A post-lecture pint down the Students’ Union is usually a low-key affair. Conversation about the weekend’s football flows as fantasy managers pore over team selection and decide which player gets the armband for the week. This time, though, the buzz around Mooch was different. Nottingham’s real boss was in the building.
“It’s a fantastic city to be in,” Nottingham Forest manager Stuart Pearce repeatedly told Impact and URN. “It’s a great sporting city, it’s a friendly city and the University gives it a real heart and soul.”
Pearce, who played over 400 times for the Reds, returns to Nottingham after coaching spells with Manchester City, the England Under-21s and London 2012’s Team GB.
“There are a lot of people at this football club I still know – I’ve been gone 17 years now, but there’s probably 10 members of staff who still worked at the football club when I was there as a player. It’s a great club.”
The 52-year-old was appointed in July following Billy Davies’s sacking last season and says he is pleased with the way Forest’s fortunes have turned around under his reign.
“My staff and I have been in charge for 17 games. If someone would have said to me: in that period of time, would I be happy with the people we’ve brought through the door? To be 7th in the league at this moment in time? Yes, we would be happy.”
Forest started the Championship season with an 11-game unbeaten run but have stuttered in recent weeks, drawing five, losing two and finding themselves outside the play-off places.
“Looking back, like most teams in this league, we feel as though we’ve missed out on two or three victories that would have put us maybe top of the league. But there are probably 12 teams in this league that could say exactly the same. The Championship’s very wide open.”
Two of Forest’s summer recruits, £5.5 million club-record signing Britt Assombalonga and Michail Antonio, have made an immediate impact by leading the scoring charts and chipping in with assists.
Two who left the City Ground in August, goalkeeper Karl Darlow and Jamaal Lascelles, have re-joined the Reds for the remainder of the season on loan from Newcastle United. Despite reportedly being left out of discussions to sell the young pair, Pearce praised the club’s transfer activity.
“It was documented before that I wasn’t fully consulted in regard to the sale of those two individuals. That week was an interesting week for the club – we ended up selling them and loaning them back, and because of the sale, we bought Assombalonga and Antonio with the money. It was a good week’s business.
“The beauty of it is, with Darlow and Lascelles being back, they care about the football club. That’s a real bonus for any manager.”
The feeling is mutual for the Forest faithful, who have seen some near-misses in their push for promotion in recent years. It is their new manager’s understanding of the club which makes them believe that Pearce is the man to bring top-flight football back to the banks of the Trent.
“I needed a job and a challenge that would really inspire me to get in my car and come to work every day”
“Since I came in the summer,” he said, “we’ve moved out 16 players and bought eight players in. The club was lacking any sort of scouting network and I think the club really needed building again and the fans needed loving again.
“I think I’m fortunate. I needed a job and a challenge that would really inspire me to get in my car and come to work every day. Coming back to Forest is one of those where it’s more than just a job.”
Speaking at a poker event where students got the chance to play against the energetic former England defender, Pearce adopted a different kind of ‘Psycho’ characteristic at the table.
“With all sports or different professions, when you dig under the surface to see the subtleties of it, the psychology plays a big part.”
One has to admire the relentless attitude of an electrician who battles away in the non-league in his late teens and early twenties in search of a professional contract. And after five years playing for Wealdstone F.C. in the seventh tier of English football, that became a reality for the man from Hammersmith who signed for Coventry City, a top-division team at the time. He went on to earn 78 caps for England.
“I know what it’s like for five and a half years to go into work for a living both in a warehouse and as an electrician”
“In some ways, looking back now, it’s a fantastic career pathway for myself. It keeps me very grounded. I know what it’s like for five and a half years to go into work for a living both in a warehouse and as an electrician. That grounding and that level-headedness has stood me in good stead over the years.
“I left school when I was 16 years old and didn’t go to uni at the time. I worked in a warehouse for a year and I used to go to Wealdstone College on a day release situation. Since then I’ve been to Warwick University as part of a footballing degree. I’ve also been to psychology courses and earned various other badges in association with football.”
It is an unusual progression, but one that he would recommend to any young aspiring player or manager.
“Soak up as much education as you possibly can. Look at as many coaches and other individuals from varying sports – I’ve gone into rugby league and rugby union.
“Whatever you’re doing, whatever direction you decide to take in life, the more you can put on your CV is going to be more beneficial for yourself.”
While winning your mates’ fantasy league may not quite qualify, Pearce’s message is clear: play the hand you’re dealt and go all-in.