LONDON (Reuters) - A statue of Brian Clough stands proudly in the centre of Nottingham -- a reminder of the days when the city’s football club ruled supreme in England and Europe.
Former Nottingham Forest striker Tony Woodcock, however, fears the club are on a slippery slope as they fight to retain their status in England’s second-tier Championship.
Forest, who under Clough rose from the second division to win the 1978 English title and consecutive European and League Cups, are languishing two points above the relegation zone with six games remaining.
It is not new ground for the club as they also slumped into the third tier of English football in 2005, spending three seasons there, but Woodcock says a return could leave Forest in the wilderness with little hope of restoring the glory days.
“Once you go out of the Championship it’s really difficult to get back,” Woodcock, who scored 36 goals for Forest in 129 league appearances, told Reuters by telephone.
”It could be the ruination of the club. There are a few big clubs in that position who have dropped down the leagues.
“They are in a sliding process at the moment and the question is can the powers that be who own the club put a stop to it. If you’re in the Championship you’ve got the hope of returning to the promised land of the Premier League, but once you get on the slippery slope, it can go very quickly.”
Woodcock, who earned 42 England caps and went on to have spells with Cologne and Arsenal, is still a regular visitor to the City Ground alongside the River Trent and is “wheeled out” on occasions to remind fans of the club’s heroics under Clough.
Those days seem a world away with Forest apparently in a permanent state of flux.
Since being purchased by Kuwait’s Fawaz Al-Hasawi in 2012 they have finished no higher than eighth in the Championship and have had eight different permanent managers -- including club hero Stuart Pearce who lasted less than a year.
Proposed sales, most recently to an American consortium, have come to nothing and crowds are dwindling.
They have been hit with several transfer embargos for breaching Financial Fair Play rules and this season fans staged a demonstration in protest at Al-Hasawi’s running of the club.
Former Rangers boss Mark Warburton is the latest manager to answer Forest’s SOS but Woodcock says he faces an unenviable task.
“It’s not a good sign for any business,” Woodcock says of the turmoil. “Looking from the outside there is no stability. There are so many questions. Is the owner selling? Is he staying? For a club to have nine or 10 managers something is not right. You could hire Jose Mourinho or Ancelotti but even they would struggle if the other components are not working.”
Woodcock fears the longer the slide continues, a generation of fans will walk past the Clough statue without batting an eyelid -- indifferent to the club’s history.
Although he offered a glimmer of hope in the form of Forest’s Midlands rivals Leicester City who slipped into the third tier in 2008 as Forest gained promotion back to the Championship under Colin Calderwood.
It proved a pivotal moment for Leicester whose upwards trajectory delivered the Premier League title against all the odds last season.
“Was that luck or a gradual continuation of one or two people knowing what they are doing and making good decisions for the football club?” Woodcock, 61, said.
“You need the right people on the field and the right people off the field. People who are passionate about it. There are lots of factors but I still believe Forest can recover.”
Whatever fate befalls Forest this year, Woodcock still insists the club’s feats under Clough, captured in a 2015 documentary ‘I Believe In Miracles’ have never been surpassed -- even by Leicester.
“The Forest lads from back then still say Leicester have got to do a bit more to match our story,” Woodcock said. “They’ve got to win the Champions League too, twice, and the League Cup and Super Cup. They’ve still got a way to go!”
Forest face promotion-chasing Huddersfield on Saturday.
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis