THE tradition is that you always think football when you wake up of a Saturday morning. Today, I’m thinking of Brian Clough and a magnificent four years of my life.
It’s a decade to the day since my old Nottingham Forest gaffer died and, I can assure you, on every day of those ten years, he’s marched his irrepressible way into my thoughts. Clough was someone not to be denied..
Hey, never mind what you hear about him. He was a superb man. I know Liverpool had great managers like Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley, but to my mind they didn’t come close to Cloughie.
His aura? Well, that was second to none. He was one of those people who walked in a room and caused that room to go quiet. It takes a special man to do that.
He made me laugh, did Brian. Centre-halves, for instance, are meant to be solid men. Today’s breed fall over like I don’t know what. But I remember big Larry Lloyd going over at one time. I have a feeling it was little Alan Ball of Southampton who did him.
Cloughie got a hold of him at half-time. “Are you going to let a little bastard like that knock you over – let him even presume he’s hurt you?” That was the message he sent out. So, that became the thing at Forest as we went on to win, among several other things, a First Division title and two European Cups.
No, you wouldn’t let anyone know they’d hurt you. They could go right over the top, yet you’d still walk away, leaving the guy saying to himself: “He’s a hard bastard !” Cloughie, yeah, he was all for fairness, but he also liked hard bastards.
Listen, Martin O’Neill and Larry Lloyd didn’t always share my enthusiasm for him. In fact, they didn’t like him. But, by God, they respected him. You know, we’ve all been offered thousands or pounds to tell (negative) stories about Brian Clough, but no-one would because they respected him too much.
But here’s one tale that deserves the telling. Long after our association at Forest, I went round to see him. I chapped his door and his wife told me to come in. He was lying on a settee with a blanket round him. He says to me: “You were one of those bastards who sneaked out the other night there.”
He was talking about the night of the 1980 European Cup final. That had been over 20 years previously. He told us no-one was going out that night, after beating Hamburg. We were staying up in the mountains.
He said at the time: “You can drink what you like, as long as you like, but nobody’s going out’. So we stayed for about an hour, got fed up and ordered a taxi. There was myself, John Robertson, Lloyd, Viv Anderson and O’Neill.
We went downtown to where the wives were. We all got partied up. I saw the chairman, Fred Reacher; he was in the same hotel as my missus. We were back at seven in the morning and sat in the bar having a coffee.
Cloughie came down. He might have had his suspicions, but he couldn’t prove anything. We were told he found out later. But nothing was ever said. Not a word. Now, all those years later, he was accusing me. It was strange. I’d never actually seen him in a state of any illness.
I once took him to a night down at Forest. We came back and I was just about to go into his drive when he stopped me. He told me to reverse up the side of his house.
We sat there for at least an hour and a half, just talking about things in general. Things from out of left field. He said that when he went to Derby, for instance, he couldn’t believe how many players weren’t able to swim.
If you’d never met the guy, it was just your bad luck. For if you had, you were a better person for it. He just told the truth. He obeyed the basics in life: he was very much a family man, and very, very loyal.
But, as I said earlier, there was always humour. Big Larry once broke his toe. They signed Dave Needham the next day. Big Larry says: “That’s a bit fucking quick ! Has this been lined up for months? ”
Anyway, Needham is introduced to Larry, who doesn’t really want to know him. Dave plays five or six weeks in place of Larry and he does well. Suddenly, the team sheet goes up. Larry Lloyd is back in.
The gaffer comes in and says: “Dave, you’re not playing today. You’re a gentleman, a good looking lad, very honest. You’re a proper professional footballer and if my daughter ever came back home with somebody like you, it would be an honour to call you my son in law. I’m so proud of you.
“But today, young man, I need a big, ugly bastard and that’s why he’s playing!”
When he removed his tongue from his cheek, Cloughie could be deadly serious. I wonder what he would have made of the chief executive business as it is today.
It’s all about closing deals now, getting that signature. I asked one Forest chief executive about this and he said he didn’t know if he could close a door, let alone a deal. I put that in my newspaper column.
Years ago, when Brian Clough went to sign Archie Gemmill, he insisted that wasn’t leaving the house till he did. He stayed the night, slept on a settee until he got Gemmill’s signature. I don’t know if this is the case nowadays. But, then, Cloughie was that kind of one-off character.
I’m 61 years of age. You ask me if I’m content and I’d say yeah. I would like to have won the FA Cup. That’s the only one I’m missing. I’d like to have done a better job for Scotland in Argentina. We let ourselves down. You’ve always got regrets.
But you need to have your bad moments to appreciate your good moments. I’ve been very blessed to have been at the right place at the right time. And I was fortunate to have worked under the best manager who ever lived.