Football: Found wanting for a touch of fortune

Phil Shaw looks at Frank Clark's forlorn attempt to live with the legacy of Brian Clough as Nottingham Forest's manager

Barely a month has passed since Frank Clark was telling people that Nottingham Forest needed a few wins before the takeover of the club was completed. Otherwise, he added with a wry smile, someone else would be spending the money put up by the successful consortium.

Clark's resignation, after he apparently failed to secure assurances about his future as manager, demonstrates once again that many a true word is spoken in jest. Yet although he leaves Forest propping up the Premiership and without a win since the season's opening day, any rounded assessment of his three and a half year tenture at the City Ground should not judge him too harshly.

For it was Clark who, while hardly the people's choice to succeed Brian Clough, immediately restored Forest to the top flight. More than that, he led them to third place in the Premiership the next season. Then, after other English clubs had fallen by the wayside, they reached the last eight of the Uefa Cup less than a year ago.

Strange as it may seem in the light of yesterday's developments, Clark was being seriously considered at that time by the Football Association as a successor to Terry Venables as manager of England. Stuart Pearce publicly announced that Clark ought to stay at Forest for the rest of his career. The board, ironically, reacted by pledging to keep him well into the next century.

They had surprised many people, not least Clark, by plucking him from his pin-striped desk job as managing director of Leyton Orient. The too- good-to-go-down Forest team had just been relegated, Clough had retired, and two of their prime assets, Roy Keane and Nigel Clough, were intent on leaving.

Clark used the revenue from their transfers to fund the signings of a raw young striker from Southend and an unsung centre-back from Millwall. Stan Collymore and Colin Cooper not only helped Forest back up but went on to represent England alongside Pearce, whom the new incumbent had persuaded to stick with the club.

Two other transactions, bringing David Phillips and Lars Bohinen to the East Midlands, seemed to confirm Clark as a shrewd manipulator of the market. The impression was cemented by the initial success of Bryan Roy but, like the Dutchman's impact, Clark's touch deserted him.

As the Nottingham Evening Post put it in an unsigned editorial yesterday: "If a manager lives and dies by his results and by his dealings in the transfer market, then Frank Clark's departure from the City Ground is overdue... A manager can only be allowed so many mistakes when it comes to buying and selling. His decision to resign might be viewed as the right one."

Clark's predecessor used to mock his own knack of buying strikers who could not score. As Peter Ward, Justin Fashanu and Ian Wallace were to the Clough era, so Roy, Andrea Silenzi, Kevin Campbell and Dean Saunders came to symbolise Clark's increasingly patchy record.

The Post pointed out that, in financial terms, Campbell's 11 goals had so far cost Forest pounds 227,000 each; Silenzi's two set them back pounds 900,000 apiece; and Saunders' two a mere pounds 750,000 each. The Croatian defender Nikola Jerkan has also failed to make an impact, prompting the paper to call Clark's judgment "remarkably flawed."

With hindsight, however, the key moment in Clark's reign was the sale of Collymore to Liverpool. The player felt he had outgrown the club and was not popular in the dressing-room. Yet, without his goals, Forest could not operate their counter-attacking system to the same effect. Even their limited success in Europe was achieved largely through backs-to-the-wall defence.

Clark's cause was not helped, either, by a serious injury to Steve Stone, another who progressed to international status under his wing, or by Pearce's evident staleness after the exersions of Euro 96. Like Jason Lee's ridiculed hairstyle, Forest's fortunes went pineapple shaped. From being the team who established the Premiership's longest unbeaten run (25 games), they now hold the record for matches without a win (16).

To his credit, Clark never used the impasse over the buy-out of Forest as an excuse for their failings on the pitch, though it clearly tied his hands in terms of bringing in fresh faces and had an unsettling effect on confidence. In what proved to be his final match, Tuesday's 4-2 defeat at Liverpool, Collymore twisted the knife by scoring twice. Afterwards, Clark likened his own and the club's situation to being in limbo.

Perhaps, though, they are merely fulfilling their role in the scheme of things prior to Clough's unprecedented and unrepeatable success: that of the modestly resourced provincial club destined to flit between the top two divisions. Unless the new owners are extremely judicious, or lucky in their choice of successor, Clark's sojourn at Forest may come to be seen as the last of the good times.

Frank Clark fact-file

9 Sep 1943: Born Highfield, Co Durham.

1969: Fairs Cup winner with Newcastle

May 1975: Joined Forest after 388 League appearances for Newcastle.

1978: League Championship medal.

1979: European Cup winners' medal.

July 1979: Sunderland assistant manager.

August 1981: Forest assistant manager.

October 1981: Orient assistant manager.

May 1983: Orient manager.

1989: Promotion to old Third Division.

1993: Manager of Nottingham Forest after Brian Clough retires; Forest relegated.

1994: Forest return to Premiership.

1995: Finish third and set Premier League record of 25 unbeaten matches.

19 Dec 1996: Resigns as manager.

Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Sport
sportVan Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Life and Style
Martha Stewart wrote an opinion column for Time magazine this week titled “Why I Love My Drone”
lifeLifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot... to take photos of her farm
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Environment
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
News
people
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices