‘I don’t like quiet dressing rooms’: Steve Cook is bringing noise back to Forest changing room

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For a team at the wrong end of the Premier League, optimism abounds at Nottingham Forest. 

Last weekend’s epic win against Liverpool was based on blood and thunder with a dash of total football thrown in. 

Centre-half Steve Cook set up Taiwo Awoniyi’s winner with an instinctive first-time cross from the wing. 

Steve Cook (pictured) assisted Taiyo Ayoniwi’s during their 1-0 win over Liverpool last week

Cook joined Forest earlier this year after being relegated with Bournemouth in 2020

Cook joined Forest earlier this year after being relegated with Bournemouth in 2020

‘As a defender, I know the hardest thing to deal with is an early ball, so that’s what I tried,’ he says.

‘The other reason is I didn’t want to be stuck in possession for too long!’ 

Newly-promoted Forest signed 22 players last summer to cope with the Premier League but Cook’s arrival in January has proved as influential as any of this year’s intake.

Battle-hardened by a decade at Bournemouth in which he experienced promotions, relegations and great escapes, Cook was encouraged by Forest manager Steve Cooper to be a big voice in the City Ground dressing room. 

It is something he has taken on board literally — from the moment he made his debut against today’s opponents Arsenal in an FA Cup win in January. 

‘The manager asked me to add something to the group and from the first training session, I tried to be a leader,’ says Cook. 

‘There is a point before matches when you can put your voice to good use. Our dressing room was quiet-ish so before the Arsenal game, I thought it was an opportunity to lay down a marker. 

Forest have struggled this season, winning just two of their first 12 games after their promotion

Forest have struggled this season, winning just two of their first 12 games after their promotion

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Despite several poor results, Cook is still optimistic that his side can stay up this season

Despite several poor results, Cook is still optimistic that his side can stay up this season  

‘I have always been vocal and didn’t want to change with a new team. I wouldn’t say I have any top lines, I just don’t like dressing rooms being quiet. 

‘The manager has the music turned down after the warm-up and becomes even quieter, so my voice probably becomes even more annoying then! 

‘I don’t think you can have too many leaders. I like being challenged by the manager and team-mates, and challenging the players around me. 

‘It’s something that can be lost in modern football. When I was coming through at Bournemouth, I was brought up by guys like Tommy Elphick and Simon Francis.

‘Listening to them in the changing rooms, I thought this is how I need to be. If I can give that advice to the younger lads now which helps them, I’ll be very pleased.’

Forest’s dodgy start to the season was to be expected with so many changes in personnel. 

Cook (right) believes you can't have enough leaders in a team who all challenge each other

Cook (right) believes you can’t have enough leaders in a team who all challenge each other

Cook joined Forest in 2022 on a two-and-a-half year deal after leaving Bournemouth

Cook joined Forest in 2022 on a two-and-a-half year deal after leaving Bournemouth

A month ago, Cooper’s job appeared on the line after a 4-0 thrashing at Leicester. Instead, fan power helped persuade owner Evangelos Marinakis to stick with him.

Cooper got a new contract and Forest have conceded only two goals in four games since, though today’s trip to the Emirates is a big test.

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With recruits coming in from Brazil to Senegal to Switzerland, Cook and home-grown players such as Ryan Yates, club captain Joe Worrall and Brennan Johnson have been important in helping them integrate. 

Team-bonding dinners are a regular occurrence — when they can find restaurants with large enough tables.

Initiation ceremonies, of new players singing a song, have taken a few months to complete but everyone has now had their turn.

Cook has helped Forest integrate new players to the team after their big spending last summer

Cook has helped Forest integrate new players to the team after their big spending last summer

Forest travel away to Arsenal on Sunday with a win able to lift them off the bottom of the table

Forest travel away to Arsenal on Sunday with a win able to lift them off the bottom of the table

‘Our first team meal in Spain consisted of not many who are still here,’ smiles Cook.

‘There have been changes but we always get together, it’s a really good way for us to learn about each other and that helps on the pitch.

‘Before we played Liverpool, we had a meal at the Venezia restaurant on the Thursday. Everyone is invited, injured players, players not in the Premier League squad. We had a huge table — we had to book for 31 with pre-orders put in early to save the chefs stressing out! It was a nice night. If the lads are happy, you get the benefits, as you saw against Liverpool.

‘We know how to integrate. It’s not just about explaining how things are done at the club. We listen to ideas from the new players too and you bring it all together. 

‘A few thought they’d get away with not singing but they got caught out. Joe was on it, I think he had a secret list until everyone was ticked off. Jesse [Lingard] said he’d sung already but he hadn’t.

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‘I saw on social media that Forest were still going through the initiations halfway through the season. We’ve only just finished. Lewis O’Brien was the best. We’d heard he had a decent voice and he didn’t disappoint, singing Superstition in Germany before we played Union Berlin and he did Stevie Wonder proud.’ 

Cook said going down with Bournemouth was 'one of the worst things that happened to him'

Cook said going down with Bournemouth was ‘one of the worst things that happened to him’

Extra defensive work has been scheduled this week in the build-up to Arsenal. Cooper learned his coaching trade at Liverpool during Rafa Benitez’s time, so Forest should be organised this season. 

Cook says training is intense. ‘You’ve got Taiwo who is physical, Morgan Gibbs-White who is technically brilliant. We have a wide variety of players who can hurt teams and definitely hurt me in training,’ he says. 

‘I don’t enjoy marking Taiwo, you don’t want to be on the end of one of his elbows.’ 

Cook is still close to his former Bournemouth team-mate Aaron Ramsdale, who will be in goal for the opposition today. Friendship will be set aside, however, with Forest still in a precarious position. 

‘The last few weeks have given us this sense that we can stay up,’ says Cook. 

‘Getting relegated at Bournemouth was one of the worst things that has happened to me. That hurt will never completely disappear. My ambition is for the lads at Forest not to go through that.’ 

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