Calderwood embraces Clough's legacy to save Forest

'Ol' Big 'Ead' took Nottingham Forest from the bottom of the old Second Division to European champions in five years. Phil Shaw talks to the new manager who is honouring the club's history in an attempt to bring the good times back
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The Independent Football

Colin Calderwood and Brian Clough never met, but the paths of the latest and the greatest of Nottingham Forest managers did cross in the days when winning a third consecutive European Cup, rather than escaping the third tier of English football, was the ambition at the City Ground.

The scene is Forest's training ground on a Saturday morning in the early 1980s. Clough, doubtless wearing his trademark green sweatshirt and quite possibly walking the dog, strolls by as the youth team are playing. A defender for their opponents, Mansfield Town, catches his eye.

Calderwood, who still has the distinctive brogue of his native Stranraer, wisely eschews mimicry as he relates what Clough reputedly said. It wasn't, "Hey, young man, one day you'll get my job" but, "I wonder if he's as brave tackling from the front as he is coming in from behind?"

Yet the 41-year-old Scot now occupies the office from which "Ol' Big 'Ead" ruled, having arrived soon after guiding Northampton Town into League One alongside Forest. While nursing a drink, of strong, dark tea, rather than anything sinister, he explains why he is delighted to embrace the Clough legacy. "The stadium, facilities and fan base all stem from that era," Calderwood says. "Judged on those terms, this club would be one of the best in the Championship, and equal to the great majority of the Premiership."

As we chat he points to a large, framed photo of Garry Birtles in action on one of the epic European nights. It is waiting to be rehung after a previous incumbent had it removed. "I'm happy to have those pictures around the place," he says. "There can't be any harm in honouring the club's history."

Could they even be an inspiration to today's Forest squad? "Maybe if we were pushing for the Champions' League, but we're too far away from what Cloughie achieved for that. It's unbelievable for a club to go, in five years, from near the foot of the old Second Division to being champions of Europe. What he achieved here is unlikely ever to be repeated."

Not that Calderwood does not aspire to greatness. It was the sense that Forest offered the opportunity to achieve it that persuaded him to leave Northampton after delivering them to the same level as his new club last May. He recalls promotion there as "what I'm proudest of in my career - equal to captaining Swindon into the Premiership, which was another great 'group' thing - and even more satisfying than representing Scotland in the World Cup".

However, he describes as "huge" the difference in the potential of the two clubs, who meet at Northampton a week on Saturday. Following the departure of Gary Megson from Forest late last season, two coaches, Frank Barlow and Ian "Charlie" McParland, took a floundering side on a run that almost led to the play-offs. "They did a fantastic job. I was sorry when Frank chose to join Hull City," says Calderwood.

"But I'd have been just as interested in coming here if Forest had narrowly avoided relegation. Everyone in football knows what a good job it is. We have what it takes to succeed in this division and the foundations are so firm that we should be competitive in the next one, too. Look at the teams promoted from this league, like Reading and Wigan. They went on to the Premiership. Hull, Luton and Plymouth each had two promotions and are established at Championship level. If we get a momentum going at Forest, we could do the same, or even better."

If Clough was one of the last great "character" managers, who dominated clubs by sheer force of personality, Calderwood is part of the modern breed. This summer he took a course at Warwick University, held in conjunction with the League Managers' Association, where he learnt about "everything to do with football bar the game itself: finance, psychology and IT skills". His 14-year-old daughter, Abbey, has always had to help him with computer presentations for training sessions or analysing opponents. Soon the old man hopes to do them himself.

His assimilation at Forest has been eased by acquaintances made and knowledge gained at either end of his playing days. As a teenager at nearby Mansfield he would come over to watch Clough's side; he can point to the seat from which he saw a Uefa Cup tie against Celtic.

Some 600 League appearances and 31 caps later, he joined Forest from Aston Villa. In his sixth game, at Birmingham, he suffered a badly broken leg. "I played one more first-team match after that, but physically I was nowhere near good enough. I went on loan to Notts County but I was hopeless. Embarrassing. In my mind I knew I was done.

"I spent my final season here in the reserves. In that team were Jermaine Jenas, Andy Reid, Marlon Harewood and Gareth Williams. I played at the back or in midfield and watched them blossom. The fact they're no longer here is a reflection of what's happened to the senior side. If they had squeezed into the Premiership via the play-offs in 2003, when Paul [Hart] was manager, some might still be around."

Calderwood had his full coaching licence at 25, but even with the richly varied influence of the likes of Lou Macari, Ossie Ardiles and Craig Brown, he would discover there was no substitute for being involved in a club. At Tottenham, where he ran the reserves, he learnt from Glenn Hoddle and John Gorman (his successor at Northampton) about detailed work on opponents. "My role was to educate young players, whereas at Northampton I stepped into a points-driven world.

"What a difference! Results are everything and everybody is forever asking questions: 'What colour kit do you want to play in at Orient? What food do you want on the bus? What time do you want to reach Macclesfield?' It was an amazing change for me. There were a thousand decisions every day. It's even more so here."

One question many Forest fans are asking is whether they will see a Clough-style passing game. As a close ally of Hoddle, Calderwood, unsurprisingly, is no long-ball man, and he looks to players such as the skilful midfielder Kris Commons to set the tone. But parallel to his principles runs a competitive edge that leads him to extol "getting stuck in, standing your ground and looking after your team-mates".

Pretty football will count for nothing if Forest do not achieve his goal of automatic promotion. "We're setting our sights high," he states, "and we dare not fail."

Bradford City are first up, at home on Saturday, but much as Calderwood craves victory, especially after the last four pre-season games failed to produce one, he is keen to keep in proportion the expectations that surround Forest.

"It's nice to get a great start, but not crucial. None of the sides that won the three Football League titles last season won their opening fixture. Reading and Southend both lost at home; Carlisle only drew. We won't be a great team on 5 August. But I'm confident we'll be improving by 5 January. And come 5 May, hopefully, we'll be there."

Falling Forest Managers since 1993

* FRANK CLARK May 93-Dec 96 (resigned). Highest League finish Third, Premier League 1994-95.

(Stuart Pearce was named caretaker manager).

* DAVE BASSETT March 97-Jan 99 (sacked).

Highest League finish First Division champions 1997-98.

* RON ATKINSON Jan 99-May 99 (sacked).

Highest League finish 20th Premier League 1998-99 (relegated to First Division).

* DAVID PLATT July 99-July 01 (resigned to join England Under-21s).

Highest League finish 11th First Division 2000-01.

* PAUL HART July 01-Feb 04 (sacked).

Highest League finish Sixth First Division 2002-03.

* JOE KINNEAR Feb 04-Dec 04 (resigned).

Highest League finish 14th First Division 2003-04.

* GARY MEGSON Jan 05-Feb 06 (left by "mutual consent").

Highest League finish 23rd Championship 2004-05. (relegated to League One).

* FRANK BARLOW AND IAN MCPARLAND (caretaker managers) Feb 06-May 06

Highest League finish Seventh League One 2005-06.