My Football Heroes – Brian Clough

Charismatic, outspoken, and often controversial, Brian Clough is widely considered to be the best manager England never had and one of the best English managers the game of football has ever seen. For many his like will never be seen again.

During his playing career Clough scored 267 goals in 296 appearances for Middlesbrough and Sunderland. In a match against Bury at Roker Park on 26 December 1962, in icy conditions and torrential rain, Clough was put through on goal and collided with goalkeeper Chris Harker. Unable to stand up, Clough had torn the medial and cruciate ligaments in his knee, an injury which in that era usually ended a player’s career. He returned two years later, but could manage only three games and was forced to retire from playing at the age of 29.

“I wouldn’t say I was the best manager in the business. But I was in the top one”. This is just one of the many things that Clough said that made him so different. In the modern era, you will not see a manager be as brutally honest or outspoken on a daily basis as Clough was. The biggest mistake England have ever made was not hiring Brian Clough as manager. In my opinion if Clough was given the job, England would have won a tournament – he was that good.

Clough’s first taste of management was with then named Hartlepools United in 1965 (the club’s name has since been changed (1968) to Hartlepool United). He was joined by his right – hand man Peter Taylor, who would go on to work with Clough for a number of years. At the time Clough was the youngest manager in the league, aged 30. Hartlepools were constant strugglers and were regularly forced to apply for re-election to the Football League, having finished in the bottom two of the Fourth Division five times in the past six seasons. Such was the club’s perilous financial state, Clough had to tour local pubs raising money to keep the club afloat and even applied for a coach driver’s licence to drive the team to away matches.

On 15 November 1966, the then chairman, Ernest Ord, who was known for playing mind games with managers, sacked both Clough and Taylor. However, after their dismissals, there was a boardroom coup which saw Ord ousted as chairman and Clough and Taylor reinstated. Hartlepools’ fortunes gradually improved and the club finished in a creditable 8th place in 1966–67. Their Hartlepools team featured two players who would play for Clough and Taylor at other clubs in the future: Les Green, who would be goalkeeper in Derby’s promotion-winning side of 1969, and a 16-year-old John McGovern; who would later be signed by Clough at Derby County, Leeds United and Nottingham Forest, winning several major trophies in the process. In May 1967, the duo then joined Division Two side Derby County as manager and assistant manager. In the following season, Hartlepools were promoted for the first time in their history.

Clough, along with Peter Taylor later moved to Derby County. In Clough’s first season in charge the club finished a place lower than the previous season, however he was laying the foundations that would produce his future success with the club. Signing the likes of  Roy McFarland, John O’Hare, John McGovern, Alan Hinton and Les Green. As manager of Derby, Clough went on to win the Second Division in 1968/69, Watney Cup 1970, First Division 1971/72 and the Texaco Cup in the same season.

Moving on from Derby Clough and Taylor had a short and unsuccessful spell on the South coast with Brighton and Hove Albion. Winning just 12 of 32 games in charge of the Third Division side.

Clough had a hatred towards Leeds United branding them as dirty and cheats. The Leeds United manager at the time was Don Revie, a man who Clough regularly criticised. Furthermore, he had called for Leeds to be demoted to the Second Division as a punishment for their poor disciplinary record. It is fair to say that there was a mutual hatred between Revie and Clough. It then came as a shock that when Revie resigned to managed England, Clough was offered the Leeds job, to which he accepted. A partnership that has been quoted as “A match made in hell”. Clough’s friend and assistant of many years, Peter Taylor decided not to join him at Leeds United. Clough famously lasting 44 days at the club before being sacked after alienating many of Leeds’s star players most famously Johnny Giles, Billy Bremner and Norman Hunter. In one of Clough’s first training sessions with Leeds he had reportedly said “You can all throw your medals in the bin because they were not won fairly.”

Clough would discuss his short reign at Elland Road on Yorkshire Television’s Caldenar. A show in which Don Revie would also be a guest. During the show Clough stated that he had wanted to win the league in a much better way than Leeds had done under Don Revie.

On 6 January 1975, Clough made a return to management with Nottingham Forest, at the time the club were positioned in 13th place in the Second Division. Clough made fewer TV appearances whilst Forest manager, and toned down the outspoken comments he had made earlier during his time Derby. After finishing 8th in the old Second Division, in his first full season in charge alone, in July 1976 Clough was joined by his old assistant Peter Taylor from Brighton, who had just missed out on promotion from the old Third division. Together, Clough and Taylor transformed the club’s fortunes rapidly: the first success at the club came in Clough’s second full season (1976–77) when they won promotion to Division One, finishing third. In the summer of 1977 Clough was interviewed for the England manager’s job recently vacated by Revie, but it instead went to Ron Greenwood.

Clough and Taylor would go on to achieve great things at Forest. They would win:

  • First Division: 1977–78
  • League Cup: 1977–78, 1978–79, 1988–89, 1989–90
  • Full Members Cup: 1988–89, 1991–92
  • FA Charity Shield: 1978
  • European Cup: 1978–79, 1979–80
  • European Super Cup: 1979
  • Anglo-Scottish Cup: 1976–77
  • Football League Centenary Tournament: 1988

To take charge of a club the size of Forest and win the European Cup in successive seasons is incredible. Clough achieved great things at Forest, he did so by getting the team to play a simple style of football, not tricks or flicks. If they had a free – kick they would shoot, an indirect free – kick, knock it to the side and shoot, you see a man – pass it to him. Clough’s style of play at Forest was simple but very, very effective.

Brian Clough, would not be one for doing normal things. When the Forest team were staying in a hotel, Clough would walk in with a tray of beer. His idea for doing so was that it would relax the players for a game the following day. For those who didn’t know Clough, they thought he was loud and brash. That wasn’t the case, nobody can have the amount of success that he had as a player and manager without being very intelligent. In my opinion he is the most charismatic manager the game has ever come across.

The press christened Brian Clough as “Old big ‘Ead”. A man who would talk a lot in the public eye, when he spoke – it was riveting, he was one worth listening to. Whatever you say about Brian Clough, he was never dull. A man who even managed to grab the attention of Muhammad Ali, Clough joked he would like to fight the heavyweight boxer.

Clough sadly died of stomach cancer on 20 September 2004, at the age of 69. Such was his popularity, fans of Derby County and Nottingham Forest, usually the fiercest of rivals, mourned together following his death. A memorial service was held at Derby’s Pride Park Stadium on 21 October 2004 which was attended by more than 14,000 people. It was originally to have been held at Derby Cathedral, but had to be moved because of demand for tickets.

Brian Clough would have been a success in the modern game, but dismayed and flabbergasted by the money-men and agents. Unfortunately we will never see the likes of Clough again. The modern game is far too soft, people are offended far too often and easily. There is no doubt in my mind that if Brian Clough was around today, he would have a lot to say about the modern day player.

A true genius and legend, who’s achievements in the game are truly astonishing. A type of character that I truly miss in football – here’s to you “Old big ‘Ead”.