Archive | Brian Clough

Tags: ,

Brian Clough: who he really was, and what he really achieved

Posted on 06 February 2010 by JamesHamilton

We’ve done it, at last, haven’t we: taken the silent and unanimous decision that Brian Clough matters. He’s made the step up: Brian Clough’s cultural now, gone from the close, sweaty barracks of football because he stands for England like Elgar and Dickens.

The news about Clough isn’t in the tabloids anymore.  It’s  strictly broadsheet, review and monthly: it’s been to the London Film Festival and must by now be under Granta’s walls, in strength. All that whilst never being out of place: all that, whilst never abandoning Derby, all that without losing the common touch. Clough, more than Ramsey, or Revie, more even than Shankly, his only possible rival, is a cornerstone and comment upon the zeitgeist, and post War Britain is impossible without him.

You can see his shape and hear his voice in all of it: it’s there in the memories of wet bus queues and Tony Blackburn and Green Shield stamps and Sportsnight and the whine of the milkman’s electric float.  Clough’s is one of that medley of reassuring provincial voices that dominated Wilson and Heath’s Britain, a Britain that felt so safe but left with a suitcase thirty years ago: he’s there in the head with Jim Callaghan, Eric Morecombe, Jimmy Savile and Noddy Holder. All gone, at least as we knew them then, all towed off in the back of the last Sealink Ferry or municipal dustcart.

Clough, like the others, started out with hack-written biographies and My Lifes. They’re all down in the Bodleian somewhere, still, browning in a stack with a host of others with the same huge type and bad binding and three sets of photos, one in colour. Books about sporting immortals don’t have long lives. The best a given copy can hope for is to be bought, by accident, by a badly-funded public library, where it can lurk at the back unnoticed long after its St Ives-printed brothers have been pulped or landfilled.

Ten years ago, something happened to books about Clough.  Or maybe it was something they did, something Clough himself would never have dreamed of: they betrayed their origins. They jumped genre. They became “proper books”, a transformation achieved dangerously close to the disputed border between snobbery and defensible taste and identification. A Clough book would henceforth be a proper autobiography, then a proper biography, then a novel, and then there was a Clough film – which, to show it was keeping up with developments, would feature real actors, and have football in it yet succeed.

Now come the memoirs, and the best of these is BAFTA-winning writer and film-maker Don Shaw’s Clough’s War. Clough’s War, as the title suggests, is Shaw’s first-hand account of the player rebellion at Derby whose ultimate failure brought the great post-1964 rush of English football to an end. After 1973, English club success in Europe covered cracks. It might not have had to. That it did was because Clough was an end, not a beginning; he was the last and greatest product of the only string of good English managers the game has ever produced. That string appeared just as the traditional but resilient business practices that built the game in the late Victorian and Edwardian period were being eased out. Eased out too slowly, too late for Clough: Shaw’s account of a world talent being forced to manouvre amongst petty provincial businessmen, whose sole concern was their local standing amongst their peers, is enough to set your trigger finger twitching back and forth.

Shaw deliberately leaves his picture of Clough incomplete: there are areas of the man into which he can’t see, and he says so. Shaw is a typical Clough friend: outside football but passionate about it, intellectually strong but of ordinary background, possessed of a powerful instinct for, and respect regarding, friendship and loyalty. And, of course, skilled with words. Philip Whitehead, film producer and Labour MP, was another of these Clough acolytes. Had the momentum of the 1960s and early 1970s continued, England would have ended up under the rule of this kind of clever, ordinary northerners and midlanders. 1973 did for that in all sorts of ways: Callaghan gets the blame, for dodging the autumn 1978 election and precipitating Thatcher, but the damage was done in the oil crisis. And, just as much,  in the community halls, pubs and discreetly parked football managers’ cars of Derby.

Part of Shaw’s Clough comes across well in this 1979 interview (9 mins):


Here, confronted with the young John Motson, Clough displays some of the attributes Shaw notices, describes and frets over:

Fearlessness: “Clough felt invulnerable” says Shaw, “because he knew that the world held him in awe. That is why he could launch his slanderous attacks and suffer no consequences.. Lesser mortals, doing the same, might have expected a smack in the face. Not Clough. He knew that the pedestal on which he stood was high enough to be out of the range of brickbats.”

