In January 2024, Richard Masters, the Chief Executive of the Premier League, angered many fans by seeming to call Nottingham Forest (and Everton, and indirectly a number of other sides) “small clubs”. The Aston Villa fan told a parliamentary committee, “I’ve said standard directions for everybody – not just the ‘small clubs’.”
He was saying this in relation to alleged financial breaches by Forest and Everton, and also the 115 breaches Man City were alleged to have made dating back all the way back to 2009/10. We don’t want to get into the rights and wrongs of financial fair play, profit and sustainability and the apparent double standards at play, but instead would like to focus on Masters implying that Forest are a small club.
It doesn’t seem to be in the public domain how old the PL boss is, however, as he was the marketing manager for the England and Wales Cricket Board in the early 1990s, we certainly feel he is old enough to have at least some grasp of what Forest have achieved over the years. Younger fans may well think of the Nottingham side as being very much a Championship, or even third-tier club.
Such supporters might well feel Masters had decent reason to call Forest, promoted to the Premier League after winning the play-offs at the end of the 2021/22 Championship campaign, a small club. The 2023/24 season will be just their seventh in the Premier League. However, even the youngest, most naive football fan knows that the sport goes back a lot further than the PL. So, for all those, including the much (and in our opinion rightly) maligned Masters, who might not know just exactly how successful Forest have been, here is a rundown of their honours.
1. Forest Are One of Most Successful Teams in Champions League History!
Masters’ team, Aston Villa, are one of a small number of clubs to have won the European Cup, or Champions League as it has been called since 1992/93, doing so in 1982. As such, he should understand just how important winning that trophy is and he would certainly have known that Forest are one of an even smaller number of teams to have won it more than once. In fact, the supposedly “small” club, are one of an even more select group of just eight teams who have ever retained the trophy!
Forest, under the brilliant, if eccentric, management of the legendary Brian Clough, won the European Cup in 1979 and then defended their title in 1980. That was a truly staggering achievement and this period was undoubtedly the club’s high point. To put Forest’s two wins into context, only eight sides have won the European Cup or Champions League more than twice and as of 2024, Forest are level on titles with Juventus and Chelsea. Alternatively, one might prefer to say they have twice as many wins as Man City, Arsenal, Spurs, Everton and Newcastle combined!
2. Top-Flight Title Win
Forest are unique in having won the top-tier European competition more times than they have won their own domestic title. They have won the Premier League, or First Division as it was then, just once. That success, in 1977/78, earned them the right to play in the European Cup the following season. They then got entry into the following season’s edition as defending champions, having finished second in the league back in the days when only the champions of each league got to play at the highest level in Europe.
Given the nature of modern football and the importance of money and domination by a small, established, elite, we doubt Forest will ever be matched in this regard. Returning to their league glory in 1977/78, the victory was even more remarkable given they had finished just third in the old Division Two (the equivalent of the Championship) in 1976/77!
That merited automatic promotion in those days and 12 months later they proved unstoppable in the top flight. It is hard to overstate just what an impressive job Clough did in taking Forest from the second tier to the first, winning the league, and then securing back-to-back European Cups. They did it in style too, both in terms of their fine attacking football and also how easy they made it all look.
In their successful Division One campaign in 1977/78, they lost just three games all season. In a 42-game league that is mighty impressive and Merseyside rivals Liverpool and Everton, who finished second and third, each lost nine games apiece. Back then teams only got two points for a win but even so, Forest romped to the title by seven points with a goal difference of 14 better than both Liverpool and Everton.
3. Forest Boast Strong Cup Pedigree
Forest have at various times throughout their long history – they were founded in 1865, making them one of the oldest clubs in the world – been regarded as a cup team. It is easy to see why, not least because they have won the European Cup twice and the league just once. However, their cup glory has not been restricted to the biggest prize and over the years they have also won the following.
- 2 FA Cups – 1897/98 and 1958/59
- 4 League Cups – 1977/78, 1978/79, 1988/89 and 1989/90
- 1 Community Shield – 1978
- 2 Full Members’ Cups – 1988/89 and 1991/92
- European Super Cup – 1979
Some of those are clearly more prestigious than others, with the Full Members’ Cup, sometimes known as the Simod Cup or Zenith Data Systems, a third domestic cup that was held for a brief period in the 1980s and 1990s. Moreover, when totting up major honours, many do not count “super cups” (where qualification is granted through winning a primary competition and there is only a final) such as the Community Shield or European Super Cup.
Even so, when all is said and done Forest have a trophy cabinet that contains almost all the biggest prizes. Can a “small” club have two European Cups, the league title, four League Cups and a brace of FA Cups to their name? That may be a different debate but one thing is for sure, Forest are up there with the big boys when it comes to trophies won.