This article is the final part of Dom Allin’s Forest trilogy. The first part detailed Forest fan life before 2022, and the second rode the wave of the 2022 Championship period. Finally, this assesses how Forest are doing in England’s topflight!
Forest are Premier League. We are relevant. We get to be on Match of the Day! The City Ground on FIFA! World Cup Winners, European Champions, and Premier League greats will be coming to Nottingham! After years of being irrelevant to the world, we were back in the party!
All these thoughts unravelled within my head as Just Can’t Get Enough played on the Wembley speakers. The only thing that made me realise it was real was the tang of the flare next to me that summer day of the Play-Off Final (I promise it wasn’t me).
I cannot describe the emotion. It’s something I had always wanted. I wanted it more than any physical thing I had ever owned. I wanted this since I understood football. As I have mentioned in my first article, this put Forest on a level with Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool; my friends’ clubs finally were in the same league as mine!
It felt I had lost close friends to achieve this dream of the Premier League
The summer was long and turbulent. The squad I had fallen in love with were either replaced or removed. Joe Lolley, a hero of mine, sent packing to Australia. He just made me happy watching him play, and now I will never see him in red again. Then Samba had gone, an intrinsic part of the team’s personality. Yes, a slight menace, but someone who loved us as much as he loved football. We had kept Yates, Worrall, and Johnson – all academy graduates. The spine of the team remained, but it felt I had lost close friends to achieve this dream of the Premier League.
I had heard of most of the signings, but I just didn’t have that relationship with them. It felt like I had missed a season of Nottingham Forest. The cast was different, the kits weren’t as nice, and the stadium had to be slightly altered for the Premier League allowing more away fans in. It felt like my club had changed to fit in with the Premier League.
The season really began against West Ham, a charmed win in the summer sun. How we won that I will never know, a bundled-in goal from Awoniyi and Henderson’s heroics meant Forest had their first Premier League win since 1999.
It felt like someone else’s team just wearing borrowed kits
Then it hit us: a string of losses like a brutal Ryan Yates tackle. The excitement had drained away, leaving the stark changes obvious to everyone. Watching Forest felt tricky with a completely changed side, it just didn’t feel right. It felt like someone else’s team just wearing borrowed kits. Where was Samba? Why isn’t Worrall starting? Why do we keep blowing leads? These became more and more prominent to me during August, September, and most of October.
Whilst the team was struggling to gel, the seemingly appalling refereeing in the Premier League relentlessly frustrated me, with VAR coming to the valiant rescue of anyone but us. And really what was the point of trying to compete against the better funded teams like Manchester City and Newcastle United? We felt doomed to relegation.
But then Liverpool happened. A shining victory, a historic rival toppled and finally that loving feeling was restored. Forest had begun to fight again. Nottingham Forest had dug in, held a lead and played well to beat a full-strength Liverpool team.
I never expected Forest to tear the Premier League apart, but I didn’t expect it to be as hard as it was in September
Over the coming weeks losses became draws and a couple wins were sprinkled in before the World Cup. I began to feel like all the new signings were part of the team. Their performances earned them the right to feel familiar. The atmosphere was no longer frustrated and angry, it matured and made the subsequent expectations more realistic. I never expected Forest to tear the Premier League apart, but I didn’t expect it to be as hard as it was in September. It is beginning to feel okay, tricky, and hard-fought, but we were no longer out of our depth.
The win against Crystal Palace which saw closed 2022 for Forest was a display of character and class. Palace were outplayed by a team, no longer a group of individuals. Forest remained in the relegation zone over Christmas but boosted to 18th. The dream of survival was not out of reach, and Forest had clawed their way back towards being a decent side.
The promised land isn’t perfect. The Premier League hasn’t been what I always wanted. Maybe I wanted it too badly. The reality can never quite live up to the dream. Being on Match of the Day doesn’t mean we will actually be talked about. Being on FIFA doesn’t mean EA will get your ground right. Losing every week for well over a month is pretty tough, actually! It’s harder than ever to bring friends to the ground and away tickets… don’t get me started. My footballing experience and relationship with the players have if anything seen a deterioration since the Championship days.
No longer reliant on stories from the good old days, we are beginning to write our own
But getting results over teams like Liverpool and West Ham is what I always wanted. To be proud of my team, to be recognised, and no longer a fringe club, only known for its history. No longer reliant on stories from the good old days, we are beginning to write our own.
After the promotion Worrall described Forest by saying “I keep using the expression of ‘like a whipped dog’. If you treat any dog with kindness then they become a nice dog. If you mistreat one then they are aggressive, we were, we’ve been a mistreated team.” The team is finally giving back to the incredible support the club has received from champions of Europe to League One.
2023 probably won’t live up to 2022… but what if it did?
My footballing experience had been dominated by ghosts of the past, never seeing anything as good as history. All I had seen is a disappointment. But finally, in 2022 I saw Nottingham Forest excel and make modern history. I witnessed:
- Our first successful play-off campaign
- Our longest run in the FA Cup and League Cup
- Our highest league position since 1998
- Record wins, hattricks, rivals beaten, and moments of wonder
- A manager, who understands the fans, who is loved by the fans, who has succeeded.
This is all I have ever wanted. It’s not perfect. 2023 could see a relegation, but it could also see survival and League Cup glory. 2022 had hard fought draws, away wins, and cup magic return to Nottingham. 2023 probably won’t live up to 2022… but what if it did?
2022 defines my fan experience. As you have read, it has gifted me so much joy, so much of history’s weight lifted, and the city begins to believe again.
Featured image courtesy of Dom Allin. Permission given to Impact to use. No changes were made to this image.
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