Brian Clough was one of the best managers football has ever seen. He followed a career as a prolific goalscorer by becoming the best manager of his era – perhaps of any era.
He led unfashionable Derby County to the league title on a shoe string budget. Then to set his name in footballing folklore forever, he repeated the feat with Nottingham Forest. He also led Forest to European Cup glory in 1979 and successfully defended the title the following year.
Clough had a great footballing brain but he didn’t obsess about tactics; his success was due to his ability to take average players and turn them into a team of champions.
Starting at the bottom
Clough’s first managerial post was at Fourth Division side, Hartlepool. He was the youngest manager in the football league aged just 30 when he took the job. Hartlepool had consistently struggled at the bottom of the football league before Clough’s appointment.
He recruited Burton Albion manager, Peter Taylor as his assistant and there began a famous and successful partnership. The two stayed at Hartlepool for two years after leading them to a respectable 8th place finish in the league.
Clough accepted an offer of the manager’s job at Derby County and took Taylor with him to be his assistant again. The Hartlepool side they left went on to win the Fourth Division title and gain promotion the following season.
Putting his stamp on Derby County
Clough arrived at the Baseball Ground in 1967 and in his first season set about rebuilding the club from top to bottom. Derby had spent over ten years outside the top flight and Clough wanted to change the mentality of those working within the club.
Clough let several first team players go and replaced them with players he knew including John McGovern who he had at Hartlepool. Clough also sacked the club secretary, the groundsman and the chief scout.
In his second season in charge, Clough led Derby to the Second Division title and back into the top flight.
Making his mark on the English top flight
Derby’s first season back in the top division saw them finish fourth in the table. Clough was developing a reputation as one of the best managers in the game and was also renowned for being difficult and mischievous with the media. Derby signed Colin Todd in 1971 for a British record transfer fee of £175,000 despite earlier in the day Clough denying he was interested in the player.
He also insisted on being addressed as Mr Clough by journalists and commanded the respect of his players, fellow managers and journalists. Derby finished the season in ninth position in the league.
Champions of England
By the start of the 1971-72 season, Derby had a team capable of challenging the best teams in the country. Under Clough’s guidance they battled for top spot with Liverpool, Leeds and Man City. Derby finished their campaign with a 1-0 victory over their title rivals Liverpool that saw them sit top of the table.
However, due to a fixture congestion, both Leeds and Liverpool still had the opportunity to take Derby with their final league games due to be played the following week.
Some managers would have been nervous about the possibility of losing what they had worked so hard for, but Clough saw it as something beyond his control and took his family on holiday to relax after a long season.
He was in the Isles of Scilly when the news came through that both Liverpool and Leeds had failed to win their final games and Derby were the champions for the first time in 88 years.
Falling out with directors – Read more