What Would Have Happened If... Brian Clough had been made England manager in 1982 (Part One)
For those of a certain age, their memories will recall Old Big ‘Ed in his pomp continually spouting his unique dogmatic observations on football, life, the Universe and Everything. Those of a younger generation, will have only seen Brian Clough as an over-opinionated and somewhat bolshy character, with a rather abrasive approach to matters portrayed by Welsh actor Michael Sheen in the football film, ‘The Damned United’. Clough’s main problem was he very easily could, and would talk himself into trouble, and it’s debatable is he more remembered for his sometime controversial quips than what he actually achieved in the game.
As a player, he was a prolific forward whose scoring achievements were such, it’s quite insulting he only received two England caps in recognition of his undoubted ability. Some of his goal-scoring records he notched up in the late fifties Football League still stand to this very day. His career as a player was ended cruelly on Boxing Day 1962, when in a collision with Bury goalkeeper Chris Harker he suffered irrepairable medial and cruciate knee ligament damage. As a manager, the silverware he amassed at Derby County and Nottingham Forest is staggeringly remarkable, considering he managed two unfashionable, out-of-sorts clubs with only one or two truly world class players in his teams to challenge and succeed against the dominant Leeds United and Liverpool teams of the seventies. However, the praise he receives as a manager also goes equally to his friend and assistant, Peter Taylor.
Clough and Taylor met as players in the late fifties during their time at Middlesbrough, Clough the cocky forward with the midas touch in front of goal, Taylor the experienced goalkeeper, having spent the early fifties at Highfield Road between the sticks for Coventry City. It was their partnership as joint manager at Derby, then manager and assistant at Forest that brought the spoils to these clubs. When they went their separate ways in the early eighties, neither were able to recreate the high level of brilliance they had when working together. To truly be top of the tree, they basically needed each other.
Brian Clough was a hard, but fair sort of manager, able to motivate his players to achieve the previously thought impossible – Peter Taylor was the master tactician and had a shrewd eye for spotting the potential in a player early on. Their teams played beautiful, flowing attack-minded football that was a joy to watch and behold. But above all, Clough installed the best quality all footballers should hold dear at their core – play hard, but play as a sportsman to the rules, and above all do not cheat (it was the latter that struck a chord at Leeds United, and led to his dismissal inside forty-four days). However, it was Clough’s continued success that led to the F.A interviewing him for the England manager position twice – firstly in 1977 and then again 1982. Maybe the then Forest manager’s reputation had preceded him, or he came across indifferent in the interviews, but history shows the F.A chose West Ham boss Ron Greenwood in the mid-seventies, and Bobby Robson (then in charge at Ipswich) five years later. Urban myth has it Clough would’ve tried to run the F.A if he’d been given the job, but I’m not so sure. Although he had reasonably free reign at Derby and Forest, Clough was always answerable to the club’s board of directors and ultimately the chairman. Despite having much publicised spats with them, and the constant patronage of the respective team’s supporters, he never took over control of either club. His verbal rhetoric merely made it sound like he had.
Of all the managers I have seen in action throughout my life, Clough is the one who holds the biggest draw to me, has the greatest aura. Some of his methods and ideas were beyond leftfield bordering on insane and raised numerous eyebrows, but all the proof he needed to say his ‘way’ worked, was the list of spoils he won. Other football fans may argue Sir Alex won more, Kenny Dalglish had a more talented side the first time he was at Liverpool, and Jose Mourinho was an overnight revelation at Chelsea. As I’ve already mentioned, Clough’s man management was exceptional – phenomenal even, getting more than anyone thought possible out of players everyone else would have believed were over the hill and past their best, or shy, inexperienced youngsters who just needed a chance. When Forest won their second consecutive European Cup, the only two world class players in his team were goalkeeper Peter Shilton and forward Trevor Francis. The rest of his playing staff were very good club players, that Clough managed to cadgole and co-erse into playing way beyond their expected capabilities.
I recall in the early nineties my Coventry had been drawn against Forest for three seasons running in the League Cup, and Clough’s team had gained the upper hand in the first two encounters. Come this third meeting, the Sky Blues needed to prove a point and had accelerated into a 4-0 lead by half-time. Being played at Highfield Road, the home support were in carnival mood now. It was the first time in my life I’d seen my team be so far in the lead at half-time. I said to my father sitting next to me, this might end up a rugby score. Much is reported about Sir Alex Ferguson and his ‘hair dryer’ style of interval team-talk if his United side were playing abysmally, but I bet it had nothing on Clough that cold December night. Whatever he said, it worked. Within twenty minutes, and much to my father’s and my dismay, Forest had managed to pull level. The match was on a knife edge – it was now anybodies, finely poised at 4-4. However, Coventry kept their nerve, and managed to find a winner, laying their nemesis to rest on this occasion.
