It’s often forgotten, in the wake of Clough’s mythologising, that Derby County are a club with real history behind them. Far from coming from nowhere under his tutelage, Derby were in fact one of the twelve clubs who played in the first Football League Season of all, in 1888, finishing tenth. From the late 1920s until the Coronation in 1953, they were a formidable force in the First Division, winning the FA Cup and featuring regularly in the Cup semi-finals (their relative lack of luck in that respect being put down, with the superstition typical of English football, not to skill or tactics but to a gypsy curse). Two disastrous mid-1950s years saw them fall to the Third Division (North), from where they were immediately plucked out by Peter Taylor’s mentor Harry Storer.
By the time Clough arrived at the Baseball Ground, Derby were a safe mid-table bet in Division Two, but becalmed there, seemingly unable to make that final leg-up to the top division. Once again, Len Shackleton was Clough’s go-between, determined to see the young man who saw things his way move up through the ranks.
That was certainly how Clough saw it, looking back after retirement.
I only got the job through Len’s introduction to Derby. I went there, stayed there and then it all took off from there, managerial-wise. So that’s what I owe Len Shackleton. If I had threepence in my pocket, I’d owe him tuppence of it, because one penny was my contribution. Len, initially – and this is so important – was the breakthrough. He got me through the door, and I did the rest.
Clough had at this time in his life barely left the north east of England. When Shackleton mentioned Derby to him for the first time, Clough didn’t know where Derby was – and felt it a long way to go. By contrast, the chairman of Derby, Sam Longson, was very much aware of Clough, and had come to admire him both as a man and as a leader of men. He had seen Clough play for Sunderland, and had followed his progress at Hartlepools with great personal interest.
It was interest that Shackleton sharpened up with a lie, telling Longson that West Bromwich Albion – a successful First Division side then enjoying their first foray into Europe – were preparing a contract for Clough.
Longson, and Derby’s vice-chairman, met Clough more than half way in their efforts to secure him. Clough recalled:
They settled on a hotel called the Scotch Corner Hotel, which was a racing hotel. And I said to Len Shackleton, ‘Why the racing hotel?’ ‘Well,’ he said, ‘A lot of people go there.’ And, you know, to this day I don’t know one end of a horse from the other! So I said, ‘Ok, we’ll go there.’ Sam Longson, to his credit, came up, with the vice chairman. We had an hour, an hour and a half, then two hours together, and it got to the stage where I said: ‘Look, I’ve got to go and you’ve got to get back down there. What’s the procedure?’ To which Longson replied, ‘Oh, you’ve got the job now! I’d like you to come down to Derby to a board meeting to confirm it. Just a rubber stamp.’ So I must have said something right in those two hours.
If he did, it would not be something he’d do very often over the next five years. But it would take all of Clough’s determined anti-authoritarianism to alienate Longson, who in the late sixties had a deep personal inclination and fondness for Clough, describing him in loose moments as the son he had never had. In some senses, Longson’s problems wouldn’t be over his “son”, but, as in the battle with Ernie Ord, over the son’s blood-brother, Peter Taylor.
Clough’s first act on arrival at Derby County was to use the freshness of his authority to bounce the board into appointing Peter Taylor as his deputy, properly this time and without the cover of a faked training post. At the same time, Clough’s unique persuasiveness and salesmanship came into play in negotiations for rather more money for players than he had given the board reason to expect – reason to expect, that is, whilst he was applying for the job. Once again, Clough’s focus was entirely footballing, and the business, administrative sides to the game, the job of keeping a club afloat, came nowhere.
Neither did the club’s history. Clough went through Derby’s corridors, lifting down all of the pictures and photographs of the famous teams and players of the past, from Bloomer onwards – even Harry Storer failed to escape, although it would be on the Storer model that Clough built his famous Derby sides.
The players of the present, who might have been excited at the prospect of Clough’s arrival, soon learned how the land lay. “You’ve got three weeks to make an impression on me,” Clough told them at the first team meeting (the surviving photograph of this event shows Clough and team wreathed in smiles) “..and if I don’t rate you, you’re out.”
Four – just four – members of the first team squad survived: Kevin Hector, Alan Durban, Ron Webster and goalkeeper Colin Boulton. The Club Secretary, the groundsman and the Chief Scout were all also fired – and so were two tea ladies Clough caught laughing after a Derby defeat. (By contrast, Reg Matthews, the reserve keeper, was, uniquely, permitted to smoke during training, by dint of his five England caps won back in 1956).
