By Callum Jackson
Nottingham is lucky to have three big clubs in the area, and some have certainly been lucky in the January transfer window.
Callum Jackson reviews this month’s great coups by Nottingham Forest, Notts County and Mansfield Town in recent years.
The most successful Nottingham club is without doubt double European Cup winners Nottingham Forest, but is their prestigious history reflected in their January business of late?
A shrewd piece of business in 2018 saw FA Cup winner Ben Watson join the City Ground side on a free transfer, following his release from Premier League side Watford.
At 32, Forest fans might have expected a washed-up Premier League player simply trying to elongate his career, and this seemed possible when Martin O’Neill told Watson he could leave the club.
In fact, O’Neill was sacked at the end of the season, Watson stayed and became a key player for Sabri Lamouchi, making 76 appearances in his 2 year spell, scoring 3 goals and taking the Reds to within touching distance of the playoffs, ultimately dropping out on the final day. A great signing as Watson applied his years of experience at the top level to a Forest side desperate to escape the Championship.
January 2018 was a successful window for Forest, as they also brought in Joe Lolley from Huddersfield Town for £500,000. Lolley has made 112 appearances to date, scoring 24 goals and was a crucial part of Lamouchi’s playoff-chasing side. He hasn’t shown the form this season that made him a fans’ favourite in his first two seasons at the City Ground, with Forest languishing 20th in the SkyBet Championship.
Luck hasn’t been so kind on the other side of the Trent. Notts County were relegated out of the EFL for the first time in their history in 2019, but there has been the odd positive in January.
In 2020, Notts signed winger Callum Roberts from Blyth Spartans after he made a goal-laden start to the 2019-20 season. Roberts has become one of the highest-regarded players in the National League and was vital to Notts’ 3rd place finish last season, scoring against Barnet in the playoff semi-final. Whilst injury has disrupted his 2020-21 season, Notts will hope the former Newcastle prospect can overcome them and rekindle the quality performances that took them so close to promotion last time round.
Another January success came in the form of Kieron Freeman, who initially joined on a 30-day loan from Nottingham Forest in January 2012, which was then extended until the end of the season after a series of impressive performances at right-back. He then spent two more loan spells at the club in 2013 and 2014.
His fantastic first spell saw him named Football League Young Player of the Month award for February. Such solid showing from the youngster earned praise from then-manager Keith Curle, who stated that Freeman was good enough to one day play in the Premier League.
Curle was proved right as the defender has made two top-flight appearances for Sheffield United and has one senior cap or Wales. Freeman is now a regular starter for League One Swindon Town.
Mansfield Town too have had their own transfer victories during the first month of the year.
Perhaps their most successful piece of winter business was the half-season loan signing of Ben Whiteman from Sheffield United in 2017, as he put in some stellar midfield performances in his 23 games for the Stags, scoring 7 goals and winning the club’s Player of the Year award.
Mansfield would have hoped for good performances but Whiteman exceeded expectations. He has continued his upwards trajectory and recently joined Preston North End in the Championship for around £1.6 million.
In January 2012, the Stags brought in striker Matt Rhead on a free transfer from Corby Town. At the time he had a full-time job as a team-leader for JCB. Rhead quit his job to devote himself fully to Mansfield Town and played a great role as a target man, often playing off goal-machine Matt Green. In 2012-13 Rhead scored 5 goals as the Stags won the Conference Premier (now the Vanarama National League) and went up to the Football League. After a three-year spell at the One Call Stadium, Rhead joined Lincoln City where he was later reunited with Matt Green; the pair won the Checkatrade Trophy in 2018. At 36 years old, Rhead is now playing for Boreham Wood FC in the National League.
As the January transfer window is upon us once again, these Nottinghamshire clubs will be hoping to relive past glories in the window to sign some players fans will be talking about for years to come.