Seeing Stuart Pearce fail as manager, after such a promising start, has to be one of the toughest experiences Nottingham Forest fans will ever endure. Paul Severn wonders whether he ever stood a chance of achieving anything other than a short-term bounce or flirtation with the play-offs


After going to the City Ground for around 25 years, I often say that I can take anything football throws at me. After the Yeovil play-off debacle in 2007, I developed a thicker, rhino-like skin after seeing grown men blubbering after the final whistle. That experience left me in good stead for the next few years, allowing me to savour every small victory – as long as total disaster was avoided. Nothing was as bad as Yeovil.

But the recent run of results and the inevitable aftermath have tested me, and almost every other Forest fan. We can all take losing and accept not being in the Premier League. We don’t care if Manchester United fans from London goad us. However, seeing our hero – Stuart Pearce – fail as manager after such a promising start, has to be one of the toughest experiences we will ever endure as football fans. Whilst every win under Pearce was more enjoyable, every defeat hurt us to the core – and unfortunately those defeats were regular and utterly dispiriting.

It must have been a strange time for younger fans. Brought up in an era of two or three managers a season, they will have been bewildered watching their parents supporting Pearce to the bitter end. I tried to stay out Twitter debates after a while because my points were made on emotion, not cold logic. I was never going to call for Pearce to go and would search for any positive or issue outside his control. In the end though, I am surprised he lasted until February.

The emotional side of Pearce’s appointment was important though. Nobody knew how far his love for the club and the support of the fans could take us forward. It worked at first, especially with quality leaders like Jack Hobbs, Andy Reid and Chris Cohen all available. Wins against Norwich, Wolves and, unforgettably, Derby County, gave renewed hope that passion could win out in the end. I think that was at the core of the wild Derby celebrations. I dare say that some bemused younger fans may feel they have been proved right all along with Pearce. Maybe they have, but most Forest fans wanted days like Blackpool and Derby, rather than the still-mediocre reality – which is now in the face of Dougie Freedman. With Pearce it was all about emotion and euphoria. The appointment of Freedman just led to a collective shrug at best and I know which I prefer.

I will gloss over where it went wrong for Pearce as it is too depressing. Back in November, I argued that Pearce was broadly doing an excellent job after the dramatic win over Norwich, aside from some recent results and the style of play. Unfortunately results are the only thing that truly matter to most fans and chairmen in the short term. That C-minus grade I gave became a fail in recent weeks. Very few managers will be allowed to oversee a full-season relegation – often even if they themselves masterminded the original promotion. Once managers started to leave at clubs above Forest, Pearce’s exit was only a matter of time.

The positive thing is that Pearce will leave some sort of legacy at Forest in addition to a few fantastic moments. He conducted himself in a classy and dignified manner at all times with media and fans. It was refreshing and set a new bar for the future. He brought some decent players into the club, who will have some future transfer value, and hopefully some of our successful youth team will follow Ben Osborn into the first team picture.

Although it became increasingly impossible to make a case that Pearce should continue in the role regardless of results, I do wonder whether our hero ever did have a chance of succeeding. We know from the recent research done by Forest Boffin that it is almost impossible for a new manager to throw a side together and go up. I feel strongly that the issues within the club were deeper and date much further back than Pearce. Outgoing CEO Paul Faulkner might agree.

These issues are complex and wide-ranging and would need another article entirely. Sometimes I do a brainstorm and such a piece might start out like the below. Each name and phrase has its own different impact, large or small, and has gnawed away at Forest’s past, affected our present and, in some cases, will hamper our future.

David Platt, Sheffield United, Yeovil, Blackpool, Swansea, play-off heartbreak, Joe Kinnear, Gary Megson, League One, Billy Davies, advise and recommend, Transfer Acquisition Panel, David Pleat, Darren Pratley, Peter Whittingham, Nicky Shorey, Steve McClaren, Nigel Clough, Ishmael Miller, Doughty out, Doughty tragedy, O’Driscoll sacked, Alex McLeish, eye test, Billy Davies, Jim Price, Twitter, media blackout, Djamel Abdoun, Rafik Djebbour, CEO, unpaid bills, Darlow and Lascelles, cruciate ligaments, Reidy’s groin, hoofball, transfer embargo, Derby County, loans, left backs, It is what it is…

We all know the stories behind this list. Whatever Pearce’s abilities, you wonder whether he, or any other manager, stood a chance of achieving anything other than a short-term bounce or flirtation with the play-offs. Other teams in this division are building professional, coherent units that work hard for each other. We look good on paper but lack all intangibles that go towards developing a successful club at this level. It is fantasy to suggest that previous managers would have done significantly better. Some people also have rose-tinted glasses when recalling the highs and lows of previous managers. The Nottingham Forest job is becoming an impossible job – a six-month gig that can smear a decent CV. This is why even some journeymen managers avoid us.

Good luck to Dougie Freedman, but for many, this really is the end of an era and supporting Forest will not be the same going forward. The memory of legends like Stuart Pearce helped us sit through play-off defeats and relegations. We hoped that new players would show the desire he showed at Peterborough in 1994 to dive through opponents’ boots to head a crucial equaliser. We hoped Pearce could reinstall that passion as manager and his love for Forest would create new heroes and new memories. We will forever be sad it was not meant to be.


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