I’ve written a few words on the subject of Brian Clough on occasion and I’ll make little excuse for doing so again here. Last evening, ITV showed the documentary ‘Clough’ at 10.35pm and I looked to the TV schedules without too much hope of witnessing a new angle about the man.
The documentary was ostensibly about the new movie based on the best-selling book by David Peace, The Damned United, a part-fictional work on Clough’s infamous 44-day reign as manager of Leeds United in the 1970s’.
It was well-publicised at the time of the book’s release that members of Brian Clough’s family were unhappy about the ‘fictional’ report of his short stay at Elland Road over three decades ago. His widow, Barbara received a forum in this documentary to voice her own great disappointment at the way her late husband had been depicted, as did Brian’s son, former Forest and Liverpool player and now Derby County manager, Nigel Clough.
Barbara came over as a lovely lady. Indeed she has always appeared the prefect partner for the bold and brash Brian. Clearly, on the ground, and a loving wife, it was touching to try to understand what it meant for her to see the statue adjacent Nottingham’s Old Market Square that has now been erected, meant to her.
Several Leeds United players of the day were interviewed such as Peter Lorimer, Gordon McQueen and Norman Hunter. It was the honest and forthright views of former Leeds midfield general and hard man, Johnny Giles that caught the ear though. Giles has always cut an uncompromising figure. A superbly skilled player but one with a reputation for hard-nosed violence too. When he talks to the camera these days his craggy Celtic features still tell of the character of the man. Giles was scrupulously honest about the Leeds players’ attitude to Clough, wanting him out of the club. He was asked if his own problem with Clough was that he himself had wanted the manager’s job at Leeds, to which he replied in the negative. It was easy to believe him. Johnny Giles was extremely gracious about Brian Clough though and I didn’t necessarily expect this . Admitting that there was an obvious problem and great friction when Clough went to Leeds, he nevertheless was quite clear in his message that The Damned United was a very unfair and inaccurate portrayal of ‘The Master Manager’. The old Leeds hard man acquitted himself very well, was fair and showed no bitterness.
Much was made of the acrimony between Clough and former Leeds boss, Don Revie. Clough’s regular references to the ‘Leeds cheats’ were little to do with any alleged scandals off the pitch (Revie was heavily implicated in accusations of match-fixing) and everything to do with what happened the other side of the white lines.
Leed’s, although an incredibly talented side were often an abomination disciplinary-wise. Practically from numbers one through eleven, with few exceptions, their players had a ruthless, thuggish tendency. Above and beyond that, their cynicism generally appalled Clough. In my memory they were the first team to surround officials and basically bully and badger them into giving decisions Leeds’ way. It was a cynical ploy that they used continually and consistently through games. They took every rule and pushed it to and beyond the limits in order to gain an advantage.
Clough, flanked by Leeds players, right to left: Reaney, Harvey and Bremner
This style needs to be contrasted with any of Clough’s sides. Clough was a huge disciplinarian and had zero tolerance towards his players getting involved with referees or showing dissent. He is the only manager I can think of who would actually take the official’s side against his own players. This factor along with the neat, attractive football that Clough sides played with became a hallmark of all Clough teams. Referees would always be happy to be assigned a Forest game because they knew it would the easiest game they had to officiate all season.
The great animosity between Clough and Revie began when the former’s resurgent Derby County came along snapping at the heels of ‘mighty’ Leeds. There were several extremely bad-natured clashes between the two teams and of course Cloughie (who was even brasher in those days as a young manager) would have plenty to say about Leeds and Revie in his own inimitable way. Revie always resented the young ‘upstart’ for his direct and very personal attacks on him, his team and their ‘methods’.
It was illuminating watching Nigel on the documentary. He was always so different to his father, very self-effacing and almost seeming shy and embarrassed to be in the public eye. His character traits always seems to fit the stereotypical ones of a son with a domineering father. It was clear for all to see in the program that in his younger days, Brian was a doting dad. I do believe though that alcohol brought the worst out of him as he got older. Indeed I know many Forest fans who were angry with him for not quitting at the City Ground earlier when he was clearly not fit or healthy enough to be in charge any more. Thankfully after his retirement and dealing with the drink, he seemed to became a much happier and content man and got back to the job of being a wonderful granddad to his grandchildren.
I often feel that Nigel’s playing career was vastly undervalued, not by Forest supporters I hasten to add. I know of Brian’s playing career only by repute and reading but it’s clear one of the only things they had in common as players was the number nine on their back. Whilst Clough senior was an out-and-our predatory goal scorer, Nigel’s was a different game. He was much more of a playmaker and was a wonderful passer of the ball with great vision. He also played a lot deeper and was good at bringing other people into the game with his skilful and stealthy style. Whilst being a consistent goal scorer who certainly knew where the net was, he wasn’t the heavy, heavy goal scorer that his father had been. Indeed, few have been.
The programme illustrated the ravages of alcoholism that Brian had suffered for many a long year and it could be seen the effect that it had had not only upon himself but also his family. Son Nigel was quizzed as to whether his father had ever offered him praise or shown any pride in his son’s distinguished career, (it should be remembered that Nigel was an excellent centre forward in his own right who had been capped by England). Nigel replied an emotional ‘no’ and it was easy to see the pain this had caused him.
Whilst I think that Brian’s attitude to ‘our number nine’ as he called his son was sometimes harsh, mainly because of the place he was in, his pride in his son did shine out sometimes. I think a problem was that Brian did everything he could not to be seen to be favouring his son and it all got a little out of hand when the drink took hold.
The Damned United is on release from this week.