Clough's unlikely champions still in league of their own

Forest's feat in following promotion to top flight with the championship looks more remarkable than ever 25 years on
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The Independent Football

The realists at Wolverhampton Wanderers will have one goal and one goal alone next season: Premiership survival. As if fighting their way out of the First Division via the play-offs has not been tough enough, they will know that keeping their place in the top flight next year will be an even mightier challenge.

For a moment, however, Dave Jones and his team might like to ponder the achievement of another side who scraped their way into the top flight. This year is the 25th anniversary of Nottingham Forest's last championship, which was achieved, remarkably, just 12 months after Brian Clough's team won promotion from the old Second Division. It is a feat which no team has equalled since.

Having scrambled into the third promotion spot from the Second Division, Forest went on to take the First Division by storm. They began with 10 wins in their first 13 games and ended it with an unbeaten run of 26. The title was theirs by 22 April, with four games to play.

"It could not happen in the modern game," says John McGovern, who went on to win the European Cup as Forest's captain. "The top clubs have so much money they have secured their position and breaking into that clique is virtually impossible."

McGovern, 53 now but showing few signs of the passing years, became a familiar face again around the City Ground in the season just ended as Paul Hart's team narrowly failed in their own promotion campaign, reaching the play-off semi-finals. McGovern has been a match-day host and a commentator for BBC Radio Nottingham, whose listeners have been assured that the miracle of 1979 will never be repeated.

What Clough did, with the considerable aid of his cohort, Peter Taylor, was to take, in McGovern's words, "a group branded by the press as no-hopers and has-been semi-stars and mould them into an unbeatable unit. From November 1977 to November 1978 we went 42 League games without defeat. In two campaigns in the European Cup we suffered one defeat. In terms of consistency, we would have blown any of today's teams out of the water."

The edge that Clough and Taylor had, McGovern believes, lay in their choice of players and their ability to motivate them, as well as each other. "They built a team around the creative genius of John Robertson, bought the best goalkeeper in the world in Peter Shilton and supported him with dedicated, intelligent players who knew what to do with the ball wherever it was on the pitch," he says.

"Intelligence was the quality that ran through the team. Not in an academic sense, I regret to say, but in football terms, players who could read the game. We knew where to go when we had the ball. That's why so many of the team went into management.

"Clough and Taylor made a few decisions that were quite brilliant. Buying Shilton was one, but buying Kenny Burns from Birmingham and using him as a defender was the real stroke of genius. He was a forward, but they played him at centre-half because they could see he could defend and they knew when he had the ball he could use it. To team up Burns with Larry Lloyd at the back was an inspired move."

Even so, at the start of the 1978-79 season, no one had an inkling of what was to come. "We didn't even have anything in our contracts to pay bonuses if we won the league, which gives you an idea of how unlikely it seemed," McGovern recalls. "Not even Clough and Taylor could imagine how the season would go."

By halfway, however, it was clear Forest would take some stopping. "We were top of the League by Christmas and I can remember sitting in the bath after we had won at Newcastle on 28 December and saying to David Needham: 'The way we are playing, nobody will catch us now.' A couple of weeks before that we had won 4-0 at Old Trafford, when we were so superior it could have been 10-0. It was football perfection.

"It did not matter whether we played at home or away. We had that lovely mixture of experience and youth, enthusiasm and commitment, and a manager in Clough who could extract the maximum from his players.

"There were other managers who could build title-winning teams but no one who could do it so quickly and with so few resources as Clough. At Derby he took a struggling Second Division side to the semi-finals of the European Cup in four years, and at Forest he took a side in danger of being relegated to the Third Division and won five trophies with them. He was a phenomenon."

McGovern was a fixture in Clough's teams at four clubs - Hartlepool, Derby, Leeds and Forest - yet says the two were never close.

"His character and mine were completely opposite. People ask if I mixed with him socially and I tell them I would not have wanted to. He was the boss and I was the employee. I worked for him and respected him totally, but how many people want to go out with the boss?

"When I first met him at Hartlepool I was a 16-year-old lad with long hair. He told me to get it cut because I looked like a girl. It scared me to death. Eventually he showed faith in my ability, and all of my success I owe to him, but I was never closer to him than the day I met him."


Peter Shilton: Lives in Worcester, makes living from after-dinner speaking and personal appearances.

Viv Anderson: Since leaving his job as assistant manager with Middlesbrough, the ex-Barnsley manager runs a PR company involved in setting up sporting dinners.

Colin Barrett: Shared left-back duties with Frank Clark. Now a painter and decorator based in Southwell.

Frank Clark: Had the unenviable task of succeeding Clough as Forest manager, but led the club to promotion to the Premier League in 1994 and finished third in the Premiership in his first season. Resigned in 1996. Subsequently managed Manchester City for two years before taking a position with the League Managers' Association. Recently worked for a players' agency.

John McGovern: Title-winning captain, ex-manager of Bolton Wanderers and former joint manager at Rotherham United, now a match-day host at Forest, who also commentates for BBC Radio Nottingham, sells wine for a wine merchant and offers after-dinner speaking.

Larry Lloyd: Former manager of Wigan Athletic and Notts County was a publican and radio commentator in Nottingham. Now works as property agent in Malaga.

Kenny Burns: After-dinner speaker, also involved as host at Forest home matches, writes a column in the Nottingham Evening Post and commentates for Century 106.

Martin O'Neill: Manager of Celtic.

Ian Bowyer: Ex-manager of Hereford United, now joint first-team coach at Forest with Liam O'Kane.

Peter Withe: One-time manager of Wimbledon, now coaches the Thailand national team.

Tony Woodcock: Settled in Germany after returning in 1986 for his second spell with Cologne. Has held various coaching positions, but is now between jobs after leaving Eintracht Frankfurt, where he was director of football. Does some PR work for German companies.

John Robertson: O'Neill's No 2 at Celtic.

David Needham: Centre-half who filled in during Larry Lloyd's injuries, now owns a company in Leicestershire manufacturing road signs.

Archie Gemmill: Returned to Forest as a coach in 1985 and was joint-manager of Rotherham United with McGovern between 1994 and 1996. Now scouts for the Scottish FA.

John O'Hare: After a spell working on the production line at the Toyota plant outside Derby, is now involved in scouting for Celtic.

John Middleton: Goalkeeper for three years before Shilton arrived. Now a delivery driver based in home town of Skegness.