LICHAJ IS LOV­ING LIFE AT FOR­EST...

The Football League Paper - - INSIDE - By Dan Barnes

BORN in a Chicago sub­urb to Pol­ish par­ents, Eric Lichaj didn’t know much about the rich his­tory of Not­ting­ham For­est.

How­ever, after nearly a decade play­ing this side of the pond – al­most four years of that for the two-time Euro­pean Cup win­ners – the penny has well and truly dropped for the United States in­ter­na­tional. He is adamant the club don’t be­long in League One.

It has been a gru­elling sea­son at the City Ground, char­ac­terised by man­age­rial changes and un­rest at board­room level as For­est scrap to avoid drop­ping into the third tier for the first time since 200708. They were just three points above the drop zone be­fore the week­end.

While a For­est side man­aged by Colin Calder­wood and in­spired by the goals of Ju­nior Agogo fin­ished sec­ond in League One that year, an 18year-old Lichaj was gain­ing his first taste of English foot­ball with As­ton Villa’s academy. He was the first sign­ing of the Randy Lerner regime.

The boy from Illi­nois has now played well over 200 games in Eng­land, which in­cludes 32 matches in the Premier League with Villa, and con­sid­ers him­self pretty well-versed in the cul­ture of his adopted home.

Lichaj has two chil­dren with wife Kathryn, who runs a clothes shop in the Not­ting­hamshire vil­lage of An­nes­ley.

The 28-year-old de­fender has devel­oped a fond­ness for For­est and the club’s stand­ing as a foot­balling in­sti­tu­tion.

“Com­ing from Amer­ica, I re­ally didn’t know too much about the club,” said Lichaj, speak­ing at the

Kits for Kids cam­paign, run by Wickes, of­fi­cial part­ner of the EFL.

“Ev­ery­thing is dif­fer­ent in Amer­ica. Ev­ery­thing is so new over there, but here ev­ery­thing is so much more pre­served.

“I love the sta­dium. It’s a proper old-fash­ioned English sta­dium and I love its lit­tle kinks and that noth­ing much has changed around the place over the years. “When you speak to the sup­port­ers, you get a feel for the his­tory. This club doesn’t de­serve to be in League One. “When I first came here, I strug­gled with the ac­cents, es­pe­cially the Liver­pool ac­cent or the Ir­ish or Scot­tish ones. I thought they were speak­ing a dif­fer­ent lan­guage some­times!

“My wife’s got a Brum­mie ac­cent and it took me a while to un­der­stand ev­ery­thing she says, but we got there.

“I just love the cul­ture here. I love that you can be in a city one minute and then drive ten min­utes away and see a cas­tle.

“I have no idea where I’ll go when I fin­ish play­ing.”

With young­sters such as 22year-old goal­keeper Jor­dan Smith, striker Ben Br­ere­ton, 18, and 20-year-old de­fender Joe Wor­rall all cen­tral first-team fig­ures this sea­son, Lichaj feels like a se­nior pres­ence.

Side­lined

The re­li­able full-back, who is one of his club’s high­est ap­pear­ance-mak­ers this term, doesn’t mind that.

He has rev­elled in tak­ing on the role of an on-pitch leader from early in the sea­son.

When club cap­tain Chris Co­hen is side­lined, Lichaj has usu­ally been the man to don the arm­band – and the first time it hap­pened he was burst­ing with pride.

“It was a game against Ful­ham (a 1-1 draw last Septem­ber),” ex­plained the For­est de­fender.

“After the game, I asked if I could keep the arm­band and I’ve got it at home. To cap­tain this club was amaz­ing.

“I’ve played for a long time now and I feel a lot more con­fi­dent in my abil­ity.

“As you get older, you learn not to get over-ex­cited and learn how to shut down wingers. I think that con­fi­dence is so im­por­tant.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

GO­ING NA­TIVE: For­est’s Eric Lichaj loves our cul­ture

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