Nottingham Forest may well have been outside the Premier League for 22 years but thanks to the Serbia supporters branch they are still winning trophies in Europe. I caught up with their Captain and Chairman Milan Milenović who regaled upon the fascinating story of how it all happened.
Milan is 42 years of age and comes from Niš in south Serbia, commonly known as the Electronic City in former Yugoslavia. He describes it as a very welcoming place and now the proud home of NFFC Serbia Branch.
I asked Milan how his love for Forest began? “When Forest played Bayern Munich in 1996, it was a special day despite losing 2-1, the likes of Bryan Roy and Stuart Pearce really caught my eye.” Milan explained the difficulty in watching the Reds after this due to the lack of TV coverage at the time, however, his penchant for the two-time European Cup winners was suitably assisted by the internet which helped him to stay in the loop regarding all things NFFC.
I was intrigued by the formation of his 5-a-side team, despite the fact there are many Forest supporters clubs in England and worldwide, only a handful wear the famous club crest on the field of play. The only others that sprung to mind were the New York branch, but I don’t think the competitiveness was at the level of the Serbs, that said, NYC have a better kit than the official first team!
How did the formation of the Serbia Forest Supporters club team come about? “Officially, it began in 2016,” said Milan. “We inspired some friends to form similar clubs like Fulham, Millwall and unbelievably, Basford United, Ilkeston Town and Sheffield FC! Because of this, my hometown of Niš is quite the footballing town.”
I was curious to learn if there were more Nottingham Forest supporters in Serbia. Again, Milan explained in detail; “It’s hard to tell, I try to find them in each City across Serbia and know there are some from Belgrade. People know of Forest here for sure, in fact there’s a unique saying here, that Nottingham Forest belong in the Premier League!”
We reverted to the playing side of things where Milan acknowledged the progression of supporters club teams all around the world, he said “I was stunned to see just how many sides existed.” He referred to a fans club tournament on Facebook, telling himself the following “we must organise something like this.” Then came Milan’s next idea. “I noticed that the Bulgarian capital of Sofia housed the Bulgaria Newcastle United supporters club. We met with them and different clubs, friendly people with a passion for football, so, we travelled 110km to Sofia for our first tournament in 2017 and from that moment we made such good friends. It’s like a brotherhood of fans clubs and from here onwards we played against each other in similar tournaments in this part of Europe.”
As the Serbia Forest boys amassed more time on the pitch, they began to see their results fluctuate, competing in two to three international tournaments a year as well as friendlies. From third place in their inaugural tournament, they matched this in Dimitrovgrad before fourth and fifth place finishes next time around in Sofia. But, as all Forest supporters are aware, it took three years for Brian Clough to win his first major trophy, this was mirrored by the Serbian boys as they lifted their first trophy in 2019. Milan described it as “our brightest year” as they defeated Burnley (Bulgarian supporters) on penalties, Ivica Stojanović with the winning kick. Ironically, like Clough’s most successful side, Serbia Forest matched their achievements by winning back-to-back European trophies after beating Liverpool (Bulgaria Supporters) once again by virtue of the penalty shoot-out. Since then, they picked up another third-place tournament finish and landed a local fans club league title before the outbreak of Covid-19. Milan was pragmatic as always in his assessment of the situation, “due to the pandemic we’ve had a very long break from such events, but we WILL be back!”
As the interview neared the end, I learned that Milan is yet to visit England and his beloved City Ground to watch Nottingham Forest in action. “This is painful for me, but I hope someday I can make the journey.” Despite this, he spoke with real enthusiasm regarding his favourite players both past and present; he waxed lyrical about Bryan Roy, Stuart Pearce, and Chris Cohen before acknowledging the new breed such as Brennan Johnson, Joe Worrall, and Joe Lolley.
Finally, I asked for his musings on the new manager and the prospects for the first team this season? Milan replied, “I was unsure about Steve Cooper at first but after listening to his press conference I soon changed my mind. I like managers who are willing to take risks and play football, NFFC have certainly changed their ethos on the pitch. The team certainly looks good and is playing better, Johnson has pace and creates many chances, like Zinckernagel also, Grabb’s has started scoring again and I really like Spence and Lowe. Lolley must return to the form he’s capable of, but I do believe Carvalho will be sold! Colback is solid and in my opinion Mbe Soh is better than Figueiredo, as for Garner, he may play a role but he’s not our player at the end of the day. It doesn’t matter what I think, or others in fact, the onus is on the players to perform to a high level each game and the results will come.”
Milan Milenović beautifully summed up the mantra of the Serbia Forest supporters club football team, “We want to share nice moments together, we realise that football is more than just a game, we aim to erase every border and boundary and meet with many more people, it’s a wonderful game!”
The Serbia Forest Supporters Club team members: Milan Milenović, Dimitrije Mišić, Nikola Đukić, Marko Božinović, Bojan Panev (GK & player of the tournament), Boris Zdravković, Milan Popović (Tournament top scorer), Andrija Jovanović & Ivica Stojanović.
*Article provided by Steve Corry (Nottingham Forest Correspondent).
*Main image @milenovicmilan1 the Forest supporters club of Serbia with one of their trophies.