EXCLUSIVE: ‘Quitting West Ham was one of my toughest decisions’: Stuart Pearce opens up on the pain of walking away from coaching, his former club Nottingham Forest’s battle to stay in the Premier League… and starring in a Stranglers video!
- Stuart Pearce says all he wants is for Nottingham Forest to avoid relegation
- Two of his former clubs in Nottingham Forest and West Ham play on Sunday
- Pearce admits leaving West Ham was one of the toughest decisions he has made
- The Forest legend has served as manager of the club across two different spells
- Pearce praised both West Ham’s David Moyes and Forest manager Steve Cooper
- He appeared in a Stranglers video having seen them over 300 times in concert
Stuart Pearce will sit down in front of the television on Sunday afternoon and do his best to remain, as he puts it, ‘nicely neutral’.
For in the red corner are Nottingham Forest, hosting their first Premier League game at the City Ground for 23 years, the club with whom Pearce spent 12 years of his career, most of it as captain, and led them to two League Cup triumphs and an FA Cup final.
And in the other corner, the away end decked in claret and blue, are West Ham, where Pearce spent two years as a player at the turn of the millennium but, more recently, formed part of the coaching staff under David Moyes and helped turn the club from relegation battlers to European semi-finalists.
‘I’ll be glued to the television,’ says Pearce, who left his position at the club at the end of the season in May. ‘That’s the beauty of it.’
So, whatever the result, the 60-year-old will enjoy the rest of his Sunday.
Stuart Pearce claims the one thing he wants is for Nottingham Forest to avoid relegation
‘The one thing I do want, though, is for Forest to stay in the Premier League,’ he says. ‘Forest enhance the Premier League with their reputation, with their history, their style of play, their manager. They have a great fan base.
‘I was at the play-off final and to see the dads and grandfathers and grandmothers wearing the shirts that I used to wear more than 30 years ago, stood next to their children and grandchildren in the modern kit that had never seen the team play in the Premier League. It’s such an exciting time.
‘I just want them to have a good run at it. They have shown in the transfer market they are willing to put their hand in their pocket and have a go. Good home form is vital. The mix between the old and new players. Injuries will play a big part, too.
Steve Cooper’s Nottingham Forest lost 2-0 to Newcastle on their return to the Premier League
‘But they took on the likes of Arsenal and Leicester last season [in the FA Cup] and did well, so I don’t think they should fear anything. I’m not sure West Ham will be rubbing their hands together that they’ve got Forest as their first away game.’
It’s 14 new signings and counting for Forest after the announcements on Saturday night that Emmanuel Dennis had joined from Watford for £20million as well as the free transfer of Cheikhou Kouyate. More than £100m spent. And there’s still two more on the horizon, including Brighton striker Neal Maupay. A possible 16 new faces, yet it was a flat 2-0 defeat at Newcastle that welcomed them back to the big time.
Among all the arrivals, though, it has been that of Jesse Lingard which has caused the biggest noise. Lingard snubbed a permanent move to West Ham, where he impressed on loan from Manchester United in a five-month loan from January 2021, to join Forest on a deal worth £120,000 a week.
Jesse Lingard scored nine and assisted five more goals in just 16 games in a West Ham shirt
West Ham fans plan to throw bundles of fake bank notes at Lingard on Sunday afternoon. Other rival supporters mock Lingard for his use of social media.
‘The one thing I do know from working with Jesse is that he’s an outstanding player and will bring a good personality into the dressing room,’ says Pearce. ‘He’s an inspired signing. If he can replicate the form he showed when we had him at West Ham, they’ve got a great addition.
‘He’s a modern-day footballer. I don’t think there’s anything to be derisory about. It’s part and parcel of modern-day footballers and modern-day society in many ways.’
Perhaps it is surprising to see Pearce, with his old-school, hardman ‘Psycho’ reputation, shrug his shoulders when it comes to Lingard and the TikTok generation. It was Pearce, after all, while playing for West Ham who broke his leg and tried to run it off. You might think he would get riled up by players perceived to spend more time on their brand than honing their skills.
