Friday 17 November 2017

Miracle manager Clough led Forest to European glory

Alan Aherne

I Believe in Miracles, by Daniel Taylor
I Believe in Miracles, by Daniel Taylor

It's Friday afternoon as I write this book review, and a quick glance at the Championship table reveals that Nottingham Forest lie in twelfth position on 35 points, one place above Preston North End by virtue of a better goal difference.

Now, how would you react if I was to predict that their manager, Dougie Freedman, will guide them to the Premier League title, two Champions League crowns and a couple of Capital One Cups inside five years?

The reaction would be one of laughter and utter disbelief I imagine. And while it's highly unlikely to happen, Forest fans of a certain vintage have actually lived through such a fantastic period before!

That's the basis for 'I Believe In Miracles', the book by Daniel Taylor of The Guardian and The Observer which accompanies the documentary film of the same name by Jonny Owen.

It's a truly remarkable tale, and it takes me back to my childhood days and a larger than life figure who brought character and colour to the game, namely the outspoken Brian Clough.

Forest were 13th in the old Second Division when he took over as their boss on January 6, 1975, but by 1979 they had won the European Cup at the first attempt, dethroning a three-in-a-row seeking Liverpool in the opening round, before going on to retain the title in 1980.

They had won the First Division in England just twelve months after another team did them a big favour on the last day to seal the final promotion spot into the top flight.

They were based in a non-descript city and the club had no apparent prospects of success when Clough arrived. Indeed, their fortunes had plummeted to such depths that their arch city rivals, Notts County, finished above them in the league for two seasons on the trot.

While Clough had guided Derby County to the First Division title, he had departed Leeds United after a mere 44 days in charge in one of the earliest manifestations of player power when the senior figures in the Elland Road dressing-room did all in their power to make things awkward for the new boss.

Clough did himself no favours either in his dealings with his squad, but he arrived in Nottingham with a personal reputation to restore.

What followed exceeded the wildest dreams of Forest fans, and those back-to-back European Cups were the crowning glory. The 1-0 wins over Malmo from Sweden and Germany's Hamburg in 1979 and 1980, courtesy of goals from the sport's first £1m signing, Trevor Francis, and a tubby, chain-smoking Scottish left winger named John Robertson, were achieved in an era when only the league champions from each country and the holders contested the European Cup.

It was the forerunner of the Champions League, and it was devoid of back doors too; just home and away ties prior to a one-off final.

The rise of Forest would have been incredible one way or the other, but the mannerisms and managerial style of Clough ensured that sports fans were mesmerised by his every uttering.

This was the man who nicknamed Martin O'Neill 'Clever Bollocks' due to his university background, and who regularly ordered his team to consume a skinful on the night before big games to help them relax. He was a remarkable character, a type long since gone from the generally anodyne world of sport. They certainly don't make them like Clough these days.

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