On January 11, 1999, Nottingham Forest appointed ‘Big Ron’ Atkinson as their new manager.

Few could have predicted that his arrival would spell the beginning of the end of a Premier League adventure.

It did.

Twenty years on and the Reds are scratching around in a bid to secure another seat at the top table.

To be fair to Atkinson, the writing was on the wall by the time he arrived at the City Ground.

The trapdoor was wide open and the Reds were hurtling headfirst towards it.

He was handed ‘Mission Impossible’ and set about making that job ever more difficult from the moment he took the reins.


RossKinnaird /Allsport

His confident stroll into the wrong dugout ahead of his first game in charge against Arsenal is the stuff of infamy and rather set the tone.

Atkinson later told BBC Sport: “I just happened to look around and I’m stood with Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Vieira, Nelson Vivas and I thought, ‘how are we bottom of the league with these in the team?’”

Unfortunately, Forest did not have Bergkamp and Vieira on their books, they had Shipperley and Allou.

Transfer business around that time hardly raised the collective quality either.

John Harkes, Carlton Palmer, Stale Stensaas, Richard Gough and Hugo Porfirio – forgettable figures one and all.

Forest actually bowed out of the top tier with a flourish, winning their final three games, but still finished rock-bottom – 11 points from safety.

They have not been in such illustrious surroundings since.


Instead, things got a lot worse before they got slightly better.

From David Platt to the Al Hasawis via Gary Megson, League One and Steve McClaren, the road back to the Premier League has been long and winding.

The Reds have got lost along the way, but are starting to emerge from the undergrowth.

Aitor may be less bling that Atkinson, but Karanka is sowing seeds of hope – regardless of whether he gets to see them bloom.

Forest have had better sides in the 21st century, ones which got close to bringing the good times back, but theirs are tales of what could have been.

The class of 2018/19 still have the chance to write their own fairytale ending.

Two decades on from the beginning of the end, does a fresh start beckon on the banks of the Trent?

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