PIERRE VAN HOOIJDONK will pull out his Nottingham Forest scarf and hope for a big celebration tomorrow – just like he did 24 years ago.
Then it was on the City Ground pitch when he was bullied at the end of their last home game.
Forest had achieved promotion to the top division thanks to their incredible 29 league goals.
While things turned sour the following season, he never forgot that 1997-98 season, the last time Forest fans really had anything to shout about.
Van Hooijdonk said: “It’s been a great season and what’s happening now reminds me a lot of that time.
“The mood on the ground is just as fantastic as it was back then. They also have a great team, as do we.
“It was an incredible race then when we got over the line, Middlesbrough and Sunderland were pushing each other. We got the second promotion spot, but it was a really tough run.”
The following season was their last in the Premier League. They haven’t been close to a return, not even a play-off final, until now.
Van Hooijdonk, 52, said: “It’s incredible for a club of this size and history. I remember growing up watching their two European Cup finals.
“I still remember the song We’ve Got The Whole World In Our Hands with the players’ names in the lyrics.
“When I was there, I could always feel that story from Brian Clough’s days.”
The glory days of this club seem and are very long ago.
That’s probably why Nottingham are pouring out so much emotion now that they are finally on the verge of being one of the big boys again.
They are in tomorrow’s play-off final against Huddersfield thanks to a tense semi-final win on penalties in the second leg against Sheffield United.
Van Hooijdonk, now a successful TV pundit in Holland, said: “I watched it. Unbelievable! I love these end of season games.
“I still felt part of it because it was Forest. I just hope they can get the job done now.
“I saw Huddersfield’s semi-final first leg against Luton and didn’t think they looked as good as Forest.
“This is a very exciting team to have Steve Cooper in and Brennan Johnson is fantastic.
If I had been an ass I would never have stayed and would have helped the club rise
Pierre van Hooijdonk
“You will only lose if you suffocate. It can happen.”
When talking so positively about Forest, it’s easy to forget that Van Hooijdonk famously went on strike for the first three months of the season following his promotion.
He wants people to understand why. He had arrived at the end of the 1996/97 season but could not avoid relegation.
The following season, he stayed to set them up. But he did not enjoy coaching under then-manager Dave Bassett and believes the club also failed in an agreement to let him go after promotion.
Van Hooijdonk said: “In December of that promotion season, I realized I wasn’t going to improve as a player.
“I always wanted to push myself and while the games were great, nothing happened in training.
“Some of the players might like it and be used to it, but I wasn’t.
“In December there was an offer for me from PSV Eindhoven but the club asked me to stay to help them get promoted and then they let me go.
“I stuck to my side of the bargain but when Newcastle came in with an offer of £7m for me this summer, they asked for £10m and the chance was gone.
“Meanwhile our captain Colin Cooper has been sold to Middlesbrough and Kevin Campbell to Trabzonspor.”
Van Hooijdonk eventually came back but the team was in a mess and made their way out of the league.
He added: “When I came back I met with all the players, explained myself and said if anyone had a problem to speak up.
“Only Geoff Thomas said he disagreed with what I did and we had a discussion.
“They all knew what kind of person I was. If I had been an ass I would never have stayed and would have helped the club rise.
“Obviously for some fans the relationship hasn’t recovered, but I want them to understand and know that I still have such fond memories of that promotion season and will be cheering them on this Sunday.
“They play good football and if they go up I believe they have the right structure in the way they play, much like Brentford, to stay up there. I hope everything happens.”
Van Hooijdonk will be at Wembley. Well, not Pierre, but his son Sydney.
The 22-year-old plays for Bologna but like his father he will be a Forest fan this weekend.
https://www.the-sun.com/sport/5439096/nottingham-forest-love-pierre-van-hooijdonk/ I stand by my Forest strike but I love the club and will support them against Huddersfield, says Pierre van Hooijdonk