Enigmatic duo Brian Clough and Peter Taylor turned Nottingham Forest from Division Two journeymen into double European champions within the space of five years. This is the story of that remarkable odyssey. BT Sport 1, Tues, June 25th 8pm
Brian Clough was the most famous manager in English football when he assumed the reins at Forest’s City Ground in January 1975. He had taken Derby County from the lower reaches of the second tier to title glory within five years. History was about to repeat itself just down the road in Nottingham, except this time he would conquer Europe as well.
After a playing career cut short by injury, Clough’s reputation was made at Derby whom he guided to the Division One title in 1972 along with assistant Peter Taylor. But the former Middlesbrough and Sunderland striker was notoriously outspoken and eventually fell foul of the chairman and board for his provocative comments in the press. He put his name into the hat for the England job on a number of occasions, but was never even called for an interview. He claimed that the FA were scared of him and feared he would take over the organisation if he got the job. He later admitted they were right because that was exactly what he would have done.
Clough and Taylor left Derby in October 1973. The former spent nine months on the south coast with Brighton before a now notorious 44-day spell as manager of Leeds United at the beginning of the 1974-75 season. With his reputation somewhat tarnished, he moved to the City Ground to begin afresh. Forest were in the bottom half of Division Two at the time with the prospect of domestic success let alone European glory seemingly no more than a far-flung dream. But the club already possessed the nucleus of the squad who would go on to become European champions. It was the beginning of a truly remarkable journey.
The story is superbly captured by actor-turned-director Jonny Owen using plenty of vintage footage mixed with contemporary interviews with the surviving protagonists. It speaks of a far different time, a more innocent era where players enjoyed a roast dinner, chips and a glass of wine before a game and even a cheeky fag at half-time. Training was little more than a couple of laps around the pitch followed by some shooting practice and a trip to the pub.
The footage is accompanied by a funky soundtrack which runs the gamut between Hot Chocolate and Gloria Gaynor to the Velvet Underground and beyond. "I can't begin to tell you how good it looks when you see Tony Woodcock bombing down the wing with Gloria Gaynor singing," Owen says unapologetically. Be warned, though, as perms are worn extensively throughout this programme which some viewers may find offensive!
Taylor rejoined his old friend at the City Ground in early 1976 and they secured promotion to the top flight the following year. Not too much was expected of them, but Clough adroitly added to his squad which included the likes of former Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill, former Derby players John McGovern and John O’Hare, Larry Lloyd, Kenny Burns, John Robertson, Tony Woodcock and Ian Bowyer. In came the likes of Gary Birtles and Archie Gemmill along with England stalwarts Peter Shilton and Trevor Francis (who became Britain’s first million pound transfer). It proved a winning combination as they claimed the First Division title and League Cup in their first season back in the top tier.
But even better was to follow. They won the League Cup in 1979 and made it to the European Cup final, knocking-out two-time champions Liverpool en route. Trevor Francis scored the only goal of the game as they beat Swedish side Malmo 1-0 in a tight encounter. They managed to retain the trophy the following year with a 1-0 win over a star-studded SV Hamburg who included European Player of the Year Kevin Keegan in their line-up.
There followed a slow decline thereafter as Clough and Taylor fell out and the former descended into alcoholism. Forest were relegated in 1993, Clough’s final season in charge, and have remained outside the top flight ever since.
Owen managed to locate and get contributions from 16 members of the squad and back-room team. There is no shortage of nostalgia here, but the piece is punctuated with some insightful reminiscences from the likes of O’Neill, Burns and Shilton amongst others. But the star of the show is undoubtedly Clough himself who comes across as confrontational and belligerent but charming, articulate and very, very funny. You may not always agree with what he has to say, but you could never accuse him of being dull.
Some may draw parallels between him and a certain Portuguese who recently managed in the Premier League and is also prone to controversial outbursts. But, unlike Mourinho, Clough oozed charisma, rarely complained and was always upbeat in the face of a challenge. He died in 2004, some 14 years after his erstwhile partner Taylor, and is still rightly remembered very fondly as one of the most colourful characters ever to grace the English game.
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