Another season passes and another year of inevitable heartbreak passes with it, life as a supporter of a once-glorious football club is anything but beautiful. Nottingham Forest, my team since I was six years old, once again made that leap into the proverbial lottery which is the playoffs and, once again, failed to live up to the expectation fuelled by a galvanised late-season surge.
Forest are a team, much like Leeds, that seem to be haunted by the past. Recent resurgences have seen both teams qualifying for the Championship playoffs, or at least flirting with them. However, past glories can, at times, be nothing but a hindrance to the progression of the club. For Forest, the Cloughie era hangs over like a suffocating veil, each season bringing with it more expectation and demand for this un-fancied and unfashionable East-Midland club to re-establish itself as one of the power houses of the English game. In reality, Cloughie’s achievements were unprecedented and ultimately unattainable to any succeeding manager but helped enshrine a footballing philosophy into the club that would, for better or worse, determine the direction the club would take for the next thirty years.
Managers have come and gone, thirteen in sixteen years, but yet the crowd still demand that the football should harp back to the majestic simplicity of the Cloughie era, the basic principles of attractive football intertwined with hard work and unity. In Leeds, where the comparisons go further than a shared history, the message is simple; A team of Leeds’ size and stature should not be plying their trade within the confines of the Championship. Although sharing Brian Clough and Don Revie in the same sentence requires a certain amount of caution, their legacies bring with them that shared sense of expectation that is so ingrained into the ethos of the club.
Obviously there are other clubs who can claim to be the proprietors of the biggest club outside of the top flight. Forest and Leeds are definitely not the only teams to fall from grace over the past few years, but due to the Leeds dominance of the late sixties/early seventies and of Forests back-to-back European Cup wins of 79 and 80, their fates over the past few years, seem to have been magically intertwined.
The futures of both clubs though, albeit for the moment, remain anything but certain. For Leeds, the financial crises post-Ridsdale still has shockwaves rumbling through the club, most notably with Ken Bates acquisition of 73% of the club from mysterious overseas owners in order to quell speculation of the legitimacy of the investors.
For Forest, Nigel Doughty has brought stability but financial cautiousness in the form of the transfer acquisition panel which has so irked Billy Davies for the past two years. For the former, the future still looks unclear with no new announcements coming out of the City Ground, despite reports of various meetings between the board and Davies himself. It seems as if the tumultuous present for both clubs is in fact, due in a large part, to the successes and heightened sense of worth of the past.
For both clubs though, despite the failure to gain the Premiership status that they crave, the season was fundamentally successfully. For Forest, the season can be summed up quite basically in a poor start, a great autumn and first part of the winter, a devastating second half and a good run-in.
For Leeds, despite flirting with automatic promotion for much of the season, didn’t quite have the strength in depth which maybe a Swansea or Norwich might have had. Luciano Becchio finished the season with a very respectable nineteen league goals putting him in joint fifth place with the impressive Adel Taarabt, which is something that Forest certainly lacked. The fact that a central midfielder, Lewis McGugan, finished the season as the club’s top goalscorer says as much about the lack of firepower within the club as it does about the mercurial talent of the player. Not one of Forest’s choice of six first team strikers managed to get on to double figures, a fact so shockingly poor that Billy Davies’ controversial squad rotation policy has to take much of the blame.
Looking into the 2011/2012 then and neither team can afford to sit back and ponder their shortcomings. Both clubs can claim to be hopeful for the future. Leeds, who in Simon Grayson have a manager so in love with the club that no one can blame him for not caring enough. And Forest, who in Billy Davies have a manager so ruggedly stubborn that success will probably be extracted rather than thoroughly deserved. If the calibre players quoted in the transfer rumour-mill are anything to go by then maybe the supporters of these two dormant giants have cause to be optimistic.
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