You wouldn’t know it from their current status, having spent most of the last twenty years outside the top flight and their flirtation with relegation after just one season in the Prem, but there was a spell during which the “tricky Trees” came close to winning the old First Division two years running seasons. They rode a 42-match unbeaten run from November 1977 to December 1978.
It was perhaps the most-impressive achievement in British football until our own Invincibles finished the 2003-04 season undefeated and won 49 consecutive matches across three seasons, and this parallel seemed more interesting to me than any standard match preview. What’s more, we’re the side with nothing to play for, although I doubt we’ll down tools or anything. Forest have it all to play for, sitting just three points from the drop zone. Their magic number—the combination of points they claim and those Leeds drop—is three points. That’s a far cry from the glory days under Brian Clough.
Our own Bob Wilson, who made his debut against Nottingham Forest on 26 October 1963 in a 4–2 win, predicted in October 1977 after Forest had topped the table that they “are a bubble that will soon burst”, but he was quite wrong. To that point, they had won seven, drawn two, and lost once (to, it must be added, the Arsenal on matchday four. It was a loss that prompted the club to spend a club-record fee for keeper Peter Shilton who would go on to make more than 200 appearances for the club). It wouldn’t be until mid-November when a loss away to Leeds launched them on their incredible unbeaten run, a run that would see them win the title in their first season of asking and the first in the club’s history.
This made Forest the first club since Spurs in 1951 to become champions in their first season after promotion from the Second Division, and Clough became the first manager since our own Herbert Chapman to win the league title with two different clubs (Chapman had done it with Huddersfield Town before doing so with Arsenal). To add some shine, Forest added the League Cup to achieve a domestic double, which they followed with two back-to-back European Cups in 1979 and 1980. They stayed in the top division long enough to be among the clubs included in the Prem’s first season but bounced around from then on, sinking as low as to League One before finally rising back to the Prem. Staying up would be quite the feat even if it wouldn’t quite rise to the same levels they reached in the late 1970’s.
We’ll have to be wary of these tricky Trees; we’ll be without Saliba, Martinelli, and Zinchenko and are coming off a very flat performance against Brighton that suggests the lads may have given up now that the title is all but guaranteed to City and we can’t finish any lower. Forest will crave points and may carry confidence from a 2-2 draw away to Chelsea last weekend. Given the stakes, things could get tetchy. I won’t go any further than that after my Brighton preview proved to be all too prescient.
Let’s just close by admitting that, for as disappointing as the outcome to this season looks to be, it’s been an amazing renaissance. We still have a chance at finishing on 87 points, our highest haul since 2002 when we won the Prem and one good enough to win the Prem in almost half the seasons it’s existed. Forest’s glory days may lie long behind them; ours, however, seem to stretch ahead of us.