I remember this game not just for the thrilling entertainment, or the unbelievable way Forest came back from the dead, but what happened at half-time just as the referee blew his whistle. Clough raced onto the pitch, making a bee-line for one of the Sky Blues players. He then began to quite vehemently remonstrate with Coventry’s Scottish International, David Speedie. During the first half, the Sky Blues player had clashed with Forest player, and son of the manager, Nigel Clough. It was a late, tad lazy challenge by the Scot, and sent Clough Jr up into the Coventry sky. It was the sort of tackle that has been known to end a few careers over the years. As the two sides trudged off for their half-time break, it was hilarious watching the Forest manager ticking off the Sky Blues forward, both of them walking off the pitch side-by-side with Clough giving Speedie a right earful and getting quite animated at times. The Scot merely looked sheepish, would not make eye contact with Clough, and plodded off the pitch toward the home dressing room. My father put forward the gambit, was Clough more concerned about having one of his forwards suffering a serious injury, or the fact his son had been scythed down and possibly would have received a career ending injury, much akin to the one he suffered himself in 1962 ? We shall never know.
Much like the “What If?” article I wrote about F1 legend Ayrton Senna, this piece is by no means intended to be derogatory or deflamatory to the memory of Brian Clough and Peter Taylor, or means to upset their respective families, friends or thousands of fans. My favourite tale of Cloughie’s life was told by several of his former Forest players at his memorial service held at Pride Park, the current home of his former club, Derby County. During training, Clough would regularly take part in five-a-side matches. Whenever the ball would drop to him, he’d take it on his chest, swivel on the spot and hit the ball on the volley. Eight out of ten times it would be on target. His injury and time had taken his speed and stamina, but the vision, skill and touch were still present. Once a forward, always a forward, eh?
Here’s how I see his career – and the evolution of the England team – if Clough had been given the position at his second attempt in the early eighties.
1982 – As England return home from the World Cup Finals in Spain to a raptuous welcome, just missing out on a semi-final place by the skin of their teeth, the F.A announce Ron Greenwood was retiring from the game and to be replaced by the Nottingham Forest manager, Brian Clough. During the last five seasons, Clough had hit a ‘purple patch’ of winning the spoils, becoming one of the most decorated English managers in football history (at that moment in time, only Bob Paisley at Liverpool could better his record). It was rumoured former Chelsea and Manchester manager, the current England Under 21s coach Dave Sexton (now at Coventry City), or Bobby Robson were the more favoured men for the position, but the F.A appointed the people’s choice. The fact Clough having won the European Cup twice in the last few years, most likely swayed their decision. At the press conference announcing his appointment, Clough thanks his predecessor, and states his assistant at Forest, Peter Taylor will also be joining him at Lancaster Gate. Taylor had initially decided to retire, but the lure of working with his national team proved to be too great. In typical Clough style, he confidentally tells the world media Taylor and himself will lead their nation to glory, bringing the World Cup back to its rightful home. Taylor states all English players are an option to them – they have no favourite club, it did not matter who any respective player plyed their trade for, and age did not matter either – they had no favourites. Basically, if you were good enough, you’d be given a chance. Clough’s second son – Nigel – signs for Forest as an apprentice upon leaving school.
1983 – England achieve qualification for the following summer’s European Championship, hosted by France, going unbeaten through the campaign. In their final match in October, a very nervy draw against Denmark played at Wembley, Clough’s team qualify on goal difference over the Danish. Clough bemoans the way his team very nearly got themselves eliminated, despite some excellent performances in the away games, winning very convincingly on occasions. Like what happened to Ron Greenwood before him, Clough is criticised by the British media for some of his team selection, they are quick to point out some of the gifted players he barely used, in some cases not at all. Clough points out he had lost one of his most gifted players in a similar way to his own playing days ending, as Manchester United’s flying winger Steve Coppell called time on his career in October, unable to recover fully from the horrific knee he had suffered in early 1982. Despite several operations, and playing on for club and country, Coppell just could not meet the demands to play regularly anymore, having had several reoccurances of the initial damage. Clough is one of the first to offer Coppell support, having been in exactly the same situation himself twenty years earlier. Clough and Taylor’s teams are reknown for using the full width of the pitch, and always have exciting, high paced wide men, so the loss of Coppell was felt strongly. The England manager is also rapid to defend himself, referring to his achievements a few years previous, when his and Taylor’s system worked wonders. Have faith, is the conclusion.
1984 – England are drawn in Group A, with hosts France, Yugoslavia and Belgium. The top two teams in the group will progress to the semi-finals, the stage England have never progressed beyond.
France – England (Group A) : During the opening game of the tournament, England make an excellent account of themselves, frustrating their neighbours continually and very nearly taking the lead on the stroke of half-time as Trevor Francis managed to lose his marker, his shot beats the French ‘keeper, but sees his attempt agonisingly hit the post. With the game appearing to be ending in an entertaining stalemate, a mistake in the English defence between Terry Butcher and Viv Anderson allows a loose ball to be picked up by France forward Bernard Lacombe. Seeing team-mate Michel Platini racing away from England’s Liverpool right back Phil Neal, Lacombe sends a perfectly weighted pass into Platini’s path. He strikes it without even breaking step, giving Peter Shilton no chance. Clough is insensed at his defence’s one clumsy mistake costing them the game, vowing to put the record straight in the next fixture. England were not going to be on the first plane home. Final score : France 1 – 0 England.
