Left Brian: July 2023

Tuesday 25 July 2023
reading time: min, words

LeftLion's monthly Nottingham Forest FC column is back with reflections on Nottingham Forest Women F.C., new and old signings, expectations for the next season and some thoughts on the passing of Reds legends, Trevor Francis and Chris Bart-Williams.


The most exciting developments at Nottingham Forest this month centre around the women’s team. Alongside a move to a new stadium, Long Eaton United’s ‘Grange Park’, the club have invested in a hybrid model to offer professional player contracts. As well as simply being the right thing to do, it also gives recognition to the fantastic players whose near-faultless form last season (winning their respective league and cup competitions) was still not enough to secure promotion due to defeat in the archaic north V south playoff against Watford.

In addition to professional contracts, the club intends to fully integrate their services: giving the women’s team access to the fitness and sports science facilities that serve the men. With a new manager, Amber Wildgust (formerly of Villa, Watford and London City Lionesses) in place too, it’s heartening that amongst the myriad distractions of Premier League status for the men, due emphasis is being placed on developing the women’s game and there’s a clear determination to get the (long overdue) promotion for the women up to the second tier. And with World Cup fever spreading the globe this month, just imagine how proud we’d be to have a Forest Lioness in four years’ time. Let’s hope the ambition and vision stretch that far… 

My experience of trying to keep track of Forest Men’s transfer activity is somewhat Orwellian: we’re no longer at war with Eurasia, we’re always been fighting Eastasia; I’m no longer a fan of Chelsea’s Callum Hudson-Odoi, I’ve actually long admired Man United’s Anthony Elanga. The fan doublethink also lurches from ‘I’ve never heard of him’ to ‘we’ve uncovered a hidden gem’ in no time.

Forest’s first summer signing, 26-year-old Ola Aina, is perhaps a case in point. A skilful, elegant full back who’s held his own for several years in Italy’s top-flight: his versatility and attacking credentials are of obvious benefit to a team plagued by injury problems and are, too often, anchored to their own eighteen-yard box. 

In developing the Women’s team, managing the finances to comply with Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules and showing a deft touch in the transfer market, I’m quickly warming to our new Chief Football Officer, Ross Wilson. Picking up Aina on a free transfer is a low-risk, high-reward move that perhaps signals something deeper about Wilson’s approach this summer: the fees won’t be enormous but there’s a determination to add quality. 

I say ‘perhaps’, because the eleventh-hour decision by Willian to snub the Reds in favour of remaining at Fulham reveals the club hierarchy’s intention to still secure the signature of a big name, albeit one that was due to turn 35 before a ball had been kicked. Of course, in theory I’d have loved to have had a legendary Brazilian winger play for my team (I despise him now, obviously) but one wonders if there will ever come a point where we’ll entirely wean ourselves off the headline-grabbing names? I’ve always wanted Forest to be the type of club where players came to make their names, rather than to pad around in our West Bridgford retirement village. 

So, what to expect before the season begins? Our goalkeeping position remains the top priority and like a Beckett play with underwhelming costumes supplied by Adidas, we’re still Waiting for Hendo. My favourite transfer bid (we’re still to know if anything will come of it) is that for PSV’s Ibrahim Sangaré … 25 years old, and, from what I can tell, the complete box-to-box midfielder… 

The fact that Sangaré was on my pre-season wish list (I have WhatsApp messages to prove this) would indicate he’s probably too famous already and will be snapped-up by a so-called bigger club. In which case, naturally I’ll hate him. I’ll have always hated him. Maybe Jerry Seinfeld sums my fan fickleness up best in his ‘we cheer for clothes’ bit. 

Pre-season can often feel like a phoney war, but there was nothing phoney about the challenge that has ruled out Moussa Niakhaté for 6 weeks, with a dislocated elbow. The flying midair tackle at Valencia was one I thought was illegal even in rugby. Niakhaté seems like such a genuine, wholehearted bloke that it feels especially cruel he’s been side-lined again. Talismanic captain, Joe Worrall, looks fit and sharp, and all romantics among us will hope he’s rewarded with a new contract this summer. Danilo continues to impress, providing that X factor so badly needed at Premier League level.

But beyond that, we need to remember that friendly matches are mere thumbnails; low-res clues to what might eventually resemble the big picture. We’re all just guessing, and even Head Coach Steve Cooper’s plans can be upturned in an instant by an injury or a transfer. And in the guessing, let’s just enjoy the double-think, the rumours and even the clothes. We might even miss it when the transfer window closes and the messy business of actually playing football begins. 

And on the theme of keeping things in perspective, as I write reports have come in of the sad death of Reds legends, Trevor Francis aged 69 and Chris Bart-Williams aged 49. Both lit up the City Ground with their warm spirit and elegant play. Bart-Williams will be remembered best by Forest fans for his pivotal role in helping the club secure promotion as Champions in the 1997-98 season. Francis, of course, was the first player to be transferred for £1 million. A sum which he repaid handsomely through scoring the winning goal against Malmo to secure the first of Forest’s consecutive European Cups. 

The Bart-man and the Million-Pound man … we’ll miss you both. 

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