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Training Grounds: Wilford Lane, Nottingham Forest

Training Grounds: Wilford Lane, Nottingham Forest

A play-off final victory over Huddersfield last May sealed Nottingham Forest's return to the Premier League after a 23-year absence that proved painfully long for the City Ground faithful. It was a huge moment for Forest, a moment which ensured that manager Steve Cooper will forever enjoy legendary status at the east Midlands club. And since then, a huge amount of upheaval has taken place.

The Reds made headlines during the summer of 2022 for their recruitment of over 20 new players, with vast sums of money spent to boost the team's chances of survival (to date, over £150m has been splashed since their promotion). Star arrivals have included Morgan Gibbs-White, Taiwo Awoniyi, and Keylor Navas. However, it's not just flashy players that Forest owner Evangelos Marinakis has been spending his cash on. The Greek businessman has also invested heavily in the club's infrastructure, working on making sure that everything happening behind the scenes is fuelling success on the pitch. And in this article, that's what we'll be focusing on.

We're going to be diving into the Nottingham Forest training ground in plenty of detail. We'll explore the name and location of the site, its key features and facilities, the improvements that have been made to it as Forest have risen to the top table of English football, and crucially, the future plans devised by the club. Let's get stuck into it.

What is the name of the Nottingham Forest training ground?

Nottingham is an iconic footballing city. From the establishment of Notts County, the oldest professional football club in the world, in 1962, to the legendary European Cup wins of Brian Clough's Forest side in 1979 and 1980, the city's two professional teams have contributed hugely to British football over the years. And while 2022-23 was also a fantastic season for County, who recorded a massive points tally of 107 in the National League and achieved promotion to the Football League alongside AFC Wrexham, it's the team that are based south of the River Trent that is flying even higher at the moment.

Nottingham Forest play their home football at the City Ground, a historic 30,000-capacity stadium a stone's throw from the city centre. And each day, the club's players file into a training centre just a mile away. Like Manchester City's Etihad Campus, the Nottingham Forest training ground is in a super convenient location, a mere half-an-hour walk from the club's home ground. And its name? Wilford Lane.

Nottingham Forest started using Wilford Lane as their training ground over 20 years ago, with former site Holme Road now providing a training base for local rivals Notts County, who settled in in 2019. In the past couple of decades, numerous improvements have been made to Wilford Lane. In the next section of this article, we'll guide you through a few of the most important advancements.

How has the Nottingham Forest training ground been improved in recent years?

Reds owner Evangelos Marinakis, who made his fortune through the building of a vast shipping empire, first dipped his toes into football as owner of Greek club Olympiacos. He's since moved into English football, and since taking over at Forest in 2017, he's made a name for himself by invested heavily in improving things at the Nottinghamshire club.

Redevelopment plans unveiled by Marinakis in March 2022 were described by manager Steve Cooper as an important "show of ambition". Currently in the works, the plans centre around the Nigel Doughty Academy; the club are adding a new two-story building, housing 14 changing rooms, three classrooms, a physio room, a gymnasium, a guest lounge for the parents of academy players, plus canteen facilities and extra on-site car parking.

"Of course we'd always want more - and we should," said Cooper to the press. "If we're looking to improve, then I always think that's a positive thing because it shows there's a bigger picture in place - which there is."

This redevelopment isn't the only change that's taken place at Wilford Lane in recent times. Since 2000, various different works within the training complex have been conducted in phases. One of the meeting rooms at the centre was overhauled last year, thanks in part to Steve Cooper's demands — "we've changed the meeting room at the training ground, because I'm a big believer in meetings - they are part of the modern game and we've got a very good performance analysis team — he told reporters at the time. A private suite is being built in to give Marinakis a permanent location at the training ground, increasing his close connection with the club. And various other changes have been made to benefit the work of first team players.

