The cab stopped just on the street leading up to City Ground. “I am not going any further, sir,” my old cab driver, Jim, said, his tone stern. “This is as good as it gets.”
The obvious question of ‘why’ did not have to be put forward, though. As if owing me an explanation of this act of petulance, Jim spoke.
“I was a season ticket holder at Nottingham Forest, We were European champions, on top of the world. And then, it all went wrong. We were shit, and have been since then,” Jim says, hardly trying to control his anger. Forest are now in the second-tier Championship League. “Then, one day, I decided I had had enough. I swore I wouldn’t ever go anywhere near the City Ground” he said.
If Robin Hood and his band of merry men put this town on the map, it was the legendary Brian Clough’s (1935-2004) hugely successful sides of the late 1970s that made people fly from Germany for every Nottingham Forest home game. Clough coached Forest from 1975-93. “He made us fall in love, did Cloughy. He turned a team of no-hopers into champions of Europe,” said Jim.
Everyone has his or her own anecdote about arguably the greatest British manager. Jim is no different. “Before our first-ever European final — against Malmo (then coached by Bob Houghton, now India’s national football coach) in Munich in 1979 —Cloughy told the team to go out and get drunk. He reckoned they’d play better with a hangover,” Jim said.
“It sure worked, didn’t it?” “We were the kings of the world, we were Forest.” Forest won 1-0 through Trevor Francis’s goal. Next year, they beat Hamburger SV 1-0 to keep the title, being the only team other than Porto to have 100 per cent success in the final. “Clough was his own man. He didn’t care too much for norms,” said Matt Hughes, football writer for The Times, London.
“Cloughy had crazy training methods, including a run on a nettle-strewn ground once!” said club spokesman Fraser Nicholson. “But the players didn’t complain, and if they did, they were too scared to let Cloughy know.”
Asked what he thought about his managerial career, Clough had famously said: “I wouldn’t say I was the best manager. But I was in the top one.” Jim puts it well. “I’ll bet you my house there will not be another Brian Clough.” Not hard to see why.