I have so many memories of running into Brian Clough, whose Nottingham Forest team had the sign over Liverpool for a couple of years, but the day we planned a £5 sham trick with him pretty much sticks with me everyone else remembered.
Clough had instilled an incredible fighting spirit in Forest back then, and his management style was very fearful. I took it upon myself to go to a joke shop in Liverpool and buy about a dozen of these devices which would allow you to attach a £5 or £10 note to fishing line on a spool with a spring.
You can’t see the line, of course, and if your target tries to pick up the note, it’ll bounce back out of their reach, making them look ridiculous.
Four or five of us had these devices with us when we went to the City Ground to play Forest. I can’t remember who all my accomplices were, although I imagine Terry McDermott would have been a key member of our hit squad. We all wanted to put our money down and make Brian Clough look stupid.
His office was at the end of the corridor you had to walk down to get to the dressing room and we all put down our notes. We certainly weren’t known for bottling things at this Liverpool team, but we began to have concerns when Clough wanted to emerge from his sanctuary and head into the Forest dressing room.
We didn’t pull it off! Our fives were hastily fetched and we made ourselves scarce. We were by no means the only ones who were a bit scared of Brian Clough.
It’s been 18 years this week since Clough passed away and football is a different world now than it was when our team and his team played each other – no quarter spared. We have directors of football, heads of scouting and recruitment committees.
There’s no way Clough would have accepted any of them. He was a manager in every sense of the word. He managed and controlled practically every aspect of this football club. And he talked everything.
It’s hard to imagine that he’s operating in the modern Forest. No sooner had Steve Cooper completed the incredible task of taking the team from the foot of the Championship to the Premier League in eight months when their enthusiastic owner, Evangelos Marinakis, declared the club must be “trophy ready”.
I suspect Clough would have told Marinakis to calm down and let him have the football sphere.
I’m not sure how much say Cooper would have had in the decision to bring in 22 players this summer. If I had been Cooper and Marinakis had told me, ‘I’m going to spend £150m on 22 players’, I would have said, ‘Spend that money on six or seven top players’.
I know they loaned out a lot of players last season, but 22? In a summer? I very much doubt this has ever happened in major leagues in world football before. There are too many and it’s just not conducive to being a successful football club.
Without the power of Clough, it’s difficult for Cooper to exert the control we saw when Forest rose to become the third-place team in the Second Division in 1977. Back then, they immediately won the First Division title and then twice won the European Cup. For me it’s still the greatest success in British football.
Cooper just wouldn’t have had the time to look at all those signings because of the relentless task of preparing Forest for two games a week – every week – in the Championship. In fact, I doubt he would have given his name to more than a handful.
I certainly wouldn’t criticize the football culture at Forest because those are early days. It’s far too early to draw any conclusions about the fact they’ve lost their last four games and are second from bottom in the Premier League – although it will worry them that the last two of those defeats have come to sides that have been promoted with them. But any promoted club could learn from what Clough Forest infused after absorbing them.
He brought together a group of players who were absolutely determined, absolutely disciplined and very difficult to play. Some of them were truly outstanding and John Robertson was the most underrated of them all.
People might be surprised when I say that Robertson is a player who lives up to my definition of world class. You can spend £150m on any player you like. No one could do better than Robertson on that Forest team 40 years ago.
It was war between us and them. They were dogged. They cobbled together the teams. They wanted to fight you. They played a counterattack where we dominated the ball but they picked us up. Our loss to them over two games in the first round of the European Cup when we were defending that title in September 1978 was particularly difficult to bear.
The cultures were very different. In Liverpool we were made to feel responsible for our actions. One of the most common things you heard Ronnie Moran say in Liverpool was: ‘Find out for yourself son’. You have been made to feel responsible for your own destiny. At Forest it was a different model because the manager was unique.
You only have to look back at Clough’s television work to see what kind of person he was. It was a pleasure to watch and listen to him. He was ruthless. He was exciting. He was interesting. He was cashier. I really enjoy the heated arguments on the morning show talkSPORT – but sitting across from Clough in the studio every Monday at 10am? That would be lively now, although I would show the man much deference.
My last exchange with Clough came when I was trying to sign Stuart Pearce from Forest to Rangers. I called Clough and we spent ten minutes on the phone. There was no small talk from him that evening. No memory of old times. But I went to bed thinking I’d struck a deal and Pearce was in the bag.
When I called back the next day, Clough said he had no memory of the conversation. Pearce enjoyed ten more great years at Forest.
Paying my respects to the Queen is a day I will never forget
As for so many of us, last Monday is a day that lives with me forever. I was in the crowd on the Mall about 150 yards from Buckingham Palace when the Queen’s coffin was carried on the carriage. A very friendly soldier had helped me get across the mall to my son James who was on the other side. I was right behind a lady from Troon in Ayrshire who was a big supporter of Rangers and another lady from Gloucester.