Self-belief: “I never think of Clough as suffering from megalomania,” says Shaw, “but its dividing line from self-aggrandisement is very close. His reference to Generals Wingate, on the British side, and Patton, on the American, was significant in that their insistence on self-belief, allied to their strong feeling of destiny, was central to their military philosophy, as it was to his approach to football management. His courage was unquestionable. His statement, ‘If I’d been a Spitfire pilot I’d have taken on a squadron of Messerschitts,’ could easily be dismissed as ‘Old Big ‘ead’ bragging. But to have been in his presence when he spoke those words was not to induce intense scepticism, but to accept it, such was the matter-of-fact way in which he made the claim.”

Psychological Aggression: Clough is waiting for Motson to provide him with something with which to disagree, whereupon he will present the disagreement as the product of moral and intellectual failing by Motson and the broadcasters. But Clough doesn’t wait for opportunities to put Motson off balance: putting Motson off balance is the core plot of the interview. In a player, likewise, Shaw says, “Clough searched for character traits and patterns of behaviour, which, once grasped, gave him a power over the player intended to induce fear initially, out of which would come obedience and respect.”

What doesn’t show in the interview are other traits that Clough would bring in to play to help his team. Humour – which he and Peter Taylor would bring deliberately to the table at specific times to reduce tension and pressure on the players – was a big part of the Clough persona, at least until 1982 and the end of the Clough-Taylor partnership. Simplicity: Clough’s advice to his players rarely reached any greater complexity, Shaw points out, than you’d find on a school playing field. Simple things can be remembered in pressure situations, and we saw the principle in reverse during the first McClaren international against Croatia.

Group bonding, brought to a height in the close Derby team, was essential to Clough. During the Ian Storey-Moore debacle, in which Clough essentially kidnapped Moore in order to hijack Moore’s move to Manchester United, he left Moore alone for a chat with each of the first team players in turn. They were quizzed for their views afterwards – “If a guy isn’t liked by the squad, then he’s out”. Moore passed his inspection, so Clough told him, late that evening, “We’re down in the lounge. Come down and have a cocoa with your wonderful mates.”

Nottingham Forest, Shaw thinks, was different: in the end, everything boiled down to fear. At any rate, his relationship with his Derby team represented the height of his career and his life, never to return.

There are sides to these Clough traits which Shaw doesn’t mention but which round out the Clough picture somewhat.

Gaslighting: “Gaslighting” is a technique to put a person off balance. You attribute a thought or feeling to your victim which you cannot know that they have and that they probably do not have. If they deny the thought or feeling, you rubbish their denial. If you are in any sort of authority or close relationship with your victim, this is extremely unsettling for them. The victim starts to distrust themselves, to question the message they are getting from their emotional responses. It slows them down, weakens them. Motson comes in for it constantly, and Clough uses the technique in almost every lengthy interview including the famous Revie conversation of 1974. The point about gaslighting is not just to point out that Clough employed the technique, but to reflect upon what that says about Clough.

Compartmentalizing: Clough didn’t make friends of his players – although he fostered friendship between them. Nor did he make friends on his various boards, or, indeed, Taylor aside, in football generally. This trait is an enabler of other traits: you can’t treat John Motson – or Sam Longson – or a player – as Clough did, and care about their opinion.

Grandiosity: It’s not just in Clough’s words (“..but I’m in the top one.”) but in his manner. Again, with Motson, he interviews like a captured Nazi general who can’t quite believe it isn’t 1940 anymore. Grandiosity needs to be defined in contrast to a sense of superiority: it has an element of defensiveness, of camouflage to it. Reading between Clough’s lines, I sense a frustration at only having football to perform in, a sense of being overpowered for his milieu but of being shut out from the stages that suited his size. Call it an air of frustrated self-importance.

