BRIAN Clough, the outspoken former Derby and Nottingham Forest manager who died in 2004, would have turned 85 on Saturday.

For those too young to remember Brian Clough: think Jose Mourinho. Then multiply it.

Some considered Mourinho arrogant when he landed in English football in 2004 and immediately proclaimed himself as the ‘Special One’ but, as the barbs and quips kept coming, he proved he had good reason to be confident. Mourinho’s Chelsea side won back-to-back Premier League titles, proving themselves the best in the country. The cocksure Portuguese’s methods may not have been to everyone’s taste but they certainty got results.

The game had seen the like before three decades earlier – and then some – in Clough. A sharp-witted and forthright north-easterner whose own impressive playing career was cut short by injury, Clough rubbed plenty of people up the wrong way. Yet there was no denying he had the knack of wringing every ounce of ability out of his players.

“I wouldn’t say I was the best manager in the business, but I was in the top one,” said Clough, whose boasts earned him the nickname ‘Old Big ‘Ead’.

Clough led unfashionable Derby and Nottingham Forest to league titles and, in the latter’s case, two European Cups. There were plenty of downs as well as ups, not least an infamous 44-day spell in charge of Leeds and a heated row with Don Revie on live TV. Yet when he retired in declining health in 1993, years of heavy drinking clearly taking their toll, his place among the greats of English football was assured despite relegation in his final season.

It is easy for Clough’s managerial achievements to mask those of his playing career and that is perhaps wrong.

A prolific striker, Clough scored 204 goals in 222 games for hometown Middlesbrough and earned two England caps before joining Sunderland in 1961. He added another 63 goals in 74 matches for Sunderland but was out for two years after suffering a knee injury colliding with the Bury goalkeeper in 1962. An attempted comeback lasted just three games and he retired at the age of 29.

He switched to coaching, first with Sunderland’s youth team and then as manager of Fourth Division Hartlepools (now Hartlepool) in 1965.

“I don’t fancy the place,” he typically said when taking the Pools job but that did not stop him. He led them to eighth, their highest-ever finish, before moving to Second Division Derby in 1967.

Clough took controversy with him to the east midlands, sacking various members of the club’s off-field staff as well as overhauling the squad, but his success was remarkable. Derby were promoted in his second season in 1969 and fourth in the First Division the following year. They won it in 1972 and reached the European Cup semi-finals in 1973.

All of this came in tandem with his good friend Peter Taylor as his assistant before the Rams’ glory days ended in a row with the board.

Clough and Taylor moved to Third Division Brighton but Clough was tempted back to the top flight with Leeds in 1974 after Revie took the England job. Taylor refused to go with him, leading to a bitter row.

Without Taylor, Clough’s spell in charge of the side he once described as “the dirtiest, most cynical team in the league” was a disaster. He lost the dressing room on day one when he told them to throw their medals in the bin because they had cheated to win them.

Sacked just six league games into the 1974-75 season, his humiliation was compounded as he was invited onto the ITV Calendar chat show, not knowing Revie was also to appear. The broadcast, in which the pair traded verbal blows, made compelling TV.

It was an ignominious fall from grace for the brash Clough but he bounced back, taking charge of Second Division Nottingham Forest a few months later. After burying the hatchet, Taylor later joined him and promotion was secured in 1977 and, incredibly, so was the First Division title the following year. Forest then won the European Cup in 1979 and 1980. There were also four League Cups.

Many believe Clough to be the best manager England never had and his reputation still endures.

“I think if Brian Clough was around today, we would get on,” said Mourinho in 2015.

Clough’s relationship with Taylor broke down again and his Forest side began to fall away as leading players were sold. His final years at the City Ground were overshadowed by controversial comments about the Hillsborough disaster, corruption allegations, failing health and, finally, relegation. His impact on the game, however, would not be forgotten.

*The Dorset Echo is supplementing coverage amid the coronavirus pandemic with a range of features, including flashbacks.


t: 01305 830955

e: sport

twitter: @Dorsetechosport