England – Yugoslavia (Group A) : This match being played four days later, Clough has a point to prove, now having lost his unbeaten record. England play with a swagger and dominance reminiscent of Clough and Taylor’s trophy-winning Derby and Forest teams. Trevor Francis opens the scoring after only eight minutes, with Glenn Hoddle doubling the lead some ten minutes later courtesy of one of his trademark free-kicks. Phil Neal scores from the spot with twenty minute left to make the victoy beyond doubt. At this point in the game, Francis is replaced by a young player from Leicester City, who had just broken into the England set up after some fine displays for his club. Gary Lineker repays the faith in him by scoring with seven minutes left, and two minutes later Clough’s former Forest forward now with Arsenal, Tony Woodcock adds a fifth. Smiles all round. Final score : England 5 – 0 Yugoslavia
Belgium – England (Group A) : The make-or-break game. Basically, whoever won this fixture, was through to the semi-finals. However, in the event of a draw, England would progress due to having a better goal difference. The flowing football of the previous match was replaced with nervy, unsure passing, as the pressure seemed to be affecting the entire English eleven. So much so, Belgium had managed to gain a 2-0 led by the thirty-nineth minute. England looked like they were going home on that first plane after all. Then, a life line – Liverpool midfielder Sammy Lee is sent sprawling in the Belgian area – penalty England. Phil Neal makes no mistake, getting his country back into the match. Clough and Taylor weave their magic at half-time, and come the hour mark, England are level. Brilliant work down the wing between John Barnes of Watford and Francis, a one-two with Woodcock, and the Sampdoria forward unleashes an all mighty shot. The Belgian ‘keeper can only get one hand to the goal-bound strike, parrying it back into his area. Manchester United midfielder Bryan Robson is first to the loose ball to steer it home. This was enough to take England through, but Clough was having none of it – he wants the victory. The England manager was now on the edge of the touchline, urging his team on, only a hair’s breath away from being on the pitch itself and joining in! No doubt he could see one mistake could undo all the good work, if the Belgians broke on the counter attack and scored. Clough received what he wished for, as once again Lineker coming on as substitute, found the winner with six minutes left. Party time. Final score : Belgium 2 – 3 England
The media back home now are firmly on the bandwagon, believing Clough and Taylor can take the team all the way. This is the third time now England have made it to the semi-finals of the European Championships, with “THIRD TIME LUCKY (FINGERS CROSSED)” the favourite headline on some of the tabloids.
England – Spain (Semi-final) : England came out of the blocks on fire, flying at their Iberian opponents as though their lives depended upon it. It was clear Clough had managed to motivate his side to such a level, they were looking unbeatable. Then, in the seventh minute, they took the lead. An exquisite defence splitting pass from captain Ray Wilkins found space for Tony Woodcock to run into, who collected the ball, rounded the Spanish ‘keeper and slotted it home. The Spanish side had been England’s most stubborn and determined adversary during the World Cup Finals two years previous, sometimes employing quite negative and destructive tactics to prevent England from playing. The same was happening here, with Spain hoping to hit the English on the break. Clough was regularly up out of his seat, remonstrating with the linesman as another foul was committed on his team. As the game progressed, Spain were constantly frustrating England (and Clough inparticular), with their chief tactic to pull everyone behind the ball and wait for their rivals to attack. With twenty minutes left, the Spanish got their reward for their rearguard action, hitting England on the break. Trying to find a second goal and committing too many men up field, Spain regained possession, and raced up field. Munoz found himself with just Butcher and Anderson to beat, jockeyed for time and space before Maceda raced past him. He fed his team-mate a perfect through ball, who drew Shilton off his line and slid a cool finish under the English ‘keeper. And this is how the match ends – 1-1. For extra time, Clough brings on Lineker and Barnes, making the team very attack orientated, but England still cannot find the breakthrough to take them to the final for the first time. The game ends in a stalemate – and something new for the English, a penalty shoot-out. The two teams still match each other, kick-for-kick, as all players to begin with are successful. Shilton does get his hand to a couple of the shots, but is unable to keep them out. England’s first four kicks (scored by Neal, Woodcock, Lee, and Wilkins) send the Spanish ‘keeper Arconada the wrong way. With the score at 5-4 in Spain’s favour, young Gary Lineker confidentally steps forward to take his kick. Miss, and Spain progress – score, and it’s into sudden death. The Leicester man strikes the ball superbly, aiming for the bottom left corner, only for Arconada to dive the right way and just get the fingers on his right hand to the ball and push it onto the post. An excellent save, right out of the top drawer. Spain progress, England are heartbreakingly going home. Clough and Taylor have nothing but praise for their team, and state it’s a stepping stone for England – quarter finals in ’82, semi-final in ’84, next time will be better. Final score : England 1-1 Spain (aet) Spain win 5-4 on penalties
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