Seeing others only in his own terms: Shaw’s account is one of Clough utilising Shaw’s loyalty, admiration and friendship as political pawns to play in his battle with the Derby board. The board, and the club, exist only as an opportunity for his self-expression. In the Motson interview, he sees the League Championship purely as an exercise in brilliant management, and the quality of the players is a secondary issue. This is the context, I believe, for the various set-piece Clough generosity stories. People for whom human relationships are all manouvre and negotiation, who lack some of the old-shoe moment-by-moment comfortable getting along with their peers, go in for the memorable, exaggerated gesture that the rest of us wouldn’t think of, or if we had, would be too bashful to attempt. Set-piece generosities backlight an otherwise selfish person’s interactions – we assume that they mean well, or that they are “really” generous and the more common selfishness is only an occasional blip of the sort everyone is prone to.

Football success carries enormous social, communal value, and, consequently, it brings with it tremendous forgiveness. The English, like everyone else, enjoy having someone coming from among them who can deliver something worth as much as football trophies. They enjoy having someone as different from most of them as Clough coming from their own stock – even someone differentiated by the sheer quantities of ego, selfishness and bullying as Clough could muster. At a distance, it’s easy to hang onto such personalities other values that the English hold dear – honesty, integrity, etc., and, having hanged hung them, easy to celebrate them: this kind of thing was projected onto the young Henry VIII just as it was onto Clough.

Shaw thinks that Clough’s “management style” and personality could only have thrived at the 1970s Nottingham Forest because only there, and nowhere else before and certainly since, would he be given complete control. I’d put forward a similar argument. Clough displayed many of the traits that apply to the collection of behaviours together known as narcissistic personality disorder. You might share with me my concerns about personality disorders – the way they yoke together what are, after all, behaviours that are part and parcel of human nature, and the arbitrary nature of the yokes themselves. But you’ll also share with me the knowledge of what being on the receiving end of those behaviours is like. Clough, being the man he was, could have succeeded outside football. Both business and politics reward men with just Clough’s traits. But only in football are such men celebrated.

Clough is unusual in football, though, for the sheer range of reasons for celebration and remembrance. His teams played glorious football – both Derby and Forest are still wonderful to watch, even now. His players reached career heights they’d not have seen but for him: perhaps Stuart Pearce was the last of a line that began with John McGovern. He won two league titles, two European Cups, and a host of lesser trophies. He made a football establishment we knew to be inadequate look inadequate, and our gratitude for that has lasted three decades undimmed. He was a great Englishman at a leaderless time, and when Muhammed Ali recognized him, the Champ recognized us all by proxy. I’ve shaken Ali’s hand: I feel I’ve also shaken Clough’s.

He achieved something else, too: something less obvious, less visible to the naked eye, but interesting nonetheless. He did everything with tools left over from another age. To understand this, consider the history of English football management.

Organized football got underway in the 1850s and 1860s. Most sides of the period, playing in the nascent FA Cup, were managerless teams of friends or teams put together at universities or military institutions. The team captain was also the team convenor, the man who knew everyone, could contact everyone, could bring everyone (or nearly everyone, in amateur days) together for matches. Personal acquaintance with the team was the key to playing for the team.

Teams of this type were to all intents and purposes unstaffed. There was no trainer, no doctor, no physio, no kitman. What changed this was the game’s own development. Early international teams – take, for instance, Quintin Hogg’s unofficial Scottish side of 1870-1, made up entirely of London-based Scots – were like club sides, comprised of friends and acquaintances. As the number of clubs increased, and with it the number of serious players, acquaintance became increasingly second hand, and a player would be picked for England or Scotland on the strength of reputation and word of mouth, not always personal knowledge.

As the number of teams based in the north of England multiplied, this became more complicated. A Blackburn Olympic might play southern teams twice in a season, perhaps three times, and only in the FA Cup. Knowledge of Olympic players amongst the men picking the England or Scotland teams was limited.

But with the northern teams charging for entry to their matches, the likes of Olympic, or Preston, found themselves needing to produce elevens of the sort of quality that might attract a crowd. That sort of eleven wouldn’t be made up of people the captain had heard of, but of people a crowd would come to hear of and talk about, or that a newspaper might celebrate. Very quickly, the logic of the situation demanded that a northern club have on its staff someone who had knowledge of players from a wide area, and the ability and desire to expand that knowledge faster than his colleagues at rival clubs. And, with entry fees being charged, and then, wages being paid, some business skill might come in useful. Thus the secretary-manager was born.

