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Goodbye Young Man - Brian Clough 1935-2004

21 September 04 words: Al Needham

Thanks to Cloughie, everyone knew about Nottingham. Not only were we winning almost everything in sight, but we were doing it in style...

Brian Clough (Image: Creative commons)

It's May 26 1977. I am a ten-year-old Top Valley lad sitting in the living room of my next door neighbour's, waiting for me Mam to come home from the bingo, watching Liverpool parade the European Cup about.

"See that?" said my neighbour. "That'll be Forest in two years. You watch."

I'd always had my doubts about my next door neighbour, but this confirmed them. He was barking mad. At school, no-one - and I mean, no-one - supported Forest. You were a Liverpool or Man United fan and maybe, if you were really unlucky, your Dad took you to County every now and then.

But Forest? No way. Sure, they'd just got promoted the previous week (by the skin of their teeth), and their manager was well known for having a big gob and getting sacked after 44 days at Leeds (and was also a massive hate figure in Notts when he was leading the despised Derby to the championship, but you don't hear about that these days), but they weren't going to do anything. Were they?

Six months later, you were as likely to see a Liverpool or Man United bag in a Nottingham school as you'd see a Bros pencil case today. Kids would roll up to school, their jumpers encrusted with plastic badges with `Withe Strikes More Than British Leyland' and `We All Agree Nottingham Forest Are Magic', bragging about being taken to the City Ground by their Dads to see Forest break teams over their knee. One day, someone came to school with the lyrics of the We've Got The Whole World In Our Hands, and about fifty lads marched round the playground in a line, flares a-swinging, arms round shoulders, bellowing out the words;

"We're gonna win, we're gonna win everything - so stand up and sing for Cluff-eh the king! Cluff-eh! Cluff-eh! Cluff-eh!...

And we hadn't even won anything. Yet...

If you're like me, you're probably spending a lot of time right now reading about who Brian Clough was and what he did, or listening to your Dad go on about him. How he was probably one of the greatest managers ever (which is cobblers, because he was the greatest, no question). How he got up the noses of the establishment, and how he should have been England manager. But I just want to talk about the truly important thing he did - how he put this town on the map.

Before Cloughie, nothing happened in Nottingham that warranted the slightest bit of attention in the national media. Back in those days, before the East and West Midlands got their own local TV news services, you wouldn't even hear about Nottingham on Midlands Today or ATV News. Sure, everyone knew about Robin Hood, but by this time most foreigners assumed he was a fox with an American accent, thanks to the Disney cartoon. The last time Nottingham passed across the national consciousness was Saturday Night and Sunday Morning - but that was a whole generation previous.

Thanks to Cloughie, everyone knew about Nottingham. Not only were we winning almost everything in sight by the end of the seventies, but we were doing it in style - and we were absolutely loved by everyone else outside of Derby, because we had put an end to the reign of Liverpool. Imagine that it wasn't Arsenal that went undefeated for over a year ended the dominance of Man United, but Norwich or West Brom. That's what Forest did in 1978.

From L-R: Trevor Francis, Brian Clough and John Robertson (Image: Creative commons)

And as anyone who was around in Notts between 1978 and 1980 will tell you, it was a glorious time. Kids from Nottingham weren't supposed to see their local team rise to the top of European Football, and their Dads weren't supposed to nick off work and travel around the continent to see it. We weren't supposed to see players who we could see in the flesh for two quid on Saturday appear on Top Of The Pops the next Thursday in nasty jumpers, and we weren't supposed to see players like Trevor Francis roar into the car park in a white Jag to become the first million-pound signing. We weren't supposed to see our team live on telly, or listen to them at three in the morning playing in the World Club Championship at Tokyo, via radio commentary that sounded like they were on the Moon. And we definitely weren't supposed to stand in the Market Square and wait for them to appear in an open-topped bus with the European Cup, and then brag at school the next day that Viv Anderson waved to your Mam.

I've got a picture of myself as an eleven-year-old in the Royal Hunt in Top Valley, holding up the European Cup (seen right). I still can't believe that happened, and I know for a fact it never will again, not only because the pub is being pulled down. I see kids on our estate wearing Arsenal and Man U shirts and I feel nothing but pity for them. They could win the European Cup every year, but it's not really their team, is it?

Cloughie might have been born in Middlesbrough and he might have died in Derby, but he was pure Nottingham. Chelpy as you like, stubborn as anything, gobby enough to have a go at Muhammad Ali on Parkinson, and he chinned Roy Keane. He was Nottingham's surrogate Dad, and we were his lairy, sometimes bemused but always fiercely loyal kids. Out of all the examples out there, two come to mind.

The first one was during the championship season, when Cloughie, getting narked off by the foul language from the Trent End, put up a massive sign that read `Gentlemen, No Swearing Please - Brian'. If any other manager had tried that, there would have been outrage and even more swearing. But it worked - for a while, Forest fans would chant "You're gonna get your flipping head kicked in" and "The referee's a naughty".

The second, of course, is the time when Cloughie went batchy over a pitch invasion and started smacking up pitch invaders left and right. On the video clip, you can see one bloke turn round and get ready to give it back, until he sees who it is. Then he legs it like a scalded cat. If anyone else had done that, Forest would have been hit with about twenty lawsuits. All that happened to Cloughie was a TV appearance with two extremely sheepish-looking blokes, who he kissed.

Naturally, you can't talk about the glory years without mentioning the tragic denouement, when he stayed on too long and Forest got relegated. In fact, we should talk about that, because I was never more proud to be from Nottingham than in 1993. I was in London at Uni at the time, and when people found out where I was from, the first thing they'd say was "Forest, eh? What a team - Cloughie's ace, isn't he?" And no-one took the piss or rubbed it in when we got relegated, because he made Forest hate-proof. I wasn't there for his last home game, but I stood at a Dixons window in Brighton, crying like a Jessie with pride at the reception he got at the City Ground. What other city would give a manager a send-off like that after he took them down?

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to the City Ground to stand in the car park and have a good roar with a load of other blokes who are saying goodbye to a huge chunk of their formative years this week, and to say thank you to a man who made you proud to come from Nottingham.

It still hasn't sunk in that Brian Clough is dead. But then again, it still hasn't sunk in that we were once the  greatest team in the world, either.

Sir Brian Clough
21st March 1935 - 20th September 2004

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