FOREST AWAY: Wolves, Saturday 9th December – Fan Guide
I’m driving home up the M1 in the dark and the rain and it’s allowing plenty of time to think. The horror of Craven Cottage is a couple of hours behind me now; good riddance to that. I’m sort of writing this in my head at around midnight as I enjoy a remarkably good collection of ballads on the Gold radio station. I spend a fleeting moment questioning the validity of some of these songs as actual ballads, but I let it pass, it doesn’t really matter.
I’d purposely taken a final brief glance at our manager at the end. I had wanted to give what could be a final gentle nod of my head to a man who I have well and truly learned to love. I grew up with a batch of Forest heroes entrenched in my heart and my mind – the likes of Stuart Pearce, Steve Stone and Mark Crossley – but none of them mean as much to me as Steve Cooper. For what he has given us and for what I feel he represents.
There’s a slow down coming up ahead, the car comes to a gentle halt, and I drift deeper into thought about the madness of it all. How did we get here?
I take solace in the tremendous support and devotion expressed towards our manager from the away end during the second half and at the end of the game, but it felt like the end, didn’t it? Perhaps the close turnaround to the Wolves game will allow some extra time, perhaps there is a notion that Cooper warrants a greater chance to succeed, and it pops into my mind that perhaps the fan outpouring in solidarity with Cooper may have some sort of influence, as it did last season.
For anyone that has read words from myself or the wider Forza Garibaldi group during the tenure of Cooper, you will not be surprised to hear of our continued support for him. What he has brought to the club and, crucially, the supporters is way beyond promotion and last season’s eventual survival; it is far deeper than such tangible benefits. His character and his ethics have, in my opinion, lifted the club from fairly depressing circumstances and reinvigorated the place. Cooper will be the first to share the credit for this but, as a focal point and as a leader, he has rallied everyone behind him. Everything good that has happened to Nottingham Forest in the last two years has had him at its heart; he has gone further than any manager to build ties with fans and embrace both the values and the heritage of the club. The delicate act his predecessors so often struggled with of looking back with respect but building forward was done with ease by Cooper, so much so that it never became a talking point when it defined others. His affability and his charm have worked wonders to bring everything and everyone in together and it has led to truly brilliant results.
We have examples of ourselves of how Cooper has intertwined himself with fan issues and activities. During a recent chance encounter at a charity evening with one of our group he expressed concern with fans getting to Newcastle on Boxing Day following the shift to an early kick-off. During the promotion season he made a special visit to see us when setting up a display and he and his team have championed making them a more regular feature at the stadiums. None of this alone makes Cooper infallible, of course not, but its also hard to think of anyone else who would go these extra steps to bring joy and inspiration. I fear what happens when we lose this, if a new man returns to the empty soundbites of old.
Examples such as these would undoubtedly sound oh so hollow if results on the pitch were non-existent, but in these remarkable two years he has taken us to heights unknown for a quarter of a century. Wembley, promotion, a semi-final and salvation. It often feels like he has led us to these achievements combating all sorts of additional obstacles too. A bad injury list is not something exclusively to hide behind, but it has often crippled us since promotion; he has had to somehow weave together functional and effective teams from haphazard and erratic recruitment and all of this with his own position regularly scrutinised and deliberated. It must be exhausting to bring unprecedented success to an entire generation and never quite feel secure in your job. And by the way, this is something that must change whoever is in charge. The demands for instant success continue to harm us now, as it has always done throughout the Greek regime.
The traffic is gently moving again now and the endless column of traffic cones that are protecting no work whatsoever ease off and allow us the full use of the motorway. Home isn’t too far away.
The summer brought great positivity as we basked in our Premier League status once more, but great turnover once again followed. The rationale appears to be that the safety of 2023 could now instantly lead to a considerable surge up the Premier League table. Vast sums have been spent, many have lauded the owner for financing an attempt for Forest to compete back at the top table, but in the excitement, we forget how incredibly hard it must be to keep starting again every August with a new squad to understand and piece together.