There would be echoes of this dramatic behaviour in Clough’s bull-in-a-china-shop arrival at Leeds in 1974, and in his abrupt, unsuccessful rebuilding of the Nottingham Forest side in 1982-3. It had relatively little to do with football. But plenty to do with the exercise of raw power – Clough, like most top football managers, obsessed about domination over others, and the first weeks at a new club gave opportunities for the exercise of power for its own sake that would soon disappear.
How wise it was is open to question. Clough excused himself by claiming that he had to make his mark in those first weeks – but the facts of Clough’s first season in charge at Derby are that he failed to improve their league standing at all.
For all that, the core of his team took shape within that unsuccessful first year. Clough and Taylor’s ideas about team building were purest Harry Storer. Storer had been a skilful, cultured player, winning England caps in the 1920s, but as a manager built his team around strong, uncompromising centre backs and centre halves.
A strong, uncompromising dog, Billy, sat growling outside Storer’s office, waiting for any player ready to complain about having been dropped from the team. As Sheffield United manager, Joe Mercer once dared to mention to Storer that six Derby players had been guilty of over-physical play.”Give me their names,” demanded the Derby manager. “Why, are you going to fine them?” asked Mercer. “No, it’s the other five buggers I’m after,” Storer snapped back.
Clough’s teams took a similar shape – the important positions were goalkeeper (Colin Boulton/Reg Matthews), centre half and centre forward. Like Storer’s, his teams were required to show heart (“moral courage” Clough and Taylor called it), respect referees, keep the ball on the floor and take advantage of “the quick ball.”
It’s unlikely that the way Clough went about actually acquiring his team bore much resemblance to Storer’s practice, however. For one thing, Storer didn’t have a Taylor. In Clough’s opinion, Taylor was a better judge of a player than he was. Taylor would identify the man the team required, then send Clough out after him.
Given Clough’s lunatic courage and risk-taking, to say nothing of his revivalist persuasiveness and “demonic” (John McGovern’s choice of word) energy, this made Clough and Taylor a formidable partnership and horrible opponents.
John McGovern was one of the first three players Clough brought in, following him south from Hartlepools just as he would later follow Clough to Leeds and Nottingham Forest. John O’Hare came to Derby from the Sunderland youth team that had kept Clough from the dole briefly two years before. Most dramatic, though, was Roy McFarland.
In later years, McFarland would display the same courage and independence as Clough in leading the 1973 player’s rebellion (and the two men shared the same one-eyed socialist views with equal fervour). But all that was yet to come when Clough and Taylor barged their way into his parents’ house at midnight in the late 1960s. McFarland was bundled out of bed and told “Take as long as you like, but we’re not going anywhere till you make a decision.” Shock and sleep deprivation.
And selfishness, and bullying. Not for survival’s sake, this time. Feeding and clothing the kids now took a back seat to Clough’s desire to take revenge on fate. If he wasn’t to be a striker, then he’d be a manager. It was a wildly imbalanced, tunnel-visioned take on life, from a man bent on discovering what benefits could be squeezed from fame and achievement. He’d find out, in the end.
Sleep deprivation was a constant feature of Brian Clough’s life in his first four years at Derby. Club business kept him at the Baseball Ground from early in the morning until after seven o’clock – and then would come the long miles along the narrow trunk roads of the day, without the benefit of power steering, driving wherever was necessary to watch a player or negotiate for a player.
Peter Taylor was in the same boat, and on one such trip to Lancashire spotted a diminutive but angry little Scot called Archibald Gemmill. Gemmill’s son would later play for Clough at Nottingham Forest, but his wife was not impressed when Clough – let off the leash by Taylor – arrived late in the evening demanding her husband’s signature. Gemmill, caught between a rock and a hard place, pleaded for time, then told Clough that he’d “sleep on it”, more in the hope that Clough would simply leave his house than with any genuine intent.
It wasn’t enough. Clough pulled on a pair of Marigold gloves too small for his hands and did the washing up, before kipping down in the spare room. He was still there in the morning, still keen. Gemmill, despairing of ever being rid of him, signed.
The great Clough capture – also at Taylor’s suggestion – was Dave Mackay. Mackay had starred in the double-winning Spurs team of the early sixties, been a top international player, and now was looking for a first step into management.
Taylor’s account of the way Clough eventually brought Mackay to bear suggests that he had been half joking when nominating such a famous player to his partner. A kind of, “it would be nice” comment, but somehow Clough tracked Mackay down and persuaded him within two hours not to go to Hearts as boss but to come to Second Division Derby County where an alternative and preferable future apparently lay.
Dave Mackay was no pushover – he came with a reputation as a leader, a “hard man”, and a stylish, classy, intelligent player who had – before Clough’s babyface swam into view – spent his entire career at the top of the game. He was older than Clough. That he could be diverted into Derby County tells you everything you need to know about Clough’s “ability to handle big egos and top players” in the modern cliche.
