Annoyingly, Colin Cooper still looks like he’s been chiseled from the finest and sturdiest granite available to mankind.
He was relaxed and friendly throughout this evening hosted by Andy Hallam at the Southbank Bar during which he talked about his time at Forest between 1993 and 1998. His happy demeanour was in part due to him having just acquired a coaching role with the FA. That and being back in Nottingham: a club which he clearly holds in high regard.
On signing for Forest from Millwall, Cooper's only regret was that he just missed out on the opportunity to work under Brian Clough. As a Middlesbrough boy, he would have loved to work with him, even if it were only for a few months.
These were difficult times for Forest, having just been relegated from the top flight and facing up to life without Clough. A new broom held firmly by Frank Clark ushered in a new era with he and Stan Collymore representing big signings, accepted by Cooper as a gamble.
On his first day at the City Ground, he found a certain Stuart Pearce in an uncompromising mood. The Forest captain was focused only on attending to some business with Clark and pretty much blanked the Teesider as he strode towards the manager’s office. Welcome to Forest.
Fear not though: they’re big chums now - a welcome addition to the happy Forest family.
Working with Stan Collymore appears to have been both a pleasure and a chore in equal measure, or as Cooper himself puts it, "an absolute stuffing nightmare!" It seems fair to deduce that Stan was high maintenance but at the same time, entirely worth it. Stan seems to have been happy keeping himself to himself and as long as he continued to do what he did on the pitch – pretty much tear opposition teams apart single-handedly – everyone was happy.
It is often overlooked that after winning promotion from the second tier at the first time of asking, Forest finished 3rd in the Premier League. Alongside Collymore, Cooper cites the contribution of Lars Bohinen as a major factor in this – once he found his feet, the team were pretty much unstoppable.
It wasn’t all easy though. After the fizzing excitement of a European adventure, the team started to slide and after Clark’s departure and relegation, Dave Bassett was brought in to repeat Clark’s achievements in the shape of promotion back to the top tier.
It’s fair to say that he and Cooper do not exchange Christmas cards. Indeed, as Colin puts it, "He didn't like me and I didn't care."
Initially, the team started well under Bassett. After recovering from an injury sustained arising from a bruising encounter with Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Cooper was ready to step back into the breach to help alleviate the slight blip the team were undergoing. According to Cooper, Bassett was not a big fan of players who had an influence in the dressing room and his return to the team was, according to Bassett, "never going to happen". Colin spoke of how much he appreciated hearing the crowd chant his name during a home game as he sat in the stands.
Anyone would think that these footballers are human beings and have emotions.
It seems that both men agreed to ignore each other – an arrangement that suited both parties as the team and Cooper progressed well. Indeed, promotion was achieved with Cooper lifting the trophy.
Then he left.
Cooper was keen to explain how this came about. He absolutely did not leave for money. He asked for what he believes to be a reasonable contract – a longer one but NOT more money. This was refused.
Nonetheless, he and his family was happy in Nottingham. But when his hometown club got in touch, he weighed that up with continuing to work for a manager who had tried to sell him. It’s easy to see how the move to Middlesbrough materialised.
Away from Forest, Cooper spoke about his childhood mate – Paul Gascoigne. They’d regularly played against each other while growing up in the north-east and Colin has no hesitation in describing him as the best player of his generation. It is difficult to comprehended the level of success that came Gascoigne’s’ way so early in his life and Cooper feels that actually, his mate initially coped with this quite well.
After a half time break, Cooper took questions from the floor.
His favourite goal in a Forest shirt?
That one against Derby. Obviously.
As a player coming in to Forest, Cooper explained that you needed to do two things: firstly, show you care by wearing your heart on your sleeve. Secondly, score a goal against your local rivals.
He’s not wrong there.
It also helped if you gained the respect of that man Stuart Pearce.
After that initial blanking on his first day, he did exactly this. The moment came in a pre-season friendly at Lincoln City in which Pearce muttered to him, "You’ll do for me". Cooper felt like a giant and knew that everything was going to be alright.
On the actual goal against Derby, Cooper was feeling lucky and confident enough to tell Pearce that "I’ve got this" on being awarded a free kick.
Pearce’s reply was as glorious as you can imagine: "You’d better f***ing score."
The most difficult opponent he faced was a young whipper snapper of 19 years old by the name of Ronaldo at Wembley when playing for his country in the Umbro Cup. In Colin’s own words, il fenomeno "basically ripped the shit out of me for 90 minutes."
Don’t worry about it, Colin. The boy turned out be half-decent.
Inevitably, talk turned to the current state of the club.
He expressed the feeling that owners need to fully understand and be in tune with the community they represent.
It would be unfair to go into too much detail but it’s fair to say that Cooper would walk over broken glass in order to play a role in leading the club back to where he feels they belong at some stage in the future. Not yet, but when and if the time is right.
The audience was left feeling that the addition of Colin Cooper to the roster of any club would be a welcome and smart one.