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Club News

Chairman David Wilkinson's Forest programme notes

18 March 2024

Club News

Chairman David Wilkinson's Forest programme notes

18 March 2024

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Good afternoon everyone and a very warm welcome to today’s visitors Nottingham Forest.

Our clubs have quite a history since playing each other for the first time in 1938 in the old second division. Since then we have played each other 68 times with us winning 23 and drawing 18.

One of my earliest memories was our FA Cup run in 1959. The biggest crowd ever, 30,069, in the Kenny for the quarter-final against Blackpool, a dramatic semi-final draw against Norwich at White Hart Lane in front of 65,000 and a tense 1-0 victory in the replay at St Andrews led us to our first ever Wembley appearance against Forest. We went into the game as strong favourites having beaten them 5-1 just a few weeks before, but sadly, it wasn’t to be and we didn’t play well on the day and lost 2-1.

We had another major disappointment when in the year following our League Cup Final win against Arsenal we made it to Wembley again, in the same competition, but came up short 3-1 against Brian Clough’s Forest.

Over the years several notable players have appeared for both clubs amongst those are David Pleat, Danny Wilson, Kingsley Black and Barry Butlin and, of course, Mick Harford also had a brief spell as their manager.

You don’t need me to tell you that today is a relegation battle. With ten games left we are both in a fight to stay in the richest league in the world. Forest were promoted last year and managed to narrowly avoid relegation.

They demonstrated that, despite a huge turnover, and reportedly heavy investment in players, competing in this league is tough and that experience has been repeated this year. Chasing the dream can be dangerous as many clubs, including ourselves, have, in the past, found to their cost, and in the long term it cannot be right for a competition to be decided by those who can afford the greatest losses. Why does it seem to be an anathema to show a profit? Sustainability should be the key and it is that that is currently exercising the grey cells of all those at the top of football.

Having experienced so much of it since our inception nearly 140 years ago, we are strong supporters of our football pyramid and believe that it is the base that gives it its strength. It is country wide and all encompassing. It is open to all and encourages pride and investment  in local communities. It breaks down barriers between classes, races and creeds and encourages discourse. It is one of greatest enablers of social intercourse and a catalyst for charitable work and funding. Like an iceberg it is easy to lose sight of what is beneath the pinnacle, but highly dangerous to do so.   

Every youngster who kicks a ball against a wall or in the park with his or her friends dreams of playing for their favourite team. The base of the pyramid is source of all the future hopes. In youth football everyone wants to know that there is a pathway for a player to progress and this must apply to clubs as well. What is the incentive without a target? Where is the joy without a challenge?

Most clubs have experienced the highs and lows. It is a proven fact that football is a cyclical business. All bar two of the clubs in the Premier League have spent time in lower divisions and it is only Arsenal of the top six who haven’t. Today’s opponents are a classic example when in the late 70s and early 80s they won two European Cups and many other competitions under the management of Brian Clough.

The EFL clubs live in hope of reaching the promised land, but when they get there the hope can turn to fear. Fear of relegation, but this must be good because it is these swings of emotion that make this sport so successful and watchable. Personally I can’t imagine not having had those experiences.

We continue to be involved in last-minute drama. It has so often this season gone against us, but it was our way, for once, last Saturday with Cauley converting Andros’ superb cross in the dying seconds at Crystal Palace.

Gary and I are just back from Bournemouth where we witnessed more drama and this time massive disappointment, but I hope that we remember how far we have come and see how much our wonderful squad are putting into their performances. Your support has been magnificent and we all need to keep going for Rob and all his team.

It is great to see Locks in good spirit and we’d like to thank all at Bournemouth for all they did to recognise him and the awful events of that day. Thanks also go to both our supporters groups who raised funds to help with travel and for the British Heart Foundation.

I was pleased I took the opportunity to watch our under-12s play Tottenham in the last of the Premier League Cup group games. They managed an exciting 4-3 win away at the Spurs training ground, which puts them into the quarter-finals where they are at home to Arsenal. It’s not an age group I have watched before and I was genuinely surprised by the quality and enthusiasm shown by both teams. The only downside is that we now have to watch our backs in fear of losing our best players to bigger Premier League clubs, who under the rules of EPPP, can virtually steal anyone they want for a pittance.  

Can I close by offering our massive congratulations to Mick for being granted the Honorary Freedom of the Borough of Luton. He does so much to promote the Town and support local charities that it is hard to think of a more deserving recipient. Well done Mick on behalf of us all.

“Our lessons come from the journey not the destination.”    

Enjoy the game.



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