Last time we looked at the playing career of Brian Clough with his first forays into management with Hartlepool United in the old Fourth Division. This time out we will examine in detail his partnership with Peter Taylor at Derby County and the unprecedented success the men achieved together at the Baseball Ground. We will also examine some incidents that may well have had a bearing on the FA’s ultimate reluctance to trust Clough with the England job a few years later.
Derby is where Clough made his name and showed himself to be one of football’s most outstanding managers of all time. What he achieved there, with Taylor alongside, will never be forgotten even though later he arguably surpassed those achievements with Nottingham Forest.
At Derby, he inherited a team that had finished 17th in the Second Division and then promptly led them to an 18th place finish the next season! This was an aberration, however, and the Second Division title was won comfortably the next season, 1968-69, and 4th and 9th place finishes in the first division followed in the next two seasons.
1971-72 was a momentous season for Clough and Derby, locked as they were in a five-way battle for the league championship alongside Leeds, Liverpool, and the two Manchester clubs. It really was a titanic race for the title which went right down to the wire, and the last games of the season held simultaneously on the Monday night after the FA Cup final.
At different points on the run-in Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester City, in particular, had appeared to hold the initiative only to let it slip.
City had been top of the league and bombing along until Malcolm Allison, who had recently been promoted to manager from the position of coach, had signed the mercurial Rodney Marsh. According to conventional wisdom, upset the balance of the team causing City to blow their lead and allow themselves to be overhauled.
Liverpool had then seemingly grasped the nettle, and with two games to go were in a great position to take the title, only to lose 1-0 to a late goal in their crucial penultimate game at Clough’s Derby.
This victory was Derby’s last match and it put them top of the table, but Leeds and Liverpool both had one more game to play. To take the title Leeds needed a point away to Wolves on the aforementioned Monday after their FA Cup final success against Arsenal. If they failed to do so then Liverpool could take the title by winning at Highbury on the same night.
Much later Clough admitted he thought Leeds would take the title, but at the time he voiced no such fears as he took himself and his family off on holiday to the Scilly Isles. Simultaneously, Taylor took the Derby team to Majorca. It was in these respective holiday destinations that they got the news they had been waiting for: Leeds had lost, Liverpool had drawn and Derby were champions.
Brian Clough always felt that this title win didn’t get the credit it deserved as many pundits made the case that Derby did not so much win the title. More so that, Leeds and Liverpool had thrown it away. Incensed by this lack of respect, Clough, quite reasonably, pointed out that all teams had played the same number of games home and away and his side had come out on top. There was nothing undeserving about that, he reasoned.
It is interesting to note that both the Leeds and the Liverpool games were later subjected to allegations of bribery attempts. It was said and vehemently denied, that Don Revie had offered some Wolves players inducements to take things easy at Molineux. Many years later allegations were made that unnamed Arsenal player(s) had approached a senior Liverpool player and let it be known that they too would be willing to take their feet off the pedal if the price was right. This senior Liverpool player is then alleged to have informed one or more of his also-senior team-mates who pointedly refused to believe such an approach had been made. It was never mentioned to the rest of the team or anyone else until thirty-five years later.
The next season saw Derby enter the European Cup as English champions and progress to the semi-final where they were beaten in somewhat controversial circumstances by Juventus, who went on to lose to Ajax in the final. That season Derby finished 7th in the defence of their league title.
In October 1973, Clough and Taylor resigned from Derby after disagreements with the board and in particular with Sam Longson.
Again, these are the bare statistics only, and, as with almost every other aspect of the Brian Clough story, there was a lot more to his time at Derby than bare stats.
Derby were in poor shape when Clough and Taylor bowled into the place in the summer of 1967. They had finished the 1966-67 season in seventeenth place, a finish which had led to manager Tim Ward being relieved of his position and Clough, with Taylor, being installed.
Clough said he was shocked by just how bad the squad they had inherited were, and he set about ringing the changes. Amongst the first signings they made were goalkeeper Les Green from Burton, John O’ Hare from Sunderland, Tranmere’s Roy McFarland, who Clough and Taylor stole from under the noses of the two larger Merseyside clubs, and Alan Hinton from Nottingham Forest. These signings formed the basis of a totally new side and prompted the confident Clough to declare on the eve of the 1967-68 season that the club would finish higher than they had the year before: they finished eighteenth.
Clough and Taylor were undeterred. The basics were in place, they reasoned, and with just another one or two signings there would be no stopping them. One of them was Willie Carlin, an aggressive midfielder signed from Sheffield United. The other was the legendary Dave Mackay, the skipper of ‘the double’ winning Spurs team who Clough somehow persuaded to come and sign for him. Moving to a struggling second division team in preference to returning to Scotland and taking up the offered post of assistant manager at Hearts was an achievement.
The signing of Mackay was the one Clough considered to be the best of his career. He said that Mackay gave so much to Derby and was so instrumental in transforming the club into what they were become, that nobody else he ever signed had a chance of matching him in his estimation.
With a completely new team, and Mackay playing sweeper, Derby swept to the Second Division title in 1968-69.
Once in the First Division, Derby continued to attack sides and finished their first season back in the top-flight in a more than creditable fourth place. The following season saw, on paper anyway, a bit of a backward step as Derby were unable to finish any higher than ninth, but more signings were made. The final links were added in Colin Todd and Archie Gemmill, and Derby so took the title in 1971-72. Cloughie could do no wrong.
