For­mer gi­ants For­est, Rovers in third-tier peril

New Straits Times - - Sport -

LON­DON: Not­ting­ham For­est and Black­burn Rovers, both once lead­ing clubs, enter the fi­nal round of the sea­son on the brink of rel­e­ga­tion to the third tier in Eng­land.

For­est’s 2-0 de­feat by Queens Park Rangers at the week­end, al­lied to wins for Black­burn (1-0) against As­ton Villa and Birm­ing­ham (2-0) against Hud­der­s­field, left the Mid­lands club one place above the Cham­pi­onship drop zone and ahead of Rovers on goal dif­fer­ence alone.

Now For­est, who are at home to Ipswich on Sun­day, must at least match Rovers’ re­sult at Brent­ford if they are to stay in the sec­ond-tier Cham­pi­onship.

“It’s an hon­est group of play­ers we’ve got,” said For­est man­ager Mark War­bur­ton, him­self con­tro­ver­sially sacked by Scot­tish gi­ants Rangers ear­lier this sea­son.

“They have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to them­selves, their fam­i­lies, the sup­port­ers and the club — we all do.”

It is all a far cry from For­est’s glory days of the late 1970s when, un­der in­spi­ra­tional man­ager Brian Clough, the club were pro­moted from the old Sec­ond Divi­sion and twice won the Euro­pean Cup all within three years.

For­est went up in 1977 and, re­mark­ably, took the old First Divi­sion ti­tle the very next sea­son in a league fea­tur­ing per­haps the best of all the Liver­pool teams that be­tween them won five Euro­pean Cups and 18 domestic Cham­pi­onships.

Yet what hap­pened next was just as ex­tra­or­di­nary, with For­est win­ning back-to-back Euro­pean Cups in 1979 and 1980 as the team built by Clough and as­sis­tant Peter Tay­lor, fea­tur­ing a mix of world-class play­ers such as Eng­land goal­keeper Peter Shilton and pre­vi­ously un­der­achiev­ing jour­ney­men in­clud­ing winger John Robert­son, stunned the foot­ball world.

Clough, later be­set by al­co­holism, ar­guably stayed too long and his 18 years at the City Ground ended with For­est’s rel­e­ga­tion from the in­au­gu­ral Premier League in 1993.

There was a brief re­turn be­fore, in 2004, the club be­came the first for­mer Euro­pean cham­pi­ons to de­scend into their domestic third tier.

For­est re­turned to the Cham­pi­onship and had be­come es­tab­lished in the divi­sion by the time the Kuwait-based Al-Ha­sawi fam­ily bought the club in 2012.

They were eye­ing pro­mo­tion when, af­ter a 4-2 win over Leeds United that De­cem­ber, man­ager Sean O’Driscoll was sen­sa­tion­ally sacked, with For­est cit­ing the need for a boss with Premier League ex­pe­ri­ence.

That man was Alex McLeish, yet just 40 days af­ter tak­ing charge he had left, with the Scot the first of six ‘per­ma­nent’ For­est man­agers in the past four years.

Con­tro­ver­sial for­eign own­ers have also been a fea­ture of Black­burn’s re­cent strug­gles.

One of English foot­ball’s lead­ing clubs in the 19th cen­tury, Black­burn had long since ceased to be a ma­jor force when life­long fan Jack Walker, who had made a for­tune in the steel in­dus­try, bought them in the 1990-91 sea­son and promptly sank mil­lions of his own money into a club he had loved since boy­hood.

Af­ter a cou­ple of near misses, Rovers won the 1994-95 Premier League in dra­matic fash­ion when, with Eng­land striker Alan Shearer up front, they pipped Manch­ester United to the ti­tle de­spite los­ing to Liver­pool, man­ager Kenny Dal­glish’s for­mer club, in their last game.

Rovers never hit those heights again, suf­fer­ing rel­e­ga­tion in 1999 but re­turn­ing in 2001, the sea­son af­ter Walker died.

In 2010 they were bought by the In­dian poul­try firm Venky’s, who sacked ex­pe­ri­enced man­ager Sam Al­lardyce.

Rel­e­ga­tion fol­lowed in 2012, with Steve Kean, Al­lardyce’s suc­ces­sor, dis­missed the fol­low­ing sea­son as Rovers, like For­est, em­barked upon a man­age­rial mer­rygo-round.

Venky’s, who’ve spent mil­lions on player wages, are highly un­likely to get their money back if they try to sell Rovers as a thirdtier club.

“We go to the last day — that’s what we were look­ing to do,” said Rovers man­ager Tony Mow­bray.

Now all con­nected with Black­burn

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