Football: Quiet man with a tough act to follow: Frank Clark is establishing his own style as Nottingham Forest enter a new era. Phil Shaw reports

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The Independent Online
ONCE, in an infamously injudicious moment, Brian Clough punched two marauding Nottingham Forest fans around the head. Even if his team start their First Division campaign with victory at Southend on Sunday, it is hard to envisage Frank Clark so much as punching the air.

Although the retired Forest manager publicly endorsed his successor - having recommended him for the job nine years earlier - the personalities of the two North-easterners are poles apart. While Clough was volatile and outspoken, Clark is equable and uncontroversial; where Clough made increasingly spasmodic appearances at the club, Clark has snatched just a week away in a summer devoted to reviving Forest.

Clough's training regime was said to be lax, which may explain why Forest often made a poor start. This week at the City Ground, one senior player described how the new 'gaffer' gave them a two-hour lunch break and 'then we run our balls off in the afternoon.' Clark, meanwhile, was entertaining journalists, something that was anathema to Clough.

One suspects, too, that Clark is as likely to inspire the Forest fanzine, Brian, to re-launch as Frank as he is to joke about walking across the waters of the Trent for this season's derby at Notts County. Even their musical tastes are opposed, with the guitar-playing Clark, a self-confessed ex-member of the Lonnie Donegan fan club and devotee of Eric Clapton and Ry Cooder, relieved that Clough had cleared out his Frank Sinatra tapes.

'We're totally different in style and temperament,' Clark, who will be 50 next month, said. 'Brian was the last of the dictators, in that line through Busby, Shankly, Nicholson and Revie. We won't see his like again because the game has changed. The running of a big club is too complex for one man to control everything. He was also very eccentric in the way he did things. For me to try and be another Cloughie would be a disaster.'

The word 'dictator' is not used disparagingly, and to those who advise him to erase all traces of the 18-year Clough era, he points to the sea of red seats around what was previously a plain stadium at a humdrum provincial club. 'None of this,' Clark said, 'would have been possible without him.'

What they do have in common, reassuringly, is a contempt for cynical play and a conviction that, as Clough memorably decreed, if football was meant to be played in the air then God would have put grass in the sky.

Despite relegation in May, days before his surprise call from the managing director's chair at Leyton Orient, and the loss of their pivotal player, Nigel Clough, Clark's Forest will adhere to a passing game. 'We'll have to adjust, because everything went through Nigel, but I'll still be asking them to push it around. It'd be crazy to do otherwise - we've got 40 players who've been brought up that way.'

There are few in Britain, if any, who could duplicate Clough Jnr's role, so Clark has replaced him with a totally different type of forward, Stan Collymore from Southend. The pounds 2.2m which secured the raw six-footer was only slightly less than a tribunal ordered Liverpool to give for Clough, a current England cap, prompting raised eyebrows in the game.

'I think we've paid too much for Stan,' Clark admitted, 'but he was under contract, whereas Nigel had freedom of contract. That was the going rate. It's an investment because this boy's got everything: pace, power, height, two good feet and an excellent first touch, though he still does things that make you tear your hair out.'

Collymore scored his first Forest goal in a 2-0 tournament win over Napoli, drawing a flock of Serie A scouts to their next game, and added five more in friendlies. One, at Lincoln, had Clark drooling. 'Stan just accelerated, like he was going through three gears at once, before smashing the ball into the net from 20 yards. There was an audible gasp from the crowd.'

When Clark returned to Forest (he was a solid if unspectacular left-back in their first European Cup-winning XI), he asked Clough's coaches who they would like to buy. They came up with the same names that topped his own 'imaginary list' - Collymore and the Millwall defender, Colin Cooper, whom he has also signed. 'Cooper is a hard man. With him and Stuart Pearce, we've got two good leaders and a bit of devil in the dressing- room.'

'Psycho' was persuaded to stay but Roy Keane, like the Cloughs, has gone. 'I think I made Nigel think hard about staying, though if I was his personal adviser I'd have told him to go. But I knew within 30 seconds of talking to Roy that he was off.'

Long before their transfers, one former Forest player, Lee Chapman, suggested that when Brian Clough went Forest might return to the modest status they held before he came. While the pattern at three of the clubs run by Clark's 'dictators' was one of decline in the aftermath of their departures, he refuses to accept the process as inevitable.

He does not, however, buy the too- good-to-go-down theories. 'It used to worry me when I read that because the teams who get relegated are usually the worst in the division. The lack of confidence was obvious last season, and it's a bigger problem in a passing side than a more direct one. They also lost their self-belief in front of goal and got only 15 at home.'

Now they are in 'the right frame of mind', though he warns that a division full of potentially big clubs striving for a cut of the Premiership cake will be fiercely competitive. Forest are favourites, a situation not entirely to Clark's liking, and their supporters expectant. Some 13,000 season tickets have been sold, and the club shop is selling T-shirts announcing: 'Forest - On loan to Division One.'

As for Brian Clough, he and Clark have spoken only once all summer. Clough urged the new incumbent to be his own man, while Clark assured his predecessor that he would always be welcome. Next Wednesday night, when Derby drop in on the neighbours, he might well be advised to take up the invitation.

----------------------------------------------------------------- SUMMER OF CHANGE AT THE CITY GROUND ----------------------------------------------------------------- IN FROM FEE Stan Collymore Southend pounds 2.2m Colin Cooper Millwall pounds 1.7m Des Lyttle Swansea pounds 375,000 Tony Carbone Perth Italia pounds 90,000 Gary Bull Barnet free TOTAL pounds 4.365m OUT TO FEE Roy Keane Man Utd pounds 3.75m Nigel Clough Liverpool pounds 2.275m Gary Charles Derby pounds 750,000 Toddi Orlygsson Stoke free Gary Bannister Stoke free TOTAL pounds 6.775m -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Photograph omitted)