What I’d just seen only a couple of hours earlier was the smouldering debris of a team that looked very much like it has had its heart and its soul snatched from within. Against Fulham only three of the starting XI were players from last season, and one of those was Toffolo who barely featured. Players, apparently better players, didn’t look willing to put everything on the line as their predecessors had done. The zest and the fight that our promotion season and then our survival efforts had been built on had evaporated. Maybe it’s a mission too far for Cooper to have to craft something again, but I think it could be a task too far for anyone to keep up with such dramatic reshaping time after time. I come back to my usual thoughts on the topic of spending money and expecting results – is it ambition and drive or is it recklessness and impatience? Was a gung-ho push for considerable improvement on last season really what we needed? Always trying to short-cut our way to success.
The days of pre-Cooper, those godforsaken days when we spunked money up every single wall we could find in some desperate pursuit of promotion haven’t ever disappeared have they? They have just been re-badged as ‘Premier League Top Ten.’ At the centre of this is one man who has done more than anyone else to resurrect this football club and his reward his constantly, publicly having his abilities questioned. Good things aren’t allowed to grow at Forest; the flowers so delicately and carefully nurtured are ripped up after a time to make way for something instantly bigger and sexier. Season after season.
I’m almost home and this impromptu self-therapy session is almost done. Anxiety and anguish is slowly turning to tiredness. I remember these days; trapesing all over the country and returning back to Nottingham in the early hours with that feeling of disappointment and frustration.
If this is the end, if Wolves is merely affording the time to arrange a shiny new replacement, then I will be incredibly sad. Steve Cooper in charge of Nottingham Forest has been wonderful, he has laid down days that will stick with us all forever and, given the opportunity, I’m convinced bigger and better days could await us. I dearly hope he is given the opportunity to show us more of what he can do and we don’t let some other club get the very best of a remarkable manager and a remarkable man. The City Ground will be a darker place without his light.
If you are solely driven to see Forest win football matches, I can understand the thinking that his time has come. If your only joy is three points, then logic dictates this isn’t good enough. But football isn’t logical, despite us all sometimes trying to make it so. Football is pride and emotion, attaching yourself to the cause above all else and holding on tight in the hope that it pays off. In the case of Cooper, it is standing by someone who understands all of this and has evoked passion in the stands that has probably never been there before at any time in our history. Cooper isn’t bigger than Nottingham Forest, but he has become part of it. This isn’t a manager passing through and trying to stick around long enough to do some good, he is the beating heart of a football club that he has led back from nowhere. Cooper has led a cultural and emotional renaissance of a club and a fanbase that was sick to death of getting beat up year after year. We may never get this again, that is my fear, but I will always be grateful for the days we had.
If Wolves is Cooper’s last stand, then I know where I am standing.
Oh shit, I’ve just missed my junction.
TRAINS: Compared to most away games this season, it’s pretty straightforward. Trains depart Nottingham to Birmingham New Street at 7 minutes past and 41 minutes past the hour, although there are services that change at Derby or Leicester.
There are connections from New Street to Wolverhampton that take around anywhere between 16 and 30 minutes, but keep in mind closer to kick-off these trains often get very busy. Allow 20-25 minutes to reach Molineux from Wolverhampton Station.
Trains are very regular. The last service departing Birmingham which should comfortably allow you to make it to the away end on time is 14:01 but it may be best to try and get away a little earlier than that, especially if trains start getting full.
An off-peak return from Nottingham to Wolverhampton is £33.70 but you will save a few quid by
buying the Nottingham – Birmingham / Birmingham – Wolverhampton legs separately. Alternatively, if booking via Trainline it usually brings up the split journey option automatically.
There is also a metro line that runs to Wolverhampton from the centre of Birmingham.
ROAD: The most direct route (avoiding the M6 toll) is to use the A38 or M42 into Birmingham and then the M6 to Wolverhampton. You can come off and head into the city or it may prove wise to stick to the motorway and drop in from the north off the M54 which helps you avoid the busy centre. In between Molineux and the Wolverhampton Racecourse is a vast housing estate around the Dunstall Hill area which provides numerous street parking. You are also quite close to the stadium but should be able to get in and out a bit easier if using the M54 route.
One issue with this area was that there did not appear to be many pub choices; the first one we came across were all home only. Which brings us onto…
There are some decent pubs around Wolverhampton. The problem is that not many at all will let you in and are strictly for home fans only. The Blue Brick near the station remains the designated away supporters establishment which is at least handily placed for those arriving in on the train.