Within twenty years, the secretary-manager was a standard, accepted figure at every major football club in the Football League, the Southern League, and the other professional leagues. John Cameron, writing in 1905, described the manager’s duties as

  • the acquisition of a decent first XI
  • keeping the club’s accounts up to date
  • managing the fixture list
  • administering the stadium (maintenance etc)

By this stage, and no doubt as a result of the time constraints upon the manager, a second accepted figure had emerged: the trainer. Cameron describes the trainer as

regarded as the father of his side. Attending to the players’ smallest wants, dressing their injuries, rubbing them down, hardening their muscles, and freely giving advice in a thousand matters, the occupation of a trainer is a busy one.

Only by his efforts and shrewd judgement the appearance on the field of a popular player sometimes depends. Mistakes result in crippled players, and cause vexation of the spirit to the club’s officials.

In the space of barely thirty years, clubs went from being loose associations of mates to being joint stock companies with full-time staff. But very few full-time staff: it’s interesting to contemplate a club with a squad of twenty, plus manager, trainer and turnstile staff, weekly being confronted with crowds of twenty, thirty and forty thousand people. Such disparities had been seen only at the quiet branch stations serving the likes of Epsom, and then only once or twice a year. An Everton or a Tottenham were now handling them every fortnight, and without a railway company as backup.

Something stalled in British football when play halted in 1915. Crowds would continue to grow in the 1920s and 1930s, but the only signficant change in the way clubs were run would be tactical, Chapman amending the traditional 2-3-5 in 1925 to cope with the altered offside law. Manchester United went through the 1950s with four core administrative staff. Around the great league clubs of the north, industry and its management was transformed, by the arrival of the modern assembly line, by the arrival of efficient road transport, and by the impact of successive education acts. Football management stayed the same.

So, when Clough arrived at Hartlepools, Peter Taylor had to begin by masquerading as “trainer”, despite having even less relevant knowledge than his sponge-wielding peers. And, at Derby, his appointment was the cause of the first of Clough’s many conflicts with Sam Longson.

During the great years of his management career, in other words, Clough was, to all intents and purposes, a secretary-manager (Derby appointing “secretary” Webb only after a financial scandal caused by Clough’s indifference to the demands of accounting).  Clough was in an Edwardian role. So were his English counterparts. But his European rivals were not.

Clough’s attitude towards team and tactics were Edwardian too.  John Cameron, in 1905, might have been speaking for Clough in 1973:

Every manager is aware that if a professional team is to show successful results there must exist a genuine spirit of good fellowship among the players. The little jealousies that sometimes occur between different members of a team are unfortunate in the extreme, and should on all occasions be firmly repressed by those in authority.

Cameron never discusses tactics, and we know from other Edwardian writers that the basic 2-3-5 was considered to be the optimum formation, arrived at organically through experience and experimentation. Don Shaw describes just such an attitude in Clough:

Clough disregarded ‘tactics’ which, he said, were ‘the best thing to talk about if you want to ruin a team’s rhythm.’ Blackboard analysts were condemned as counter-productive. ‘Tactics aren’t for me,’ he declared. ‘They’re things teams dream up because they’re scared they might lose.’

Here Clough is channelling R.S. McColl, the Edwardian footballer and founder of the newsagent chain, who wrote:

Too rigid a system of play, in which all the moves are known, will not do. There must be flexibility; endless variety and versatility; constant surprises for the other side. System must be inspired by art and innate genius for and love of the game.

“We pissed all over Benfica,” said Clough after putting McColl’s advice into practice in the European Cup. “You don’t teach genius,” he said on another occasion. “You watch it.”

Clough’s Hartlepools and Derby were built around the Edwardian idea of the primacy of the first XI, not on the later squad concept first properly seen in England in Paisley’s Liverpool side of 1976-8. The essentials were a good goalkeeper (e.g. Colin Boulton), a good centre-half (e.g. Roy McFarland), a good link man (e.g. John McGovern), a good winger (e.g. Alan Hinton) and a good centre-forward (e.g. John O’Hare). The rest would follow.

Clough’s achievement, then, was to take the Edwardian-style football club to the very highest level of play and achievement that the structure offered. At a time when the frozen administrative set-up of British football was so obviously eating into British football’s future, and making clubs like Derby look like museum pieces put next to Benfica or Juventus with their tactical sophistication and modern stadia and evolved youth policies, Clough made it all work, one last time.

