As we celebrate the genius of Cloughie through LeftLion’s #CloughChallenge campaign, Rich Fisher explains how Nottingham’s Brian Clough statue came to exist…
Standing at the point where King Street meets Queen Street and gazing down upon Slab Square, the Brian Clough statue is now a firmly established Nottingham landmark – so much so that it’s hard to imagine a time when it wasn’t there.
The reason it is there is a story of eighteen months of hard graft from a group of ordinary Nottingham Forest fans. And I’m probably as good a person as any to tell that tale – because I was one of them...
The whole thing was started by a gentleman called Marcus Alton, founder of the tribute website brianclough.com. During the early part of the millennium, Marcus had been running a high-profile crusade to get a Knighthood for Cloughie – with his efforts including hand-delivering a petition of 7,500 signatures to parliament.
Sadly, Cloughie’s death in 2004 pretty much ended any possibility of the great man ever becoming Sir Brian – as it turned out the government only gives out posthumous honours for gallantry. But Marcus and his partner Sarah began thinking of different ways to build upon the momentum they’d started – and hit upon the idea of raising money for a statue in the city centre.
The Clough family gave the idea their blessing and, having looked into the logistics of actually getting a statue made, Marcus and Sarah learned it would probably cost around £60,000. Needless to say, raising such a large amount of money would be a massive challenge – and in early 2005 they decided it might be sensible to get a few more hands to the deck and create a fundraising committee. This is where I came in.
At the time, I was writing for a Reds fanzine called Blooming Forest. Marcus and Sarah felt it’d be useful to have someone on board from the fanzine world, while other folk were quickly brought into the fold too including Paul Ellis, who was Chairman of the official Forest Supporters Club at the time.
Our first move was to talk to the local authorities. Back then, Nottingham City Council was led by Councillor Jon Collins, and he was fantastic – giving us his personal assurance that if we could raise £60,000, he’d guarantee a suitable location for a statue somewhere in the city centre. It was all quite exciting. The six of us on the committee immediately started working on plans for how we were going to try and raise the cash – and the Brian Clough Statue Fund was officially born in June 2005 with a media launch on board Nottingham’s Brian Clough tram.
The idea of a statue gained a very positive response from people in Nottingham and beyond – with numerous cheques arriving through the post within days
Pleasingly, the launch event generated loads of publicity, and the idea of a statue gained a very positive response from people in Nottingham and beyond – with numerous cheques arriving through the post within days. However, we were well aware that we couldn’t sit back and expect £60,000 to just come rolling in. We knew we had to actively raise the cash – and so began a very hectic but enjoyable eighteen-month period, in which fundraising pretty much took over our lives.
Our first scheme was to create a metal pin badge in the shape of Cloughie’s famous green sweatshirt, which was a great success and sold in its thousands at £2 each. We followed this with a bucket collection outside the City Ground prior to a Forest home game. Once again, this showed us the depth of feeling for Cloughie and the idea of the statue, with many fans throwing in not just coins, but £10 and £20 notes and a total of over £4,000.
Our next move was a second piece of merchandise – green Cloughie style sweatshirts at £20 a pop – and by Christmas 2005, six months after the fund had been launched, the total amount of money raised was in the region of £20,000.
But there was never time to stop and pat ourselves on the back – we were too busy working on our big plans for 2006. We launched more merchandise with a second badge design, and also keyrings. We were also starting to maximise the increasing potential of the Internet. This included persuading ltlf.co.uk, an unofficial website for Forest fans, to set up an online shop for us allowing fans to buy our merch online, or simply make a donation. This was a significant development, as suddenly it was easy for fans anywhere in the world to support what we were doing. We also began to use eBay very successfully, something which all began when the council allowed us to have the giant banners that had been hung around Market Square as part of the memorial service held shortly after Cloughie died. Each banner featured a photo of the great man and one of his famous quotes and, after deciding to test the waters and list one of them on eBay, we were amazed to see it go for a whopping £970 following a furious bidding war.
Over the course of our fundraising campaign we also organised a series of events to raise money, our biggest being a formal dinner held in May 2006, which came about after the council offered us use of the Council House ballroom for one night at no cost. It was a great night, with several members of Brian Clough’s family attending – including his wife Barbara. Also present were various legends from the Forest team of the late seventies such as John Robertson and John McGovern, who both shared some brilliant Cloughie stories during the evening. Along with money generated from people buying tickets to attend the dinner, we made further cash on the night through a raffle and an auction – and by the end of the evening, we’d added another £9,000 to our growing total.
By December 2006, just eighteen months after we’d launched the fund, we achieved that £60,000 target. It was a proud moment – however, there was still the small matter of agreeing a location for the statue and finding the right person to recreate Cloughie in bronze. Dozens of sculptors tendered for the job, and it was Hampshire-based Les Johnson who was eventually chosen following a lengthy consultation process involving both the public and the Clough family.
An immediate and spontaneous outbreak of applause from the crowds told us everything we needed to know about what the public thought
Les duly spent much of 2008 working on the statue, and the ‘big reveal’ finally happened at 1pm on Thursday 6 November 2008 – with an estimated 5,000 people turning up to get a first look at Cloughie. An immediate and spontaneous outbreak of applause from the crowds told us everything we needed to know about what the public thought of Les Johnson’s stunning creation.
It was a proud moment for all of us who had made it happen. I only hope Cloughie remains a prominent landmark in our city for many decades to come – helping future generations learn about a brilliant man and everything he did to help put Nottingham on the map.
Rich Fisher is author of the Forest fan memoir ‘The Church of Stuart Pearce and other stories’, which includes a chapter going into more detail of how Nottinham’s Brian Clough statue came to exist. The book is available to buy on Amazon, and you can find out more about it by reading the LeftLion feature from its release in 2018.