With Apologies to Chuck Palahniuk: The Worst decision Nottingham Forest ever made

“Shite Club”

“This is it – League One. Would you like to say a few words to mark the occasion?”
“…i… ann… iinn… ff… nnyin…”

With your head in your hands, you speak only in vowels.

And suddenly I realise that all of this: the playoff heartbreakers, the Platt era, the relegations…has got something to do with a striker named Kevin Campbell.

Summer 1998, the Reds have swept back into the Premiership at the first time of asking, amassing 94 points on the way to being crowned champions. Spearheaded by a formidable front-line of Pierre van Hooijdonk and Kevin Campbell, the squad looked as if it might have the strength to hold it’s own in the top flight, especially considering that the gap between the two divisions wasn’t quite the yawning chasm it seems to have become in recent years.

Van Hooijdonk was the undoubted star, for a large part of the season he’d looked like he might break Wally Ardron’s record of 36 goals in a single season in the Garibaldi, while Campbell’s bustling pace and selfless workrate provided both the perfect foil for the languid Dutchman and 23 goals at a highly respectable rate of one game every two games.

Then, in the space of a few balmy July days, Forest’s season fell apart before it had even begun.

On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.

First came Campbell’s shock move to Turkish side Trabzonspor, followed by van Hooijdonk’s astonishing decision to refuse to play for the club, citing a lack of ambition of Trentside. The third blow came a few weeks before the beginning of the season when club captain Colin Cooper was sold to Middlesbrough, with Dave Bassett citing a “gentleman’s agreement” with Cooper that he would allow him to move back to his native north-east if an acceptable offer were to come Forest’s way.

Now some context is important here. When Carlos Tevez’s elected to down tools while at Manchester City, the Blues were able to dip into their vast resources and buy Sergio Aguero, without ever having to sell Tevez. Then when the want-away striker decided to call off his self-imposed exile, they had two world-class players at their disposal. The best Forest could hope for was a quick sale, but when one wasn’t forthcoming, Bassett managed to scrape together £1.5 million to sign Neil Shipperley from Crystal Palace. Shipps was as honest as the day is long, but he was no Sergio Aguero. Hell, he wasn’t even Sergio Tacchini.

You lose at White Hart Lane, Filbert Street, Stamford Bridge. This is your season and it’s ending. One game at a time.

A win over Southampton in late August briefly put the Reds second, but the early season optimism was soon to fade thanks to a run of just two points in six matches. Jon Olav Hjelde, the man tasked with replacing Colin Cooper at the heart of the defence issued the first rallying cry of the season, promising to keep Michael Owen under lock and key at Anfield in late October. Forest were thrashed 5-1, Owen was the tormentor in chief, scoring four.

Van Hooijdonk had returned, four months after his one-man protest had failed to earn him the move he craved. His goal against Derby went some way to restoring his former standing in the eyes of the fans, but a needless red card against Leicester spoke volumes for his state of mind. Twice the Reds squandered two goal leads at home, while their away form continued to be wretched, taking just one point from eight games on the road after that win at The Dell. Clean sheets were a big problem, just two in 18 games when the midway point of the season rolled around. Scoring goals was proving tricky too, as the Reds bore all the hallmarks of a side on their way out of the top flight.

Deja vu – all over again.

Defeat at home to Portsmouth sealed Dave Bassett’s fate. Just shy of seven months to the day when he had basked in the promotion glow at the Hawthorns, he was sacked. Micky Adams spell as caretaker last one dreadful afternoon at Highfield Road, ripped to shreds by a Darren Huckerby inspired Coventry City.

We have just lost cabin pressure.

Enter Big Ron.

He stepped into the wrong dugout ahead of his first game against Arsenal, but did finally manage to steer the Tricky Trees to a victory, a 1-0 false dawn at Goodison Park in late January. It was the first win in 20 (twenty) league games. It was immediately followed up by a spectacular home thrashing by Manchester United, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer netting four times in a crazy twenty-minute spell that would’ve embarrassed a side playing Sunday League football on Forest Fields, let alone Forest themselves.

Meanwhile Kevin Campbell was back. After being subjected to appalling abuse from the chairman of Trabzonspor, he joined Everton on loan. He would’ve made a difference for Forest. He did for Everton. Nine goals in the last six games of the season steered the Toffees to safety.

It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we are free to do anything

The inevitable was finally confirmed at Villa Park in late April. Freed from the spectre of the drop hanging over them, Big Ron’s bunch of ragtag signings, loanees, forgotten men and free transfers saw off Sheffield Wednesday, dragged Blackburn into the mire and beat Leicester. Big Ron departed, David Platt came in to fire Forest back to the big time. That’s one for another day.

If only we hadn’t sold Kevin Campbell.

Be sure to follow @nowthenyoungman

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