europe and seemed to be on an upward trajectory.
A ninth-place finish the following season plus a UEFA Cup semi-final run was followed by a disastrous season. Finishing rock bottom ended their three-year stay in the Premier League.
At this point, the Reds became a little bit of a yo-yo club, the classic version of Fulham or Norwich City. Promotion as Champions were followed again by relegation, with their tally of 30 points their worst season in the Premier League to date.
2022/23 Premier League Odds
NOTTINGHAM FOREST TO FINISH IN THE TOP HALF @ 10/1
At this point, an imminent return seemed out of the question as the financial situation in Nottinghamshire worsened. The collapse of ITV Digital, the broadcast right holders to the Football League, hampered Forest as it did many clubs.
Forest’s darkest day came on the 30th of April 2005, where a 2-1 defeat to Queens Park Rangers condemned the two-time European champions to League 1. This was the first time that a former European champion would be playing in their respective country’s 3rd tier of football.
Play-off heartache has been the traditional story that followed Nottingham Forest, losing to Yeovil in League 1, followed by consecutive defeats to eventual Championship play-off winners, Blackpool and Swansea. A promotion in between this had at least dragged Forest out of the doldrums of League 1.
Relegation seemed more likely than promotion in Forest’s most recent decade in the Championship, with final day savouries becoming the unwanted norm at the City Ground.
Last Season’s Heroics
At the start of the 2021/22 season, Forest looked destined for a year of struggle. Chris Houghton, a manager renowned for achieving Championship promotions with the likes of Newcastle and Brighton, was sacked on the 16th of September, with the club picking up just one point from their opening seven games of the season.
Steve Cooper, the manager who had lost last season’s play-off final as Swansea City manager, was targeted with the job of bringing some much need stability to the City Ground. What followed in the next eight months was nothing short of remarkable.
Cooper’s side picked up 79 points, the highest of any team in the Championship between then and the end of the season to finish a magnificent fourth. Where play-off heartache had previously followed, Forest took their chance and flourished.
A semi-final penalty shootout win over Sheffield United was followed by a 1-0 win over Huddersfield Town at Wembley.
The wait was over for Forest. 23 long years had passed but finally, Nottingham Forest was back where they thought they belonged. The next 12 months won’t be easy for the Reds but you can guarantee after being away for so long, a fight will be on to cement their place at English football’s top table for years to come.