Mackay tells the story, beginning with a phone call:
“Dave, Brian Clough here. I’ll get straight to the point. I’m building a team at Derby County that will be in the first division within two years and champions within five and I want you to lead it. Interested?” ‘Yes, I’m interested to hear more,’ I replied cautiously. I replaced the receiver and picked up a Sunday newspaper and scanned the end of season league tables. I finally found Derby County at 18th place in Division 2. He must be bonkers, I remember thinking. He turned up a day or two later at the ground. He looked fit and young in a neat suit, collar and tie, with his hair quiffed back almost in Teddy Boy style. He was positively evangelical about Derby County and his enthusiasm was infectious. Suddenly, I could see a few more years of playing football. Management could wait. I had never come across anyone quite like Clough. He introduced me to a world of four-letter insults, slamming doors and even an underlying hint of physical violence. He was a whirlwind in the dressing-room. A man of extremes. Hostile one minute, almost loving the next. But his players adored him and respected him with a passion.
But Clough wasn’t finished – and now that Mackay was on board, neither was Taylor. Mackay found himself locked into the manager’s office, with Clough sitting to one side of him and Taylor to the other. They wanted him to play as sweeper. Mackay, accustomed to covering every blade of grass on the pitch during a game (it was his waning powers in this regard that led to him considering management) was having none of it. At first. Let young Roy McFarland do the running for you, the pair whispered, and you’ll have even more influence over the game than you had before.
Mackay gave in, in the end, and took his revenge by making sure that “young Roy McFarland” lived the Mackay lifestyle. Clough and Taylor indulged Mackay, who never really trained – but when McFarland began following his skipper into bars and clubs, he was brought straight back down to earth and confined to his digs for a time.
As with goalkeeper Reg Matthews, Clough understood from the start that different kinds of players required different kinds of treatment to get the best out of them, and wasn’t afraid to show favouritism if it produced the right result. But then again.. where was the choice to do otherwise?
Alan Hinton, a brave but limited winger, arrived from Nottingham Forest to complete the blend. After an inauspicious first season, Derby swept all before them, and Clough’s first trophy in football was the Second Division Championship.
In the First Division for season 1969-70, Derby were the surprise package. Crystal Palace, promoted alongside them, narrowly escaped relegation. Derby got off to a flying start, and only tailed away towards the end of a season of easy, flowing football of a kind that they would never quite match again, eventually finishing fourth, four points behind Revie’s Leeds and thirteen behind runaway champions Everton.
In November of that first year back in the First Division, Clough’s rapidly growing stature in the game was confirmed when he was approached by Barcelona and offered the post of manager by the Catalan team. Barcelona were at a low point, crippled by the need to pay for their spectacular new Nou Camp stadium, and looking for inspiration. Clough turned them down (they went for Vic Buckingham instead, Bobby Robson’s mentor) as he would turn down the offer to become Greek national manager the following March.
Given Clough’s worries about money and desire for stability, at first sight his refusal to allow either Barcelona or Greece to make him a wealthy man makes no sense. Neither does it seem to fit the scale of his ambitions. But there was something deeply parochial inside Brian Clough – a deep tie to the familiar and to home.
Over the course of his career, the East Midlands was as far away from his native north east as he felt willing to go for any length of time. At Derby, he was, for now, well in control. He had no language problems, and his friends (almost exclusively coming from outside football) were within easy reach. And from 1970 onwards, anyway, he fully expected to become England manager in the not distant future. Until then, the team he was building at Derby would suffice.
Building that team into a team saw Clough at his peak at the start of the 1970s. It wasn’t all discipline and Mackay’s slamming doors. John O’Hare: “Once Clough found out that I was worried about my wife who had a lump on her breast. The next day he had her booked into a private nursing home at Ashbourne.”
The second season in the First Division might have come as a disappointment, given how much had been promised by the first. Ninth place, finishing even behind Southampton, doesn’t seem like a Clough season. In part, that is a consequence of Clough’s own mythologising of his career.
Ninth place is in fact a very typical Clough result, and would characterise his Derby team’s later years after his departure and sum up Nottingham Forest’s 1980s.
What’s more, having “arrived” in the First Division, Clough was taking his media presence up a gear, stirring controversy in the press and on television. It was, perhaps, a good thing for Clough that Derby won the First Division title at only the third attempt, as it gave him what turned out to be a brief stay of execution, a few months more before the not inconsiderable hubris he was building up and the enemies he was collecting caught up with him.
