Ahead of the FAWNL Play-Off Final, we sat down with Nottingham Forest manager, Andy Cook, to learn more about this season and his thoughts on the game ahead.
How have preparations been going since the end of the season?
We’ve had almost a perfect two and a half weeks since we last played against Stoke. We’ve had a friendly against the University of Nottingham, which was good. We’ve had a good couple of weeks’ work to get to this point now. We’re really happy with where we are in terms of the preparation, and it’s gone brilliantly. We’ve moved our whole operation to the men’s training ground, so we’ve been working on the grass there and it’s just been really good.
Was having a small break quite good after such an intense season?
[A break] was good because it was an intense season. The Northern Premier and the Southern Premier are getting stronger and stronger every season. I know Loughborough didn’t have a great season but whenever they played us, they were always right on it. We found it when we were 2-0 down at half-time to them in March. We were just looking to get something from that game, and we managed to get a point out of it, which obviously went on to help us win the league. Those moments were just key but that’s the quality of the league. You literally can’t have an off day now and it’s only going to get stronger with Newcastle getting promoted. The league’s getting stronger, and the teams are getting stronger. The resources and the infrastructure that are going into tiers 3 and 4 are fantastic.
What’s been the key to Forest’s success this season?
I think it’s a combination of everything. Since I joined the club in 2019, we’ve worked hard at doing what we’re good at. We’ve always identified the strengths of the group that we have in front of us and worked to those strengths. When I first came in, the group lacked a little confidence. We brought in some very good players, and we managed to have a good spine in the side and worked on a solid defensive structure. We were playing a counter-attacking style and that’s morphed into a very possession-based style now 3/4 years later. That’s because we’ve managed to have some good recruitment… The likes of Emily Batty, Amy West, Becky Anderson, Sophie Domingo this summer… So, you’ve got a lot of old, a lot of new, and it’s just come together this season perfectly… Everyone that works in the football club here are great. You’re a Premier League side now but you’ve still got the core Nottingham-based people. It’s everything working together and it’s all come together nicely the season.
How did Charlotte Greengrass react to her change from a full-back to a striker?
If anyone knows Char, she likes a bit of limelight. She likes the goals, and she likes scoring. As you can imagine, most defenders would love their coach to say we’re going to put you up front next season. I think she straightaway thought, “Thank Christ. I don’t have to follow or run after any wingers or attackers anymore”.
It’s turned out that she was our answer [to a goalscorer] all along; we just needed to look at our defenders to see if they could score goals. She’s been brilliant – the way she can bring the ball down, she’ll control it; she’ll roll a defender and she’ll roll a defender like she’s played centre forward all her life. We haven’t really taken her aside and spent hours on the training pitch going, “Right you need to do this when you’re a forward”. The way she can move; the way she can turn; her touch; her speed. She’s unbelievably quick and I think a lot of people don’t necessarily notice that about her because she’s tall. But she’s one of the quickest players we’ve got in the team.
How have you developed as a manager in your time at Forest?
I’ve loved every minute of it. For me, I’ve had a good grounding in lots of different roles and lots of different aspects across my career. But this role itself has allowed me to develop and to grow. The way that the players have been here has been nothing short of first class. I’ve learned, especially from this group, that every individual is different… They’re just things you learn from group to group and player to player. Also, with the nature of the role, I’ve had to adapt tactically. We’ve played in 3/4 different shapes and formations since I’ve been here, so we’ve really changed things up, which has then stretched me as a coach. I’d stay here for as long as I can because the club is fantastic. The badge is iconic and wherever you go, people know about Nottingham Forest and what the club’s about. That’s down to the club and they’ve allowed me to develop. The players have worked with me really well and I hope that they’ve enjoyed the time as well working with me. Long may it continue.
What do you expect from this game against Watford?
You’ve got the two best sides in the Northern and the Southern Premier. We played each other in the Cup Final – it was a fantastic game; it was really transitional. There were five goals in a Cup final; there weren’t really any real nervous moments. It was just two heavyweight boxers going at it with each other and that’s what we’ll have again at Milton Keynes. The pitch size is huge. It’s going to allow the players like Sophie Domingo, Gemma Davison, Charlotte Greengrass, Bianca Baptiste from both sides to go and play… It’s on the BBC and that is fantastic as well. The amount of people that can watch it on there will be good. One of the messages I always say to the players is that we want to put on a show. We’re putting on a show nationally now, so I think there’s no better moment. I think you can probably tell from the speed at which I’m talking right now and the excitement in my voice, I’m just really excited to go and watch both teams play.
What would it mean for you to be promoted with Nottingham Forest?
For the football club, it would be everything. It’s been four years in the making. When I took the job in 2019, the remit was we want to get into the Championship. I spoke to the people here at the football club, the chairman on my first day here, and they were just like, “Do you think we can do it?” There was a resounding “Yes, we definitely can”. They needed to allow us a little bit of time and a little bit of work and they’ve done that. We’ve repaid them by giving them the chance now and this opportunity to be able to get promoted. For us and for the football club, it will be a fantastic moment. For me as a coach, it’s by far the greatest moment that I’ve had in football because the group of players I’m working with are a fantastic group of people.