Like Cameron, like Chapman, Clough was a narcissist fuelled by his self-perceived superiority over the men he worked amongst. It took that unusual, splintered, often unpleasant and unnegotiable personality to pull success from such an unlikely hat as the Edwardian-style football club. Men like that can and do succeed elsewhere, in politics and business. But only in football are they truly celebrated.

Because England never came for him, there is a sense of something missing from Clough’s success. And the success he did have, vast as it was, helped to sustain the illusion that there was nothing wrong with British football, that all we had to do to catch up with Holland, with Brazil, with Germany, was find another Clough, another man who could crank the same rusting handle as hard as he had been able.

But we haven’t found another Clough. He was the last. Joltin’ Joe has left and gone away. Perhaps his greatest tribute is the sheer scale of the silence he’s left behind him.

Comments (6)

Tags: ,

What We’ve Learned About Clough

Posted on 08 May 2009 by JamesHamilton

The burst of media interest in Brian Clough that accompanied the release of The Damned United might be the last one. Luckily, television used the opportunity to dip one more time into its archives and broadcast at least a proportion of what it found. Of course, the programming hung around all this fresh material was no more than it usually is, and that deserves comment. But as the film’s release generated controversy over the man Clough, his players and his life, and that being some kind of achievement, it’s worth asking what we know now as a result of it all. And there are new things to say.

To start with the programmes themselves, and in particular ITV’s new documentary, it’s clear that there is a great deal more Clough on film than we might previously have expected. This is especially the case of Clough the player, who’d really only been handed down to us on reputation, statistics and ancient match reports.

Clough the player is articulate on and off the pitch. Quick, thinking, moving – he’s reminiscent of Rooney in that regard – and with a fierce shot off an oft-spoken, rarely seen short backlift, as impressive as we’d been warned it would be. The film of his career-ending injury is better than the grainy press photographs of the event (which look as though they were taken on the Eastern Front and tell us almost nothing other than the injury hurt). The collision with the keeper looks innocuous – and it all happens very quickly. He tries to get up, but it’s like watching the struggle of an animal with a rifle bullet in its hip. These days, he’d have lost a season, no more.

Also included in the documentary was a lot more of the young manager Clough. It was obvious that whatever the footage showed, the media didn’t want the essential Clough story to change: Clough the charismatic loudmouth, his ghost always there now to back up whichever working class passion-and-commitment clichee the middle class journalist du jour wanted to push. But what hits me time and again, watching Clough, is the effortless intellectual strength of the man, head and shoulders over the world around him. He’s very, very clever. Brighter than the articulate, intelligent men who wrote and write about him.  But God forbid, in British football culture, that thinking had anything to do with Clough’s success. Let alone the upper-middle-class effortless superiority style of thinking which is increasingly what I suspect he exhibited. That man holding his own on Parkinson and being yelled at by Ali is also the man who tried to teach the England squad to play bridge – the man who was the only one of his siblings not to make grammar school and the white collar world – the man who married Barbara, and fathered Nigel. It takes a cricketer, his friend Geoffrey Boycott, to say it.

I think that particular penny is one football doesn’t particularly want to drop.

Moving on to Clough’s changing personality, we learned more about his drinking life. The Damned United suggests, and I suspected, that the drink was always there in the background from the time of his injury on. George Best once protested, understandably, that it was absurd to point the drinking finger at him alone when the game’s culture was intriniscally alcoholic. But not for Clough, it turns out.

Clough’s drinking years seem to come in two waves, both after his injury. And, I think significantly, they came (1) before his managerial partnership with Peter Taylor commenced at Hartlepool and (2) after his managerial partnership with Peter Taylor ended at Nottingham Forest. After Taylor’s death, Clough remembered him predicting that Clough would never laugh in the same way again once Taylor was gone. “And he was right!” Clough said afterwards. Taylor wasn’t the key to Clough being a good manager, as the relative continuing success at Forest after 1982 showed. But he was key to Clough himself, and to the best kind of success.

