Brian Clough, the best football manager England never had, died earlier this week
When one-time former England star, and even better club manager Brian
Clough was born, not only did the soccer gods break the mould, but
stamped his birth certificate – never to manage England.
“I wouldn’t say I was the best manager in the business – but I was the top one!”
He was that and a whole lot more and was probably the most popular UK
club manager with England fans in his lifetime, for being so “plain
Injury stopped his glittering playing career where he was already an
established England star, but he more than made up for it when he
went into management and UK football was never the same. No
contemporary manager in the last several decades was more cantankerous,
or felt more at home when he knew he was upsetting somebody or
something. He lived to fly in the face of authority and pilory
privilege and humbug wherever he found it, which was usually close by
the Tory Party.
He reigned supreme to not only take the once modest Nottingham Forrest
to the top of English football, but twice climbed the highest peak as
European Champions that paved the way for the likes of Liverpool to
follow in his alcohol fuelled footsteps. The booze probably
also helped fuel his irreverent quips that as often as not when not
putting the boot into any moving target in football, could be as easily
aimed at himself, or Margaret Thatcher who he hated. He was a
vociferous supporter of the miners in the 70’s, and was a lifelong
Labor supporter. No wonder the Football Association continually
ignored a regular national call to arms by the media and fans to lead
England out of the Word Cup wilderness.
In a knowing tribute today in England’s Daily Telegraphy by a man who
knew him well, TV icon and journalist Michael Parkison, who in his
tribute observed that with “Cloughie” – “what you saw was rarely what
As a manager of a football team he earns his place alongside Busby, Ferguson, Shankly, Stein and Ramsey.
As a man he often presented himself as a zealot, his opinions ramrods of certainty battering all opposition into submission.
Sometimes, when the drink possessed him, he was an embarrassment (aren’t we all), particularly to those who admired him.
Once, before a television interview, I told him I thought he was too
drunk to go on. “What are you frightened of?” he said. “That
you’ll make a spectacle of yourself” I said. “But I’ve done that all my
life” he said.
He was fond of saying, “I’m a big head. Not a figurehead”. In fact he
was both. He was also loveable and impossible, wise and
silly, attractive and appalling. He was a pickle of a man.
You can read Parkinson’s tribute here.
Also the Telegraph included career long pearls of wisdom of which we have selected some here:
Life according to Brian
On the importance of passing to feet:
“If God had wanted us to play football in the clouds, he’d have put grass up there.”
On then-England goalkeeper David Seaman:
“That Seaman is a handsome young man but he spends too much time
looking in his mirror, rather than at the ball. You can’t keep goal
with hair like that.”
Referring to Sir Alex Ferguson’s failure to win two successive European Cups:
“For all his horses, knighthoods and championships, he hasn’t got two of what I’ve got. And I don’t mean balls!”
On not getting the England manager’s job:
“I’m sure the England selectors thought if they took me on and gave me
the job, I’d want to run the show. They were shrewd, because that’s
exactly what I would have done.”
On the streaker who appeared during a Derby game against Manchester United:
“The Derby players have seen more of his balls than the one they’re meant to be playing with.”
On how he rated himself:
“I wouldn’t say I was the best manager in the business. But I was in the top one.”
On his drinking:
“Walk on water? I know most people out there will be saying that
instead of walking on it, I should have taken more of it with my
drinks. They are absolutely right.”
On Eric Cantona’s infamous kung fu kick at a fan:
“I’d have cut his balls off.”
On women’s football:
“I like my women to be feminine, not sliding into tackles and covered in mud.”
On dealing with a player who disagrees:
“We talk about it for 20 minutes and then we decide I was right.”
On how he would like to be remembered:
“I want no epitaphs of profound history and all that type of thing. I
contributed – I would hope they would say that, and I would hope
somebody liked me.”