NOTTINGHAM cheer as Forest fans await the return of Premier League football after an agonizing 23-year wait.
It’s the longest a club has had to wait to return to the Prem and Forest fans are counting down the minutes until West Ham arrive at the City Ground on Sunday.
The man behind their play-off wonder, Steve Cooper, is being hailed as the biggest influence on Forest since Brian Clough and Peter Taylor came to town nearly half a century ago.
But one prominent Forest fan says Cooper reminds him more of legendary Liverpool boss Bill Shankly, who led the revolution at Anfield in the 1960s.
Andy Caddell, chairman of the Nottingham Forest Supporters’ Trust, says Cooper won over Forest fans before he’d even won a championship point.
He sees similarities between the way Cooper has reignited the city’s passion for football – just as Shankly did on Merseyside.
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Caddell told SunSport: “Everything felt different when Steve Cooper replaced Chris Hughton in September.
“Within days – not weeks – I got a call from Forest saying one of Steve’s top priorities was to meet the fans.
“I’ve been involved with the Supporters’ Trust since it started five years ago and that was unprecedented.
“A lot of managers pay lip service to the fact that fans matter, but I’m not sure most of them believe that.
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“For Steve, the first positive sign was that he prioritized meeting the fans and, more importantly, listening to us.
“For me there are parallels with Bill Shankly when he first went to Liverpool.
“I was watching the Jonny Owen documentary The Three Kings and he specifically talks about how Shankly harnesses the power and energy of the Liverpool fans.
“Liverpool weren’t a great side when Shankly came on, but he used the fans’ enthusiasm to create the modern day Liverpool. I don’t draw parallels between Steve Cooper and an eternal legend like Shankly.
“But I know getting the fans on board straight away was crucial to getting that 12-man feeling back in Forest.
“Instead of walking on the players’ backs when they were 1-0 down, they said, ‘Let’s go behind, we’re only 1-0 down, we can do it.’
“I’ve never experienced that at Forest in all the years I’ve been here and you have to give Steve Cooper credit for that.”
Cooper takes on Forest’s story and one of the first things he did when he arrived in September was to invite club legends over to watch training sessions before hitting the pub.
The gaffer revealed: “I love spending hours chatting with John McGovern and Garry Birtles and John Robertson.
“I love that they all get together for a beer on Thursdays and I’m doing my best to get there. The guys who are still around should always be involved.
“Whether they come to training or come to the office after games, they are always welcome.
“I like it when they’re here because when other people come they can see a really connected club of past and present. It’s a really good picture and it’s exactly what we want.
“I am so interested in club history because it helps me be the best Nottingham Forest head coach I can be because you know who you represent.
“I just love hearing fascinating stories and you always pick things up. So it’s really a bit of a selfish interest and I’m really grateful for the history class.”
Caddell missed Cooper’s first fan meeting because of Covid, but his Trust colleagues gushed about how impressive he had been.
He said: “Steve was incredibly positive and didn’t dodge questions. He was humble, committed and explained exactly how he wanted to rebuild the team spirit.
“Only a few dozen fans were there, but they were very impressed and everyone was like, ‘He’s a really, really nice guy!’
“Brian Clough is a Forest legend who could be quite scathing and not always easy to deal with. Cooper is very different.
“But while he’s decent through and through, he’s very focused, very ambitious and knows what he wants. I’m sure he’s just as demanding as Clough to achieve what he’s achieved in his career.”
Despite losing 2-0 at Newcastle last week, Forest fans are pinching themselves at the prospect of Premier League football returning to the City Ground.
Forest were bottom of the Championship as Cooper, 42, made his worst start in 108 years!
He wanted to be the first after Brian Clough to bring success back to Nottingham. I can’t speak enough of him.
Caddell said, “At that point I thought, ‘We’re going under.’ It’s fair to say I didn’t set the bar high for Steve, I just hoped he would keep us going.
“After 14 managers in a decade, I was hoping to end the season with the same manager we started with.”
Former forest managers were intimidated by the weight of the story.
Photos of Clough’s 1978 title winners and consecutive European kings had been put in storage.
Cooper ordered her taken back to the City Ground corridors and turned to Clough’s Legends to draw on her experience.
Two-time European champions Birtles said: “One of the first things he did was ask if we would meet him and his staff in the back room and we had a couple of hours and a couple of drinks together.
“He was so interested in the history of the club and how we did things under Brian Clough.
“He claimed that – it wasn’t just a one-time thing. He invites us to practice. He invites us to most things.
“We went to the town center citizens’ reception and met the players after winning the Wembley play-off final.
“It feels really good that he wants to hug the whole football club and the whole city.
“He wanted to be the first after Brian Clough to bring success back to Nottingham. I can’t speak enough of him.
“He’s so professional and yet makes everyone feel like they belong.
“There’s a huge smile in the city and you can’t wipe it off people’s faces.
“It’s been a long time but everyone is looking forward to moving forward as a Premier League club.”
https://www.the-sun.com/sport/football/premier-league/5981000/nottingham-forest-west-ham-party-cooper-clough/ Nottingham Forest fans are ready for the Prem party to toast hero boss Steve Cooper with echoes of Brian Clough