Football: Clough to make exit as golden touch fades: After 29 seasons the longest-serving manager in the English game retires amid disagreements in the boardroom

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'SHOCK' news involving Brian Clough long ago ceased to be exactly that: we had grown used to his feel for controversy and idiosyncrasies. Yesterday, however, came an announcement from Nottingham Forest which forced the football world to stop and take in its ramifications: Clough is to retire at the end of the season.

So a career that was launched in the spartan surroundings of Hartlepool United in Clough's native North-east 28 years ago and took him on to outstanding success and a multitude of headlines, some good, some bad, will end in 11 days' time.

Sadly, the boss who everyone admires but no one can hope to imitate or match will not be going out at the top. His departure after 18 years with Forest seems certain to be accompanied by their own exit from the Premier League.

The bombshell concluding Clough's reign as the current longest- serving manager in English League football was revealed at a lunchtime press conference at the City Ground amid growing conjecture that people inside the club he had projected around the globe with two European Cup victories, a League Championship and four League Cups, were beginning to think the unthinkable: that at 58, Clough was no longer fit enough to remain at the helm.

Over the weekend, there were allegations that Clough's drinking was getting out of hand and discrediting his club. Clough's lawyers said they would sue over the allegations. The chairman, Fred Reacher, also denied them and said that Clough had his full support. It seems there was enough support in the boardroom for him to stay on if he had wanted.

But crucially he had decided his golden touch with a succession of teams imbued with his belief that the game had to be played the right way, with the ball on the ground and not in the air, had run its course and he gave his chairman the go-ahead for the announcement.

'Retirement is something I have been thinking about for nine months, but like a woman I might use my prerogative and change my mind,' Clough said last night. 'I have been in the game for 41 years as a player and a manager and contrary to what a lot of people might think I have not had that much time off.

'I suppose I am entitled to sit back and enjoy my pension, but it's very difficult to decide the right time to go. I have talked for many hours with my wife and my colleagues about the possibility and I have got to admit that this season's events have not helped. If we'd been more successful, I might be feeling better about things but I'm not getting any younger.'

Earlier in the day, Reacher said: 'During the last few weeks, Brian and I have held many talks regarding his position at the club and at a meeting I had with him this morning, it was agreed that he will retire at the end of the season. I would like to place on record my thanks to him for everything he has done for Nottingham Forest. We have had some very pleasant times together and of course have had an awful amount of success.'

The Forest chairman also revealed that a director, Chris Wootton, had been suspended from all his executive duties at the club.

Wootton denied he had been running a dirty-tricks campaign and also said it was incorrect to suggest he had been offering stories of Clough's alleged drinking to newspapers. But he claimed yesterday's events had 'vindicated' him.

'Brian Clough has been the best possible manager for Nottingham Forest for many years,' he said, 'but because of his health, I thought it best for the club and Brian himself for him to consider his position. There has been disquiet among the board for some time.'

Reacher said of Wootton: 'He remains a member of the board until further notice and in particular until the allegations attributed to him have been discussed with him in person.'

Clough's 29th and final season has been one that would tax the strength and capacity of the youngest manager, one that would deplete the enthusiasm of the newest recruit to the trade.

After four successive defeats in September, Forest slumped to the bottom of the table and since then have barely progressed. As the season of despair wore on, so the complaints, only whispers at first, against their legendary manager grew and he has been the subject of booing at some home games since the turn of the year.

There was no solace in the cups either, with Arsenal removing them in quick succession from the Coca-Cola and then the FA Cup so that Clough was destined to go to his retirement never having lifted the best-known bauble in the game.

In February, Clough was dealt a cruel double blow when Stuart Pearce, his captain, and Neil Webb, his trusted lieutenant, newly arrived from Manchester United, were both ruled out through injury for the rest of the season.

In March, the board survived a shareholders' vote of no confidence at a general meeting. In the same month, Clough was accused of making a two-fingered salute to supporters at the City Ground which is still being investigated by the FA disciplinary committee.

With every turn, speculation grew that maybe it was time for Clough to go. Yet only last month, when he was invested with the freedom of the City of Nottingham to mark his magnificent achievements, he indicated that he would carry on. 'I've got one and a half years left on my contract and that will take me into my 60th year. That will be enough for me.'

Events off the field this season have enveloped Forest in unwanted publicity and hardly made any easier Clough's attempts to avert what would be his first relegation as a manager. They have two games remaining and need maximum points against both Sheffield United at home on Saturday and then Ipswich Town to stand the remotest chance of staying up. Clough has agreed to carry on until the last ball has been struck.

The list of likely replacements for Clough will be headed by Martin O'Neill, a former Forest and Northern Ireland international who has just guided Wycombe Wanderers into the Football League from the GM Vauxhall Conference. Leyton Orient's Frank Clark, once nominated by Clough himself as his successor, has since become managing director of the Second Division club and may not relish a return to team affairs.

The candidates will also include the two men working closest to Clough, coaches Liam O'Kane and Archie Gemmill, with Pearce an outside bet, possibly working in harness with either of them.

Nevertheless, it should come as no surprise, knowing the great man, if this is not to be the final chapter after all. Clough added: 'Everything has to come to an end at some stage, but like I say I might get out of bed tomorrow morning and have a change of heart. You never know . . . '

----------------------------------------------------------------- COUNTDOWN TO THE END ----------------------------------------------------------------- 1992 March: The chairman, Maurice Rowarth, arrested on fraud charges, succeeded by Fred Reacher. April: Forest lose Rumbelows Cup final. May: Des Walker sold to Sampdoria for pounds 1.5m. June: Darren Wassall, earmarked as Walker's successor, argues with Clough and joins Derby County. July: Forest fail to replace Walker and Wassall, begin season with only one new signing, Ray McKinnon. August: Forest beat Liverpool 1-0 on season's opening day. Teddy Sheringham scores. September: Sheringham signs for Tottenham for pounds 2.1m with two years left on his contract. Forest's fourth successive defeat leaves them bottom of the Premier League. November: McKinnon fined a week's wages after 'domestic incident' leaves him with ankle injury. December: Roy Keane arrested in Nottingham to 'prevent a breach of the peace' following incident at party. Later released without charge. 1993 January: Forest eliminated from Coca-Cola Cup. February: Stuart Pearce and Neil Webb ruled unfit for rest of season. Forest eliminated from FA Cup. March: Board survives shareholders' vote of no confidence. Clough accused of two-fingered gesture to home supporters. Keane fined pounds 5,000 following bar-room incident in Jersey. April: Gary Charles fined a week's wages, informed he will not play again for Forest after comments in a Sunday newspaper. Clough resigns. -----------------------------------------------------------------

Joe Lovejoy, page 32

(Photograph omitted)

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