Nottingham Forest, Derby County and the rise of the sleeping giants

Promotion to the Premier League is what all lower tier football clubs aspire to, and recent years have seen a healthy number of teams with no prior experience of Premier League football making the great leap forward from the Championship to the top division, either via the automatic places or the play-offs. In the past ten years, Wigan Athletic, Reading, Stoke City, Hull City, Burnley, Blackpool, Swansea City and Cardiff City have all gained promotion to the Premier League for the first time, which is testament to the welcome unpredictability of the Championship. No-one wants to see the same teams oscillating between promotion and relegation, not least the actual fans of these clubs, as West Bromwich Albion supporters can surely vouch for.

The rise of the Premier League newbie has often come at the expense of the old heavyweights of English football. This was especially the case at the turn of the millennium. While the media marvelled at the arrival of small clubs such as Fulham and Portsmouth into the big time, akin to a throng of fawning family and friends showering a newborn baby with unrestrained attention, the old timers of Nottingham Forest, Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday – highly decorated, yet in decline – slid away from the bright lights of Premier League football, like a war veteran coming to the sad realisation that the medals still proudly pinned to his old uniform are no longer relevant to anyone but him, and that the ruthless, ever-changing modern world has no place for him anymore.

However, the sleeping giants of English football seem to have awoken from their slumber and are making a march for the Premier League once more. Nottingham Forest – the two-time European Cup winners and whose last experience of top-flight football came fifteen years ago – have enjoyed a great start to the season under Stuart Pearce and currently sit in one of the automatic promotion places, a position many believe they will remain in at the end of the season. It has been a long and painful journey for Forest – their relegation to League One in 2005 saw them become the first ever European Cup winners to play in their domestic third division, and a number of play-off defeats have led  to them narrowly missing out on Premier League promotion. Nevertheless, many Forest fans believe that this year will finally see them reach the top flight after a long spell in the wilderness, and on current form, this looks increasingly likely.

Comparisons can also be drawn between Forest and Sheffield Wednesday. Although the Owls are not as decorated, they, like Forest, are one of the oldest teams in world football (both were founded in the 1860s). The two teams possess large fanbases and have stadia which are larger than those of many teams in the Premier League, and Wednesday have also suffered the ignominy of playing in the third tier since their relegation from the top flight in 2000. Under the guidance of Stuart Gray, the Owls are currently just four points worse off than second-placed Forest, and although they are outsiders to make the play-off places, let alone gain promotion, the proud old club will be considered as dark horses.

Elsewhere, Ipswich Town and Derby County – who have both previously won the English First Division, with the Tractor Boys also tasting UEFA Cup success in 1981 – have made strong starts, and find themselves in the play-off position. Meanwhile, due to some strange decisions by a certain extravagant owner, Leeds United have endured a turbulent start to the season, although they will be hoping that new manager Darko Milanic – their second already this campaign – can calm the waters and help the club rise up the table. The Elland Road club are arguably the biggest heavyweights in the Championship and boast a fine Premier League pedigree. With just four points separating them from the play-offs, promotion is within the realms of possibility, providing they find some stability – which is admittedly easier said than done when it comes to the Yorkshire side.

After years of hardship and obscurity, the resurrection of English football’s sleeping giants may be upon us.

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