Almost 12 weeks have passed since the high emotion of his appointment as Derby County manager, yet Nigel Clough admits there are still days when the change in his career seems slightly unreal.
It is not just because, after all these years, he is retracing the managerial footsteps his father took in 1967. More it is the knowledge that, back at Burton Albion, his home for more than a decade, life goes on – and success beckons – without him. "It still feels strange not to be involved," Clough said. "Burton is a special little club with a lot of special people and, after 10 years, you become very attached.
"For me and the staff who came with me to Derby, leaving was a huge wrench, and the first result we want to know about when our game is over is Burton's. It can give us a lift, too. Last weekend, we had a frustrating 0-0 against Barnsley and then found out Burton had won in the sixth minute of stoppage time. It did not make up for Derby's result but it made the disappointment a little easier to take."
There is good reason for Clough and company to be tracking Burton's progress with particular eagerness. When he left in January they were 13 points clear at the top of the Blue Square Premier, with promotion to the League seemingly theirs to lose.
"The ideal scenario would have been to stay at Burton until the end of the season, but the Derby job might not have been there in the summer," Clough said. "It was the perfect opportunity, just the wrong timing."
Ensuring that Burton make the most of their opportunity rests with Roy McFarland, a former Derby manager, whose association with the Clough family goes back to 1967, when Brian took him to the Baseball Ground from Tranmere as a 19-year-old.
"I knew Nigel as a little boy who would come down to the club with his father," McFarland said. "He and his brother Simon used to kick the ball against what was called a shooting box at the Baseball Ground, underneath one of the stands. It was literally a box with squares painted on it as targets you had to hit. Often they'd be playing on it when we went out to train and still be there when we got back."
Clough's joy at playing has not left him. Burton still hold his registration as a player and, at 43, he appears for the reserves when commitments allow.
McFarland, now 60, was in charge at Derby from 1993-95, reaching the Division One play-off final in his first season. He also enjoyed success with Bradford City and Cambridge United, both of whom he guided to promotion, and Chesterfield, whom he kept in the League in difficult circumstances.
"Roy lives in the next village from me in Derbyshire and I've known him for years," Clough said. "It was the [Burton] chairman, Ben Robinson, who first mentioned his name when we talked about what would happen after I left and I was in favour straightaway. It was a unanimous choice."
For McFarland, an appointment he took up "to help out" has rekindled his enthusiasm for management. "If you had asked me at that time about going back into management I would have said, 'No way, I'm not interested'," he admitted. "After 28 or 29 years in management I'd decided it was time to retire. I've got an apartment in Mallorca and I was quite happy taking breaks out there and enjoying life.
"I agreed to help out in the hope that I could keep things ticking over and get the job done, but I'll admit that after working with the players I've started to get the taste for management back."
Clough will be there to watch Tuesday's game against Kettering, but only as a supporter. "I've always said I would help in any way I could, if only to give encouragement," Clough said. "But I have more than enough on my plate at Derby so there is no temptation at all to go beyond that. Roy is the manager and he is more than capable."
Brewing up a storm
Between 1894 and 1897, when the area's 30 breweries produced a quarter of Britain's beer, Burton had two teams in the League, the only town – as opposed to city – to enjoy such a distinction.
Burton Swifts, formed in 1871, were in the Second Division from 1892 to 1901. They were joined by Burton Wanderers after they won the Midland League in 1894.
Wanderers were voted out in 1897 but merged with the struggling Swifts in 1901 to form Burton United, who lasted six seasons.
Wanderers inflicted Newcastle United's heaviest League defeat, 9-0 at Burton in April 1895.
Former managers include Ian Storey-Moore, Neil Warnock and Peter Taylor, under whom Burton won the Southern League Cup in 1964 before he left to be assistant manager at Hartlepool, starting his partnership with Brian Clough.Reuse content