All of the new material shed disappointingly little new light on his time at Leeds, which must now remain essentially mysterious. Perhaps, like so much else, Clough at Leeds was a knock-on victim of the Yom Kippur War and the ’73 Oil Crisis, the end of Bretton Woods, Nixon and all that went with it. 1975-6 is the interregnum between the World Cup-winning English football world and the dirty twilight that followed.

But at least, in relation to Leeds, we learn that whatever did happen, there are certain things that did not. A line has been drawn, both by the players who were there and by Clough’s family, below which his reputation at Elland Road will not be allowed to fall. There was no boozing; no real scheming; Revie’s desk did not meet an axe coming the other way.

The Leeds players come out of this very well – warm, intelligent, avuncular men who feel no need to step on Clough or to ramp their reputation in any real way. Johnny Giles’ successful lawsuit was a victory for Clough’s memory too.

After the publication of Anthony Thwaite’s selection of Philip Larkin’s letters, Tom Paulin’s theatrical disgust led Martin Amis, in relation to Larkin’s posthumous reputation, to wonder, “Are we really going to do this?” And, of course, we were.

But Giles’ suit, and the Clough family’s moving anger at The Damned United, and perhaps the persistence of Duncan Hamilton, mean that, on this occasion, it looks very much as if we aren’t going to do this.

Perhaps Larkin’s error, if it can be called that, was to leave his protegees, not in the public world of poetry, but in the private one, the county palatine profession of academic libraries. Of the two, Larkin was the selfless professional man, helping, encouraging, putting words in the right places, giving his time gratis, helping with L.A. exams. Clough’s pursuit of career was more or less entirely in his own interest. That, as they say, is football: although the same people still want the game to stand for a shifting array of traditional virtues nonetheless.

But at least we aren’t going to do this; we aren’t going to trash Clough’s shade. We aren’t going to allow the shade to be clever – and certainly not more clever than journalists who themselves want to hide that particular bit of their light under the proverbial. Allowing him to rest in peace is about as good as can be expected, so it is to be welcomed. And it’s more than Larkin got.

This clip from the ITV documentary is one of the most life-enhancing I’ve ever posted. Enjoy.

Comments (2)

Tags: , , , ,

Brian Clough: Sunderland and the End of His Playing Career

Posted on 14 June 2007 by JamesHamilton

It would prove to be a saving grace: the threat of a players’ strike in 1961 finally brought an end to the maximum wage in English football after 60 years. (You can read a superb discussion of the issue and its history here). At the same time, Clough became a leading player at a leading club, albeit one not enjoying the best of fortune, and for the first time in his career was earning “top money” as Alan Brown had put it. The abolition of the maximum wage didn’t mean the end of the scandalous retain-and-transfer system – that would have to wait for George Eastham to put his head on the block two years later. But so unusual was it for Clough to be in the right place at the right time that the strike and abolition stand out.

And how typical of Clough’s career that an injury requiring a long recuperation should occur only a year later, preventing him from making the most of his first real financial opportunity. Had he left Len Ashurst’s pass, Sunderland might have had another 15-20 goals that season and been promoted; Clough’s eighth professional season would have been a glorious head-to-head with Jimmy Greaves, perhaps even including a revival of his England career.

Clough’s England career was definitely hampered by playing in Division Two. Sven Goran Eriksson was criticised for favouring players with Champions League experience, but forty years before, much the same bias was exercised with regard to the First Division. The greatest centre forward of his day, Tommy Lawton, accepted a transfer to Notts County of Division Three in an attempt to shore up his financial future. To the dismay of his England colleagues, he was ignored by the selectors soon after, and the national squad went to their first World Cup without him. Clough’s own intelligence and impulsiveness put off the clubs who might otherwise have brought him into contention with Greaves and Kevan earlier, but it was the retain-and-transfer system that did him most damage.

Once Clough was allowed out of bed after his injury – months and months of frustration and boredom, coupled with the despair of watching Sunderland fall just short once again – it would take him another year to recuperate. Hellish recuperation: hours of running up and down the stands at Roker Park, rebuilding the muscles in his thighs and calves that would, more than ever before, have to support his weakened knee.

In retirement, Alan Brown claimed that he had always been aware of the severity of Clough’s injury, and that the long afternoons slogging up the steps had been meant to allow Clough to realize for himself what he was up against. A year is a long time, though, and Clough was not a man to forgo demanding answers as to his likely future. Clough was a huge talent, and Brown would have been as desperate to see Clough back on the pitch as was the player himself.

