As Wes Morgan lifted the Premier League trophy on Saturday, many Nottingham Forest fans looked on with begrudging admiration. Should we applaud our sometime rivals Leicester City? Paul Severn thinks so
On Saturday I got home and turned on the television just as Wes Morgan was handed the Premier League trophy. He lifted it into the air, surrounded by blue ticker tape and beaming smiles. Leicester City were champions of England – and I’d just been to watch my team play MK Dons.
That’s the harsh reality for Nottingham Forest fans this season and I’ve been asked a few times how Forest fans feel about the Leicester story. Are we happy or bitter? Are the two teams rivals? Do we wish we were still the only miracle makers in the East Midlands?
I recently won tickets to Forest’s 150th anniversary gala dinner. It’s fair to say we literally do dine out on our glory days – and that evening took place as Leicester secured the title. It wasn’t mentioned at the dinner, but judging from reactions in a local pub when I watched Leicester play Manchester United, I think most Nottingham people were cheering on Leicester – or maybe Wes Morgan at least. But I am sure some people are finding it more difficult.
A point worth taking seriously is Financial Fair Play. You can argue that Forest clearly broke the rules and deserve to be punished. But some clubs appear to have spent similar amounts, if not more, and have been promoted at the right time as they came into force. Bournemouth made a £38.3m loss in winning the Championship in 2014-15 and if we want to look at Leicester’s finances in more detail, read this from the Guardian.
Interesting stuff, and perhaps Forest – for all the issues at the club – have been harshly treated in comparison. While we can complain, Premier League clubs cannot. All the top teams operate on another planet financially and only have themselves to blame for allowing Leicester to canter to the title. FFP has truly hit teams like ourselves and Leeds United. Not the top dogs.
This brings me onto a key question in this debate – whose achievement is better? For me, suggesting Leicester’s is better purely due to money is simplistic and wrong. For all the cash in the Premier League, aside from Tottenham Hotspur, the standard is at an all-time low. None of the top teams can defend. Millions have been spent on players like Eliaquim Mangala, Mamadou Sakho, Marcus Rojo and Per Mertesacker. None have performed anywhere near the standard of Wes or the outstanding Robert Huth – never mind Jaap Stam, Tony Adams or Sol Campbell. For me, that has been the differentiator in this title race. Huth and Morgan love defending, Phil Jones doesn’t. When you look at some transfer fees it’s clear that the Moneyball approach that influenced baseball and other sports is currently ignored Premier League clubs. Despite the money in football there is no value. High wages and disposable, sterile managers breed complacency. And boy have Leicester exploited this colossal mess.
Returning to Forest, it’s been said so many times there is an uncanny resemblance between the Forest title winning team and Leicester. Huth and Morgan form the same physical barrier as Kenny Burns and Larry Lloyd. Danny Drinkwater does the steady John McGovern role. For N’Golo Kanté, read Archie Gemmill. Riyad Mahrez has done a fairly good impression of John Robertson, while Leonardo Ulloa and Jamie Vardy are Leicester’s Peter Withe and Tony Woodcock. A tight, committed squad with players like Marc Albrighton were prepared to work to revive their careers in the same way the likes of Martin O’Neill did so many years ago.
With the Premier League so wasteful and disjointed, there is a really strong case to say that the Forest achievement is better because they beat 1970s Liverpool. This was one of the greatest ever sides – brought into sharp focus when you see Louis van Gaal and Arsene Wenger plod on with no hope of winning the title. But despite this, Leicester deserved their immortality. They have the best defence, the hardest-working midfield, the fastest striker and a touch of class in Mahrez. And when it mattered in the home stretch, they delivered as Spurs wobbled.
The next question to consider – are Leicester our rivals anyway? I can’t speak for the rivalry pre-1987, but I would say it is a minor rivalry that is somewhat one-way. I have heard a few times the chant: “We hate Derby more than you” and it does ring true. A defeat to Leicester hurts, but not like Derby. Wes did not become the new Kris Commons. I believe Leicester have chanted “Are you watching Nottingham?” Does it really sting? I’ll let you decide for yourself. Can you even remember the score the last time we played Leicester? Here it is by the way, and check out the goalscorers for Leicester. It could be some time before we’re checking the live soccer scores again.
I’d argue that Forest fans should be pleased for Leicester. It hurts a little bit that we aren’t the only fairytale in modern times. It happens once in a generation and this time it isn’t us. Leicester thoroughly deserve it and for many fans, the rivalry is somewhat tepid from our side. We can still argue that our title was achieved in one season, against one of the greatest ever teams that played the game. We were big and classy enough as a club to clap off a victorious Yeovil team at the City Ground, so we can tip our hats to Leicester (while polishing our two European Cups).
Which brings me lastly back to Wes. In May 2013, a last-gasp, final day defeat to Leicester saw a dramatic end to Forest season as Leicester made the play-offs at our expense. As the Foxes celebrated jubilantly, Wes stood still in the centre circle in respect to his former employers. He applauded the Reds’ fans – and they responded. We have special relationship with Wes. He became a man at Forest and grew from a (rather large) sapling into the Major Oak. He gave 100% in 352 games. His thunderbolt saved us from humiliating defeat to Notts County. Via @bigwes he inspired one of the first and finest social media fan stories in football. The Meadows man is a great character and leader and I can’t think of anyone I’d sooner see lift the Premier League trophy.
I understand that in football, players move on and fans move on. But the Wes story and the Leicester City story transcends any rivalry. Would we rather have seen Manchester City buy another title and then cast away another manager in an emptying stadium? Did we want to see Roman Abramovich applauded in his lofty director’s box as his dream team lift yet more silverware? I’d prefer it to be Wes any time.