According to an official club statement, "The latest plans are in line with ongoing investment in the facilities at Wilford Lane, which earlier this season saw the enhancement of the show pitch to include a new playing surface and goals, LED floodlights, perimeter fence and dugouts to meet the club's conditional Category One Academy licence obligations." The achievement of this Category One Academy status for the 2021-22 season was crucial to the club's development, and this entrance into the elite academy games programme for Forest youth players showed how serious the club is taking their future.

Nottingham Forest Training Ground: Facilities, Size, and Dimensions

We know then, that Forest have taken time to upgrade their training facilities in recent times. But where exactly has that left them? Let's take a look at some of the key facilities on offer at the Nottingham Forest training ground.

In terms of size, the 24-acre Wilford Lane site doesn't quite measure up to huge Premier League sites such as the Leicester City FC Training Centre or the Arsenal Training Centre at London Colney. However, it still offers more than enough space for players to complete their daily drills and exercises, while also receiving high-class medical, analytical, tactical, and sports science prep behind the scenes, and it's around the same size as Europa Conference League high-performers West Ham United's Rush Green Training Ground.

The main building at Wilford Lane, which is officially called the Nigel Doughty Academy after the former owner of the club, recently underwent some key enhancements, as the club seeks to intensify the relationship between first team and youth teams. The building includes all the main features you'd expect: 14 changing rooms, three classrooms, a physiotherapy room, coaches' rooms, an analysis suite, an office for the Academy Director, and more. There's a players' meeting area that has comfy seating, a canteen and a snack bar, promoting relaxation and socialising between players after sessions, plus a parents' lounge to further boost this offering.

The Wilford Lane training ground has six grass pitches and two 3G artificial pitches, plus an indoor facility with a large steel portal frame with fabric skin, designed to allow training to take place all year round, whatever the weather. This is crucial, given England's unpredictable weather, and it's something you'll find at various other Premier League training facilities. 

How does the Nottingham Forest Training Ground compare to other training centres at a similar level?

The recent renovations that have place at the Nottingham Forest training ground suggest that the club has been well aware of the need for improvement for some time. While the site, which is fairly small at 24 acres, will never match up to enormous training complexes like Chelsea's Cobham Training Centre, it's definitely well on the way to being equipped with all the facilities that world-class players look for when joining a new club.

Enhancements to the main building, which have increased the capacity for top-quality analytical, scouting and pre-match preparation work, have been crucial in bringing the Nigel Doughty Academy up to scratch. To reinforce this idea, Chairman Nicholas Randall has stated: "Everything we do as a club is geared towards continually improving standards to provide the best possible environment for us to progress." 

Getting in line with more established Premier League clubs is clearly the goal. So what do Forest have planned for the future to help them achieve it?

What are the plans for the future?

According to Nottingham Forest Chairman Nicholas Randall, "We undertook a strategic review of the options for developing our training facilities, including assessing other potential locations. Wilford Lane […] provides the ideal footprint for us to improve and further integrate our first team and academy operations. This integration is essential to the culture and philosophy we are seeking to develop at the club."

There will be no major relocation going on anytime soon then — Forest are here to stay. And they don't seem content with sitting back and admiring the recent redevelopment work outlined earlier in this article. In the last couple of seasons alone, we've seen the unveiling of Nigel Doughty Academy building upgrades, pitch revamps, and more, although it seems like right now the club's primary focus is developing a new stand at the City Ground.  The club recently got the go-ahead to demolish the old Peter Taylor Stand and build a brand new one version in its place. This is clearly a big project, and it's a sign of the club's commitment to laying the groundwork for the future.

Nottingham Forest aren't the only recently promoted Premier League club attempting to solidify their status in the top flight by investing in the foundations of the club, whether it's day-to-day training facilities or matchday infrastructure. Brentford FC, a club committed to various forward-thinking strategies that have allowed them to compete in spite of their comparatively low Premier League budget (check out our guide to their innovative set-piece strategy, for example) have been progressing with similar work.

Take a look at our guide to Brentford's Jersey Road Training Ground for more information on how the club has expanded the site and added various new facilities. Or, if your gaze lies more toward the East of London, why not have a look at our deep dive into Rush Green, the West Ham United Training Ground?