Forest's glory days set to pass into ashes of history

Nottingham Forest may today become the first former European champions to enter the third tier of domestic football. Jon Culley examines where it all went wrong
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The Independent Football

Nottingham Forest's struggle for life as a Championship side has detained their supporters in such a drawn-out bedside vigil that when the end comes it will be greeted almost with relief. They may not have to wait much longer. Should Forest lose to Burnley at the City Ground today -- even if they win and results elsewhere favour their rivals -- the undertakers will be summoned.

Nottingham Forest's struggle for life as a Championship side has detained their supporters in such a drawn-out bedside vigil that when the end comes it will be greeted almost with relief. They may not have to wait much longer. Should Forest lose to Burnley at the City Ground today -- even if they win and results elsewhere favour their rivals -- the undertakers will be summoned.

Will the nation share their grieving? Probably not. Clubs with glorious histories are not immune from failure. Look at Manchester City. The fact that Forest won the European Cup twice is incidental. They are a provincial club, subject to a progress graph that has troughs as well as peaks.

In Nottingham, however, sadness will linger. No past European champions have fallen so far as to find themselves in the third tier of their national league. The timing, moreover, could hardly be more poignant. Next month, the Forest side that retained the European crown for Brian Clough in Madrid 25 years ago will be reunited in the city for a celebration dinner. The atmosphere may be more in keeping with a wake.

In the meantime, the inquests. Who is to blame? David Platt? Joe Kinnear? The chairman, Nigel Doughty? Kenny Burns, who was in the Forest line-up for both European finals, suggests not enough was done with the income those successes generated.

"Looking back, perhaps better foundations should have been laid," Burns said. "We could have built a stadium which would have been the envy of every club in Europe, which would have helped us attract and keep the very best players." It is a thought, but other more recent failures of management will provoke the most vexed questions.

When Forest were relegated from the Premier League in 1993, the city regretted the end of 16 years in the top flight. But they were back within 12 months. It was with relegation six years later that the real problems began.

Having sold off key parts of the 1998 First Division championship side, Forest were back down a year later. Ron Atkinson was replaced as manager by David Platt, a former international seen as a future England coach. But Platt spent £12m, finished no higher than 11th and escaped the sack only because he was head-hunted to take charge of England's under-21s.

Paul Hart succeeded Platt and blended enough experience with his academy graduates to mould the best footballing side outside the Premiership.

That could have been a springboard, but the opportunity was wasted. Hart was not given the funds to build his squad. Indeed, as the board sought to drive down debt, Forest were becoming unashamedly a selling club, although not always the shrewdest. After Marlon Harewood was sold for £500,000, for instance, he was replaced with Marlon King, who cost almost double yet scored not even half as frequently.

As Forest's form reversed, Hart was replaced with Kinnear, who won last season's relegation battle but could not prevent the seeds of another being set, resigning after 10 months.

There is some sympathy with Doughty, the venture capitalist chairman. Without his guarantees, Forest would have been in administration.

Doughty says the income from selling Michael Dawson and Andy Reid, allied to continuing good housekeeping, has given the club financial stability. But the price has been purse strings kept so tight that even Kinnear, a renowned wheeler-dealer, could not function.

Gary Megson, who replaced Kinnear in February, has discovered not only a financial straitjacket but a culture of indiscipline, which has surfaced at the least opportune moment, the build-up to today's crucial match dominated by reports of some Forest players causing drunken mayhem in a city centre bar.

They may all be drowning their sorrows by this evening.

Football League ups and downs

What can be decided this weekend:

Championship

Top: Sunderland will be promoted if they win and Ipswich do not. Preston will secure a play-off place if they win and West Ham do not.

Bottom: Nottingham Forest will be relegated if they lose or if they draw and Crewe and Cardiff draw, or Brighton win and either Crewe and Cardiff draw. Even if Forest win they will be relegated if Watford, Coventry, Gillingham, Cardiff and Crewe all win.

League One

Top: Luton and Hull are promoted. Luton will be champions if they win and Hull do not. Tranmere will be in the play-offs if they win or Sheffield Wednesday do not.

Bottom: Stockport are relegated. Peterborough will be relegated if they do not win, or if MK Dons and Torquay do not lose.

League Two

Top: Southend, Yeovil, Scunthorpe and Swansea are already guaranteed at least a play-off place, Lincoln will join them if they draw, as will Macclesfield if they gain a better result than Northampton.

Bottom: Cambridge will be relegated if they do not win or Rushden gain a point. Kidderminster will be relegated if their result is worse than Rushden's.

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