Nottingham Forest fans don’t need reminding that the club is massive – but the rest of the football world does every once in a while.
Luckily, this season has provided that timely reminder – and not only through the senior team.
Steve Cooper’s side are eyeing promotion to the Premier League via the play-offs, which would mark a return to the promised land, more than two decades in the making.
The two-time European champions, who draw crowds of 30,000 in the Championship every week, dumped Arsenal out of the FA Cup and gave Liverpool a fright before finishing fourth in the second tier, with a growing feeling the club can get back to where they were before the turn of the century.
However, the club’s Under-18s are already there. They’ve beaten Manchester City and Liverpool this season, while also knocking nine-time winners Chelsea out of the FA Youth Cup in a dramatic semi-final.
Their category one academy is fourth in the Under-18 Premier League table – and can leapfrog Manchester United into third with a victory over the Red Devils on the final day of the season.
First, though, it’s the small matter of the FA Youth Cup final against United at Old Trafford on Wednesday night in front of a sell-out crowd.
More than 67,000 people, including almost 6,000 travelling Forest fans, are expected to be in attendance for the match to watch the Reds take aim at another piece of history – that’s more than the 62,000 set to watch Thursday’s night’s blockbuster north London derby between Tottenham and Arsenal.
Warren Joyce, the ex-United reserves manager under Sir Alex Ferguson, has made Forest the first non-Premier League club in more than a decade to reach the FA Youth Cup final – and they enter the showdown on a 13 match unbeaten run stretching back to February.
And the academy’s progress hasn’t gone unnoticed by Cooper. He said: “They know the first-team staff and players are behind them – we are together as one club,” said Cooper, who has had some of the under-18 players join his side in first-team training sessions.
“The only competition in youth development, from nines to under-23s, where results matter is the Youth Cup. It’s a historic and prestigious tournament, and you should play to win.
“Winning and losing is important in youth development – that’s how you learn. For these guys to win and get to the final is amazing. We wish them well.”
Whether or not Forest win the FA Youth Cup and make it to the Premier League this season, one thing is certain: the future is far brighter than the recent past.
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