At 3pm on Saturday 6th August 2022, Nottingham Forest officially return to the Premier League and will play their first top flight match in over 23 years as the Reds head north up the A1 to face the Saudi backed billionaires of Newcastle United at the world renowned St James Park.
For players, staff and supporters, excitement, eagerness and anticipation has grown to seemingly unprecedented levels in recent weeks, since that memorable win over Huddersfield Town in the Playoff final at Wembley Stadium and with a number of new signings made, the club, and the city, is now ready and waiting, on countdown, to what should be a memorable opening occasion in the footballing hotbed that is the North East.
The last time Forest played in the Premier League, Chris Bart-Williams scored the only goal of the game in a victory against Leicester City in front of just over 25,000 at the City Ground in May 1999, by then, the Reds had already been relegated, eventually under Ron Atkinson, who at least bowed out of football management, winning his last three games in charge.
Little after did anyone realise that a super-sized name of Nottingham Forest Football Club would take so long to bounce back, a two-time European Champion that was the first to fall into the third tier as a previous winner of the continent’s most prestigious competition, the Reds have since had near misses to return to the top flight under Paul Hart, under Billy Davies, under Sabri Lamouchi, but under Steve Cooper they finally achieved that long-awaited destiny.
After so long, you might be thinking that fans, just happy to be back, would take seventeenth and last day survival in the upcoming Premier League season, but Forest’s ambition in the transfer market this summer has left for some ambitious thinking too, of all the clubs in Betfair’s betting for a top four finish, Forest are highest backed in the nation, with punters UK-wide putting on their pounds for a surprise season at lengthy odds.
When asked for the BBC by Nottingham born sports commentator Darren Fletcher whether the Reds will ‘stay up’ this season coming, England & Nottinghamshire cricket legend Stuart Broad, like Fletcher, a home-grown Forest fan himself, stated “top ten” continuing “It’s positive thinking”.
Ex-Reds skipper John McGovern who knows what it’s like to win silverware and play at the top of the game with Forest himself, also commented favourably on the clubs positivity, following an ambitious summer of signings, saying “If you want to make progress, especially in the Premier League, you need a goalscorer and a goalkeeper, and the manager has taken care of that” having signed Dean Henderson from Manchester United and Taiwo Awoniyi who netted 15 times last season in the Bundesliga for Union Berlin.
The club in all have signed twelve players with near £17m each spent on the likes of Awoniyi and Neco Williams, breaking financial barriers through sky high wages offered to England internationals Henderson and Jesse Lingard formerly of Manchester United, and Forest are in the top ten ‘big spenders’ globally for what they have outlaid so far this summer, alongside supersonic football powers like Real Madrid, Liverpool, Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain.
When often asked in public, Head Coach Steve Cooper has been reluctant to put a ‘name’ on what success might be for the club this season coming, instead stating “We just really want to be a team that everybody can be proud of. And if we do that, we feel we can win games, and that’s got to be the aim”.
Fans however, will all have varied opinion on what levels of success would be for Forest, and we’ve asked a few of our own to comment their thoughts on how they feel the side will do, and what should be expected from the class of 2022/23.
A huge Reds fan in cricketer Luke Fletcher, perhaps most sensibly of all, stating “Our aim this year is to definitely stay in the Premier League and then build again, and I think we’ll surprise a lot of people”
Boxer Leigh Wood, looking to stage his next fight at the City Ground, is hoping for even better things from his boyhood supported club this year, siding with the ambition of Fletcher’s Nottinghamshire fast bowling colleague Stuart Broad, stating “It’s not about having the best players in the world, it’s about getting the best out of the players you’ve got, I can’t see why we can’t aim for top ten”.
Whilst top ten is a bold prediction made by some aroused by the calibre of signings that Forest have made thus far, others will take that survival slot just to ensure the Premier League party lasts that bit longer, our own Nottingham Forest columnist Callum Castel stating “Where will Nottingham Forest finish this season – the million-dollar question. Forest’s main goal this season is to avoid relegation; anything else is an added bonus.”
Castel continues “Realistically, Forest have a strong enough team to avoid relegation. Nevertheless, given the time it will take for the new team to gel, the team may find themselves in a relegation battle, but I think they’ll find a way out.
“Having said that, there are few reasons why Steve Cooper’s team can’t finish ahead of teams like Bournemouth, Fulham, Leeds United, Southampton, Everton, Brentford, and Brighton, therefore there is a chance that the Reds will do better than expected, but I’m going conservative.”
“My prediction: 16th.”
Another conservative but optimistic opinion that the Reds would avoid relegation, was shared when we asked local young journalist and commentator Jamie Martin, who said “This season, in my view, brings more promise than some expect, although I see Nottingham Forest placing in the 13th-15th region, the work being done off the pitch with the stadium, academy and commercial aspects is key – creating a new image for Forest as not just a club from Nottingham with a fruitful past forty years ago, but instead, a club with a vision, with promise and a club that will challenge even the biggest of sides.”
Martin continued “There is no doubt this will be tough, but the tactical might of Steve Cooper and his team, the excellence in the recruitment department, and the ambition of the owner and his son will make the dream of a new prosperous era for the club a reality, after decades of heartbreak.
“In terms of a straight prediction, as from the start, I will say 15th – yes, it is a safer option, and I think we can do better, but 15th seems realistic given the signings made, but as I say, that is the minimum position in my view.”
Whether the Reds do manage to break that ‘minimum position’ of pragmatic realism and stride away from the drop zone, should they hit the dizzy heights of top ten or more, should they cling on with last day nervy delight that reminds us agonisingly of Sheffield United and Huddersfield, It will be a memorable season for so many, just glad to be back in the big time.
We leave the conclusion to ponder the last thoughts of Matthew Benton-Smith, another young journalist of ours, another Reds supporter too, who says “Well, as Nottingham Forest get ready to return to the top flight for the first time in my lifetime, the main feeling is excitement, as well as a slight fear of the unknown. You only have to go into the club shop where shirts are flying off the shelves or look on social media to see the reciprocated buzz around the city.
“In terms of our transfers this summer, the signings that the Reds have made show massive intent and that Steve Cooper’s side aren’t just there to make up the numbers. I for one can’t wait for that first kick of Premier League football against Newcastle and without wanting to jinx anything, as it feels like many Forest fans have done by saying this in the past, I am really feeling confident. It is near to impossible not to have faith in Steve Cooper and Dane Murphy and one thing is for sure… I cannot wait to see the City ground rocking again, Prem style!”
*Main image @NFFC Steve Cooper is the first man since Dave Bassett to lead Forest into the Premier League.