Remembering Roy Keane and Nottingham Forest 30 years on

Premier League started in 1992 with Cork's greatest player at the heart of the drama
Remembering Roy Keane and Nottingham Forest 30 years on

Roy Keane was a midfield sensation with Nottingham Forest. Picture: Neal Simpson/EMPICS. 

THE Premier League is back and so too are Nottingham Forest, who have returned to the English top flight after a 23-year-wait.

This season will also mark the 30th anniversary of the competition now known as the richest league in world football.

The first Premier League ever game broadcast on Sky Sports was Liverpool’s visit to the City Ground in August 1992 and they were beaten 1-0 by Forest, who had Roy Keane in the centre of the pitch.

The local papers immediately predicted a title charge by Brian Clough’s side, but what played out was one of the most dramatic collapses in the history of English football.

In the middle of this extraordinary story was Keane. At that point, he was an established midfielder and into his third season with Forest.

The feeling of optimism that followed Teddy Sheringham stabbing in the winner against Liverpool evaporated with defeats to Sheffield Wednesday and Oldham. Manchester United then won 2-0 at the City Ground and a visit to Norwich ended 2-0 to the Canaries.

A 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge gave Forest their first away point of the season and shortly afterwards, defender Terry Wilson got injured. Keane had to play as a centre-back and he did what he could to help the team to a 2-2 with Manchester City and a 2-1 win over Stockport in the second round of the League Cup.

Victory over Middlesbrough on October 21 was a false dawn and Forest had to wait six game weeks for their next Premier League win. Two goals from Keane helped them to a 4-1 victory over Leeds and that slightly revived their hopes of staying up. However, Forest only collected one point from their next three games and on January 1st, the City Ground was gripped by fears of relegation.

Forest seemed to find form in the new year, they won four out of five games in the league. There was a genuine feeling of optimism at the City Ground, a mood enhanced by the club collecting ten points from twelve in February.

Keane signed a three-year deal with Forest in March and his relationship with Clough was cited as a major factor in the midfielder agreeing to the contract. Shortly after, any sense of comfort that Keane had was undone because of a Shredded Wheat commercial.

Roy Keane playing for Nottingham Forest has words with Spurs' Nayim in December 1992. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Roy Keane playing for Nottingham Forest has words with Spurs' Nayim in December 1992. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Forest director, Chris Wootton, claimed that Clough’s addiction to alcohol nearly killed him on two occasions. This was published in tabloid newspaper ‘ The People’ and he gave details how Clough was drunk when recording that advertisement. This created an impossible situation that accumulated in the club announcing that Clough would retire at the end of the season.

Keane heard the news while with the Irish squad in Dublin and said he was “shell shocked and bitterly disappointed”.

By April, Forest were rock bottom of the Premier League and the Cork Examiner started reporting big club were interested in signing Keane.

Forest’s faith was to be decided in a game against Sheffield United at the City Ground. If they lost, the two time European champions would be relegated. Keane said ‘the sense of tension around the stadium was obvious’ in the days leading up to kick-off. 

Clough didn’t even turn up for training on the Friday morning and when he did arrive he wore wellingtons and a sheep skin coat. The coach was also carrying a shovel and whistling. It was a bizarre, almost surreal image, and Keane was forced to rationalise this.

“I think the point he wished to make was that this was just another game,” Roy Keane told journalist Jonathan Wilson, “Don’t worry lads. I’m not worried.’ Bizzare. Pure Clough.” 

Forest lost 2-0 and their relegation was confirmed. Two days later, Keane confirmed to the Cork Examiner that he was leaving Forrest.

“I am definitely on my way out at the City Ground and after our match away to Ipswich Town at the weekend I will have to sit down with the chairman, Fred Reacher and Brian Clough and discuss my future,” he said.

Again, I won’t rushed into signing for anyone or making any hasty decisions. But it was on the cards, I suppose, for a couple of months as we were fighting relegation virtually all season.

“I said before that I didn’t think First Division football would do me any favours, especially with the World Cup coming up next year and, I think, Cloughie would go along with that.” 

The words were published as a host of top clubs, such as Blackburn Rovers and Manchester United, circled around the midfielder. Forest’s season ended with a 2-1 defeat at Ipswich Town and Keane went from battling relegation to the centre of one of the biggest transfer stories in the history of Irish football.

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