As many will know, it often proves easier and more worthwhile to stick around Birmingham New Street where there are numerous cracking pubs such as The Shakespeare, Sun on the Hill, the Old Joint Stock and Bacchus to name a few.
Be warned that last season there were considerable queues building up at the away turnstiles and it took around 15-20 minutes to get through.
Q&A with Wolves fan Andy
It wasn’t an ideal start to the season with Lopetegui departing right before the campaign began. What have you made of Gary O’Neill?
I think like the majority of Wolves fans, I was completely underwhelmed by the appointment of Gary O’Neil at the time. Fast forward 4 months and perceptions have changed massively. He has undoubtedly exceeded my expectations both in terms of performances and results. We now seem to have a clear plan on how to go up against different opponents, while also creating chances and scoring more freely than we have in the last 2 or 3 years. It’s been refreshing to see.
It’s a bit of a strange season in that, currently sat in 13th place, you are pretty much safe already. As an established Premier League club does expectation start to rise season on season for top half / European positions or are sights still a little less than that?
This is our 6th season back in the Premier League since promotion and I would argue that probably still aren’t truly “established”. If you look at teams like Southampton, Leicester and even them lot down the road (Albion) this shows that even after a good number of seasons at the top it can all go wrong very quickly. My personal view is that a top 10 finish is achievable, but I don’t think we have the quality or depth of squad required to challenge for Europe.
You will have seen that Forest are experiencing a fair bit of trauma with what seems to be a fair dose of ‘second season syndrome’. Can you recall whether Wolves began to suffer in the second season, perhaps with a bit of the novelty wearing off and fans / owners wanting to see improvements?
Our second season back saw arguably some of the best football I have witnessed in my lifetime following Wolves. That season was the pinnacle of Nuno’s reign – we made the quarte finals of the Europa league and finished 7th in the league again. Unfortunately Covid hit towards the end of that season and we haven’t hit those heights since. The following Covid season was probably the one where “2nd season syndrome” hit a year late.
I will admit I don’t like coming to Molineux, the away end is so abysmal! Open to the elements and too shallow to create any kind of atmosphere. Presumably that’s exactly as intended. Can we expect a noisy home crowd on Saturday?
Regarding your comments about the away end, I have heard this a number of times before from various sets of fans. I think this is partially by design and partially down to the need for an area that can accommodate 3,000 away fans. The atmosphere at games have been back to the Nuno era levels of late – this current team are giving the fans something to shout about, so I expect it to be loud (and there is also the return of pantomime villain MGW to consider).
I noticed something about a VAR protest being pushed by Wolves fans for this game? Is there something happening and explain for us what you make of VAR?
There is due to be a VAR protest on Saturday. A fan group is making banners and is also intending to distribute thousands of placards aimed at showing our displeasure at the way the technology is being used.
Personally, I like the concept of VAR but I think that the people administering it are incompetent. Wolves seem to have been on the end of a large number of highly questionable decisions, like the non penalty at Man United or the highly contentious penalties awarded against us for Luton, Newcastle, Sheffield United & Fulham x 2. That Fulham game was the final straw, with 4 major VAR decisions all going against us in 1 game!
The old adage is “it evens itself out over the season” – if that is the case we are owed around 6 or 7 decisions in the next few months.
Any suggestions on parking for those coming across in car?
As I mentioned last year, the closest car parks available are at Whitmore Hill (WV1 4RU), the Civic Hall (WV1 1RD) and Birch Street (WV1 4HY). In addition there is also Fold Street (WV1 4LP). All offer a short walk into the city centre or to the ground.
And any recommendations on where to drink around Wolverhampton as an away fan? I recall it’s quite a strict ‘home fans only’ policy around much of the town centre.
The centre is poor for away fans as the majority of pubs will be home fans only. The designated away pub is the blue brick, which is a 5 minute walk from the train station and just outside the centre. My advice for anyone wanting to chance getting into a city centre pub would be: don’t wear colours and arrive early. A lot of the door staff seem to start around midday so getting there before may allow the more discreet supporters to slip in unnoticed.
Finally – your predictions please…
Where will Wolves finish?
Where will Forest finish?
Who is going down?
Luton, Burnley & Sheffield United
Thanks to Andy for his insight.
See those of you travelling at Molineux.