Forest can hit heights if Calderwood lifts weight of heritage

Underdogs' manager sees tomorrow's trip to Chelsea as a chance to escape the shadow of a legend
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The Independent Online

When Joe Kinnear hastened the end of his brief attachment to Nottingham Forest by accusing the club of living in the past, he was vilified by supporters for showing a lack of respect for history. Yet everyone among the managers who have had to live with the shadow of Brian Clough hanging over the City Ground would probably empathise with Kinnear's sentiments.

Forest's past is hard to avoid, not least because the route from the car park to the manager's office is guarded by the bust of their most famous predecessor that stands in the foyer. Pride of place in the trophy room still goes to the replica of the European Cup which Forest won in Munich and then retained on a May night in Madrid which, while still extraordinarily fresh in some memories, is now more than a quarter of a century ago.

Restoring the club to the heights touched under Clough no longer figures in the job description for prospective Forest managers, of which Colin Calderwood is the 10th to be appointed since Nottingham's Special One retired in 1993. Yet the weight of Forest's heritage still sits heavily on his shoulders.

It has done all this week ahead of tomorrow's visit to Chelsea in the fourth round of the FA Cup, an occasion that would be heralded by almost every other League One club as carrying once-in-a-lifetime status but for which Forest's enthusiasm is tempered by uncomfortable reminders that even those whose memories span only a decade can recall opponents of this calibre as routine.

It is compounded by the knowledge that never in their history have Forest sent out a team cast so starkly in the role of underdogs. Only now and for two dark post-war seasons in the Third Division South have the club been in the third tier. The only remotely comparable reference point is the quarter-final tie in 1930 that pitted a Forest side struggling in the Second Division against the then League champions, Sheffield Wednesday.

No one appreciates the difficulty this has posed for supporters as well as John McGovern, Forest's European Cup captain and now a commentator for local radio. "For some people, getting their heads around the idea of being the underdog has been a problem," he said. "But the club is where it is, in the third tier of English football, preparing to meet the champions.

"The record of being the only European champions to slip into the third tier is not an enviable one but in other respects Forest's situation is not unique. Even Manchester United have fallen from their pedestal in the past.

"The good thing for Forest now is that they have a young chairman who is a fan in Nigel Doughty who has backed all his managers and who, if he continues to do so, can take the club out of this division and further. The supporters should see the Chelsea game as a great day out. The team is playing well and they have regained some self-respect by being top of their league.

"They can look at a game like this as a treat, like finding there is caviar on the menu as well as fillet steak."

Around 6,500 fans will be in a position to appreciate McGovern's imagery at first hand, although it could probably have been twice that number. When tickets went on sale at the City Ground at 10am last Sunday, even supporters who had queued from 6am were turned away. There were complaints that distribution was unfair but given an average attendance this season of more than 20,000 in a division in which the majority attract fewer than 6,000, demand was always going to outstrip supply.

Calderwood knows that his task is not so much to send those supporters home happy - as defined by pulling off an upset with a team assembled for about the cost of three months of John Terry's salary - but to preserve their dignity and his players' confidence, particularly with only three days to recover ahead of an important League One trip to Carlisle.

"On an even playing field against Charlton in the third round it was the application of our boys on the day that won the game," he said. "This is a much tougher prospect but we are not exactly going into the unknown.

"The likes of Ian Breckin, Gary Holt, John Curtis and Nicky Southall have experienced life in the top flight of English football and others have faced an occasion like this before. Wes Morgan and James Perch were in the Forest side that played Tottenham twice in the FA Cup two years ago.

"Obviously, it's going to be very difficult but it's a cup competition, a one-off and you never know.

"For us to do well, we will need to get the odd break and at some stage we will get an opportunity to score a goal. My hope is that Chelsea don't convert the first chance they get because the longer we can keep the scoreline goalless, the longer we will have a chance."

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