As Stuart Pearce takes up the managerial reins at the City Ground today, it marks 21 years since Nottingham Forest were relegated from the nascent Premier League and the beginning of two decades of frustration. Will Psycho be the man to bring the good times back?
Okay, campers, rise and shine, and don’t forget your booties ’cause it’s cooooold out there today.
There’s a moment in the classic film Groundhog Day when Phil Connors, played by Bill Murray, finally realises that the time-loop, in which he is trapped, is an opportunity to better himself. The allegory is open to interpretation — purgatory, reincarnation, existentialism — but the chance for redemption finally comes when the narcissistic, self-centred weatherman accepts his circumstances and endeavours to improve the areas of life that he can control.
Groundhog Day was released in the UK in May 1993 — the same month that Brian Clough retired, as Nottingham Forest were relegated from the nascent Premier League. You don’t need to be a genius to realise the significance of the film’s release date and Forest’s never-ending déjà vu at the end of each season; surely there could be no more prescient occurrence of events in football?
Despite the highs — immediate promotion, finishing third and UEFA Cup adventures — there are always the lows; the first club to have won the European Cup to be relegated to the third tier. But whether it’s a demotion or an ascension, Forest fans eventually wake up to Sonny & Cher’s I Got You Babe wondering if we’re going to be stuck in
eternal damnation the Championship forever.
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A whole generation has almost passed since Forest were last in the Premier League, even those who are now just old enough to drive a vehicle over 7.5 tonnes or drink alcohol in the United States will barely remember our last season in the top flight. Japan’s economic woes of the 1990s are referred to as ‘the lost decade’ but it could easily be applied to the 2000s for Forest fans.
Will the repetitive cycle ever end? Will we get our chance to wake up with Andie MacDowell? (Bear with me.) Or will Sonny & Cher haunt us forever?
After years of doing the same thing and getting the same result — changing managers, spending money on players for immediate results, creating a level of expectation — have we finally turned a corner?
As Stuart Pearce gathered his troops at the beginning of May, before the summer break, he said: “Football doesn’t owe Nottingham Forest anything. We have to work for everything on a daily basis if we are to be successful.”
Perhaps this new approach will eventually pay dividends. The squad doesn’t need major surgery but the manager will need some time to settle in, for the players to respond to his methods, for the tactics and understanding to take shape.
Without injuries we, undoubtedly, would’ve finished in the top six last season; but we start again from fresh in 2014-15. We will win games, we will draw games, we will lose games — and, initially, we must be patient. There should be no assumption that next season will be ‘our season’, and no overreaction when things don’t always go our way.
Groundhog Day lasted 38 days for Phil Connors, let’s hope it’s not much more than 21 years for Nottingham Forest.