Just when it was finally going well, just when there was real direction to life, Clough was obliged to spend his 28th year in pain, in soullessly repetitive recuperative exercise, unable to help his side or his own interests. The fear and frustration that lay just below the surface of this character so many thought to be confident, the impulsiveness, the sharp intelligence denied its rightful challenges, all told once more, as they had told at Middlesbrough. Clough quickly lost what friends he had in the dressing room.

Len Ashurst thought that Clough was changed by the experience. Clough had always had a good relationship with the press, but now that began to take centre stage, and some of Clough’s own playing colleagues, Ashurst included, came in for personal attack. Ashurst also thought that Clough changed his accent, deliberately, at this time, beginning to drawl his words.

Simon Barnes put it well: “personalities” become that way because their real personality is inadequate in some way. Clough had always been too smart, too interested, too articulate, for the head-down party-line locker-room atmosphere of English football. His mental compatriots were Scottish – Bremner, Lorimer, Johnstone, Baxter, Law. Imagine that mind in constant pain, worry, fear for the future and – as a provider for his young wife and family, precarious – and a reaction seems inevitable.

Ashurst, though, was merely reading the future into the past. Clough didn’t remodel himself whilst injured; didn’t refit his psyche and behaviour for the years to come. What years to come? Either he recovered from his knee ligament injury, or there were no years to come.

Sunderland won promotion in the early summer of 1964, without Clough’s help. Alan Brown left the club shortly afterwards.

The new manager was George Hardwick, an outstandingly handsome man (friendly with, amongst others, Ava Gardner) who had been captain of the great English post-War national teams. A man of dominant, self-confessedly bullying character, he had had his career ended by a knee injury.

George Hardwick

Clough was just a striker with a long term injury when he arrived, but one fighting for fitness with determination with one hand whilst alienating the rest of the camp with the other. Hardwick gave Clough something to do. Clough was to help train the youth team.

Much has been made of Clough’s approach to the Sunderland youth team, and not enough has been made of George Hardwick’s influence on the way it was run. For Hardwick hadn’t come to Sunderland out of the blue: he had managed both PSV Einhoven in Holland and the Dutch national team itself. It was whilst Hardwick was in the Netherlands that their football began to emerge – in 1967, only six years after Hardwick left, Ajax were to thrash Liverpool 5-1 in Amsterdam before drawing 2-2 at Anfield. George Hardwick is one of the names that are regularly accredited with the invention of what would become Total Football.

The Sunderland youth team’s survivors of the period tell of how they were taken away from endless lapping of the pitch and put into six-a-sides, skills training, change and variety: this cannot, in the circumstances, have been Clough’s doing simply because, at first, he wasn’t even officially Sunderland Youth Coach. Hardwick’s influence has to be taken into account. That Clough found the work congenial is true enough, but there are no signs that he had any intention at all in life other than to continue playing. Assertions that he had thoughts of his own about coaching and management at that stage are probably false. But, asked to do it, it seems that he could.

And he was lucky, because Sunderland had a golden youth squad at the time, who were about to dominate the FA Youth Cup. With Clough’s help, they reached the semi-final in 1964. They’d reach the final in 1965, and win the competition outright in 1966 and 1967.

Hardwick wouldn’t be there to see it. Despite taking Sunderland to their highest post-War league position, he was sacked in the summer of 1965. But not before witnessing Clough’s return to the first team, or his first goal in the First Division, scored against – who else? – Revie’s Leeds.

Clough’s was one of the great recoveries from injury. To return to the first team after eighteen months of pain, tedium and conflict was an outstanding achievement. But Clough was trapped in the 1960s, forty years away from the treatments that would have, in all likelihood, taken his career on into the 1966 World Cup. Sunderland had done their best for him. But even in that game against Leeds, in the moment of vindication, it was impossible to miss two things. One, that Clough had lost all of his pace, and didn’t trust the knee enough to run on it as he had once done. Two, that he was limping.

