The inaugural event of the Lowdham Book Festival, 2007 then and it very nearly didn’t happen at all. As for much of this soggy summer, Lowdham and it’s surrounding villages had been the victim of a huge deluge late afternoon and early evening before Brian’s event was due to kick off at 7.30. An apt time one may have imagined due to the subject matter under discussion this evening, and one that almost became a ‘match abandoned’. Finding that the stream in the field where the marquee for the night sat had been all but two inches from overflowing it’s banks and therefore sabotaging the evening was the first information imparted. Apparently the good people that labour to run the village event had to search around furiously in the locality for sand bags to keep tonight’s entertainment running. This was again exacerbated by the large rivers of water cutting Lowdham and other nearby villages off.
Lowdham at high tide!
To our relief the event began, a little later than scheduled but one could hardly complain. Certainly the event on offer tonight gave most people great enjoyment and was a rich pastiche of the great football manager’s life and times. Curiously bitter-sweet and all the better for it, the talk began with Marcus Alton, webmaster of http://www.brianclough.com who had many interesting tales to offer about Brian Clough, his family, and importantly the progress being made to commemorate the master manager’s achievements here in Nottingham and elsewhere by way of a statue.
I remember quite early in Brian’s long stay in Nottingham there was inevitably much speculation as to how long he would be persuaded to remain on Trentside by Nottingham Forest. His answer was a blithe ‘I’ll be here longer than Billy Walker’, referring to the former Forest chief who had spent twenty-six long years at The City Ground. Well Brian didn’t quite manage that but he did stack up eighteen years of startling achievement, wisdom, fun and great entertainment in the Lace City. It seemed for most of us here that he had been, and would remain, here forever. How we would have wished that to happen. I think even some of the more rabid Notts County fans would have even said that in the cold light of day.
The evening moved onto perhaps it’s most entertaining period. Stephen Lowe, playwright of ‘Old Big ‘ead – In the Spirit of the Man’ began to talk and occasionally engaged the excellent Colin Tarrant who played Clough in the production to great effect. Stephen, with credits including Coronation Street, explained that he had be asked several times to write something about the great man but had always refused. When he did finally relent he decided on a different tack – to show Brian having passed away to the ‘other side’ where in customary fashion he ruffled the feathers of two other distinguished men of Nottingham, General Booth and D. H Lawrence!
Most moving were Colin Tarrant’s thoughts on Brian. Colin recounted how he had been a local boy from Kirkby-in-Ashfield ‘where they only dug coal to make electricity for the country’s lights’ he pithily added – a sentiment that was not lost on the audience about the strictly working class town of his roots and it’s importance. The man who played Clough reiterated in our minds that Brian was very much a working-class hero, that were no Cloughs these days (was there ever another?) The way that Colin reached out to the audience about football and therefore life itself being a ‘team game’, reflecting the integrity, love and honesty he believed that Brian showed to us all by his actions and words, was beautifully portrayed. It certainly formed a large lump in mine, and I know my friend’s throat. Colin reached down into the very depths of the man and what he stood for, decency, fairness and honest-to-goodness graft to achieve the best one can. The way he identified with Brian manifested the way many of continue to mirror his views on life, and made it easier to understand this very complex man and why we associated ourselves with him.
Finally, and one can never be sated by talk of Brian Clough I find, Duncan Hamilton, journalist and author of a new book about Brian, ‘Provided You Don’t Kiss Me’, appeared for the second half of the evening. Duncan had the enviable (but not always he explained!) job of following Nottingham Forest and particularly Brian Clough around for the Nottingham Evening Post. Duncan, as one might expect told many illuminating tales about his good times and sometime difficulties with the mercurial Brian. Once he had been banned from the City Ground by an irate Clough for some imagined slight but soon welcomed him back as a prodigal son as if nothing had happened!
An interesting question and answer session ensued for a short period after the final talk. There was hardly the sometime lack of people coming forward to ask questions. Still there is much to know about the complexities of this wonderful man and it seemed almost unspoken that this evening’s entertainment had been only the most recent attempt to understand what made him so great and what made us all love him.
An exceptional event for the Lowdham Book Festival then. What else might one expect about a truly exceptional man.