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Antenna

John McGovern

5 June 15 words: Rich Fisher
"I decided that all the injuries are down to the fact that these modern day players didn't get free milk at school like you did when I was growing up"
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Photo: Raph Achache

It’s 35 years since you lifted what was then known as the European Cup. How do you think the Forest team of the late seventies and early eighties would fare in today’s Champions League?
Well, we’d probably win it. We had a very well-organised and talented team, and we died for the cause. If you go back to the late seventies and eighties, the Champions League trophy, as it’s called now, was won by English teams seven years out of eight. And back in those days English teams were actually made up of Englishmen, Scotsmen and Welshmen – which shows the quality of English football at the time. Until the Manchester Cities and the Chelseas can repeat that kind of success, I’ll always believe that we were better than the modern day players. They are great sides with some great players, but I think our overall determination, grit and organisation would overcome them. We had a magnificent team and we had magnificent belief in each other. And, of course, we had the most unique manager in the game in Brian Clough, which obviously gave us an edge.

You played against both Barcelona and Juventus during your own playing career. Will you be watching the final on 6 June, and who do you want to win?
I’ll certainly be watching, and I’ll be wanting Barcelona to win. I think Lionel Messi is the best ambassador in the game. Ronaldo of Real Madrid comes close. For me, they are the best two players in the world at the moment. But Messi has the edge because of his attitude. He spends the whole ninety minutes getting kicked by defenders, but just keeps his head down and then, more often than not, he’ll win the game by scoring a wonder goal. And, unlike Ronaldo, he doesn’t have a stupid haircut.

You get asked all the time about your time at Forest under Cloughie. Can you tell us something about those days that we might not already know?
A lot of people might not know about the laughing and joking in training. We all took the mickey out of each other. Brian Clough was a disciplinarian, but he didn’t mind if you brought a certain joviality into training as long as you did what you were there to do. We had a lot of fun, and that’s just how it should be.

Moving on 35 years, you’re now back at Forest in an ambassadorial role. Is there a typical week in your job?
There’s no such thing as a typical week. One of my first jobs was to go round all of our various sponsors and thank them for giving the club support. In the coming season, though, I might get a little bit more involved in the playing side by spending time talking to the young players coming through the academy. But the biggest part of my role is simply representing and promoting the club, trying to maintain the reputation we’ve earned throughout Europe and throughout the country from our successes in the past.

Recent years have seen some challenging times for Forest. For someone who has such a passion for the club, does this hurt?
It’s disappointing, obviously. There have been great efforts made by the last four or five owners of Nottingham Forest to try and get us back in the Premier League. The current owner, Fawaz Al Hasawi, is as keen as anyone to get us back there. A lot of people say that it’s where we belong, but you only belong where your results take you.

One of the biggest hurdles for Forest at the moment is the restrictions the club are currently operating under due to the breach of Financial Fair Play rules. Any thoughts on this?
Dougie Freedman came into his job as Forest’s manager with his eyes wide open with regard to the Financial Fair Play system. He’s quite confident that he can still do the job, and he certainly gets my backing. When he first came in he immediately turned Forest’s fortunes around after a poor run of results, and this was despite us losing our leading goalscorer, Britt Assombalonga. Obviously the way the season finished was disappointing – but there were a lot of positives, and if we can carry those into next season, then who knows what will happen. Who’d have predicted that Bournemouth would have ended up getting promoted?

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Photo: Raph Achache

It’s looking like Derby forward Jamie Ward will be the first new player to arrive this summer. You played for Derby before you arrived at Forest – what advice will you be giving to Jamie to win over the City Ground faithful?
Win your first tackle in your first game that you play. Clatter somebody - that’ll get you accepted by the Forest fans straight away.

You mentioned Britt Assombalonga – he’s just one of a number of key players who Forest have lost to injury in recent years. Is this purely down to bad luck?
I’ve been told that. But I came up with a theory – all the injuries are down to the fact that these modern day players didn’t get free milk at school like you did when I was growing up. I used the drink gallons of the stuff, and it made sure my bones and tendons and things were in good condition. Players seem to get injured all the time now. Training methods are totally different. I don’t agree with the way a lot of things are done now, but I’m one of those old dinosaurs.

The 2015/16 season sees Forest mark 150 years since the club was founded. Any plans to commemorate this?
We’re looking into staging a commemorative match before the season starts, but it will depend on the availability of other teams. There will also be other events over the season for supporters – I imagine I’ll be getting dragged along to a few of those to tell a few Cloughie stories and make people laugh. But it won’t just be about the teams that I played in – we also want to celebrate some of the other great Forest teams, such as the side that won the FA Cup in 1959. Let’s hope that the biggest celebration will be at the end of the season. Everybody’s got to think positively about that.

You’re a big music fan – and you’re mates with AC/DC. You off to see them on tour this summer?
I think AC/DC are the best rock band in the world. I can’t make their Wembley date, but I am hoping to see them when they play in Scotland at Hampden Park. Brian Johnson, the singer, has one of my European Cup final Forest shirts, and I usually meet up with him whenever he’s in the country. He’s a great lad and I’ve known him for many years.

Your son Alex is in a band – can you tell us about them?
He’s got a band called Scrim. They’re based in Sheffield – they have a few tracks on YouTube and they do a mean version of the Beatles number Paperback Writer.

There’ve been a lot of successful music acts from Nottingham recently. Are you a fan of the likes of Jake Bugg?
I’m more of a rock fan really. But I salute anyone who can play a musical instrument - I can’t play anything. I play a mean air guitar, but that’s it.

We hear your air guitaring habits got you into trouble with Cloughie once…
Yeah, I was playing for Derby County at the time, and I was out on the pitch an hour before kick-off, just checking the surface so I could see what studs to use… when a Status Quo came on over the loudspeakers. I started air guitaring away in the centre of the pitch, but all of a sudden I realised that Brian Clough was stood looking rather sternly at me. As I walked past him, he said to me, “You’d better play well today!” Fortunately I did, and we won the match.

Finally, Nottingham is currently England’s City of Football. What does it mean to you?
We’re the first, and we won it against competition from other cities – which was a magnificent achievement. Of course, it helped that Nottingham’s a city where one of the teams was champions of Europe two years in a row. But winning the title of City of Football was a boost for everyone – and hopefully the money will now be well spent in promoting football and other sports across the city.

Nottingham Forest website

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