‘They couldn’t afford it’ – the prolific striker that Nottingham Forest couldn’t keep


Few on English shores were too familiar with the name Stern John when he arrived at Nottingham Forest from the MLS in 1999.

A powerful centre forward from Trinidad and Tobago, John had blitzed a goal trail in the United States, scoring 26 times for Columbus Crew which caught the eye of then Forest boss David Platt who stole a march on German Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen in a bid to see the Reds return to the top flight.

So keen to sign the striker, Platt flew to New York to meet John and sealed the deal, paying Crew £1.5m to bring him across the Atlantic, though clauses in the deal would later prove to be a stumbling block and see him sold for a relative pittance.

Having just been relegated from the Premier League, John was one of a host of new City Ground arrivals under the much-maligned Platt, which also included the likes of David Johnson, Jim Brennan, Riccy Scimeca and failed Italian trio Moreno Mannini, Gianluca Patrachi and Salvatore Matrecano.

John became a popular figure on Trentside, scoring 18 times in 49 starts, but Forest failed to secure a return to the Premier League which saw the club suffer dire financial problems.

Returning from a cruciate knee ligament injury, John went on to fire 14 goals for the Reds in what proved to be his final season.

Stern John on the ball against Ipswich Town in 1999

A tale of what might have been…

With 14 goals to his name, Forest would have been forced to pay his former club $250,000 had he netted a 15 – the frontman was then sold to Birmingham City for a cut-price £100,000.

After leaving Forest for St Andrew’s in 2004 and helping Steve Bruce’s Blues win promotion to the top flight, John moved across the Midlands to Coventry City, where he scored 29 goals in three years.

During that three-year spell, John made his way back to the East Midlands, spending a short loan spell at the Reds’ arch-rivals Derby County.

Stints at Sunderland, Southampton, Bristol City, Crystal Palace and Ipswich followed before joining non-league outfit Solihull Moors in 2012, though that move didn’t last and he opted to retire and move back home.

Internationally, John was a big success for his country and helped them qualify for the 2006 World Cup, playing in all three group games including the defeat to England in Nuremberg.

Trinidad and Tobago’s forward Stern John (R) and Frank Lampard (L) fight for the ball in their opening round World Cup football match at Nuremberg’s Franken Stadium

The 43-year-old netted 70 times in 115 outings for his country, seeing him ranked 11 in the list of all-time top international scorers, above the likes of Lionel Messi, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Luis Suarez and Derby County’s Wayne Rooney.

His son, Stern Irvine used to be on the books at Forest, but now plays in Notts County’s Under-18s.

How did the move to Forest come about?

“No one ever knew but I signed a pre-contract agreement with Bayer Leverkusen. But I never went. Graham Taylor saw me playing for Columbus and wanted to sign me but David Platt came and hijacked the deal.

“He flew over to New York and I met him there,” John told bcfc.co.uk in March.

Stern John battles Ipswich’s John McGreal

“As a young kid growing up in Trinidad we always used to get English football games on TV on a Saturday and a Sunday. I wanted to play in England because Dwight Yorke was there and Shaka Hislop too. It was somewhere I’d wanted to go for a number of years.

“It was a culture shock.

“I came in November and I was freezing my socks off.

“But I knew it was something I’d wanted to do for a long time, so I had to adapt and I did. I enjoyed it. I loved every minute of it.

“The football was really different. It was a lot quicker and a lot more physical.

“It was way more exciting.”

Speaking in January 2002, John spoke of his desire to stay in Nottingham…

“My contract is up at the end of the season but we haven’t been able to talk yet because of the financial situation,” the former Trinidad international said after a 0-0 draw with Barnsley.

John Terry #6 (L) clears the ball off the goal line, as teammate Rio Ferdinand holds off Stern John

“I’d love to stay at Forest but if they can’t afford me I’ll have to move on because I’ve got my career to think about.”

Why did his career at the City Ground come to an end?

“If I scored 15 goals, they’d have to pay the MLS $250,000 and they couldn’t afford it.

“That’s when Steve Bruce came in and I moved to Birmingham.

“I loved every moment at the club.

“Nottingham Forest was a special club, but Birmingham was too. I loved my Blues days.”

On promotion with Birmingham City…

“It was a huge moment for me and my family. The Premiership is massive in the Caribbean. Back home in Trinidad there were only a few guys who’d played there and I had the opportunity to join them.

“It was a huge step. The Premiership was a different kettle of fish altogether.

“The Championship is one of the hardest divisions I’ve played in but there was so much quality in the Premiership. You have to be technically better, and fitter than before.

“I remember going away and training with the military to get myself in good shape.”

Stern John celebrates scoring a late equaliser with Clinton Morrison during the Premiership match between Aston Villa and Birmingham at Villa Park in 2004, a goal which ensured he went straight into the hearts of Blues’ fans

What now?

“I came back to Trinidad and I wanted to help the national team out. With my experience I still had a lot to offer the game. I played a bit, but it was just to give something back to the country that I was born in.

“I’m just coaching with the Trinidad team now. I’m the assistant to Dennis Lawrence for the men’s senior team and I’m head coach of the Under-17s,” he explains.

“It can be a bit difficult. I was born in Trinidad, but I learned my trade in the UK.

“We could be a bit more professional but obviously we have a lot of financial problems.

“We haven’t been paid in months but for me it’s about giving back to my country and helping them as much as I can. I would like to coach a club in the UK or the US one day but I’m not ready yet.”

“My son was at Nottingham Forest and he’s at Notts County now.

“He’s 17. I still have my flat in Birmingham and I’m back there every Christmas.

“I meet up with Dele Adebola and some of the other guys too.”





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