Wincing from the pain in his arthritic knees and struggling to stand fully straight, Brian Clough's entrance was unusually quiet. He was clearly relieved to be shown to a chair. You couldn't blame him. He is 68 now and cramped car journeys are no laughing matter.
Then the audience appeared, introductions were made and it was as if some thespian instinct stirred. Brightening immediately, football's most famous character-manager was soon tripping out the one-liners. And even though most of the faces in front of him stared back with innocent bemusement it did not matter; when there is a gallery to be played to, he plays.
It was an unusual setting. The Holy Trinity Primary School (C of E) in Burton on Trent had been chosen as the latest point of call in Nationwide's FA Cup roadshow and a special assembly had been organised to mark the occasion. And so there they all were squeezed into a tiny school hall: 170-odd pupils and staff, the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress, a substantial detachment of photographers, television crew and journalists, the FA Cup itself, Nigel Clough and Brian.
It was Nigel who was meant to be the centre of attention. The Burton Albion team he has managed (and played for) since 1998, taking them from the Dr Martens Premier League through the Unibond League to the Conference, are at home to Second Division Hartlepool in the second round tomorrow. The children knew who he was and there were plenty of yellow Albion shirts in evidence.
Helpfully, the man from Nationwide told them about Brian and pointed out that, among other clubs, he had once been manager at Hartlepool, achieving the distinction of being the youngest manager in the League. An arm shot up when it was asked if anyone knew how old and Brian was in like a shot: "If you say 94, young man, I'll brain you." They all laughed and Nigel pulled the kind of face that the sons and daughters of embarrassing parents know all too well.
Do you seek his advice, Nigel was asked later, when the press had their turn. "I don't tend to but, funnily enough, I still get it," he replied. "He comes to all our home games and I find it is best not to answer the phone to him for 24 hours afterwards." He is kidding, of course. His core football values, all about playing to feet, keeping possession and making the ball your friend, are his father's legacy, although as characters they are chalk and cheese. And that's what worries dad.
"I'm fed up with hearing people say what a nice, fine lad he is," Brian grumbles. "He doesn't get that from me. You have to be prepared to be unpopular and tell people things they don't want to hear.
"Would he be able to look someone in the eye and tell him he wasn't playing in a European Cup final? I had to tell Martin O'Neill and Archie Gemmill. O'Neill could not look at me for a week and little Archie still hasn't." But he does admire Nigel for serving a "proper apprenticeship" as a manager, as did O'Neill, who served his time at Grantham Town and Shepshed Charterhouse before guiding Wycombe Wanderers into the League.
"It is essential," Brian continues. "Too many players go into management without a proper grounding and they fail. The biggest example is Glenn Hoddle. He took his boots off one day and was a manager the next. He was England boss after five minutes and he couldn't cope. I don't think he could cope at Tottenham, either.
"It was the same with Kevin Keegan, too, to an extent. He walked out on England because he couldn't cope and it is only now, at Manchester City, that he is finding out what management is really like." Clough junior's name now routinely arises when vacancies occur, especially at Derby and Nottingham Forest, for obvious reasons, and his father reckons the son he introduced as a player at Forest is ready to move on.
"He has to step up and I think he is on the brink of it. If he has a weakness it is that he likes being comfortable, which he is here. He has a good chairman and the club is only a few minutes down the road from where he lives. But real life isn't always like that. After five years he needs to step up." Nigel himself does not speak of personal goals. "To be honest, I don't think about my own ambitions," he said. "All this is about the club going forward, not about me. I like this job and I like being part of the community here. It allows me to see plenty of my family, too.
"We have made a lot of progress through sensible management. And big games like this, especially when they are on television, help us by raising money and attracting players. We have a new £5m stadium on the horizon and I'd like to see us into that, at least. And once we are in I think we will have a shout of getting into the League ourselves."
The BBC cameras will be at the 4,500-capacity Eton Park tomorrow, giving a bonus moment in the spotlight to some familiar names. Steve Chettle, Brian Clough's centre half in the "Gascoigne" FA Cup final of 1991, now fulfils the same role in Nigel's side. The former Derby defender Darren Wassall will be alongside him and there may even be a run-out for the former England winger, Andy Sinton, now pushing 37.
Brian's biggest regret was that while he won two Championships, two European Cups and four League Cups, the FA Cup always eluded him. Nigel is hardly in a position just yet to satisfy family honour but a place in the third round - and Derby or Forest at home, perhaps - would be good enough for now.Reuse content