“I love it at Nottingham Forest, it’s a fantastic club and the city itself is brilliant. I love walking or driving into the stadium and traveling over the Trent, seeing the ground, it’s iconic.” Nottingham Forest Women Head Coach, Andy Cook, and his love for the club, and the city itself.
Promotion may still elude them, but, Nottingham Forest Women, under the guidance of Head Coach Andy Cook, are preparing themselves for the upcoming, Women’s National League North campaign, which begins, in earnest, at home to Huddersfield Town Ladies, on Sunday 15 August.
In an in-depth interview, the Nottingham Sport caught up with the Forest Coach to cast thought over what has been happening at the club in recent months, be that on-field game-time, off-field signings, including a new contract for himself, and, of course, the retirement of a Forest legend in Annabel McKechnie.
The question is, where do you start when during what has been a tough, eighteen months for everyone, Cook’s Forest have seen the league season curtailed not once, but twice, and, in turn, when on track for promotion, have it cruelly snatched away.
You’ve got the security of a new contract signed by Cook, and several, new additions in recent weeks; but that did come alongside a retirement at the end of last season of a great servant – there’s just so much…
“There really is no easy games in this league, all we can hope is that we can complete a season,” began Andy, looking ahead to the NLN campaign.
“The first year I was here I felt rushed; I started my work hours before the first session, whilst last season it felt like we were playing catch-up, as everyone will have been, because of the pandemic.
“This year though has felt different, we’ve had time, and we’ve come off the back of three, disappointing results for the FAWC applications,
“We have built, added more to the structure of the club and recruitment has been good.”
That recruitment, as mentioned by Cook, has seen him bring in a number of new players, strengthening across the park.
Alongside the retirement of McKechnie, there was also the departure of Bex Rayner (to Sheffield United), and the need of cover for Aja Aguirre – Cook has done that, and much more, bringing in Emily Batty to challenge Aguirre, as well that of Sophie Bramford and Freya Thomas, Becky Anderson, and the latest addition, American Naomi Powell.
“I wanted to bring in Becky Anderson & Jade Arber and they couldn’t wait to start with us,” explained Andy.
“Then the other additions, Sophie, Freya, Amy and Naomi, give us excellent choice now in attack and the experience we have in the squad now is really exciting.
“We have known for a while that we needed someone to give us experience, and quality, in the middle of the field.
“Last season allowed a few players to step up, but Becky Anderson fits everything we look for in a footballer and is great person too, so she’ll come into the midfield; Jade Arber has scored goals at West Bromwich Albion, and at Long Eaton before that, so we know she can score.
“We then needed to make sure we give her the opportunities to score goals. Roz (Rosie Axten) will help with that as Syd Naylor is a big loss, but Amy West and Freya Thomas will add some quality in these areas, plus Sophie Bramford is an exciting young player who is studying in the city for three years, so we look forward to working with her.
“The last player we are bringing in is Naomi Powell, she’s come in from America and has really impressed with her performances and got herself a goal against Lincoln.”
With a reasonable sized squad, Cook has over 25 players at his disposal, one of the departures, as mentioned, was that of the legendary, Annabel McKechnie, she, alongside captain Lyndsey Harkin, putting in decades of service to the club (Harkin is going into her 16th season in the game).
As great a servant to any club if ever there was one, McKechnie registered an impressive 182 appearance in the famous Garibaldi, in 16 years herself, Cook, in summing up what she means to the club, added: “We are all understandable of Annabel’s decision, she and her partner (or husband) will be married this summer.
“She has a young family, and the challenges of balancing a family, and playing football, are tough at the best of times.
“She felt it was the best thing for her, and to be honest, to see her finish the way she did at Oxford was brilliant (with a goal, and an assist).
“Her performance was first class and to have her play 80 minutes, as captain, on her last game, and then pass it over to Katie Middleton, a young Forest player who I believe could go on to captain the side in years to come, was just perfect.”
Now though, as one chapter closes, another opens and, with the new season dawning, the fixtures set, and pre-season, to a point, at full-steam, what does Cook think on his new contract, pre-season, and, finally, the small matter of that local clash with rivals, Derby County.
“Although it (the new contract) hasn’t added any new goals, there is the security that my mortgage will be payed further than the two years I initially signed for, and that is a huge relief,” continued the Forest Coach.
“I do have to give thanks to David Cook, John Taylor and to Suki Tonks, and all at Nottingham Forest who have supported the team, and that they believe in me to keep coaching this side.”
As for right here, right now, it’s all systems go for the opener against Huddersfield, and the hope that, everywhere in the beautiful game, gets back to a normal, full season.
A good mix of clubs in their pre-season, Cook hopes he’s got that balance right to prepare Forest, and their new signings, for the new campaign, and, with an exciting clash with neighbours Derby County to come just seven games in, it could be interesting indeed.
“We wanted to play someone in our league but in the south (Crawley), then someone who is in the league below (Lincoln), and we wanted at least two or three games against Championship, or WSL teams, which we have managed,” explained Cook.
“The thought process is the challenge of playing against FAWC or WSL teams really shows where we are because they can find out weaknesses, then a team in our league and one below is a challenge to match and make sure we perform to the levels we think we can.
“So, come August 9 (Monday after Watford), we will know where we are as a squad and everyone will have had minutes, and I’ll need something for the headache that the girls will give me because they deserve a place in the squad.
“As for Derby, we looked for the game because it’s such a huge one for both clubs.
“This game will be played at the world famous, City Ground, which a brilliant step for the club to be able to play there.
“We played a Pride Park the season before so it will be good to play here; we are selling season tickets this season, and anyone who buys a ticket of course can get into this game.”
Nottingham Forest Women begin their Women’s National League North campaign, at home to Huddersfield Town Ladies, on Sunday 15 August.
*Article provided by Peter Mann (Senior Correspondent).
*Main image @NFFCWomen Andy Cook is hoping for a strong promotion push this season.