How Big 'Ead got his nickname... but it was his big heart that made the deepest impression

Brian Clough: The man and manager
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The Independent Football

Now it can be revealed: how Brian Clough came by the nickname "Big 'Ead" he so cherished. The credit, strangely, goes to Jim Gregory.

Now it can be revealed: how Brian Clough came by the nickname "Big 'Ead" he so cherished. The credit, strangely, goes to Jim Gregory.

It was December 1979, and I had been sent to Nottingham to interview Forest's latest, rather unusual, signing, Stan Bowles from Queen's Park Rangers. So Stan, why Forest? "Well," Bowles explained: "I got this call from Gregory [the then QPR chairman] telling me a top club had come in for me. 'Who is it, Tottenham?' I asked him. 'No,' he said, 'Big 'Ead and his mate'."

Though Bowles and his betting-shop ways did not last long at Forest, the nickname endured, right up to the last days of Clough's life. So chuffed was Clough with the new moniker that the next time the team went abroad, he and his assistant, Peter Taylor, were photographed wearing outrageous sombreros, the sort favoured by mariachi musicians. Clough's was labelled "Big 'Ead" and Taylor's "His Mate".

If Brian Clough could fairly be said to nourish grievances, the subsequent fall-out with Taylor being the saddest, a friendship struck was lifelong for Cloughie, and I found myself in this happy and rewarding bracket because of the Bowles story.

In 1985, when Brian offered congratulations on the birth of my son Lucas, I cheekily suggested he consider being a godfather and told him that, before the christening, we would be celebrating with lunch at Joe Allen, the restaurant just off the Strand, just in case he felt like turning up.

In mid-lunch that day the crowded celebrity hang-out fell silent, as if, said my wife later, a gunslinger had walked into a saloon. Brian had turned up. On a Sunday, his day of rest, he had driven down from Derby to join in our great day. And never, in 18 subsequent years, did Barbara and Brian Clough overlook the lad's birthday or Christmas.

For someone capable of generating a high level of decibels, much of Clough's time was devoted to acts of thoughtfulness and kindness. In one of our conversations, in 1992 when he and Forest were struggling, he said this: "The other day I took my son [Nigel] and Roy Keane to visit a children's spastics home. They can't talk, walk, move. We lit the place up, but they lit us up also. When I came out I felt a million dollars.

"So when someone in the crowd shouts to me, 'What do you do every day of the week?', that's what I do. I visit the spastics, I go to board meetings, to miners' rallies, I watch the youth side and I teach deaf children to speak."

On one interview visit to the City Ground, Clough came bustling out, guiding me into his car. "Come on," he said, "I'm just off to visit some handicapped bairns. You'll get a yarn out of that." He was right.

Another time, ever the Pied Piper, he strode in for our meeting towing three young autograph hunters, and instructed that as the kids had been standing a long time in the cold they should be given hamburger and chips at once. As well as a meal and an autograph, the lads were clutching an experience they will be relating 30 years from now.

They were not alone. In his uniform of flat cap, green goalie's sweater and, until the knees got too dodgy, swishing squash racket, Clough conducted interviews like the Proms. Behind his desk hung a picture of Frank Sinatra, another who did it his way, and above a deliberately untainted new broom propped against one wall was the sort of slogan you tended to see those days in a typing pool: "The Boss isn't always right but he is always The Boss".

At one stage, Clough propelled himself around the club with a huge stave, a dead ringer for Charlton Heston in one of his Moses roles. That was also the period when, man or woman, he was as likely to bestow a kiss of greeting as a handshake.

And when your time was up, he let you know sometimes in mock-rough four-letter fashion. One of our sessions was terminated with a bellow to his secretary, Carole Washington: "Carole, put my Ink Spots CD on", while group interviews were always called to order with a brisk "Can we work?"

Some still think Clough ran his trophy-winning teams by fear. Not so, insists Tony Woodcock, it was respect, though they knew who ruled their roost. On the evening of Forest's first European Cup final, in Munich in May 1979, Garry Birtles boarded the team bus with stubbled chin, saying he wanted to look mean for the match. Clough sent him back to the hotel to shave, the players arrived late for the game. And won 1-0.

A young Scot, Steven Murray, suffered an early dose of Clough's authoritarian side: "After the match he came in the dressing room wearing a pair of boots that John Wayne would have turned down, so I threw him out." Roy Keane's autobiography details how Clough once knocked him to the dressing-room floor, a fate also suffered by Nigel Jemson. On the other side of the scale, Clough always permitted John Robertson a calming pre-match ciggie in the toilets.

Pugilist or pussycat, he claimed every man he signed was there because of the Clough reputation. "They wouldn't have come through the front door unless they saw my mug." Eventually, undermined by alcohol, he opted to exit through that front door in 1993. By now the man who had dished out so much stick was in need of one to help out those ailing knees.

But he would insist on a hobble into the garden of his Quarndon home to admire his roses. "Brian Clough's Book of Roses would be a good title, wouldn't it?" he said. After a lunch of beef sandwiches, he never tired of offering opinions on TV, managers, chairmen and the game he loved. After one particular harangue, he paused and said with a grin: "Tell your sports editor he's a lucky man to be getting this interview for nowt."

There was for a long time bitterness over the manner of his departure. "The first letter I got from Forest after I left was one stopping my private medical cover." He preferred to stay away from the City Ground, claiming the sight of his name in huge lettering on the new stand was news to him. His interest in that structure bordered on the proprietorial. "I paid for that stand, bribed the erectors because it was built in winter. They said they couldn't work on it because of ice, so I provided coffee and brandy. I sent their wives hampers and all sorts."

Now they are preparing the City Ground for a final farewell today before the match between Forest and West Ham, an all-green day in honour of that jersey. One of the tributes draping the railings at the stadium had the sentiment spot on: "In an era where mediocrity is idolised, here stood a true genius".

The American sports columnist Red Smith once delivered a funeral oration thus: "Dying is no big deal. The least of us will manage that. Living is the trick." It was a trick Brian Clough managed to perfection.