Football: THE INTERVIEW: BRIAN CLOUGH; I was right, television is killing the game

Old Big 'Ead is back in form with thoughts on the age of Robson and the state of football

BRIAN CLOUGH will descend from his Derbyshire hill today to receive an overdue acknowledgement from Nottingham Forest. The main stand has been renamed in his honour and a bust of Old Big 'Ead will be unveiled in the main entrance before the match with Wolves. Despite what he calls "my dodgy knees" the 64-year-old will limp on to the pitch and doubtless have a thing or two to say to the crowd.

Clough's departure as manager, almost six and a half years ago, was precipitate amid swirling gossip about a losing battle with the bottle. No time for lingering farewells or ceremonies after 18 years in the job, so today might provide the occasion for thanks all round for his legacy of two European Cups, a championship and four League Cup victories.

A man who is not averse to nourishing grievances, Clough has been back to the City Ground only once in all that time, to watch his son Nigel play in a reserve game. He has driven by a few times, though, usually on his way to the adjacent Trent Bridge cricket ground. That was when he noticed they had already put his name up on the stand. "In letters that big," he says, holding his hands two feet apart. "But they didn't let me know officially they had put it up because they have been in such turmoil at the club."

His interest in the structure borders on the proprietorial. "I paid for that stand, bribed the erectors because it was built in the winter. They used to say: `We can't touch that steel, there's ice on it' so I provided coffee and brandy. I sent their wives hampers and all sorts."

At ease on the sofa in the annex of Nigel's stunning hilltop farmhouse in Duffield, where he is lodged awaiting the renovation of the home he is moving to at Darley Abbey, Clough concedes: "I am slightly embarrassed about going back, but on the other hand I am not. It was not so much the football, it was the silly things. The first letter I got from Forest after I left was one stopping my private medical cover."

Never a vociferous booster of club chairmen, Clough has finally found one he likes, Ben Robinson, at Burton Albion, the Dr Martens League club where Nigel is player-manager. Brian, who has bought a season ticket and attends all Burton's home games, says: "I must be going soft in my old age because I like their chairman. He is enthusiastic and young, his smile is as wide as Stockton high street and I took to him straight away because he didn't fuss too much."

Clough expands on the subject: "The most important decision a chairman should ever make is appointing the manager and then giving him sufficient time to do the job they want, so that they can walk around with trophies and sit in the Royal Box at Wembley.

"But nowadays chairmen seem to live in Spain. That bloke who was at Forest [Irving Scholar] lived in Monaco. I often wonder how people like that got into football. You can't love football and live abroad, because you miss the one thing you should want, watching your team. I upset young Keegan over that. He took tax exile, went to Germany for a couple of years. But he used to make sure he had 31 days in England tax free. So I said they should tax him because he was breathing our air, drinking our water and driving on our roads.

"And how can anybody praise Martin Edwards at Man United? He has twice tried to sell the club to the enemies of football, Robert Maxwell and Rupert Murdoch. How can he look anybody in the eye and say he loves the club when he has been trying to make sixty million quid selling it?" Nor does that inviting target, those who run Newcastle United, avoid a tongue- lashing from this North- easterner. "That club have dropped more clangers in the last couple of years. It looks like they may have to pay Kenny Dalglish a lot of money, then there was the Dutchman with the headlocks or drylocks, or whatever they call them. It has been a walking disaster for them, manager-wise. Now they have given the job to Bobby Robson to keep the seat warm, and that's a bad decision too.

"I'm delighted for Bob. I just think he has left it a wee bit too late and I fear for him. He is saddled with the job of restoring the fortunes of a club steeped in tradition, yet he doesn't just have to avoid relegation. They are already talking up there about him winning something. Yet they could quite easily go down. The Shearers won't keep them up, the first essential is to keep a clean sheet and they haven't been doing much of that. When I played, the least I scored in one season was 39 goals, but we couldn't get promotion. Every time I put three in, somebody was putting four in at the other end. Bob's first task is a mammoth one, to avoid relegation.

