Cloughie – Famous Derbyshire People

On September 20th 2004 the soccer world – and the citizens of both Derby and Nottingham mourned the passing of the legendary Brian Clough.

Hailed as a footballing genius, `Old Big Head’ was a self-proclaimed messiah of football whose irrepressible character, both colourful and controversial, earned him the love and respect of millions of fans throughout the world.

I was one of them. As a soccer mad youngster I saw him play at both Middlesborough and Sunderland; I also saw him score five goals in one game, playing at centre-forward for a Football League Representative X1 in 1960. He was my hero as a player, as a manager – and as a man.

I had the privelege of interviewing him at his home at Darley Abbey following the publication of his autobiography, `Walking on Water’, two years prior to his death. The following is the article that I wrote at the time, reproduced here as my tribute to one of the County’s best loved characters.


Nine years after his early retirement at fifty-eight, one of Derbyshire’s most famous residents recently brought traffic to a halt in Nottingham city centre as a crowd of around two thousand people queueing at a local supermarket chanted his name. The crowd broke into spontaneous applause as the sixty-seven year-old pensioner stepped smiling from his limousine and gave them a familiar wave. He blinked as the camera flashes exploded around him and, assured that his God-like status amongst his adoring public remained undiminished, strode purposefully into the building to sign copies of his latest autobiography, `Walking on Water’.

Who else would publish an autobiography with such an audacious title? Who else could justify a claim to such God-like status, especially in the East Midlands? Who else but Old Big “˜ead himself, – the self-proclaimed Messiah of Football, – the `People’s Choice’ who was the best manager the England team never had. You can love him or hate him, but the one thing you cannot do is ignore Brian Clough – he won’t let you!

“I know there are a lot of people out there with the impression that I’ve been pushing up the daisies since before the Millennium, he says, “I thought it was about time I let them know that Old Big “˜ead is still alive and kicking. In the words of that Elton John song `I’m Still Standing’ – not as steadily as I used to because the old knees are not clever, but I’m certainly not falling over, he quipped, “contrary to what you might have heard”?.

The colourful and controversial Clough was of course refering to his well documented drink problem which accompanied his fall from grace and presaged his shock retirement from the management of Nottingham Forest at the end of the 1992-93 season when Forest finished bottom of the Premiership and were relegated.

“Never a week goes by without me regretting that final season, he laments, “It was the very first season of the exciting new English Premiership and I took Nottingham Forest to the bottom and relegation”?.

He admits that the nightmare still haunts him. “It still hurts. I didn’t get over it in the months after it happened, and I still haven’t got over it. I never will”? he adds candidly, “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”?.

Clough’s candour is not misplaced, indeed it is entirely in accordance with the man’s character; straightforward and to the point. Clough is a self-confessed loner. He does not suffer fools gladly and he is as honest as the day is long and always has been. He admits his drink problem and says he is tackling it in the same way that he has tackled all obstacles and challenges throughout his life,:”head on and with determination to take control and overcome it”?. That has been Brian Clough’s way since the day he was born – which was on April 21st, 1935, at number 11 Valley Road, Middlesbrough, the son of a local sweet factory worker, and the fifth of eight children.

His childhood, he says, he “adored 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”?. Middlesbrough is not the most attractive place in the world, “But to me it was heaven”?, says Cloughie. “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 till night, working harder than you or I have ever worked”?.

It is clear that Clough’s happy childhood was the foundation stone upon which his life’s success was built and he emphasises its value; “I occasionally have flash-backs to those days and the first picture reflects the warmth and comfort of our surroundings, the feeling of being wanted and safe – no child can be given anything more valuable that that by his or her parents”?.

Of his schooldays he says, “I was the one who did worst of all at school in our family”? and describes himself as “academically thick”?, and yet he was made head boy at Marston Grove Secondary School, where he excelled at all sports, especially football. “One of the teachers who was keen on football must have had something to do with it”? he says wryly.

He left school at fifteen and worked for eighteen months at ICI as a junior clerk before being called up for his two years National Service in the R.A.F. Whilst still at ICI he was signed as a junior with Middlesbrough F.C. at Ayresome Park in 1955, where he first met Peter Taylor, who was the reserve team goalkeeper. They quickly became friends and it was the start of the most famous and successful managerial double-act in English football.

It was also the beginning of the career of a goalscoring phenomenon and legendary football genius called Brian Clough, who went on to score 204 goals in 222 appearances for Middlesbrough and 63 in only 74 games for Sunderland, until a bad knee injury in a match at Roker Park on Boxing Day 1962 cut short his remarkable record-breaking playing career. He also won two full England Caps – and once scored five goals in one game for an FA Representative X1.

His career in football management began at Hartlepool United, and he moved to Derbyshire 35 years ago, along with wife Barbara, sons Nigel and Simon and daughter Elizabeth, when he became manager of Derby County in June 1967. They quickly won the Second Division title and promotion to the First Division. Derby County became League Champions in 1971-72, and the following year Clough took them to the semi-finals of the European Cup. He walked out after a much-publicised boardroom row in 1973 – `the greatest mistake I ever made in football’ – and after brief spells as manager of Brighton and then Leeds United, in January 1975 he became manager of Nottingham Forest. He led them to promotion from the Second Division in 1977 and in an incredible three-year spell with Cloughie at the helm, Forest won the League Championship in 1978, the European Cup in 1979 – and retained it in 1980! They also won the Football League Cup four times under his charge.

During his remarkable career he has been blessed by the Pope in Rome, awarded an Honorary Degree by the University of Nottingham, had a stand at the City Ground named after him, and received the O.B.E. for his footballing achievements.

A staunch life-long Socialist, Cloughie – who has always been infuriated by injustice – famously supported the Redundant Miners Campaign in 1992, and was once invited by the Labour Party to contest Manchester’s Moss Side Ward in a by-election against the young Winston Churchill!

In his retirement he enjoys his `five beautiful grandchildren’, and gets his football pleasure these days watching his son Nigel’s team, Burton Albion play in the Conference.

“I suppose you could say that I lead the retired life, says Cloughie, “I don’t know how many pensioners there are in this country, but if it’s 15 million, I’m one in fifteen million. I’ve a bit more money than some of them, I have my bairns around me because they still live nearby, and I have the best grandchildren imagineable. They just happen to like me.

And for some reason, thank God, Barbara is still sticking by me after forty-three years. That’s one of the genuine wonders of the world. Hey, I’m happy with my lot”?”?if

its extraordinary to turn down countless opportunities to lead a high profile life, then call me extraordinary. I’m used to it”?.

`Walking on Water’ is an extraordinary book by an extraordinary man and is published by Headline Hardbacks; ISBN 0 7472 6567 4; price £18-99.

This article has been brought to you by our resident peak district writerTom Bates