Despite all of his success, Brian Clough splits opinion. Some football fans love him, others despise him but what is his story?
On 21st March 1935 Brain Howard Clough was born in Middlesbrough. He was born in his childhood home, 11 Valley Road, Grove Hill and was the sixth of nine children. He remembered his childhood fondly as he said he “adored it in all its aspects. If anyone should be grateful for their upbringing, for their mam and dad, I’m that person. I was the kid who came from a little part of paradise.”
Despite the career he went onto have, he always remembered where he came from. “Everything I have done, everything I’ve achieved, everything that I can think of that has directed and affected my life – apart from the drink – stemmed from my childhood. Maybe it was the constant sight of Mam, with eight children to look after, working from morning until night, working harder than you or I have ever worked.” Clough never took his privileges for granted and always understood how fortunate he was.
Clough focused more on sport than education but preferred cricket over football. In his autobiography ‘Walking on Water’ he stated he’d rather score a century at Lord’s than a hat-trick at Wembley. But his negligence to his education shower when he failed his Eleven-plus exam and attended Marton Grove Secondary Modern School. Four years later Brian dropped out of school all together without any qualifications to work at Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) and between 1953 and 1955 he did his national service in the RAF.
He played for Middlesbrough’s youth team between 1951 and 1953 but whilst he was doing his national service he turned out for Billingham Synthonia. In 1955, he returned to Middlesbrough, this time for the first team.
He spent six years at Middlesbrough as he played 222 times and scored 204 goals. He may have been a hero for his hometown club, but he wasn’t happy. He often handed in transfer requests as he was annoyed by the defence. After a 6-6 draw with Charlton Athletic he sarcastically asked the defence how many goals do they have to score in order to win a game. He also publicly accused some of his teammates of betting against the team and deliberately letting in goals, it wasn’t a surprise he had a tense relationship with his teammates. It was at Middlesbrough where he met Peter Taylor who then was a goalkeeper.
Whilst at Boro he played for England. Brian played twice for England but didn’t score a goal. According to former Middlesbrough teammate Alan Peacock, Clough didn’t work for England because he insisted on playing centrally and not running for his team. Peacock said “when you’ve got people around like Bobby Charlton and Jimmy Greaves you can’t tell those guys I will just stop in the middle.”
It was July 1961 when one of Clough’s transfer requests were accepted. He moved to local rivals Sunderland for a fee that’s reported to be between £42,000 and £55,000. At Sunderland his goalscoring continues as he netted 54 in 58 games. However, on Boxing Day 1962 he suffered an injury. In icy conditions he collided with Bury goalkeeper Chris Harker after being put through on goal. The Sunderland striker tore his medial and cruciate ligaments in his knee, normally that meant the end of a playing career back then. Clough returned two years later but could only manager three more games before retiring at the age of 29.
Clough was a goal scorer. Out of all the players to score 200 or more goals in the English leagues, Clough has the best goals to games ratio at 0.916. When Scottish leagues are added, Brain Clough falls to second.
In October 1965, Clough became manager of Hartlepools United (became Hartlepool United in 1977) after a short tenure managing Sunderland’s youth team. It was former Sunderland manager Alan Brown that was his biggest managerial influence. Brown was strict, he once fined Clough for talking during a training session. Clough adopted this mentality. Clough asked former teammate Peter Taylor to join him as assistant, Taylor took the offer and left his job as manager of non-league Burton Albion.
Clough became the youngest manager in the league at the age of 30 but even an experienced manager would struggle at this job. Hartlepools had finished last in the fourth division in five of the last six seasons and were in huge financial trouble. The financial problems were shown in November 1966 when then chairmen Ernest Ord sacked Taylor as he said the club couldn’t afford to keep the assistant. Clough refused this so Ord also sacked him. However, the board had a coup and Ernest Ord was gone which saw Clough and Taylor return to their jobs. In 1967/77, Hartlepools finished eighth but the following season saw the club promoted for the first time in their history.
Clough and Taylor then joined second division Derby County. They made big changes which included sacking the club secretary, groundsman, chief scout and two tea laddies after he caught them laughing after a Derby defeat. Despite the big changes, they finished a place below where they had finished the season before their arrival. The next season they won the league and gained promotion to the first division.
In the 1970/71 season Derby finished ninth. Clough bolstered the squad with Colin Todd for a then British record of £175,000, the same day he denied he was signing Todd. But the signing of Todd worked as in the 1971/72 season Derby beat Leeds, Liverpool and both Manchester clubs to the league title. This meant Derby were first division champions for the first time in their 88-year history. Taylor took the squad to Mallorca to celebrate.
