WHEN Nottingham Forest last played at Wembley I was eight.
I will be there on Sunday hoping that the club will finally return to the Premier League.
I remember those days in the top flight and used to wear a Forest No. 22 jersey with Bryan Roy’s name on the back, hoping to one day break into the team myself.
It’s incredible to think that the club are just one win away from returning to the big time.
Just a year ago I was in this dressing room with most of these guys.
And to see where they’ve got to and the work manager Steve Cooper has done is nothing short of sensational.
If you think they were the end of the Championship when he came in and now it all boils down to a play-off final against a Huddersfield side who also did brilliantly.
As a player who has progressed through the youth departments to the first team, it is wonderful to see that academy graduates have played a big part in this turnaround.
Regulars Brennan Johnson, Joe Worrall and Ryan Yates were all excellent – while Alex Mighten came off the bench.
I’ve known Brennan since he was a baby as I was his father David Johnson’s teammate.
But when I returned to the club for my second spell after Tottenham and Hull, he always came to train with us.
He was a quiet boy but I always liked him.
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Loaned to Lincoln last year, he was incredible in his breakthrough season.
He was named League Young Player of the Season – scoring 19 goals in all competitions and ten assists in the league.
And its end product just keeps getting better.
You need players like that in games like this. I played for Hull in the 2016 Championship play-off final and we had Mohamed Diame. And what an honor it will be for Joe Worrall to lead the team at Wembley – because it’s his city, his club.
He has played a great many first-team games (229) for someone just 25 – having been on loan at Dagenham & Redbridge and a big club at Rangers.
I’ve been following him since he joined the team – he’s fast, can play on the right side of the three, has a lot of confidence and will strive to do that for himself, his team, family, friends and more fans.
As for Yatesy, I love him. In terms of his professionalism, I don’t think there is anyone better in this dressing room.
He’s a down to earth boy who wants to learn and works as hard as anyone I know to be the best he can be. He always had questions and wanted to make the most of what he was given.
I remember coming back here when I was at Spurs and he was named young player of the year at the academy. He went on loan and did it the hard way – going to Barrow, Scunthorpe and Notts County.
Since Cooper joined, his physique and muscle mass has increased.
As first-team players we want to be coached, we want to improve and sometimes that doesn’t happen. But Steve brought out the best in Ryan.
He and midfielder James Garner complement each other so well.
You have to give the manager a lot of credit.
He changed the formation and made the most of the players he had.
The team has more freedom and they just go out there to win because they think they can score.
Everyone has adopted their own ideas and approaches.
Nottingham Forest has a rich history – but you can only be a really great club if you’re in the Premier League.
When they get there tomorrow, not many people will be happier than I am.
MICHAEL DAWSON spoke to JUSTIN ALLEN
https://www.the-sun.com/sport/football/premier-league/5439795/michael-dawson-cooper-nottingham-forest/ Steve Cooper worked wonders to get my old friends from Nottingham Forest a Premier League game