A suit, a shave and the sack – Steve Cotterill’s last day as Forest manager

Steve Cotterill

With the morning session of pre-season training complete, Steve Cotterill was back in the changing-room area at the Nigel Doughty training ground when the mobile phone in his pocket rang.

Cotterill was talking to a member of the coaching staff, so he ignored it.

But seconds later, it rang again. He was still talking, so he didn’t answer the call from a number he didn’t recognise.

But the caller was persistent. 

It was around 2pm at this point, and another session of pre-season training for the players was scheduled to start half an hour later. And the Reds boss still had to find time to grab some lunch.

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But when the phone vibrated again in his pocket, Cotterill gave in and answered the call.

On the other end of the phone was a lawyer, who introduced himself, and then explained that the new owners wanted to speak to him for the first time.

The Al-Hasawi family had taken control of Nottingham Forest a matter of hours before, and they were keen to make early inroads into their “jobs to do” list.  

The lawyer wanted Cotterill to get on the train down to London – he’d checked the timetables, and noted there was a train south at 3pm from Nottingham. 

But Cotterill wasn’t going to make that particular train.

“If I’m meeting the new owners, I need to get shaved, put a suit on – I need to make the right impression,” he told me. 

“I couldn’t be turning up in my tracksuit, and I certainly wasn’t going to travel down on the train wearing my Forest tracksuit. I don’t think the lawyer quite understood why not!”

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It’s worth remembering that Cotterill had led Forest to a position of safety in the Championship, having taken over from Steve McClaren – and had to sell defensive rock Wes Morgan in the January transfer window to help keep the club afloat.

After the resignation of former chairman Nigel Doughty, and his subsequent tragic death, the club was in a very difficult position – having to sell players to make ends meet, and be cute in the transfer market to bring replacements in ‘on the cheap.’

Despite all of this, Cotterill saw his side finish ten points clear of the Championship’s relegation zone, though there were plenty of grumblings from some fans about the style of play.

“When I got down to London that evening (a little later than had been wanted by the new owners’ solicitor), I was met by two guys and I’ve still to this day no idea who they were.

“But we talked about who I wanted to sign, and I told them, and they seemed to agree with it all.

“They also wanted me to write a short synopsis on the players we had, so that in their first press conference later that week, they knew a bit more about them. 

“That made sense to me, so I wrote a little about each player on the train on the way back to Nottingham. I genuinely thought the meeting had gone well.”

Cotterill went to bed that night re-assured about his future, and confident that he would be given a chance to lead the club into a new era.

That was certainly what the media were being briefed at the time. I distinctly remember being told that Cotterill’s position was secure, so much so that the manager was discussing his future plans with the new owners.

Another example that you shouldn’t take anything for granted in football.

“I got in the following morning at the training ground, and it was weird – I immediately knew that something wasn’t right.

“Shortly after arriving, I noticed that Mark Arthur (the Chief Executive) was at the training ground.

“That was unusual – he didn’t often come to the training ground at all, and certainly not before training – he realised that was a manager’s key time with his players and generally left me to it.

“But he came over to me, and told me that I’d been sacked. He’d received an email from the new owners, and my time was at an end.

“(Chairman) Frank Clark wasn’t at the training ground – he’d been a close ally of mine, but he was on a plane going on holiday and wasn’t even aware that I was being sacked.

“It’s tough enough when you lose your job, but they gave no reason at all.”

The new owners held their first press conference at The City Ground the Saturday afterwards, and talked about the appointment of “an iconic manager.”

After being linked with Glenn Hoddle, Mick McCarthy and Harry Redknapp, the Reds appointed former coach Sean O’Driscoll – who was brought back from Crawley Town, having not overseen a match at his new club.

In the final game of Cotterill’s time as manager at the end of April 2012, the Reds beat his old club, Portsmouth, 2-0. 

“I think the reaction of the fans – as we went around the ground on a lap of appreciation after that win – suggested to me that I’d won the majority of them over.

“I think they thought that I deserved the opportunity to lead the club into a new era. And the thing is, we didn’t need too many players to make a huge difference. 

“Ironically, the new owners and manager brought in some of the players I wanted to sign – and that I’d given them on a list a few days before I was sacked!”

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PICS – DAN WESTWELL

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