But it was behind the popping veins and fierce roars that Pearce the cultural man read Oscar Wilde or went to the opera. Pearce knows what it is like to have spent a career being misperceived. More well-known is Pearce’s punk music obsession. He has seen The Stranglers in concert more than 300 times, including back-to-back gigs earlier this month in Blackpool and Wolverhampton. His reward for, as he puts it, ‘all the hard miles seeing them over the years’, was to star in his own Stranglers video.
Pearce is the intense leading man in ‘This Song’, striding towards the camera in a suit and skinny tie, mouthing the gritty lyrics down the lens. ‘It was fantastic,’ he says. ‘Great to be involved with the boys and do something like that. They just said do it as you see fit. Learning the lyrics, I wasn’t great at it… they cut at the right time!’
A Vinnie Jones-esque move into edgy films could soon come calling, perhaps? ‘You never know,’ laughs Pearce.
For now, he is content with his media work, a regular on talkSPORT, doing motivational and leadership speeches and travelling. He is hoping to go to the World Cup. He is seeing Bruce Springsteen next summer. And he is not ruling out a return to coaching one day.
It was tough to leave West Ham. When he returned to the club with Moyes in 2020, they had been fighting for survival. Under Moyes, they qualified for Europe and last season reached the semi-finals of the Europa League.
Pearce has seen the Stranglers live more than 300 times including back-to-back gigs this year
‘It was one of the toughest decisions I’ve had to make in football,’ says Pearce. ‘I was leaving home at 5.30am, getting back after 7pm, a three-hour journey around the M25. At this stage of my life, when I also enjoy doing things outside of football. It was really tough to walk away from the dressing room: the players, the staff, there’s a real togetherness at West Ham at the moment.’
And much of that is down to Moyes, a manager who has rebuilt his reputation after his spells at Manchester United and Real Sociedad. The continuing plight at Old Trafford, though, suggests the problem lay beyond the abilities of ‘The Chosen One’.
‘You don’t manage over 1,000 matches if you’re a duck egg,’ says Pearce. ‘He’s an outstanding manager. When you work that close to him, you realise how good he is as a tactician and a motivator. When he walked through the door, the expectation was just to keep them up. He’s done a brilliant job.’
The former Hammers player believes ‘outstanding’ David Moyes has done an ‘unbelievable’ job
Pearce revealed leaving West Ham was one of the toughest decisions he has had to make
On Sunday afternoon Moyes will pit his wits against another manager Pearce rates highly. The job Steve Cooper has done at Forest led Pearce, even before Forest’s promotion, to vote for him as his manager of the season. ‘What he did dragging Forest from where they were when he came in, to even get them to a play-off final, let alone get them to the Premier League was incredible,’ says Pearce.
There’s already been the comparisons with Brian Clough — ‘the greatest character football has ever thrown up’ — who was the last Forest manager before Cooper to lead them to Wembley.
‘Steve has embraced the history of the club, which is refreshing,’ says Pearce. Some managers over the years have put up a resistance to that but he’s gone out of his way to embrace it. He’s spoken to all the old players, the European Cup winners. Every club should be proud of their history and Forest have very rich history. It just shows he’s a cute man-manager.’
Cooper’s achievement is to return Forest to the top flight for the first time in 23 years. Pearce says he did not expect it to take that long for them to return. In that time, though, the club have been through 19 different permanent managers under three different owners.
One of those managers was Pearce, appointed in July 2014, but he did not last a year despite winning five of his first seven games to take Forest top of the Championship.
The defender (front row, fourth left) won two League Cups in a 12 year career with Forest
‘When I walked through the door as a manager in 2014, the club was fractured,’ he says. ‘There was no connection between the academy and the first team, between the fans and the owners. Those things just weren’t in place. The only way you’re successful is if you unite everything at all levels at a football club.
‘You see Forest fans with smiles on their face now. They’re happy with the manager, happy with their team and happy with the football club. That certainly hasn’t been there over the years.’
A first Premier League victory of the season against the Hammers would make them happier. It will make Pearce happy, too. Well, a part of him. But for now, he is staying neutral.