Marcus Alton is a lifelong Forest fan who has dedicated the last decade of his life towards preserving the memory of Brian Clough. He’s petitioned Downing Street for a posthumous knighthood, started up a memorial website, written a couple of books and was instrumental in getting a certain bronze statue in the centre of town. We wouldn’t say he’s the most dedicated fan in the business. But he’s in the top one.
You met Brian Clough many times but it was a certain photograph that would bring about a lifelong bond…
I was lucky enough to meet Brian Clough a number of times, both as a fan and a journalist. I'll always remember the day he gave me a big hug and kissed me on the cheek. It was after his retirement from management and he was the special guest at a village fete. I'd gone along not only to see him - but to ask him to sign a special photograph. It was a large and unusual picture of Cloughie in the dressing room with his victorious Nottingham Forest team after they had just secured their place in the 1991 FA Cup Final. It wasn’t often that he invited the media into his dressing room, but on this occasion he had. The Reds had just beaten West Ham in the semi-final at Villa Park and the photographer captured a classic scene, with Cloughie sitting in his dressing gown alongside his players and backroom staff. I was determined to get everyone on the photo to sign it. For several weeks I had waited outside the Forest dressing room after training sessions in the hope of getting the various players to add their names. And they all did. Names like Roy Keane, Stuart Pearce, Des Walker and Brian's son, Nigel. The only signature now missing was that of Cloughie himself.
So on the morning of his guest appearance I took the photo with me, wondering what his reaction would be when he saw it. His eyes lit-up as he gazed across that dressing room scene - I could tell the memories were flooding back. He saw that all his players had signed it. “I wondered if you could sign this for me please, Mr Clough? Yours is the only signature I’m missing,” I said, my hands trembling as I handed him the pen. “My pleasure, young man,” came the reply, as he carefully started to add his signature.
Handing back the pen, he took one more look at the photo. “Happy days,” he said, nodding. “Thanks Mr Clough, you’ve made my day,” I said, my mouth dry with nerves. At that point, he looked up at me and got out of his chair. “Young man, you’ve made my day too,” he said and stepped towards me. He gave me a huge bear hug and a peck on the cheek. That encounter provided the title of my first book, 'Young Man, You've Made My Day'.
Everyone’s got a story or anecdote about him. What makes him so memorable?
Cloughie had amazing charisma, his sheer presence would light-up the room. Yes, he was outspoken but even people who were not interested in football would gather round their televisions or radio's to hear what he had to say. Having said that, when he met people - whether they were football fans or not - he was always interested in what they had to say too. He had a remarkable knack of making people feel very special, even if they were in his company for just a few minutes. He was also unpredictable - and that was part of his magic - keeping players, fans and the media on their toes. Cloughie had a great sense of humour too. It was once said that if he’d not been a football genius, he’d have made a brilliant comedian!
He’s generated a lot of books. Do you have a particular favourite?
I've been disappointed with a few of the recent books about him. For example, one which described itself as a biography incorrectly stated that his memorial service was at the City Ground, when it was actually at Pride Park. But there have been one or two good ones over the years. I enjoyed reading the updated version of His Way by Pat Murphy.
What makes your book different?
One of the big factors which makes my book stand out from the rest is the memories from his family - his widow, Barbara, his daughter Elizabeth and his brother and sister in Middlesbough, Joe and Doreen. Having got to know them through running the tribute website, launching the knighthood campaign and then setting-up the fund-raising committee for a statue in Nottingham, it has been a real privilege to meet them and share their memories.
Another difference is that I wanted to mix memories of famous names with fans. So you can be reading about the memory of someone like Gary Lineker on one page, and a fan who rescued Brian's canary on another!
Many people who’ve read the book have told me that they enjoyed it because, unlike many others, you can find yourself laughing out loud one minute, and close to tears the next.
Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away
All of this media coverage must be difficult and tiring for the Clough family. How were they with you?
I'm proud to say that Brian's family have been very supportive of all my efforts to keep his memory alive. Due to the special relationship I have developed with them over recent years, his widow, Barbara, and daughter, Elizabeth, were only too pleased to contribute their memories as part of the book. When my non-profit making tribute website celebrated its 10th anniversary a while ago, Mrs Clough sent a special message of congratulations. She said it was wonderful that people still sent e-mails and that it was very comforting to know that Brian is still thought of so fondly by so many people. Mrs Clough also wrote the foreword for my first book. After I set-up the Brian Clough Statue Fund, we ensured that the family were closely involved in choosing the pose and sculptor for the brilliant bronze statue in Nottingham. It was fantastic to see them at the gala fund-raising dinner, the unveiling ceremony and the civic reception.
Come on then, give us a couple of stories from the book …
There are so many funny, unique, varied and interesting stories in the book – stories I’ve enjoyed collecting over the years – that it's hard to know where to begin. For example, there are some lovely memories from the Nottingham Forest photographer, John Sumpter. In one story he describes how Cloughie helped him after the European Cup Final victory over Hamburg in Madrid. The players had taken the trophy into a corner of the stadium and he managed to get a photo of them, even though the officials turned the floodlights off! He was also fortunate to get into the dressing room – thanks to Brian. There were lots of security officials in the tunnel and Peter Taylor was trying to negotiate John's way through them. But Cloughie got fed-up with the delay and - all of a sudden - John felt a tug on his sleeve and Cloughie pulled him through the crowd of people. He got into the dressing room and took precious photographs of the team with the trophy.
