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'When I go, God's going to have to give up his favourite chair' - Brian Clough

Brian Clough (or ‘Old Big ‘ead’ as he was also known), was born on 21st March 1935 in Valley Road, Middlesbrough, the sixth of nine children and became one of the most charismatic and successful English football managers of all-time. His life and career were punctuated by extreme highs and lows and characterised by a vulnerable arrogance that existed on the brink.

Career - Player

Unlike many successful football managers, Clough had also been a talented player. He joined Middlesbrough FC as a seventeen year-old and broke into the first team due to a spate of injuries, making his debut in September 1955 against Barnsley. Despite being one of the most prolific goal-scorers of his time (he scored 204 goals in 222 games for Middlesbrough), the club failed to gain promotion during his time there and he only won two England caps. His uneasy relationship with the England national team would continue into his managerial career.

The frustration and limitations of playing for Middlesbrough caused him to seek a transfer and he eventually joined North-East rivals Sunderland in 1961. He initially had some success there, scoring a total of 53 goals during this time. However, on Boxing Day 1962, in a game against Bury, Clough collided awkwardly with the opposing goalkeeper, tearing a cruciate ligament so badly that he could never play professional football again. It was at this point that Clough’s problems with alcohol seemed to begin as he struggled to come to terms with this setback. He was only 27 and had no obvious alternative career to fall back on outside of football.

Career - Manager

After a short period spent as a coach, Clough applied for the job of manager with Hartlepool United in 1965, a club perennially on the brink of bankruptcy and relegation. His application was successful and he persuaded a former colleague, Peter Taylor, to leave his job as manager at Burton Albion and become his assistant at Hartlepool. Although Clough won nothing during his time at Hartlepool, he did well simply to keep the club going. This was recognised by the Derby County board and he became Derby manager in 1967.

It was at Derby that Clough really established himself as a tremendous football manager. Derby at that time were in the old Second Division of the Football League. Over the following years Clough shaped the squad of players, bringing in players that at the time were relative unknowns, but who made their name along with Clough, such as Archie Gemmill and Roy McFarland. Inevitably, Clough guided the team to promotion to the First Division and in 1972 won the League Championship. By the end of 1973 however, Clough had managed to fall out with both his assistant, Taylor, and the Derby Chairman, Sam Longson, and he resigned in the October of that year. This was not before he had taken Derby to the semi-finals of the European Cup, losing to Juventus. After that game in Italy, Clough had stormed back to the dressing-room shouting at the Italian journalists surrounding him, ‘No cheating bastards do I talk to. I will not talk to any cheating bastards’.

Further ignomy was to follow when he took over at Leeds United. First though, Clough spent an unsuccessful period as the manager of Third Division Brighton and Hove Albion, from November 1973 through until July 1974. When Don Revie was made England manager at this time, Clough was the surprise choice of the Leeds United board to be his replacement. This was a surprise not just because of his lack of success at Brighton, but because he had previously publically branded the Leeds players as cheats. His tenure at Elland Road lasted just forty-four days before he was forced out. This particular experience appeared to affect Clough deeply, leaving a bitter resentment and hatred of Leeds and an even stronger desire to prove them wrong.

The opportunity to do so came in the unlikely form of Nottingham Forest FC. Clough was again a controversial choice; this time because Forest were local rivals to Derby with whom he was still closely associated in the minds of fans. Despite of this initial opposition, there was no repeat of the Leeds fiasco and unlike at Brighton, success soon came. Forest gained promotion to the First Division in 1977 and in their very first season back in the top league they won the League Championship. Quite a feat, but Clough wasn’t finished there. In 1979 and 1980 Forest won the European Cup, defeating Malmo FF and Hamburger SV respectively. This achievement should not be unrated, especially when one considers that such modern luminaries as Sir Alex Ferguson have failed to equal this feat.

After 1980 however, Forest began to fail both off and on the pitch. How much of this was due to Clough is debatable as the club fell into financial difficulties that put constraints on transfers and wages. Clough only won two more trophies of any note, the League Cup twice, in 1989 and 1990, but these were pale comparisons to the European Cups. A defeat in the FA Cup final of 1991 against Tottenham Hotspur followed and then the ultimate indignity. In his final year of management, Nottingham Forest were relegated and he reluctantly took the decision to retire on 26 April 1993 at the age of 58. Certainaly he belonged to an age of football that no longer exists and it seems unlikely as to whether he could have been successful in the current age of football that was dawning at that time. He never became England manager, despite having publicaly stated on several occasions that he would have liked to have been. He stated on this subject that ‘I’m sure the England selectors thought if they took me on and gave me the job, I’d want to run the show. They were shrewd because that’s exactly what I would have done’.

Even before retiring, his health was beginning to fail due to his alcohol addiction and he was told that he would have to undergo a liver transplant to stay alive. He eventually agreed to the operation and this took place in January 2003. On 20 September 2004 he died.


What made Brian Clough’s life memorable was not just his achievements as a football manager. It was also his personality and unique way of dealing with situations. His man-management skills were legendary and he had the ability to both motivate and demotivate players to epic proportions. For example, he would not attend training sessions regularly and would often arrive in the dressing room at the last possible minute to give a bombastic but inspirational team-talk. He was prudent with praise too. Martin O’Neill (now a great football manager himself) remembered that Clough never praised him, until half-time in the European Cup final when he told him he was doing a great job. These words had far more effect because such language had been used so sparingly previously and motivated O’Neill to raise his game even further.

However, Clough’s actions were not always so successful. He once said to one of his players, Nigel Jenson,

‘Have you ever been punched in the stomach, young man?’.Jenson replied, ‘No’. Clough proceeded to do so and then stated, ‘Well, now you have’.
Furthermore, when there was a pitch invasion by fans during a game between Nottingham Forest and Queens Park Rangers, Clough became involved in the scuffles, punching several fans. The furore that followed ended with him being fined £5000 and banned from the touch-line for the rest of the season.


His memorable one-liners also marked him apart from the rest. Here are a few:

-‘I wouldn’t say I was the best manager in the business. But I was in the top one’. -‘If I had an argument with a player we would sit down for twenty minutes, talk about it and then decide I was right!’ -‘I can't even spell spaghetti never mind talk Italian. How could I tell an Italian to get the ball - he might grab mine’ -‘Walk on water? I know most people out there will be saying that instead of walking on it, I should have taken more of it with my drinks. They are absolutely right.’ -‘That Seaman is a handsome young man but he spends too much time looking in his mirror, rather than at the ball. You can't keep goal with hair like that.’ -‘Football hooligans - well, there are 92 club chairmen for a start.’ -‘Beckham? His wife can't sing and his barber can't cut hair.’ -‘Who the hell wants fourteen pairs of shoes when they go on holiday? I haven't had fourteen pairs in my life.’ -'He floats like a butterfly and stings like one too' (on Trevor Brooking)

Major Achievements

European Cup Winners, 1978-79, 1979-80, (both with Nottingham Forest) 1st Division Championship, 1971-72 (with Derby Country), 1977-78 (with Nottingham Forest) League Cup, 1977-78, 1978-79, 1988-89, 1989-90 (all with Nottingham Forest) European Super Cup, 1979-80 (with Nottingham Forest)

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