Prolific career cruelly cut short

Brian Clough: The player

Today is officially Green Jumper Day at the City Ground. Old Big 'Ead would have doubtless approved. He probably would have also quite liked a red No 9 shirt day at Middlesbrough, and a red-and-white No 9 jersey day at Sunderland too.

Today is officially Green Jumper Day at the City Ground. Old Big 'Ead would have doubtless approved. He probably would have also quite liked a red No 9 shirt day at Middlesbrough, and a red-and-white No 9 jersey day at Sunderland too.

If Brian Clough the manager was a phenomenon, winning two European Cups and two championships with modest East Midlands clubs, what of Brian Clough the player? At Middlesbrough he scored 204 goals in 222 League and cup games. At Sunderland he scored 63 goals in 74 games.

"He was a phenomenal goalscorer," Charlie Hurley, his captain at Sunderland, reflected. "It was terrible when he got injured. We all wanted to see how great he could become."

Clough was 27 and in all likelihood still approaching his peak when he collided with Chris Harker, the big Bury goalkeeper, in the slush-covered Fulwell End goalmouth at Roker Park on Boxing Day 1962. "It happened in the first half," Hurley recalled, "and at half-time I went straight to the treatment table to see how Cloughie was. Johnny Watters, our physio, just got hold of the bottom half of his leg, from the knee downwards, and the whole lot came forward. That meant his cruciate ligaments were completely gone. I can remember Johnny whispering to me, 'That's it'."

After 18 months of running up and down the vast Roker End steps each day, Clough did attempt a comeback in September 1964. It lasted three games, the only three he ever played in the old First Division, the Premiership of its day. So how good a player was he?

My father saw all of Clough's games at Roker Park, and described him as "a Gerd Muller. He had the same ability to make space in the box and to wrap his foot around the ball when he shot. He always got his head over the ball, too. He kept his shots low."

Hurley played with Clough and against him, as a tough, ball-playing centre-half who was voted Sunderland's Player of the 20th Century. "Cloughie was a real talent," he reflected. "And he wasn't good in the air. He wasn't quick. He wasn't a dribbler. But give him half a chance and he would send it steaming into the net.

"We always had a great deal of respect for each other. I used to change my game when I played against him. I used to be right up his backside all game. I would make sure he couldn't turn, because once he'd done that, and the ball came across, he was the best I've ever seen at hitting the ball out of the air. His timing was unbelievable.

"When he played for us, he scored some fantastic goals. All he would think about was hitting the target. He practised it and practised it. He was a great pro."

Clough, of course, also had a great opinion of himself, and a not-so-great one of many around him - a combination which led to a deputation of Middlesbrough players petitioning for him to be stripped of the captaincy at Ayresome Park, and which prompted Walter Winterbottom to jettison him from his England team after just two games. At Sunderland, though, he bowed to the iron will of Alan Brown, the disciplinarian manager who became known to his players as "The Bomber".

"The Bomber was exactly the same as Cloughie," Hurley said. "He stood no nonsense. He was hard but honest, and the players had great respect for him. Brian admitted to me that The Bomber did him the power of good.

"Cloughie learned a lot from The Bomber. He'll be up there in heaven with him now, thanking him, I would have thought."

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