Another fan describes how meeting Cloughie changed his life. Andrew Thompson had been living in a children's home and used to see Brian most Sundays walking his dog in Darley Park in Derby. Andrew was often in trouble with the Police, but one day Brian had a little kick around with him - then they sat down and had a chat. Andrew takes up the story: "His words of wisdom really sank in and changed my life. He was the only person who has had any effect on my life and turned it into a good life instead of going to prison." Andrew sent his e-mail from the Royal Navy in Plymouth - a wonderful example of how Cloughie could inspire people and change lives.
And what about the former player who threw a bucket of water over Cloughie…
That was Terry Bell – who is originally from Nottingham and was one of Cloughie's first signings at Hartlepool. Terry recalled how the Hartlepool players used to play practical jokes on each other. On one occasion he got into the dressing room to find that someone had cut all the toes out of his socks. So he thought he would get his revenge. Terry climbed onto the roof of the dressing room with a bucket of water. Some of his team-mates agreed to give him the signal when the lad in question was walking past, so Terry could throw the bucket of water over him. He waited - and finally got the signal. But unfortunately it wasn’t who he expected, it was Cloughie! To make matters worse, Brian wasn’t wearing his tracksuit – he was going to a funeral that day so he was wearing a suit. And it got absolutely soaked! Terry was fined a week's wages.
Cloughie was a generous man so I’m sure he’d be delighted that he’s still able to help causes beyond the grave…
My royalties from this book - and my first book - are going to the Brian Clough Memorial Fund. The fund is run by his family and gives money to the types of good causes Brian supported. Some of those who've benefitted over the years are Age Concern, the Nottinghamshire Hospice, the Maggie's Cancer Centre in Nottingham, the Royal Tank Regiment Association, a neo-natal intensive care unit, an organisation called BLISS which supports premature and sick babies and their families, the British Polio Fellowship - and a charity called SPANNED (Supporting People with Additional Needs) which is run by Father Frank Daly who conducted Brian's Memorial Service.
It’s amazing to think all of this – the books, the charity work, the statue - all started out with the website.
I set-up the website back in August 2000, when I realised there was no dedicated website in tribute to Brian. I received e-mails from fans all over the world - and still do. Many of them wanted to see a knighthood for Brian, so a campaign was started. The petition attracted seven and a half thousand signatures and e-mails. I arranged to hand the petition over at Ten Downing Street in October 2004, with the help of Cloughie's MP, Bob Laxton. But in the meantime, Brian sadly died in the September, just weeks before the petition was due to be handed in. The presentation of the petition - in three volumes - still went ahead, this time calling for a posthumous award. Unfortunately, the government said posthumous knighthoods could only be given for gallantry in the military - and the statutes could not be changed.
So instead you set-up the statue fund…
With lots of hard work by the committee, and the support of thousands of fans who put their hands in their pockets, we smashed the fund-raising target of £60,000 within just 18 months, raising a total of £70,000 which paid for not only the statue but for some of Cloughie’s most famous quotes to be etched into the paving around the sculpture.
I think it’s fitting to mention that lifelong Forest fan and former owner of Nottingham Forest, Nigel Doughty, supported the efforts of the statue fund to the tune of a £5,000 donation, and also gave financial assistance for a gala fundraising dinner which the Brian Clough Statue Fund held.
And from this came the books…
The statue was unveiled by Barbara Clough in front of the world's media and five-thousand people who gathered in Nottingham city centre. As you can imagine, it was quite a story - and I was asked to speak all about it at the Lowdham Book Festival. I then decided the whole story - including the times I met Brian - would make a fascinating book and a local publisher agreed. That's how my first book came about. This second book is with a different publisher who specialises in sports books. But the story doesn't end there. Yes, I'm involved in another project with a strong Cloughie connection. It's very early days, so I can't say too much. But I think it will be of interest to all Clough fans.
Derby or Forest: Where was his heart?
A good question - probably best answered by referring to one of the stories included in the book. Forest fan Richard Skelhorn recalled meeting Cloughie at a book signing session at the City Ground shop and overheard a TV interview being recorded. He says one of the questions was along the lines of "Is it always more special coming back to the City Ground, than Derby?” Richard, being a Reds supporter, was hoping for an answer like, “Yes, of course - I enjoyed my greatest triumphs at Forest” - or something similar. But Richard says that, deep down, he knew Brian would never publicly declare a greater affection for one set of fans over the other. Adds Richard: "So, while Brian wasn't usually known for his diplomacy - the opposite in fact! - I wasn't at all surprised when he replied that he had huge affection for both clubs and couldn't possibly choose between the two."
Do you think we’ll ever see Taylor and Clough united in bronze?
Whenever you go abroad, there are always two names associated with Nottingham – Robin Hood and Brian Clough. So it’s great there are statues in Nottingham for both legends. I think it's very fitting that there is a statue of Clough and Taylor outside Pride Park in Derby. After all, it's at Derby County that they enjoyed their first major success together - and it's the club Taylor joined to manage on his own just a few months after retiring from Forest. Cloughie, of course, went on to enjoy many years of success on his own with Forest in the 80’s and early 90’s, when Forest fans enjoyed annual trips to Wembley at the end of each season. Cloughie used to joke that the team coach knew its own way to the Twin Towers without the driver!
What’s been the highlight of your journey?
The day of the statue unveiling was absolutely incredible. I felt privileged to travel with the Clough family on their way to the market square for such a momentous occasion. When we turned down King Street and saw the masses of people who had gathered, it was extremely emotional. Now, it always gives me - and the committee members - a huge feeling of pride to see people stopping to admire the statue and take photo's. Handing the knighthood petition in at Ten Downing Street was also a memorable day, even though the result was not quite what we'd hoped for. Nevertheless, it's always comforting to know Brian was aware of the campaign before he died - and just how much his fans thought about him. And they still do.
The Day I Met Brian Clough…And Other Tributes compiled by Marcus Alton, D B Publishing, £9.99