Top 5 managers in England: Terry Ainsworth's 3rd choice

Brian Clough was one of the most successful managers in League history and his partnership with Peter Taylor was unique.  They led Derby County, 1972, and Nottingham Forest, 1978, to the League championship and also managed Forest to two triumphs in the European Cup in 1979 and 1980 as well as lifting the League Cup in 1978 and 1979.  Only Brian Clough, Tom Watson, Kenny Dalglish and Herbert Chapman won the First Division with different clubs so what was the secret of their success.  It certainly wasn’t the grotesque sums of money that degrade and diminish the modern game so it must have been the character, knowledge and motivational skills of the manager that influenced his charges.

Ever impudent but always charming when asked about his success Brian replied, “I wouldn’t say I’m the best manager in the business, but I’m in the top one”

He was born in Middlesbrough on March 21st 1935 and 20 years later he signed as a centre forward for his hometown club quickly becoming a favourite of the supporters.  He became a prolific striker scoring 204 goals in 222 league games including 40 or more goals in four consecutive seasons.  However, he regularly submitted transfer requests having a tense relationship with some of his team mates especially in a leaky defence.  After a 6-6 draw against Charlton Athletic Clough sarcastically asked his team mates how many goals they would have to score to win a game.  He also publicly accused some of them of betting against the team and deliberately letting in goals.  One good thing came out of his time at Middlesbrough though as he became acquainted with goalkeeper Peter Taylor who would be part of the most successful management duo of all.  Eventually one of his transfer requests was accepted and he moved to Sunderland for the astronomical fee of £55,000 in 1961.  With Sunderland he scored 63 goals in 74 games but on December 26th 1962 against Bury at Roker Park he tore his medial and cruciate ligaments and that ended his career although two years later he came back and played three games before retiring at the age of 29. Of the players that have scored over 200 goals in the English leagues, he has the highest goals per game ratio of 0.916.  His manager at Sunderland was Alan Brown, a strict disciplinarian, who inspired fear, imposed a strict code of conduct and would fine players for minor transgressions.  Was it here that Clough & Taylor learnt their trade?

After managing at Hartlepool United, Derby County, Brighton and Leeds United Brian Clough found himself at Nottingham Forest, a team languishing in the bottom half of the Second Division, in the middle of the 1974-75 season and history was about to be made. Much like he had done at Derby County before, Clough was able to revolutionise the club by bringing in trusted former players, recognising untapped young talent and bringing Peter Taylor back to assist.  He favoured a style of play based on keeping the ball on the ground, emphasizing dribbling and short passing rather than knocking long balls through the air.

Clough’s humour and charisma shone brightest at Forest.  Describing his rotund yet talented winger, Clough once said,

John Robertson was a very unattractive young man.  If, one day, I was feeling a bit off colour, I would sit next to him.  I was like bloody Errol Flynn compared to him, but give him a yard of grass and he was an artist.  The Picasso of our game