Actually, he could. Success on the field was being accompanied by controversy off it within the walls of Derby’s old Baseball Ground. Clough and Taylor were no longer seeing eye-to-eye with chairman Longson and the two factions were heading for a collision.
Brian Clough and Peter Taylor had the happy knack of being able to spot a player with ability; someone who would improve on what they already had and take their club to the next level. Unfortunately, they did not also possess the knack to realise that their chairman might like to be at least informed of potential signings rather than having them presented as a done deal once the deed had been done. Both Gemmill and Todd, despite being excellent players were, without the prior knowledge of anyone on Derby’s board, signed by Clough who then sent Longson a telegram thus: “Have signed Todd. We’re almost bankrupt. Love Brian.”
Funny? Yes, no doubt. Irrelevant? You got it? Wise and with far-reaching consequences? Hmmmm…
As he would say himself many times, Clough (and Taylor) didn’t care who they upset. Their club, with them at the helm, was on the march and they felt they were indestructible. They had taken Derby from the depths of the Second Division to the peaks of the English game and now they were going to embark on a real go for the European Cup. They were the football men and Longson and his ilk were the businessmen, never the twain should meet, thought they.
Many years later Cloughie would write in his autobiography that he could, at last, see Longson’s point of view and that he and Taylor had got carried away with themselves. They had become arrogant and filled with the sense of their own importance and should have tried to understand.
Clough and Taylor would walk away from Derby in October 1973 after tendering their resignations and, to their amazement, having them accepted by Longson and the board who called their bluff. Clough later described this folly as the ‘worst mistake of his life’.
It is entirely possible that the whole period and scenario cost Clough not only his job at his beloved Derby but also the chance to realise his ultimate dream of managing England.
Clough was young, brash and headstrong. He knew he was good at what he did and he wasn’t afraid to say so. He refused to be intimidated by anyone or to toe the line in any situation in which he didn’t want to. He knew he was valued by Derby, but he overestimated by how much and it was this error that ended up costing him dearly.
As happy and successful as he was as a manager at Derby, he flirted with, and some would say encouraged overtures from, other clubs and positions. He and Taylor ‘resigned’ to take up positions at Coventry before ‘changing their mind’ and they also had talks with regard to taking over the Iranian national team. Each time they were ‘persuaded’ to stay at Derby. So when they resigned again in October 1973, in what Clough later admitted was a bluff designed to force the board’s hand to back them in their on-going row with Longson, they had every expectation that once again they would win the battle. Instead, the board called their bluff, accepted their resignations and won the war.
Clough had also made waves and enemies outside the Baseball Ground’s boardroom. He had managed to upset not only the FA but also such footballing luminaries as Don Revie and Sir Matt Busby. He had been prominent on television while he was running Derby and had been extremely outspoken and critical of the footballing hierarchy in the country at that time, in particular, the FA. He had spoken out at length in critical style at the tactics and methods employed by Don Revie’s all-conquering Leeds team and the FA’s subsequent lack of action taken in response to Leeds’ awful disciplinary record, stating that Leeds should have been demoted to the Second Division ‘for cheating’.
The ‘Ian Storey-Moore incident’ left a bad taste in the mouth of Sir Matt Busby and wouldn’t have helped Cloughie’s later England chances given the fact that Sir Matt would turn out to be on the FA interview panel. Storey-Moore was set to sign for Manchester United from Southampton and may have even already done so when in the words of Clough he was ‘kidnapped’ and paraded at the Baseball Ground as Derby’s latest signing. Busby and the FA were not amused and Clough was fined $5000, and the player ended up at United anyway.
The most controversial happening of all and one which almost certainly contributed to ending any realistic hopes of Clough ever becoming manager of England occurred when Derby met Juventus in the semi-final of the 1972-73 European Cup.
Whatever the merits of Clough and his achievements at Derby and later Nottingham Forest, were the FA ever really going to take a chance on appointing as manager of the national team someone who had described opponents as ‘cheating ***** Italian bastards’?
It was thus that Juventus found themselves labeled after a highly contentious game in Turin in March 1973, but it has to be said Clough did seem to have a point! The referee, from West Germany, appeared to give decision after decision against Derby, which included the cautions of Gemmill and McFarland who by receiving their second cautions of the tournament would now be ruled out of the crucial second leg at Derby by suspension.
According to Clough, one of the Juventus substitutes, Haller, also German, was seen going into the referee’s room both before the game and again at half time, and although UEFA held an enquiry long after the event, the investigation uncovered no evidence of wrongdoing. Just strong allegations of attempts to bribe the referee that just wouldn’t, and won’t, go away.
To this day there is a strong feeling of at least unease in many quarters regarding the Juventus – Derby match of March 1973, and Clough and Taylor both certainly went to their graves believing they had been ‘cheated’.
That as may be, Clough’s comments and reaction, probably ruled out any chance of him being considered for the England job in the summer of 1974 when a successor to Sir Alf Ramsey was being sought and would have still held great bearing during the selection process three-and-a-half years later after Revie’s defection.
In the next installment of the series, we will consider in more detail Clough’s claim to the England position when he was interviewed for the job in 1977. We will also look at the man’s achievements in club football after leaving Derby.