“I wouldn’t say I was the best manager in the business. But I was in the top one.” – Brian Clough
Brian Howard Clough is a character is known throughout the world of football, not only for his abilities as both a player and manager, but also for his often outspoken and eccentric behaviour. This persona gave him the nickname, “Old Big ‘ead.”
He was born on 21st March 1935 in Middlesbrough, which was then part of the North Riding of Yorkshire. He grew up in a family of eight in the working class town but had a largely happy childhood. At school he neglected his lessons and concentrated on his love of sport, especially football and cricket.
A young Clough chose the larger ball and turned out for local side, Billingham Synthonia before completing national service with the RAF from 1953-55. On his return from the forces he joined his hometown club, Middlesbrough, where he became a prolific goal scorer, netting 204 goals in 222 games. His form for the ‘Boro, gained him two scoreless caps for England in 1959 against Wales and Sweden.
One of his teammates at Ayresome Park was a goalkeeper called, Peter Taylor, with whom he would form a successful managerial partnership with in the future. Despite his friendship with Taylor he did not always get on with some of his other teammates and regularly sought a way out of the club. He eventually joined rivals, Sunderland in 1961 for a fee of £55,000, where he netted 63 goals in 74 matches for the Black Cats.
On a wet Boxing Day in 1962 tragedy struck, when in a match against Bury, Clough collided with their goalkeeper, Chris Harker. He never fully recovered from the cruciate ligament injury he sustained that day and it finally finished his career two years later aged just twenty-nine.
An influence which would stay with him was in the shape of no-nonsense manger, Alan Brown. His authoritative management style inspired Clough to go into coaching at the young age of 30. In 1965, after briefly working with Sunderland’s youth team he cut his teeth at lowly Hartlepool United, a club who were struggling to stay in the Football League. At the time he was the youngest manager in Britain and had a huge challenge on his hands to turn things around. To help him he appointed his old team mate, Peter Taylor as his assistant. Famously due to the club’s parlous financial state Clough would trawl local pubs to try and raise money for the club and even drove the team bus to away matches. Despite these efforts, the two were sacked by chairman, Ernest Ord, which led to a boardroom coup, who re-instated them once the chairman himself was given his marching orders by the directors.
In the next season Clough and Taylor managed to build a more successful team, which finished in an improved eighth place at the end of the ’66-67 campaign.
Their relative success alerted the board of Derby County, who themselves were struggling in the Second Division. Clough and Taylor joined the Midlands outfit at the start of the 1967-8 season. He made numerous signings, including a young John McGovern from his former club, Hartlepool, Roy McFarlane, John Hinton and others. Famously he also sacked the groundsman, club secretary and even two tea ladies for laughing after a defeat; such was the eccentricity of the man.
In 1968, Clough and Taylor led Derby to the Second Division Title, going 22 matches undefeated in the process and giving the Rams their first silverware since the 19th Century.
Derby continued to progress in the top flight finishing fourth in their first season and ninth in the 1970-71 campaign. The following season was to be one of the best in the club’s history, when against the odds; they fought off the challenges of Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester City to win the title for the first time in their history.
Their domestic success gave Derby County the chance to take on Europe’s best in the UEFA cup. They made it to the semi-finals, losing 3-1 to Juventus.
Throughout Clough’s reign controversy had never been far from the door. After the aforementioned defeat to the Italians he labelled them as “cheats” and questioned their honour during the Second World War, while he also turned on his own fans by insisting they only sang when the team was winning. In 1973 he also wrote an article criticising Leeds United for their physical style and called for them to be relegated to the Second Division because of their “dirty play.” Clough also had a fraying relationship with his chairman, Sam Longson, who refused to put up the money to buy some of the manager’s transfer targets. Clough signed David Nish from Leicester City behind his chairman’s back and made a further bid for one Bobby Moore from West Ham, again without Longson’s knowledge. His chairman found out and demanded Clough and Taylor to be sacked, fuelled also by an incident in which the manager was accused of giving a V sign to Manchester United’s Matt Busby during a recent league game.
The management team, who had taken little Derby County from the obscurity of the Second tier to the First Division Title and semi-finals of the European Cup resigned on 15th October 1973, much to the fan’s disgust. With them, their scouts and backroom team also walked out leaving the club in complete turmoil.
They followed them to their next club, Brighton & Hove Albion, a strange choice considering they were down south and struggling in the Third Division. Just months after managing Derby in the semi-final of the European Cup Clough found himself on the receiving end of a 4-0 walloping by minnows, Walton & Hersham in an FA Cup replay.
However the biggest controversy of them all was still to come.
Clough, after criticising them constantly in the press for their physical style of football was appointed the manager of Leeds United, the league champions, after their manager, Don Revie was asked to manage the England national team in July 1974. Crucially his assistant Peter Taylor disagreed with this decision and refused to follow him back up north, choosing instead to take over the reins himself at Brighton.
