When I think about football in this city my thoughts inevitably go to some of the great names over the years. I’m old enough to have watched the game with Joe Baker, John Robertson and Peter Shilton et al on the red side of the city. Jimmy Sirrel, Don Masson and others on the black and white side. My thoughts never linger long however before dwelling on the eighteen years that Brian Clough graced the Lace City with his overpowering presence. It’s a little while since his unfortunate passing but those happy memories linger. His memory very much lives within most true football fans and many non-fans too. Reading the various tributes to Brian at the time of his sad passing, it’s obvious that he had a special place in many football lovers’ hearts.
A Clough TV interview was always something to be enjoyed – if only because he broke the sterile mode of most ‘normal’ interviews. Down here in the Midlands, an early media ‘adversary’ of Cloughie’s was a guy called Gary Newbon, who somewhat mystifyingly went on to be Head of Sport on his TV channel. Newbon was always a little cocky (let’s be kind and say forthright.) He certainly believed in the power of his opinions, even if no one else did, (see Jim Traynor for reference.) It filled us Nottingham viewers full of mirth however to see ‘Brysey’ cut him down to size in an interview by cupping Newbon’s cheeks firmly in his hands and planting a great big smacker on his lips! Newbon always looked terminally embarrassed in Cloughie’s company ever after!
The first story I ever heard about Brian Clough when he came to the City Ground in Nottingham was related to my by a friend who played for the Forest youth team. In those days, quite a popular local first team fixture was the ‘County Cup’. This has always been contested by the three Nottinghamshire clubs, Nottingham Forest, Notts County and Mansfield Town. (Please note the italics for correct terminology of the local boys folks!).
The format was always one semi-final; the winners going on to play last years cup holders, (which was normally Forest). For most of my life down here, there has always been plenty of daylight between Forest and Notts and particularly Mansfield in terms of league positions. Around ninety league places separated the two city clubs indeed when our family first came here. This County Cup on this particular occasion however did not conform to stereotype as the Reds failed miserably, getting well beaten by the victorious and gleeful Magpies from Meadow Lane.
It seems that Brian’s fury new no bounds over this ignominious defeat to the smaller club. He stormed out of the Notts ground, ordering the coach driver to drive him alone on the still-empty bus back to the City Ground over the other side of Trent Bridge with words of ‘leave those b*****ds behind – they can walk’. The friend told me of seeing a procession of players, officials, coaching staff and club directors trailing over Trent Bridge pushing the team kit hamper in front of them. I think at that point I knew we had a ‘different’ kind of character looming in our sporting midst in the Lace City.
Brian Clough truly did rule the sporting roost in Nottingham for all those years. No matter who you supported you couldn’t fail to admire his genius at work. I have to say it was all great fun along the way too. I think it must be difficult to imagine the excitement in this city when Clough’s team brought home the European Cup for two consecutive years. I personally began to feel that his team were becoming well nigh unbeatable – indeed they were – over forty-two games at one point, a full season in those days. There was something very special about that team. They were great years.
Still to be seen are Forest replica jerseys with the legendary wording ‘Clough 9’ on the back. I think that’s a fine tribute to man who came to be as big a legend as Robin Hood in these parts. What’s more I think they should name the City Ground after him in gratitude. Because he said so. I’ll end with how Brian himself said he would like to be remembered.
“I want no epitaphs of profound history and all that type of thing…I would like to be known as someone who contributed…I would hope somebody liked me”
Brian Clough OBE 1935-2004 RIP