Over the last few years, it has become increasingly difficult to describe Nottingham Forest’s existence without it sounding like a eulogy for an elderly relative.
The love remains as strong as ever, but it has been battered and bruised by the ravages of time.
The obituaries have been written on newspaper back-pages and in 140-character tirades alike.
It has long been accepted as fact that the Nottingham Forest of the 21st century are an entirely different entity to the European champions of yesteryear.
Rarely do the fans have something to cheer about, nor find something to feel completely united by.
However, 20 years ago, something happened to keep a heartbeat flickering at Forest ever since their languid decline began.
Time after time, after our ebbs found new lows, there has been one saving grace producing miracles of individuals, rather than that of an all-conquering team; I fawn so nostalgically of course, about Nottingham Forest’s Academy.
Since being established, it has produced FOURTY-EIGHT professional footballers, and generated tens of millions of pounds worth of talent.
It has given us that loving feeling that so often slips away from us as play-off campaigns crumble cataclysmically, or as seasons meander into mid-table mediocrity.
That feeling came roaring back on Saturday, as 17-year-old Ben Brereton smashed a 93rd-minute winner in at the Trent End: I mean, we’ve all had that dream growing up haven’t we?
It actually happened in front us a few days ago.
It was a reminder for us all that, no matter how disaffected fans can get, we will always have a strong sense of identity when we stick to our youth development principles.
The silver linings to our storm clouds have been hidden in plain sight, and there is no greater example of that than our tenacious little workhorse, Ben Osborn.
To a number of you, it will come as no surprise that I am writing a piece about him. In fact, I’ll be joining the Sunday morning Jehovah’s Witnesses to shove copies of this article through your letterboxes.
I have been incredibly vocal in my support and adoration of Ben ever since his debut in 2014, which in itself spoke volumes about his ability.
It is as good as unprecedented that a young player could break into the first team during the reign of Billy Davies; a man whose notorious distrust of youth players was so jarringly against the ethos of this club.
Since then, he’s gone on to bask in the limelight of some of our finer moments in the Fawaz years: The winner against Derby that caused two-week hangovers. Goal of the season contenders against Reading and Charlton… And more recently, a free-kick routine that caught the imagination of every football fan in the country.
However, as exceptional as his penchant for world-class strikes are, that isn’t the reason I feel he commands the respect of every single Forest fan.
He has multiple dimensions to his game that are so, so rare to find in other players his age.
For a start, I have never seen a player take a tackle as well as he does. This probably isn’t the most gleaming of compliments, but he gets at least one whack around the ankles every game.
He can’t be taller than 4ft and yet, here he is, getting assaulted by men twice his size for a day-job, then immediately running it off… Look at the Rotherham game last week; he was hacked down brutally by one of their centre-backs. Sat in Upper Bridgford, I could hear that sound of leather on bone as a dull thud echoed off the stands.
If that was me, I’d have been calling for a stretcher and fishing my detached limbs out of The Trent. But it wasn’t. It was Ben. He was chasing the ball down within five seconds, bounding about like a Labrador with a magic left foot.
This physical strength reflects in the stats too; in the last 100 Forest games, he has missed just five. That doesn’t just come from having a high standard of fitness.
It requires an endless well of passion, and desire. A lot of players have found it easy to go missing as the pressure has mounted in the last few years, and although Ben has struggled at times, there is never a match where you can question his application or his effort.
In perspective, that is some going. It’s a well-known fact our team has lacked leadership on the pitch for a while, and Ben has all the attributes of a future captain. His handling of the media has been superb too. He is unafraid to speak with honesty when he feels a performance could have been better.
Watching him has been a complete contrast to the glut of mercenaries who have wormed their way into the club just by fluttering their eyelashes at Fawaz Al-Hasawi. Osborn is the complete antithesis to the drivel we’ve had to put up with. He has led the way in terms of attitude and set a fantastic example for the other academy players making the step up to senior football.
In such a magnificent run of games, he has played the majority of them out of position; either on the left-wing or just behind the striker. Usually when a player is used in a utility role, it affects them greatly. They become neither one thing nor the other, and roam a pitch like it’s the Elysian Fields.
It hasn’t happened to Ben. He’s flourished, growing in confidence and maturity with every appearance. Perhaps he doesn’t rampage past players like a winger would, but his technical ability is wonderfully obvious. He has put his own stamp on the role, and it has been a huge benefit to Forest to have someone out wide who can whip a few pinpoint crosses in per game.
I was desperate for this not to come across as a love letter – and I firmly believe everything here is complete fact – but who actually cares if it does?
We are Nottingham Forest: we take as much pride in our youth players as a beaming father would his own son. This is what we stand for, local lads bursting their lungs week in, week out because they know how important it is to us. Osborn is the epitome of hard work beating any amount of talent.
With the transfer window shut until July, I feel like I can now share this with you all. Of course, I must remember to delete it by June. The sad reality is that Ben Osborn’s growth has exceeded that of Nottingham Forest’s and at some point, a Premier League team will come for him. When that day comes, there won’t be a glass case of emotion big enough to contain my mixed feelings.
If Ben Brereton wants to enjoy more moments like Saturday, then he’d do well to take a leaf out of Ben Osborn’s book. Derby are in town next month... I’m sure Osborn could tell him a thing or two about making your mark against them.