Saturday 20 September 2014 market the 10th anniversary of the death of legendary Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough, a man who will forever be idolised among the City Ground masses, and respected around the globe. Here Nottingham Forest fan, and season ticket holder, Mark Chambers gives his own personal tribute to ‘Ol’ Big Head’.
The greatest manager England never had.
10 years ago, Nottingham Forest, Derby County and Leeds United fans lost a manager who was one of a kind. Imitators come and go like the clouds the great man himself never wanted to play football on, and rarely do any of them succeed in turning the no-nonsense talk and unorthodox methods into the success experienced by the ‘young man’ from Middlesbrough.
The other Sunday, there was a game on down at the City Ground. Who knew? Police lined the streets, fans in white and black shirts shepherded down London Road like sheep (ah hem) from a pen. Of course they sang songs about how they were bigger than their fiercest local rivals, it was expected that they would remind the Tricky Trees of results they were proud of in the not too distant past, and it was amusing that they picked on the fact that the Garibaldi hadn’t earned any silverware for nearly two and a half decades.
I’d been to many Derby games, but despite the familiar hostilities, this one was different. Upper Brian Clough in the City Ground is not the most evocative of all football stands. There is more chance of Robbie Savage winning the ‘Ballon D’or’ than there being a Football Factory style kick off in the upper J block. I also knew that 10 minutes in, there was going to be a round of applause for one of the greatest managers that has ever graced the world of football.
Little did I know that when the clock reached 10 minutes, exactly to the second, the hairs on the back of my neck would stand up and, for a brief and moment in Footballing history, Forest and Derby would be united. Despite feeling a little confused, standing up to applaud whilst the opposition are on the attack is not normal practice on match day, the sound of 30,227 fans paying tribute to the green jumper with their hands and not their mouths for over a minute was, to be precise, incredible. It is something that I will never, ever forget. Maybe that’s daft, but there you go. Football does strange things to ones emotions.
I have to be honest, despite being a Forest fan for nearly all my life, I have never read any of the Brian Clough autobiographies. Those types of books have never appealed to me, no matter how much of a fan I happen to be of the subject matter. So when putting together a brief tribute to Brian, I didn’t think of sitting here waxing lyrical over his career, or bragging about European Cups, or even giving my opinions on why the ‘Damned United’ was a super film but seemed to ‘Hollywood-ise’ Clough’s arrogance. That has been covered a thousand times before on paper and in blogs. There is nothing I could say that could do the man proud, and if he were around today, I would just be a fan to him, a single member of the public holding a single ticket in a single seat in block J, who every now and then gets a little uppity when a pass goes astray or Danny Collins once again decides to go on a lunch break instead of putting his arse on the line for the team.
I remember my first game in 1989, at home to Manchester City. I won the tickets to the game in a competition, and a week before had been invited to tour the City Ground on a Sunday afternoon. But despite seeing the trophies, standing in the dressing room and gracing the touchline, all I wanted to do was to meet Brian. You see, every school boy has a hero, usually it involves a footballer when said youngster is as the age of nine. And with me being fairly new to the football lark, and Stuart Pearce being my favourite player, my idol was Brian Clough. To me, there was something magical about him, and I felt like if I was ever graced with his presence at the time, my childhood would be complete. My friends talked about him, my Dad loved him for his larger than life character, and I almost had it drilled into me that he was a good person, someone to aspire to. He stood for Forest, through and through. We were sat in the Main Stand right behind the dugout, and I remember him coming out of the tunnel and applauding the crowd, and I was star struck. There he was, in all his green jumper glory, the man who had put Forest on the footballing map. It wasn’t a personal meeting, but something clicked that day. Not only had I seen Cloughie with my own eyes, but my love for Forest had been well and truly ignited. But that day, in my naïve little mind, Forest couldn’t lose because he was the manager, such was his status to me on that very plot of sacred land besides the Trent. Of course, all of this was in my head and the reality of the game was much less forgiving, and Forest indeed went on to lose 3-1, and I froze my y-fronts off and waited for my lift home thinking more about my new video game than the atmosphere I had just experienced for the very first time. But it left a lasting impression and a memory and feeling I will never forget, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing these very words, reliving the sights and the bitter cold of that winter Saturday afternoon, and you wouldn’t be reading them.
Sometimes, ‘owd big ed’s’ career has been portrayed almost as a fairy tale. It’s true, 251 league goals from 274 starts is a stat I would love to see Britt Assombalonga end up with in a garibaldi, but Clough wasn’t graced with silverware whilst gracing the pitch with his boots. Although he remains one of the Football Leagues highest goal scorers, for me personally it is his management career that fascinates me. His style of management, taken from his former manager at Sunderland, Alan Brown, was criticised at first until the results started to flow. His unorthodox techniques would never stand up to today’s cotton wool wrapped players (Di Canio, I’m looking at you), but in the day the players gave him utter respect. And to this day, I haven’t heard of any professional who played under him who didn’t give him this, even if they remember the altercations more than the enjoyment. Maybe Sir Alex Ferguson aside, you simply do not get that level of praise for a manager these days. It was a time when the manager ‘merry-go-round’ hadn’t been built, never mind about plugged into a generator. Clough graced the City Ground from 1975 to 1993, something unprecedented in this day and age. With youth academy’s given the heave-ho and young managers getting sacked after small loss to their local rivals, he would be turning in his grave. With all due to respect to the current management of new and old since his sacking, the ‘red and white army’ Clough built will never be replicated. He was given time, no manager today has that kind of luxury. Time allowed Clough to become as big as he did, but even if he had failed at Forest, dare I say like he did at his previous clubs, his ego would have remained intact, for his character is why many people, fans and non-fans, loved Brian.
So, that is essentially my tribute. So many people could say so much more, and probably in a much better way. But Clough was, and always will be, such a huge part of Forest, and therefore a part of me. I love reading his quotes, and listening to memories of people who were fortunate to comes across his path, and ensuring his memory stays fresh in the history of football, at any of his clubs, is paramount. He didn’t change management, but he personally changed me as a football fan.
Maybe there is time for another manager to become as good as him, but in the man’s own words…
“Rome wasn’t built in a day, but I wasn’t on that particular job!”