A less intelligent man would have been amongst his intellectual peers in football. Clough was too young and too sharp, too desperate and ambitious, all at the same time. Too many important people around him were intimidated by him, and chose to regard that as an unforgiveable sin in a man whose allies were conveniently fragile. Hardwick was Clough’s protector by the end, at Sunderland. Shortly after the manager was fired, Clough, too, was sacked.

August 1965 saw the start of England’s World Cup winning season. Neither Martin Peters nor Geoff Hurst, scorers of the four goals in the final the following July, had yet played for England. Greaves, Clough’s closest equivalent in terms of ability in Division One, enjoyed only a fraying relationship with England manager Ramsey. The chance, for a hard-working striker of supreme talent, at his peak, was there to be taken. At Clough’s testimonial, in October 1965, Len Shackleton described Clough as the greatest striker he had ever seen – a man who, had he been playing in the 1920s, would have eclipsed even Dixie Dean. Football saves so much of its empty hyperbole for men it has betrayed and abandoned, but Shackleton was a friend; he meant his words as comfort, but he might well have meant his words.

31,000 people turned up for the testimonial, to Clough’s lastiing gratitude; that, plus his £1500 settlement from Sunderland, almost – but not quite – kept the wolf from the door.

It’s hard now to properly communicate the scale of the disaster that overcame Clough in the spring and summer of 1965. The one thing that had saved him from his unsuccessful education, at a time when that was so often the decisive factor in the direction of the next fifty years, was gone, forever this time. The one thing he had been good at, that had won him the status and recognition of his peers, that excited him, gave him direction, meaning, purpose – gone. With nothing to replace it.

And, for all his careful husbandry and second income from journalism, nothing to pay the bills. Not only was the life he loved absolutely over, but his domestic situation was desperate and worsening, with a drastic decline in his living standards – and his own childrens’ chances in life – only weeks away.

Over the course of the summer, eyewitness accounts say that Brian Clough began to drink to excess, put on weight, withdraw, become depressed.

Up and down the country, other men were in the same situation. Football, that great supposed repository of all the good old virtues, in the good old days of ’66, spat out what it couldn’t use, with little, or, usually, no, thought for what lay ahead for them. It would have done nothing to prepare them for the future – testimonials were all that would be provided, and only after a certain length of service, and only if the club could not really avoid providing one.

A strange, brief, mostly poorly-paid career, then: spent either trapped at a mediocre employer uninclined to use his talents or to release him to use them better elsewhere or at a good employer but unable to work, in a culture that was dead set against his kind of bright, ambitious, impulsive young man – and it ends, or must have ended, in one final walk out into the club car park. You can imagine how that must have gone: Clough beside his car, digging in a pocket for his keys, and, as he turns them in the driver’s door lock, he perhaps catches sight of his reflection in the window for a second. His face there, and, up and down England, hundreds of other faces caught in car windows as they prepare to go home and tell their families that they are on the dole.

What would Clough have seen in that brief moment? “Cloughie”? “Old Big ‘Ead”? I think he’d have refused to look; I think he would have turned away rather than see his reflection just then.

Those that the English find too intelligent to understand they make eccentric. Rejecting intelligence when they meet it in person, calling it arrogant, yet they’ll take credit for it as a national characteristic. I prefer Roger Waters’ description in “The Final Cut” of the environment Clough had to come from, one “Laughing too loud/At the rest of the world/With the boys in the crowd.”

Footie books, orange with nostalgia, will note that the Sixties were swinging, that the nation was a blur of mini skirts and mop tops and fashion and satire and plastic furniture and James Bond. In the north east, that other staple of 1960s life, the balance of payments deficit, would have been the only relevant one: Clough’s youth, for all that he had hated industrial life, had been one of expanding employment and relative opportunity. Clough’s sacking came when all that was over and the long, long decline beginning.

It’s a story of how poor opportunities were for the intelligent working class boy; of how intelligence put people at odds with the closed, paranoid culture they emerged from; of a “national game” that used both supporters and players unforgiveably, covering its tracks with nostalgia and moulding-flashed patriotism; of a game that behaved more like a cult than a proper sport, keeping its best practitioners back for the lowest cultural and financial reasons.

I don’t think Clough would have looked at his reflection; I think he’d have turned away.

Comments (1)

Advertise Here
Advertise Here