"If he is to win something it will take two or three years and at 66 he hasn't got that much time. He has already broken all the rules by taking over a big club at that age. He has got his hands full. If he goes to a youth match he will be 20 years older than the players' fathers. Fifteen- year-olds won't know what Bob is talking about.

"There was a photo of him in one of the local papers the other day showing him pushing against a goalpost and the wind had got under his magnificent head of hair and lifted it three or four inches. He looked like one of those mad professors. When you start getting to 50, never mind 67, the stress in present-day managing is so fierce.

"With Robson, Newcastle will bring a bit of stability to the club and the crowd will be generous to him, they won't get on his back just yet. But I would have gone for Martin O'Neill. They would have had to pay Leicester compensation, plus Martin's wages, now reported to be in the pounds 100,000 bracket. When we won the European Cup I was not getting pounds 600 a week and when I left Forest after 18 years I was on just over a thousand a week."

There is, of course, an inevitable Robson anecdote from the Clough archives. "When we played his team [Ipswich] in the Charity Shield we stuck five past them. Bob came over at the end and put his arm around my shoulder as we walked off. I said: `Never mind talking to me, get in the dressing- room with your team.' He said he was just leaning on me for support until he got there."

There is sad irony in the fact that the man who has dished out so much stick over the years is also in need of a bit of support these days. There is a stick handily placed near the sofa in case the knees aren't up to the job. But the last nine months have produced a remarkable recovery from the drinking that so nearly destroyed him. Alcohol has been shunned, weight regained and the sparkle is back in the eyes and on the lips. That is as close to the old Cloughie as you are reasonably entitled to expect at 64. As he says: "All the stress has gone from my face but I still look old, and that's because I am old." Ten days ago Brian and his wife Barbara travelled to London to see a show. "At half-time a grey-haired fellow came up to me, said: `I can't believe how well you look' and buggered off."

Clough has spent a lot of time in hospital recently for dental work to remove old roots, an operation to straighten a bent finger and surgery on both knees. He points to his right knee. "They took three and a half pints of liquid out of that, and that's supposed to be my good one. I asked them if they were sure they were talking about my knee and not my head.

"But I think my knees have got a bit worse. I'll have to order a new pair from the Co-op for Christmas. I am all right sitting down or in bed but if I get in a car they lock. The bloke who said life begins at 40 was either blind drunk or in cloud cuckoo land. There is only one way you go when you are 40 - down."

Down is also where football is heading, Clough feels. "When I was a kid I used to go the pictures on a Saturday morning and they often showed films of the Klondike gold rush, everybody going crazy and shooting each other, staking out claims. Football is at that stage now, at its barmiest. I am sick of reading more about the money in football than the football. TV is a killer. Coverage has got to saturation point. It has taken away from the working man his ability to look forward to the pinnacle of his week, a Saturday afternoon or midweek match. He doesn't know which match to pick now, he sits in his armchair, the excitement isn't there. They have taken the spirit away. I don't care how much money they are getting in.

"Five years ago I said TV would kill football as we know it and that gates would gradually decline. Now I watch TV matches and see hundreds of seats vacant."

One seat never vacant is Clough's at Burton where, he says, people in the crowd keep asking him when he is coming back into football. "Funny, it's mainly the women who ask the questions while the fellows stand in the background in embarrassment. One woman put her arms around me and with my knees being dodgy she nearly knocked me over."

Brian often gives his other son, Simon, a hand at the newsagent's shop he runs in Nottingham and here, too, he is assailed by customers wanting to know about comeback plans. "I tell them I ain't going back anywhere. I did my stint from 16 to 60, that's a long time in one trade, it's a testimonial to have lasted that long. Nobody is going to take away the feeling I have now, where every day I wake up and think I have nothing to do, except what I want to do. I have my grandchildren to see, I can watch a match on TV if I want to, I can go to the theatre with Barbara."

And today he has chosen to go back, briefly, to Nottingham Forest to be honoured. How will that feel, then, Brian Clough? "I'll get it over with and retire for a second time."

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