Mackay left at the end of 1970-71 to begin his Clough-and-Taylor-delayed management career. His replacement was another Clough old boy, Colin Todd, whom Clough remembered from the youth team at Sunderland. The fee, £175,000, was a national record – but Clough hadn’t told Sam Longson that the money was being spent until after the deed was done, with a curt telegram reading “Signed you another good player. Todd. Running short of cash. Brian.”
This kind of maverick behaviour is obviously attractive and entertaining, especially if you’re not Sam Longson and you aren’t the chairman of Derby County.
But it’s terrible politics, and it marks the point at which Longson and Clough truly began to part company. The sheer lack of diplomacy, rudeness and recklessness involved made Clough look like a football manager of the new, publicity-hungry breed, leading others in his train like Malcolm Allison. For now, the close competition for the League title kept Clough safe.
As the games counted down with Derby remaining in close contention with Leeds, Arsenal and Liverpool, Clough and Taylor invented an approach from Coventry City to inveigle better contracts from the board.
Derby completed their league programme in May 1972 not knowing their fate. A fixture pile-up including an FA Cup Final meant that Leeds still had a game to play. Draw, and the title went to Elland Road. As things panned out, that would have secured them the double of League and Cup. Alan Durban, a survivor from Clough’s first Derby squad, remembers Leeds’ failure:
Don Revie kept them in their hotel on the Saturday night after they’d won the FA Cup. He should’ve let them have a drink, let their hair down, relax. They were good pros, those guys, and with the Wolves game on the Monday night, they wouldn’t have abused their privilege. Revie tried to keep them psychologically screwed up for two major games for too long. Clough and Taylor would never have done that, they’d have had us around the table, swapping stories over a few beers or letting us see our wives or girlfriends. They were always spot on at distracting us and then switching the light on when they thought we were ready. That was the great thing with those two – there was never any real tension coming back to us. They’d leap on someone occasionally just to remind us who was in charge, but there were very few rucks. They got us all together, as team mates and friends. Cloughie saw us as his extended family.
Years later, Clough was to remember the title-winning Derby team as a side of friends, a group of men amongst whom he was sublimely at home and with whom he was at peace.
Durban’s account is only one of a number coming from this period that tells us for the first time exactly how Clough went about his job. It displays a basic philosophy – footballers play at their best when they are relaxed and unworried. Football is a tense enough game already – the hard part is preventing your players from winding themselves up too much, stopping them playing with fear. Sven Goran Erickson makes the same point today, and the experience of his England in Germany in 2006 shows just how hard a thing it is to achieve.
Derby County – Derby County! went into the European Cup as England’s representatives, and came very close to winning the trophy at their first attempt. In the Second Round, Derby came up against Benfica of Portugal, still one of Europe’s premier clubs and former winners of the trophy. What followed was and remains Derby County’s finest hour.
The first leg took place at Derby’s ground, and, for Derby, it was a glittering occasion, attended by a large chunk of the UEFA bigwigs, including President Sir Stanley Rous.
The weather on the preceding days had been good, and Rous was driven to ask Clough after the game why, after such a dry spell, the Baseball Ground pitch had been practically waterlogged. Clough told Rous that it was a feature of Derby weather that rainstorms could be extremely localised, so Rous, in his hotel near to the ground, might have missed the storm that swamped the pitch.
That, of course, was a lie. In fact, Clough had – unknown to Sam Longson – got hold of a complete set of keys to the Baseball Ground. On the night before the match, he had waited until everyone had gone home and all the lights were off, before letting himself quietly in. Clough had become accustomed to watering the pitch without the groundsman’s knowledge, and usually, having turned the hoses on, his habit was to sit in the stand watching them for twenty minutes before declaring that enough was enough and going home.
This time, worn out by lack of sleep, the pressure of events in the boardroom, and perhaps helped along by drink, he dropped off. By the time he woke up, the ground was saturated.
In the dressing room before the game, Clough broke the habit of a career, or seemed to. Normally, he paid no real attention to the opposition, preferring to assume that his team would be the one causing all of the problems. On this occasion, the biggest game in Derby’s history, he asked Peter Taylor to run through the Benfica team man by man.
Taylor stared at his notes for a full half-minute, then screwed them up and threw them away. “There’s nothing to worry about with that lot.”
Derby went out onto their saturated pitch surrounded by their adoring fans in their new stand, and, in Clough’s words, “pissed all over Benfica”. They won 3-0, and there was little danger in the second leg, which they drew 0-0. A tighter 2-1 aggregate victory over their Czechoslovak opponents Spartak Trnava, left them facing a European Cup semi-final against Juventus.