I do like to be beside the seaside, especially if it coincides with a Forest 4-1 win such as against Blackpool, as happened not so long ago! Now there’s another chance for Forest fans to take the bracing sea air. Change compass direction and work east along the south-coast. Plymouth, Bournemouth, Portsmouth and Brighton have all done time in the Championship in recent years. Southampton aside, none of the English Channel-facing clubs would consider themselves to be pedigree Premiership material, though Brighton sit mid-table led by able manager Graham Potter.
Yet, until 2020, Bournemouth did find themselves tasting the high life. Before those heady days, if you were asked in a word-association game what came to mind at the mention of that place, you’d say ‘seaside town’, ‘retirement resort’ or possibly ‘respectable holiday destination’. Football was not its USP. The club wasn’t even known by its current name until 1971, having changed from Boscombe!
You could imagine some out-of-town Bournemouth supporters drifting in from across the New Forest and getting distracted by the scenery and wild ponies and missing the match. The advent of Eddie Howe (now of Newcastle United) as manager soon put a stop to that mindset. No more cosy pastoral idyll or lotus-eater lounging! He brought professionalism and proficiency and, finally, the Premiership. For a club that boasts a ground with a capacity of just over 11,000, (perhaps even helped by its current name: Vitality Stadium!) that’s some achievement.
Fans of Man City and United and Liverpool and Chelsea all had to check their Sat-navs for the trip. ‘Do they play serious football this far south-west?’ they’d say. ‘Isn’t this where you get stuck in traffic jams in summer as you head for Devon or Cornwall?’ Look at the location of Premiership clubs on a map when you’ve a minute and you’ll see their point. But, no, Bournemouth were in the Top Twenty for an impressive five seasons.
Like Bolton, Barnsley, Bradford and Blackpool, (that’s a lot of teams starting with ‘B’ who’ve hit that high and low, a case of not quite reaching the ‘A’ list perhaps!) their rise to the top was relatively short-lived. However, Bournemouth retain what they call in the game ‘a very professional outfit’ and now have Scott Parker (no relation) at the helm. He jumped ship from Fulham (for reasons unknown to me) but has established himself – despite a few wobbles like the FA Cup home defeat to non-league Boreham Wood – as a serious manager, who is garnering respect in the game. (Like another manager rather closer to home.)
For much of this season, Bournemouth have gathered so many more points than Forest that it’s not been worth comparing the two sides. Now, with two games to play, they’re almost neck-and-neck. A Forest win will put them above the Cherries on goal-difference. It’s become as compelling an end to the season as the Liverpool-Manchester City tussle being played out at the top of the Premiership. The Reds have been
assiduous in collecting and counting their points since September. Now it’s a case of them holding their nerves. Easy to say on paper!
Of course, we can thank the dramatic timing of this penultimate fixture for both teams to Storm Eunice. Remember the occasion? You would if you’d travelled south from the Midlands for the evening kick-off when the match was originally scheduled (on Friday 18th February) only to find it postponed at 4pm. Strong rumours suggest Sky were holding out for the game to be played until Eunice intervened and the Vitality
stadium lost part of its roof after the storm had already played havoc along the coast. That had the TV company finally cancel, unable to stem the forces of nature despite their name!
Storms in Britain, these days, get named in alphabetical order. ‘F’ soon came with the lesser known ‘Franklin’, which mostly confined itself to Northern Ireland, so I’ll take this opportunity to name the next one to hit the south coast ‘Storm Forest’. There will be a surge from the Nottingham direction which will inflict serious damage on the Bournemouth defence and tear apart any resistance. Will the Cherries fall to the force of Forest? Relentless in their desire to maintain momentum, the Reds are set to overcome all before them. That’s the weather forecast for Tuesday, May 3rd. What a storm it would be.
*Article provided by Stephen Parker (Nottingham Forest Correspondent).
*Main image @NFFC the Forest players huddle prior to their win against Swansea City.