After training, it was a greasy spoon called McKay’s where the players usually congregated.  “Fourteen chip cobs,” became such a regular order that the owner, Bill, had to get in extra supplies of bread and potatoes.  Brian always said that the best feeling in football was when you won an away game and stopped on the way home for fish and chips.  There might have been the occasional disagreement in McKay’s about whether it was a cob, a roll, a bun, a bap or, for a Mancunian such as Colin Barrett, a barm. But there was an acceptance over their steaming mugs of tea that the next step of the adventure would be a difficult one, and that there was a risk some of the players might be cut free.  “There was euphoria,” Martin O’Neill remembers. “It was congratulations all round”.  We knew Brian Clough and Peter Taylor wouldn’t hang around and they would be bringing in some new players.”  “We had got up by the skin of our teeth,” Larry Lloyd says. “You didn’t have to be a brain surgeon to realise that team would not have survived and that Clough had to make some signings.”  Three arrived before October, including a goalkeeper, Peter Shilton, arguably the best in the country. The other two were Scots. One had more baggage than an airport carousel and the other was 5ft 4ins of pride, adrenaline and competitive courage. “A hooligan from Birmingham City called Kenny Burns and a little midfield nasty-man called Archie Gemmill”, to use Lloyd’s description. “Three world-class players; that was the point I started thinking maybe this guy Clough wanted to do something in this division.”  Burns was notorious. He spent his nights at the dog track and he was not even on speaking terms with some of his team-mates at St Andrew’s. “Don’t buy him,” Birmingham’s chairman, David Wiseman, warned Clough. “He’s trouble.”  Clough’s information was that Burns drove around in a battered Vauxhall Viva with no MOT or insurance (“Not true,” Burns always insisted). A picture developed of an untamed, hard-drinking pub-brawler. Clough didn’t want someone bringing bad headlines to the club and was so opposed to the idea it caused friction between him and Taylor. “Forget it,” Clough said when Taylor came up with the idea. “I don’t want troublemakers, I don’t want shit-houses and I don’t want an ugly bastard like Kenny Burns littering my club.”  But Taylor wouldn’t let it go. He had heard Burns was a stone overweight and losing money hand over fist to the bookmakers, but he still thought it was worth investigating and went incognito to the Perry Barr dog track to find out whether the gossip was true. “He didn’t recognise me in my disguise of flat cap and dark glasses,” Taylor later reported. “Nor did he realise that the punter so often at his shoulder as he placed a bet was Forest’s chief scout Maurice Edwards.”  Taylor’s report back to Clough was that it was moderate stuff - “tens and twenties, nothing higher” - and nothing they couldn’t handle and Brian trusted Peter’s judgement. Birmingham accepted a £150,000 offer and Clough told Burns to have a shave and buy himself a decent coat   When Burns turned up, there was another surprise waiting for the man Clough insisted on calling “Kenneth”.  Burns had scored 20 goals in 38 games the previous season as a centre-forward.  Yet Clough, going by Taylor’s recommendation, had something different planned.  “Perhaps it sounded insane to switch a goal-taker into defence, but there was good reason for our madness,” Taylor would later explain. “I suspected Burns didn’t relish life up front because the running didn’t suit his lazy nature.  What’s more, we desperately needed a sweeper alongside Larry Lloyd and I visualised Kenny turning into a Scottish Bobby Moore.  He was as skilful as Moore and certainly more ruthless.”  Nobody, however, had bothered to tell the man himself. “Peter Withe and Tony Woodcock thought I was being signed to take their place,” Burns says. “It was the trainer Jimmy Gordon who let me know. ‘Right,’ he said, ‘bibs on – Middleton, Anderson, Barrett, Lloyd, Burns, McGovern, O’Neill, Bowyer, Withe, Woodcock, Robertson.’ And that was it. That was the first I knew about the new partnership with big Larry.

Forest were the new boys and in their first match, away at Everton, it was quiet on the bus going into Goodison Park.  John Robertson was sitting beside O’Neill. “I was nervous as hell,” he remembers. “I think we all were.”  Taylor sensed it too and came into his own before kick-off with a 10-minute routine of jokes and anecdotes that worked wonders to change the mood.  All the same, it was an intimidating place to start, with the Everton fans welcoming them on to the pitch with chants of “Lambs to the slaughter”. Forest played the first 20 minutes, according to O’Neill, “in our own penalty box”. But the new defence held out. Burns had moved in seamlessly alongside Lloyd and, 20 minutes in, Forest broke out to win a corner. Robertson swung it over. The ball thudded off Withe’s forehead and the team had lift-off.  Their captain, Mick Lyons, had written in the programme he had a strange feeling Forest might be “the surprise team of the season”, but the performance was a sensation.  Robertson doubled the lead with a shot into the top corner before Jim Pearson pulled one back just before half-time. O’Neill added Forest’s third in the second half and there could have been more.  Burns passed his first real test with distinction when someone started knocking on the dressing room door.  “That dressing room was usually sacrosanct. Clough wouldn’t even let in the chairman, but when he swung open the door his face changed. ‘Come in,’ he said, ‘delighted to see you.’ We couldn’t see who it was at first, but he said it like it must be the pope or the prime minister. ‘Bill, I’m just giving them a rollicking, telling them how poor they were, but I think you should do it.’  And it was Bill Shankly, the former Liverpool manager.  Clough sat down with the rest of us and suddenly it was Shankly, this legend of the game, giving the team-talk for the next 15 minutes, with his hands in his pockets, in the classic gunslinger pose.”  That quarter of an hour gave the Forest players an insight into why Kevin Keegan once said of Shankly that “he made you feel any mountain could be climbed”. Keep your feet on the ground, was the crux of it, because there was still a hell of a way to go. But he also said there was no way Forest should undersell themselves if they could play that well and Clough was manager. “You can win it,” Shankly told them. “Don’t just be in the First Division, go and win it. Keep playing like that and you can win the championship.”

They did exactly that and added two European Cups, Brian Clough & Peter Taylor as a duo have never been bettered.

John Motson destroyed by Brian Clough

Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough, left, and his assistant Peter Taylor acknowledge the applause of supporters following the European Cup final at the Olympic Stadium, Munich on May 30th 1979 after beating Malmo 1-0.

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