OBITUARY : Jimmy Gordon

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The Independent Online
Without becoming one of football's household names - indeed, he was unknown professionally outside the confines of the game - Jimmy Gordon exercised a profound influence on one of the most remarkable sporting success stories of modern times.

A wise, unfussy, endlessly enthusiastic Scot, he spent the last six years of his long career in soccer as chief coach to Nottingham Forest, playing an unsung but crucial part in the hitherto unfashionable Trent-siders' rise from the ranks of Second Division strugglers to twice-crowned champions of Europe.

Throughout this glorious interlude, between January 1975 and his retirement in May 1981, Gordon's shrewd instruction and skilful preparation of high- quality athletes was admirable, yet arguably it did not represent the most onerous aspect of his duties. No, what made the coach's contribution so special was the way he coped with the club's hugely talented but undeniably eccentric management team of Brian Clough and the late Peter Taylor.

A man of unimpeachable integrity and ever approachable, Gordon was an expert in rebuilding the confidence of young men whose egos had taken a battering from the acerbic Clough. Though hard in his own way, expecting total dedication and ceaseless effort from his charges, Gordon became a much-respected "father- confessor" and go-between, without whom Forest would have been immeasurably the poorer.

When the manager and his equally mercurial lieutenant were away from the City Ground, Gordon was left to supervise the day-to-day running of football matters, a task he accomplished with calm efficiency. In 1980 Clough rewarded his loyal retainer by arranging for him to lead Forest out at Wembley before the League Cup Final against Wolves. Sadly, they lost that day, but by then the popular coach was well acquainted with the taste of triumph.

Having spent the first five years of his working life as a miner in West Lothian, Gordon was familiar with a less glamorous side of life, too, a grounding which served him well during a worthy playing career as an old-fashioned wing-half with Second Division Newcastle United, whom he joined in 1935, and then First Division Middlesbrough after the war.

Though the conflict - during which he served in the Army - had robbed him of what should have been his prime years, he excelled at Ayresome Park, where he became a tenacious ball-winner whose main job was to supply possession to the star England inside-forward Wilf Mannion.

Gordon didn't quite attain international class himself, but he earned the approbation of his peers, notably the great Bill Shankly, who once said of him: "If you had to play against Jimmy every week you would never sleep at night."

He played until he was 38, being so fit that later he regretted not continuing until he was at least 40, before learning his trade as a trainer with Middlesbrough and going on to become chief coach of Blackburn Rovers in the mid 1960s.

However, the most fateful moment in Gordon's professional life still lay ahead. It came 1969 in the form of a call from Brian Clough, whom he had known as a talented but highly precocious and argumentative footballer at Middlesbrough. Clough was offering the chance to coach Derby County, newly promoted to the top flight, and after some persuasion Gordon accepted.

Thereafter he was an essential part of the Clough bandwagon, contributing to Derby's League title in 1972, accompanying the famous extrovert during his ill-fated 44-day sojourn as the boss of Leeds United in 1973 and then, after a brief spell as a foreman with Rolls-Royce, he joined Clough at Forest. There followed promotion to the First Division in 1977, League title and League Cup triumphs in 1978, European Cup final glory against Malmo in 1979 and Hamburg in 1980, as well as another League Cup win in 1979.

Clough - with whom there were to be sad differences over the Scot's contribution to a book on his controversial former manager following his retirement - described his trusty aide as "dignified, dedicated and charming", and there is no shortage of people in football who would echo those sentiments.

Gordon, whose wife Olive died in 1994, lived in Derby. He had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease, the bane of so many former footballers, for two years.

Ivan Ponting

James Gordon, footballer and coach: born Fauldhouse, West Lothian 23 October 1915; played for Newcastle United 1935-45, Middlesbrough 1945- 54; coached Middlesbrough 1954-61, Blackburn Rovers 1961-69, Derby County 1969-73, Leeds United 1973, Nottingham Forest 1975-81; married 1939 Olive Treeby (died 1994; two daughters); died Derby 29 August 1996.

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