Boardroom bust-ups, back-bar booze-ups, rampant politicking, arrogance, humility, deceit, conceit, love, devotion, madness, cruelty, kindness, tears, tantrums, sheer bloody brilliance – and even the odd game of football. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the life and times of one Brian Howard Clough.
“I wouldn’t say I was the best manager in the business. But I was in the top one” – Clough on his own success.
“Cloughie” was one of the biggest, most inimitable and most controversial characters to ever grace English football, a world over which he resolutely rode roughshod, always marching to his own tune.
To that end, it’s fitting that his celebrity was born as a result of guiding two unfashionable, provincial football clubs, Derby County and then Nottingham Forest (where, Lazarus-like, he resurrected his career after a disastrous 44-days at Leeds United), to hitherto unknown levels of success.
“The River Trent is lovely. I know because I have walked on it for 18 years” – Clough’s take on Nottingham.
Indeed, back-to-back European Cup Final victories with Forest, in 1979 and 1980 – still considered one of the greatest feats in the history of the English game – saw him enter domestic football’s Parthenon and virtually Canonized in City on the Trent.
But self-styled “Old Big ‘Ead” – the eccentric, maverick genius in a baggy green sweater– was just as widely loved for his tremendous wit and forthrightness as he was for his success.
“We talk about it for 20 minutes and then we decide I was right” – Clough on dealing with players who disagree with him.
A life-long socialist, fierce unionist and Chairman of the Anti-Nazi League, Clough was resolutely anti-establishment – he was twice asked by the Labour Party to stand as parliamentary candidate in general elections but he snubbed them.
No one could hold him, no one could be the master of him and anyone deemed more important than him was eschewed as a false idol. When Clough was around, the only Altar to kneel before was that of Clough himself – and as art imitates life, there are now statues of him in no fewer than three different English cities.
Of course, two of those stand in Derby and Nottingham – rival clubs from rival cities whose hatred is tribal in its intensity. And if they could represent the Montagues and Capulets, Clough was Romeo and Juliet rolled into one.
“When I go, God’s going to have to give up his favourite chair” – Clough on mortality.
Indeed, Clough’s story is Shakespearian in more ways than one: aching beauty, agonising romance, and no small element of tragedy. Alcoholism played more than a substitute’s role in the life of Brian Clough and it claimed him in the end – first his career, then his life.
It never seemed right that a personality as big as Cloughies’ could be curtailed by… anything, yet even he couldn’t rage against the dying of the light forever.
But, my God, how he raged – and how we loved every bloody minute.
Posted by Alex at 9:40am