Football: Clough's finest moment

The anniversary: Twenty years ago today Nottingham Forest gave Liverpool a carpeting in the European Cup
Click to follow
The Independent Online
WHEN Bob Paisley got round to writing his autobiography, he penned a chapter on great managers. It was with obvious reluctance that he finally mentioned Brian Clough, saying only that he found it impossible to gauge the Nottingham Forest manager's qualities since his greatest achievements came in partnership with Peter Taylor. He had never forgotten his humiliation when Forest played Liverpool on this day 20 years ago, and a fortnight later.

Forest under Clough and Taylor had been bugging Liverpool for quite a while. They had come out of the Second Division in 1977, when Liverpool won the European Cup for the first time. Within a year they had won the championship, seven points ahead of Liverpool, but not only that, they then knocked Paisley's men out of the European Cup in the first round. One of the days Paisley most wanted to forget in a fruitful career was 13 September 1978.

After the European Cup draw was made Clough set out a scale of incentives. The Forest players assumed the highest would be for winning in the final, but Clough was too shrewd for that. The biggest bonus (pounds 2,000 a man) was offered to get through the Liverpool tie. If they could do that, he knew that no other club need be feared. He told his players to remember that nobody had tipped Forest to win the championship the previous season and that they should look upon playing in Europe as "a nice little break". Far from it. The crowd of 38,000 at the City Ground turned the first leg into a cup final.

What irked Paisley was that Forest were uncompromising in their counter- attacking tactic, which was Liverpool's own strength. But what actually caused Liverpool the greatest pain was their own inability to do what Paisley had asked of them so many times before: contain the opposition away and finish them off at home.

Forest had not started their season particularly well, which was possibly the reason why Liverpool tried to play them at their own game or, more likely, they were drawn into the intensity of the occasion. Also in their minds was the fact that in the previous season they had failed to beat Forest in four meetings. Archie Gemmill, who had been dropped the previous Saturday, played superbly behind an attack in which John Robertson suddenly sparked into life after several indifferent matches.

The game, if not the whole tie, turned on a goal from Garry Birtles, the least experienced member of the Forest side. "To think that it was not long ago that he was fitting carpets," Clough said later. Ian Bowyer carried a 26th-minute attack through the middle. The ball ran on to Tony Woodcock, who drew Ray Clemence from his goal before passing to Birtles, who scored a simple goal.

Paisley took off Terry McDermott, diminishing midfield strength, and sent on another attacker, David Johnson. He would never have done that against the usual weak quality of opposition Liverpool met at this early stage of the competition. With three minutes left Forest added a second goal through the hard work of Birtles, who put over a centre to Woodcock who headed back across goal for a full-back, Colin Barrett, to volley in.

Clough described the return leg at Anfield as probably the biggest match of his career, yet he claimed that in the preceding days Liverpool's name was never mentioned. He allowed a few bottles of wine to be drunk at lunchtime on the day of the match ("just to make sure the lads slept well in the afternoon"). Tactically, all he suggested was taking the game to Liverpool. Forest got a goalless draw "not because we played for it but because we kept Liverpool occupied in their own half for so long", Clough suggested. Paisley saw it differently: "We dominated the game, but hurried our chances."

Having removed Liverpool it was almost inevitable that Forest would go on to become European champions for the first time. Paisley may not have given much credit to Clough but was not totally unhappy. After the game at Anfield he had placed a bet on them to win the final. "I was delighted for myself, and as an Englishman," he said diplomatically.

Comments