Nottingham Forest are dreamers. But the line is meant to stop there.
Within the confines of an East Midlands city lies a ground so steeped in history, so adorned with medals and trophies and stories of legend, and yet one so far removed from present day glory and achievement. Always the nearly team, and failing that, a team that is never anywhere close at all. That ground is the City Ground, and the City Ground belongs to Nottingham Forest.
The City Ground is not used to success anymore. Gone are the days of the first ever million-pound signing stooping down to head home a European Cup winning goal in Munich. Far removed are the times of the Trent End screaming on the likes of Stuart Pearce and roaring as they watch Martin O’Neil and John Robertson twist defenders into uncouth shapes as part of a daily routine.
More familiar now are the groans and curses as they watch dreary, unmotivated pay-day hunting players mope around the field, often directing anger towards the man in the dugout who hasn’t a prayer of turning the team around. Nobody can get them to the play-offs, and they certainly cannot get them to the Premier League.
Aitor Karanka came close, but he walked when he was just a handful of points outside the top six, and the season was killed. Sabri Lamouchi came closer, but for the most Forest-esque of collapses on the final day of the 19/20 season. If those two couldn’t manage it, there is not a man on the planet who could.
Oh, but there is.
There was more to that winner at Wembley. It wasn’t just a Levi Colwill own-goal that sent the red half of Wembley into raptures, it was the moment before. It was that lapse in time where everything stood still and everything went flashing through our minds.
We saw that Nuno Da Costa own goal on the final day that saw The Reds bomb out of the play-offs. We saw the days under Hughton, where not even a return to The City Ground from a COVID-struck world could lift the toxic atmosphere and god-awful football. We felt the sting of seeing Kieffer Moore roll home a beauty to deny us a shot at the most unlikely of automatic promotions.
When time restarted and the collective breaths were held still, that is when a kick from James Garner met the knee of a Ryan Yates-pressured Colwill to make the garibaldi end explode.
It was there in that ground. In that molecule of time. That one miniscule and unbearable moment of sheer reality, that the dreams stopped. When realisation hits you, it either sinks to your core and makes you want to be sick, or it can simmer at the top and never truly settle until the adrenaline is gone.
When three final blows of Jon Moss’ whistle brought an end to the playoffs, it was realisation that swept over the Forest faithful in London.
Realisation that Forest had changed. Realisation that this team in red is not the same one that systematically lost miserably in front of a half-full stadium of supporters bored to tears. Realisation that the oh-so-often referred to history of the club need not be mentioned as often now, because for the first time in decades, the club had something to smile about.
The topflight. The Premier League. Where Championship minnows wreathed in red belong but weren’t welcomed. The league that so often slipped through the grasp of the club. 23 years of exile wore the club down to its very bare bones, but with all the bravado and courage and stiff upper-lippedness that you could only expect to see from a Nottingham establishment, they rose and came again in the most exceptional of fashions.
Their reputation as one of the great galleries of the game is unbreakable, and the seven major trophies, including two European triumphs under the legendary Brian Clough will live on forever. But now they can make an imprint on modern football as they go headfirst into the wild new reality of the Premiership. The monetary benefits of reaching the top are well-known, and perhaps often focused on a little too introspectively. The money is vital, and clearly for a lot of promoted teams it is all that separates glory and despair. But there is something far more sentimental at stake, something that no money could buy, nor anyone sell.
This is the chance to shape the modern history of Nottingham Forest. To banish the thought of the years gone by and to be rid of all heartache and disparity. That laughingstock club in the heart of Nottingham is no longer to be laughed at, for all their shortcomings and failures. That club that spent two decades in Premier League exile is dead, and from the carcass, one of the most exciting footballing vessels in years has risen through it. The dreams stop here, and reality starts to fade in from side-stage. What feels like the top of the mountain is only a few rungs up a monumental ladder to glory, and Forest are ready to climb.
Nottingham Forest are dreamers. But the line does not stop there anymore.
*Article provided by Louis Wheeldon (Football Correspondent).
*Main image @NFFC fans pack the Old Market Square in celebration of Forest’s promotion.