Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The team that Brian built

Richard Williams on Brian Clough

It would have been nicer, perhaps, if Brian Clough had died with Nottingham Forest's record of 42 consecutive league matches unbeaten still intact. But at least when Arsenal finally surpassed it just under four weeks ago the old magician's name returned to the sports pages for the right reasons.

Bungs or no bungs, what Cloughie did for Forest was nothing short of a miracle. He took an old and proud but stagnant club and, with the minimum of resources, lifted it to the pinnacle of European football for two years running. While a statue inside the City Ground and his name on a grandstand are the visible signs of his 18 years there, his enduring place in the hearts of supporters ensures that all his successors will be measured by his achievements.

Yet the news of Clough's appointment in 1975 was not met with unanimous delight. To many he was the loud-mouthed upstart who, while rescuing the hated rivals Derby County from near oblivion, had stolen the heart of Johnny Carey's fine Forest side of the late 60s. Terry Hennessey and Alan Hinton were among those who swapped the red shirts for the white as Clough drove Derby to promotion from the Second Division and then to the League Championship.

Worst of all, during the 1971-72 season Clough staged a raid aimed at enticing Ian Storey-Moore, Forest's dashing left-winger and leading goalscorer, to the Baseball Ground. He paraded Storey-Moore at half-time during one of Derby's home games. But the contracts had not been signed, and such was the uproar at the other end of the A52 that Forest's directors were forced to withdraw and sell the prized player to Manchester United instead.

It took months and the arrival of Peter Taylor, his old Derby assistant, for Clough to win the wholehearted support of the City Ground. Now players began to flow the other way, although the early arrivals of John McGovern and John O'Hare from Derby via Leeds, followed by Archie Gemmill direct from the Baseball Ground, were greeted with initial suspicion.

It gradually became apparent that Clough was building a team of substance. Peter Shilton moved from Stoke to fill the goalmouth. At right-back the gangling Viv Anderson left the nearby Fairham Comprehensive to start a career that would make him England's first black player. Larry Lloyd, discarded by Liverpool then Coventry, formed a solid partnership in central defence with Kenny Burns, who was transformed from Birmingham's thuggish centre-forward into a sort of Franz Beckenbauer of the East Midlands. The veteran Frank Clark completed the rearguard, replacing the promising but ill-fated Colin Barrett, plucked respectively from Newcastle and Manchester City.

With McGovern as the water-carrier, the midfield creativity was supplied by the bustling Gemmill, the thoughtful Martin O'Neill and the Scottish left-winger John Robertson - who, along with Burns, was the finest example of Clough's ability to persuade a talent to express itself. The "little fat lad" who beat players through guile and wit would play a crucial role in both Forest's European Cup wins.

Up front were the sparkling Tony Woodcock and the powerful Peter Withe, the latter replaced by the unknown Garry Birtles one unforgettable European night against Liverpool. Later came Trevor Francis, whose fee fell a few coppers short of £1m because that was how Cloughie wanted it and who got on the end of Robertson's cross to win the first European final.

As Clough's eye for a deal began to take precedence over his eye for talent, the failures of Ian Wallace, Justin Fashanu, Peter Ward and others began to chip away at the facade. But the fans continued to enjoy teams packed with players as gifted as Des Walker, Johnny Metgod, Peter Davenport, Stuart Pearce, Franz Carr, Hans van Breukelen, Roy Keane, Chris Fairclough, Steve Hodge and Clough's son, Nigel.

Many of those will be queuing up today to express their gratitude for his influence. Perhaps they will be joined by the two young fans whose ears he boxed when they tried to invade the pitch during a League Cup match at the City Ground one night 15 years ago, earning himself a fine and touchline ban merely for treating them as if they were his own sons.

In the end he stayed too long and had to be eased out. But no manager has left a newly relegated club more wreathed in admiration and gratitude, and few will cast a longer shadow.

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