It’s no secret that Nottingham Forest supporters get a little twinkle in their eye when it comes to the club’s academy.
Whilst the team has often struggled on the pitch in recent years, the evergreen aspect of the football club remains the work being done behind the scenes with the academy.
Gary Brazil is quite frankly the main man and when everything else has seemingly collapsed around him, he has been the one survivor; the man to roll up his sleeves and continue his fine work.
Year upon year, the Reds churn out quality young talent. Players who make the first-team and in plenty of cases leave the club to grace the Premier League with their star quality.
I realised when looking at what goals I had left to cover for this programme feature (yes, I’ve made a list), that I haven’t done too many from players who have stepped up from the academy.
That brings me nicely onto my latest strike and a certain Ben Brereton.
It was actually Brazil who gave the teenager his debut for Forest. An away game at Leeds United in 2017 saw the academy director in caretaker charge and with 14 minutes remaining, he threw the striker into the action.
Forest were beaten 2-0 by a strong Leeds team and Brereton enjoyed a quiet debut.
Just 10 days later, however, Brereton was raising the roof at the City Ground by netting the winning goal.
He was introduced for the final 10 minutes of the contest with the score locked at 1-1.
Forest had sold Henri Lansbury to Villa shortly before the fixture and he endured a heated reception from the fan base.
On a bitterly cold night on Trentside it was Brereton who warmed the hearts of supporters with a stoppage time winner in front of the Trent End.
Jonathan Kodjia had put Villa into the lead in the first-half and given the visitors’ quality, some anticipated Forest might fold.
On the stroke of half-time Forest got a stroke of luck. Sam Johnstone spilled a Jamie Ward effort straight into the path of Britt Assombalonga who tapped home from a few yards.
Forest played well in the second half and showed some of the fighting spirit clearly instilled in them by caretaker boss Brazil.
With 12 minutes remaining Jack Grealish was dismissed for Villa for a second yellow card – does anyone know what happened to him?
Despite the numerical advantage, the game was seemingly set for deadlock and a solid point against a side boasting bags of quality.
I remember this one on the basis that I wasn’t actually at the City Ground. I’d been selected to referee a County Cup Semi-Final and as a prestigious appointment I couldn’t decline.
With the game live on Sky and with kick-off at 5:30 I rushed home and got myself in front of the television.
With the game petering out I confess I was about to leave it and head off to jump in the shower after an afternoon on the football pitch.
But then Forest broke. A David Vaughan pass found Dani Pinillos and with the ref due to blow at any moment he fizzed a hopeful ball into the box.
Assombalonga’s header was poor but extremely fortunate. It bounced off his head, and looped straight onto the right foot of Brereton who smashed home from 12 yards.
His celebration was tremendous, arms aloft, smile like a kid on Christmas morning sliding on his knees towards the corner flag.
It was a tremendous moment and one that you’d hope every young lad who graduates from academy football truly cherishes.
Brereton never lacked effort in the red of Forest and he left the club with nine goals in 57 appearances.
He headed off to Blackburn in 2019 joining a list of players to emerge through the academy ranks and be sold for a decent fee.
As he tries to live up to his potential, Brazil continues in search of more talent to recreate Brereton’s Villa moment.