Brian Clough Leeds United

Last time out we looked at Brian Clough’s tenure in charge at Derby County and his magnificent achievement in taking one provincial club from the backwaters of English football to the First Division title. This week we will consider what happened after his untimely departure from the Baseball ground and in particular his spells in charge of Brighton and Leeds United.

If Clough’s achievements at Derby were somewhat more than admirable, then what he achieved (with Taylor once more at his side) at Nottingham Forest was simply miraculous. In the space of three years, the pair of them took Forest out of the old Second Division (in third place) won the First Division title (by six points) in their first season in the top flight, won the European Cup the next season, then retained it the season after.

Unbelievable!

Whatever happens in the future of this game that we all love, whoever we support, whatever we think of Clough as a man or a manager, those achievements will NEVER be bettered – although if Leicester had won the Champions League in 2016-17 it would have been a close-run thing!

It was this run of phenomenal success, combined with what was already achieved at Derby, that really led to the push for Clough to be given the England job.

However, it should be noted that there was an interlude of approximately fifteen months between Clough leaving Derby and turning up at Forest. Those fifteen months were anything but quiet.

For starters, Brian Clough didn’t want to leave Derby and he wouldn’t go quietly. This was in spite of the fact that he and Taylor had resigned. They made it clear that they wished to rescind their resignations and continue, but Longson and the board were having none of it. There then followed a long and noisy protest campaign supported by both followers and players to get the pair reinstated. Dave Mackay, their former captain, was appointed as manager and brought threats of a player strike to a head when he told all players if they didn’t turn up for a game then he would simply play the reserves and then sell the lot of them. They all turned up on time.

However, the protest movement continued for some time, and although it kept Clough’s name in the limelight it is likely that it did him no long-term benefit. It was another string to the bows of his detractors who accused him of courting publicity at all costs.

At this time, he additionally kept up his television appearances and his newspaper columns in which he would spout forth his somewhat unconventional and controversial opinions and ideas on all things football. There were times when he certainly appeared to be controversial for the sake of making a headline, another fact he later admitted. As a result, he continued to rub people the wrong way.

Next, he had spells in charge at both Brighton and Hove Albion and, most famously, Leeds. Neither of these stints were a success, and his time at Leeds could fairly be described as an unmitigated disaster.

Clough and Taylor were offered the management of Brighton by Chairman Mike Bamber in late 1973, and, against his better judgment, Clough accepted. Clough didn’t stay long, only until the end of the season, and it was a widely held view at the time that his heart was never in the job. At best it was thought that Clough had taken the job simply because it was available and he wanted to get back into football as quickly as possible.

Others were more cynical. They suspected him of never intending Brighton to be anything other than a stop-gap and that he would be off to a bigger club at the drop of a hat. Clough always denied those allegations at the time, and continued to do so many years later, but it’s hard to argue that he was exactly the most committed of employees when, by his own admission, he spent most of his short time there wishing he had never left Derby and then ended leaving for Leeds in the summer.

When Clough left Brighton for Leeds, Taylor decided not to join him. This was a serious blow to Cloughie both professionally and personally, and he took it hard. Taylor felt they owed more to Bamber and Brighton, and he also felt that the two of them could never be accepted at Leeds after the way Clough had criticised them in the past. Clough, for his part, couldn’t begin to understand why Taylor would give up the opportunity to join the League Champions and have another crack at the European Cup.

It is fair to say that the two-year period before Clough and Taylor were reunited at Forest were not the best time of either man’s career. Taylor had two seasons in sole charge at Brighton without gaining promotion, while Clough lasted forty-four infamous days in charge of Leeds.

What quite possessed Brian Clough to ever think he could succeed at Leeds will now never be known, but he went on to describe it as ‘an offer I couldn’t refuse – but should have done.’ Leeds had, of course, been managed by Cloughies’ great nemesis, the legendary Don Revie, who had cultivated a much vaunted ‘family atmosphere’ at the club. This had intrigued Clough at first and then sickened him later when he got the opportunity to experience it first hand.

Prior to coming to Leeds, Clough had hated the club – absolutely hated it, and the feeling was mutual. Clough had ‘used his soapbox as manager of Derby and the best pundit on television’ to time and again condemn them in the most withering of terms. He slated Revie and the Leeds players’ ‘cheating’, their constant fouling, time wasting, arguing with referees and blatant gamesmanship.

Clough was then not surprisingly ‘apprehensive’ as he came to work at Elland Road for the first time. Perhaps to overcome his nervousness Clough elected to indulge in a ‘bit of banter’ with the team during his first team talk. The ‘banter’ included the observation that ‘all their medals were worthless as they had been won through cheating,’ and that Eddie Gray, a player who had suffered from injuries, ‘would have been shot had he been a racehorse’. Clough also decided the best way to integrate himself with players such as Norman Hunter, Billy Bremner, and Johnny Giles was to tell them to stop ‘clattering people,’ while Peter Lorimer was advised to ‘stop attempting to con referees.’

Clough didn’t last long.

Forty-four days was the length of his tenure, and almost everyone concerned was relieved when he went. Cloughie himself, although disappointed, had the consolation of financial security in as much as his contract was paid up in full. Leeds meanwhile went onto reach the European Cup final that season under Cloughie’s successor, Jimmy Armfield.

A man can survive one disaster in his career, and perhaps the very fact that his reign at Elland Road was so short was a blessing in disguise. Had Clough stayed for one full season, and Leeds continued to do terribly (at the time of Clough’s departure the team had only won once in six league outings) perhaps it would have taken longer for him to be given another chance.

As it happened, Clough wasn’t out of work long. In January 1975 he was appointed manager at Nottingham Forest, and the rest is history.

As previously stated, his success there, particularly in the years 1978-80, was both unprecedented and phenomenal. In addition to the League Championship and two European Cups won during that period, two League Cups were also attained and a third final reached and lost.

It was this period of success, his strongest in terms of trophies, that really pushed the case for his appointment as England manager.

In the final part of this series, we shall look in closer detail at Brian Clough’s claims on the England job, seek for possible reasons why he was ultimately unsuccessful in his quest to secure the position, and speculate what might have been had certain decisions been different.

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David Nesbit

Living and working in SE Asia
David Nesbit
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