The 44-days of Brian Clough’s reign at Leeds United were mired in controversy from day one when famously he told the Leeds players to “throw all your medals in the dustbin because you have not won them fairly.” The Leeds style of play under Revie, which had won them two league titles and one FA Cup was built around a solid, organised approach with a physical and direct style of play. This was the complete opposite of the Clough philosophy of short passing and movement, with an emphasis of playing the ball along the ground. As he once famously said:
“If God had wanted us to play football in the clouds he’d have put grass up there.”
The players struggled to adapt to Clough’s philosophy and won only one out six games that he was in charge, leaving them fourth from bottom in the table. The manager’s eccentric behaviour had alienated many of the star names in the Leeds dressing room, such as Billy Bremner, Paul Madeley and Norman Hunter. Clough, after much pressure from the board and his own players was sacked from his post at Elland Road on 12th September 1974, after one of the most controversial 44 days in the club’s history.
His failure with one of the top teams in the country at the time could have tainted his career forever. However, the best was still yet to come.
Just months after his ill-fated reign at Leeds, Clough returned to the Midlands as the manager of Nottingham Forest in January 1975. He took the City Ground outfit to 8th place in the Second Division by the end of his first season alone.
In July 1976 he was re-united with his old running mate, Peter Taylor, who left Brighton to join up with Clough once again as Nottingham Forest’s new assistant manager.
Together they dramatically turned around this once-middling club’s fortunes, gaining them promotion in 1977. Miraculously they won the Division One Title and the League Cup in their first season back in the top flight. The team were also unbeaten for 42 league games, a record surpassed only by Arsenal in 2004.
Unlike at Derby, Forest’s chairman backed Clough in the transfer market, the pinnacle of which was the first ever £1 million transfer of a player, in the shape of Trevor Francis. They had a European campaign to compete in too. Amazingly they won this, after a 1-0 victory in the final against Malmo.
Nottingham had never known this amount of success.
However, in the early 80s, Forest’s power began to fade and a rift was beginning to grow between the managerial duo. In 1980 Peter Taylor wrote a book called “with Clough by Taylor,” behind his back which outlined the details of their partnership. Taylor retired from football in 1982, but then returned to management with Derby six months later. During this time he signed winger, John Robertson from Forest without informing Clough. The two never spoke again, even when opposing managers during an FA Cup tie in 1983. Taylor died seven years later in 1990, of which a shocked and grief-stricken Clough attended his funeral.
On the field Forest remained in the top half of the First Division throughout the 1980s, but could not compete ultimately with the all-conquering Liverpool side of this era. They did manage a berth in the 1983-4 UEFA Cup Semi finals, of which they were on the receiving end of a highly controversial defeat from, Anderlecht, where it was revealed several years later that the referee had been compromised by the Belgian’s chairman.
Domestically Brian Clough’s Forest were always a force in the cup competitions, winning the League Cup in 1989 and reaching the semi-finals of the FA Cup against Liverpool, forever remembered for The Hillsborough disaster.
In the 1990s a now aging Clough ploughed on as Forest boss, reaching the 1991 FA Cup final, but losing out to Tottenham Hotspur in a tournament which was to elude him throughout his career. During this time football was starting to undergo massive changes and as the Premier League Revolution began in 1992, Clough remained one of the few bastions of an older era. He continually struggled to cope with the demands of more powerful players and agents, who were just coming into the game.
He finally retired in 1993 after an unsuccessful campaign in which Forest were relegated after a 2-0 defeat against Sheffield United. It had been a long journey and the sight of an elderly Clough on the pitch for the last time, dressed in his favourite green jumper is one of the most famous early images of the new Premier League. Throughout his career, despite being interviewed for the England job and linked with roles for the other British nations and Ireland, he never took charge of a national team.
His retirement led him to fight against alcoholism, which had plagued him since his Derby County days but after undergoing a liver transplant in 2003, died one year later of stomach cancer.
The legacy of Brian Clough in his home town of Middlesbrough and the two rival cities of Derby and Nottingham have been profound. In 2002 the largest stand at The City Ground was named after him,
while two statues were constructed in Middlesbrough, Nottingham and Derby respectively, the latter of which includes Peter Taylor. In 2005 the road between the two Midland cities was renamed “The Brian Clough Way.” Moreover matches between the two sides in any competition compete for the “Brian Clough Trophy.”
More recently the book and film, “The Damned United,” starring Michael Sheen was based on Clough’s managerial reigns at both Derby County and his ill-fated days at Leeds.
Brian Howard Clough, outspoken, antagonistic, but a fantastic leader of men who against the odds took two unlikely teams to domestic and European success and was quite possibly the best manager in England never to take on the national job.