It’s been over two decades in the making but Nottingham Forest have bounced back to the top-flight after a 23-year absence.
A first-half goal was the difference as the Reds beat Huddersfield Town 1-0 at Wembley Stadium.
Forest manager Steve Cooper believes Premier League football is what the club deserves.
“We’ve reminded the world how special this Football Club is,” Cooper said. “It’s a magical Football Club. Nottingham Forest supporters can say, ‘this is my Club and we’re in the Premier League’. We’ve reminded the world how special this Football Club is. Nottingham Forest is such a massive, brilliant, nostalgic Club. It’ a Club that everybody knows.”
When the Welshman stepped foot in the City Ground last September, the prognosis was not a good one. Cooper succeeded Chris Hughton at the helm at a Club languishing in the drop zone, and who would’ve envisaged Forest lifting a trophy at the National Stadium come the end of May?
“The first objective was to get out of the relegation zone,” the 42-year-old explained. “I had three games after my first game before an international game. There was a dotted line and we sat under it, so I said, ‘lads, I personally think by the time we get to Birmingham (which was the third game), we should be over this dotted line’. We agreed on it and we did.
“It takes a group of men to fight back, and that’s what those players have done. Everyone’s probably looked down their nose at them, but it takes a group of men to stand up for their Club and get off their knees. They did that.”
The Tricky Trees kicked on from there and the rest is history. One defeat in 15 League outings saw Forest climb the table and the next think they knew, the top half of the table was in sight, never mind the Play-Offs.
“When you’re winning games, confidence grows, and we just went on a brilliant run,” he continued. “There were times I looked at the League table and thought, ‘we haven’t made much progress here’, and then I’m thinking, ‘we might not get in the top 10’.
“We got past Christmas and the New Year and got in the top 10, then you’re thinking, ‘let’s get in the top six now’. We never gave up and we kept playing, and got through April, and the way we played and the points we picked up in April secured the Play-Offs.”
The road to Wembley ended in the capital for both Forest – one of a select handful of Clubs to have never graced the hallowed turf of the home of football since undergoing construction – and the Huddersfield.
In the end, it was an own goal that separated the two teams. Cooper’s men preserved a slender lead after taking the lead late in the first period, and the Forest head coach was beaming with pride for his players.
“It’s an amazing achievement that we deserve, and that’s the headline – that we deserve it,” he affirmed. “With the way that we’ve played, the goals that we’ve scored, the stats and the clean sheets. We are worthy this year of getting promoted, and I don’t think anybody can deny us that.
“We were desperate for something like this, and I felt it in the last eight or nine months. We’ve just tried to put a sense of belief in amongst the Club. We deserve to be promotion with the football that has been played, the games that have been won and the attitude that we’ve given.
“I’m pleased I’ve been part of the journey that’s got us back to the Premier League. It’s been brilliant to have been a part of it from day one, and that’s all I am.”