After winning the league, things went south between management and the board. In August 1972 Clough refused to go on tour of the Netherlands and West Germany unless he could take his family with him. The board said it was work and not a holiday, so Clough put Taylor in charge of the tour, Derby also didn’t partake in that year’s Charity Shield. Clough also signed David Nish for £225,000 for a then British record but didn’t consult the board so the board told them there would be no more big signings.
In the 1972/73 season they finished seventh and got knocked out of the European Cup in the semi finals by Juventus. Clough referred to Juventus as “cheating bastards” and went on to question Italy during the Second World War. Clough wasn’t afraid to speak his mind as numerous times he had complained about Don Revie and Leeds United saying because of their discipline they should be relegated to the second division.
In October 1973 after Derby won 1-0 at Old Trafford, Derby chairman Jack Kirkland demanded that Clough apologised to Matt Busby and Louis Edwards after Clough reportedly made a V-sign at them. Brian later revealed it was at Kirkland over the lack of tickets for players’ wives. Also, that day Kirkland questioned Taylor’s role at the club.
On the 15th October 1973 Clough and Taylor wanted to oust Kirkland out. After failing, they both resigned. Derby fans protested as they wanted to board gone and Clough and Taylor to return but it didn’t happen. After his resignation, Brain Clough verbally attacked the Derby board on Parkinson as he said they had no football knowledge.
Clough, Taylor along with the scouts and backroom staff went to Brighton. However, it was a brief spell on the south coast. They won 12 of their 32 games with the third division side and after less than a year in charge, Clough left.
July 1974 Brian Clough was appointed in charge of Leeds United who were coming off a title winning season. This appointment shocked everyone after Brian’s previous comments about the club, players and former manager Don Revie who left to manage England.
Clough lasted only 44 days at Elland Road. In his first meeting with the players he said everything they had won was worthless as they won it by cheating, he famously said “You can all throw your medals in the bin because they were not won fairly”.
On the evening of his sacking, Clough went on Yorkshire’s Television along with Don Revie. It was here that Brian said he didn’t introduce himself on the first day and didn’t do it at all to the kitchen staff. Don Revie couldn’t believe it as he built that club on a family community and treated everyone as equals which Clough didn’t understand. It was clear to everyone Clough at Leeds would never work.
Twelve weeks later in January 1975 Clough was appointed as Nottingham Forest manager but it took until July 1976 for Peter Taylor to leave Brighton and re-join Clough. When Brian joined Forest, they were 13th but went on to finish that season in 16th.
In his first full season they finished eighth, then Taylor joined. In Taylor’s first season back with Clough they won promotion to the first division in the third and final promotion place. Clough and Taylor’s first season back in the first division was incredible. They lost only three of their first 16 games which included a defeat to Leeds but went on to lose only one more game which was an FA Cup game against West Brom. Nottingham Forest won the First Division by seven points in 1977/78.
1978/79 was even better. They went on to win the European Cup, a feat which they repeated the season after, along with another league title. This was the pinnacle of Clough and Taylor’s Forest and Taylor retired in 1982.
However, six months after retirement Peter Taylor was appointed as Derby County manager. The two faced each other in the FA Cup in January 1983 and they ignored each other as Derby ran out 2-0 winners. In May that year, Taylor signed John Robinson from Forest without telling Clough, Peter later said that this was “the straw that broke the camel’s back” as the two never spoke again.
Clough went on to call him a “snake in the grass” and they never became friends again. Sadly, Taylor died in 1990, Clough and his family attended his funeral and Taylor’s daughter Wendy said as soon as he found out, Brian called her, and he was very sad. “To Peter. Still miss you badly. You once said: ‘When you get shot of me there won’t be as much laughter in your life’. You were right.”
Clough retired after the 1992/93 season when Forest were relegeated. At the end of that campaign, Roy Keane left for Man United and Nigel Clough, Brian’s son, left for Liverpool.
Nigel Clough went on to have a fairly underwhelming playing career. He retired in 2008 after 10 years as a player-manager at Burton Albion. He has also managed Derby County and Sheffield United but returned to mange Burton Albion in 2015. Nigel resigned in 2020 as the club were struggling with their finances due to the coronavirus.
Brian Clough has accusations made against him for “bungs” which are illegal payments. The case of misconduct was dropped due to his ill health, but the FA released a statement saying “On the balance of evidence, we felt he was guilty of taking bungs. The evidence was pretty strong”. Former Nottingham Forest chief scout Alan Brown confirmed Clough had made illegal payments.
Brian died in November 2004 of stomach cancer but also was struggling with alcoholism. In January 2003 he underwent a 10-hour liver transplant and doctors said without that transplant he would’ve died within two weeks.
Brian’s legacy is clear, he won playing attacking football. As a player, he was a goal scorer and as a manager he wanted to win whilst entertaining the fans. He will be remembered as one of Britain’s best ever managers.