Nottingham Forest and Derby fans mourned together: My tribute to Brian Clough

Brian Clough

On this day nine years ago, one of the greatest managers England has produced, passed away at the age of 69 in Derby City Hospital. His popularity and achievements meant Nottingham Forest and Derby County fans mourned together.

I'm talking about Brian Clough, ‘the greatest manager England never had’.

It's somewhat of a tragedy that Old Big ‘Ead was never given the opportunity to manage his country. When you look at England’s struggles in the 1970’s and 80’s, you wonder why he wasn’t afforded a chance. He felt it was because he would ruffle too many feathers in the FA. And, as Clough often knew best, he was probably right.

Looking back, his career was remarkable, especially the feats he achieved with slightly more unfashionable teams like, with all due respect, Derby County and Nottingham Forest. A similar achievement now would be a manager walking into a Championship club and six years later they have been promoted, finished inside the top four finish, won the Premier League and got to a Champions League semi-final. Unbelievable.

That's what Clough did at Derby. He went into a club that was a traditional second-tier team, and in a few seasons had taken them and their fans to unseen dizzy heights.

In 1968-69 Derby were promoted to the First Division, and in 1971-72 they won that division in dramatic style. In events that wouldn’t happen today, they played their last match a week before title rivals Liverpool and Leeds played.

The latter two teams needed to win their respective matches; neither did and Derby County were crowned First Division Champions. The following season Clough and Rams’ Chairman Sam Longson fell out following frequent outbursts by the Derby manager. One that springs to mind is after a semi-final in the European Cup to Juventus.

Clough said to Italian reporters: 'No cheating bastards do I talk to. I will not talk to any cheating bastards'. Classic Clough.

The outburst, the mind games and the bravado of Clough reminds me of Jose Mourinho. In fact, this is something Clough said himself, shortly before his death when the ‘Special One’ had just arrived at Stamford Bridge first time around.

The great man said: 'I like the look of Mourinho. There’s a bit of the young Clough about him. For a start, he’s good-looking and, like me, he doesn’t believe in the star system. He’s consumed with team spirit and discipline'.

The similarities are definitely there and Jose taking Porto to a European Cup triumph is comparable to Nottingham Forest’s feat, although the latter clubs achievement was more staggering.

When Old Big ‘Ead arrived in Nottingham, following an unspectacular time at Brighton & Hove Albion (plus an ill-fated spell at Leeds United), they were languishing in Division Two. By the time he left, they were going back to Division Two – then named Division One - but what happened in the 18 years between was Roy of the Rovers stuff.

Clough had been at Forest a short while without long-time assistant Peter Taylor, but when the pair reunited the success followed. Promotion to the top-tier of English football sparked years of glory.

They were crowned First Division Champions in 1977-78 and won the League Cup to do the double in their first season back in the top flight. This was brilliant, as was the three other League cups Clough won - but what stood out was the European Cup wins.

In 1979 and 1980 Nottingham Forest won back-to-back European Cups, something only AC Milan have achieved since. Wins over Malmo and Hamburg in those cup finals were the pinnacle for Clough - even Sir Alex Ferguson, Kenny Dalglish, Mourinho and Pep Guardiola haven’t been able to do that.

Despite the back-to-back titles in Europe, Clough regarded the undefeated run of 42 league games between 1977 and 1979 as his greatest achievement.

But Clough was so much more than just achievements; it was his manner, the charisma, and the way he got players performing for him. He bought well too - at Derby he broke the transfer record several times - and the ability to make a chairman spend well was a skill vastly underappreciated in that day and age.

Drink took over in his later years at Forest, but that shouldn’t deter away from the man, the legend. That's a word vastly overused, but one that has to describe Old Big ‘Ead.

'I want no epitaphs of profound history and all that type of thing. I contributed. I would hope they would say that, and I would hope somebody liked me'. That was Clough on posterity.

Well Brian, I can safely say a whole nation liked you, and you contributed to our great game more than you can begin to imagine.

image: © Nationaal Archief Fotocollectie Anefo

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