Vintage Clough: How Forest felled the mighty Liverpool, champions of Europe

The first all-English European Cup tie was 27 years ago and helped in the making of a legend.
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The Independent Football

Shortly before he died, the late Brian Clough wrote of Chelsea's manager: "I like the look of Mourinho, there's a bit of the young Clough about him." As Jose Mourinho prepares for only the third all-English European Cup fixture, one wonders if he will adopt Clough's approach to the first such encounter, also against Liverpool, a quarter of a century ago.

Shortly before he died, the late Brian Clough wrote of Chelsea's manager: "I like the look of Mourinho, there's a bit of the young Clough about him." As Jose Mourinho prepares for only the third all-English European Cup fixture, one wonders if he will adopt Clough's approach to the first such encounter, also against Liverpool, a quarter of a century ago.

Unlike Chelsea, Clough's Nottingham Forest were underdogs for the first-round tie in September, 1978. They were English champions but Liverpool were in prime form and seeking a third successive European Cup triumph. The tie saw Clough's intuitive man-management at its best. Ahead of the first leg at the City Ground, he was, recalled Tony Woodcock, more tactically minded than usual. Before the return, at Anfield, he concentrated on relaxing his players.

Under Clough's management Woodcock went from being an out-of-favour reserve midfielder to an England striker. He usually had a free role but when Liverpool came to Nottingham on 13 September, Clough pulled him aside before the game. "This was the one occasion I can remember when he told me to operate more down the right-hand side," said Woodcock. "He said: 'Liverpool will expect you to be all over the place, so I want you to hold the right-hand side'." A simple instruction but, as Woodcock added: "Both goals came from that.

"The first I went down the right and knocked it off to Garry Birtles. The second was one of the best goals in the competition. Colin Barrett won the ball in our half, we moved it over the half-way line through Birtles, who crossed deep to the far post. I could have gone for goal but I played it down to Colin, who had maintained his run to hit a great volley." On the touchline Peter Taylor, Clough's assistant, leapt to his feet shouting: "That'll do us".

It was classic counter-attacking Forest, and Liverpool could not believe they had fallen for it. Kenny Dalglish later reflected: "For a team supposed to understand the nature of European competition [we] made a very basic error ... We foolishly went chasing the game. This naïve reaction probably stemmed from the fact we were playing familiar League opponents."

There may have been some overconfidence, too. Liverpool were already top of the League starting the season with five straight wins including a 7-0 drubbing of Tottenham and a goal difference of 19-2. Forest, though unbeaten, had been held to four draws and only scored three goals. Peter Withe, the previous season's top scorer, was being missed, having been unexpectedly sold to Newcastle.

To replace him Clough tried a youngster, Stephen Elliott, then Birtles, newly signed from non-League Long Eaton for £2,000. He had been fitting carpets for a living. "I went from being a young player to the experienced one, having to learn new aspects," said Woodcock. "Fortunately, Garry and I forged a partnership pretty quickly." The goal against Liverpool was Birtles' first in senior football, it was only his second game.

Liverpool remained confident. "Their lads were saying: 'Wait till we get you back to Anfield,' but we were pretty confident we'd keep a clean sheet," said Woodcock. Nevertheless, Clough detected some nerves as Forest made their way to Merseyside. So, recalled the goalkeeper Peter Shilton: "As our coach approached Liverpool, Clough stood up and asked: 'Does anyone fancy a beer?'" Clough later commented: "We'd had a few bottles of wine in the hotel at lunchtime - just to make sure the lads slept well in the afternoon."

When they awoke there was no rush. "We wanted to get on the road," said Woodcock. "We had itchy feet to get to Anfield, but [Clough and Taylor] kept us in the hotel, saying: 'Let's not be caught in any traffic jams. We'll leave it to the last minute. They won't start without us.' We arrived just inside the deadline."

Forest held firm at Anfield to gain a goalless draw. It was a brave, disciplined performance. Frank Clark, who had come in for the injured Barrett, gashed a shin early on but battled through. Shilton, who twice denied Dalglish, recalled when the Liverpool striker caught Kenny Burns, a noted hard man, with a late tackle: "He simply eye-balled Dalglish and raised a finger as if to indicate 'no more'. There was no more."

Forest did not dwell on their triumph. Said Woodcock: "Afterwards Clough was: 'Well done, good job done, now on the bus quick. No one's to go into the dressing-room or players' bar. We don't want anyone gloating.'"

Forest went on to defeat AEK Athens, Grasshoppers Zurich, Cologne and, in the final, Malmo, to win the trophy. The Liverpool tie had been the crucial one. Said Clough: "[For Liverpool] I put the players on £1,000 appearance money and £2,000 to win. I cut the incentives for the second round... When I gave Kenny Burns a copy, he said: 'We're not getting much for the semi-final.' 'No,' I said, 'but have you looked at the first round against Liverpool?'...Burns smiled and said: 'That'll do us.'"

The following year Forest successfully defended the European Cup. Two years previously, they had been in the old Second Division. It is like Sunderland winning next season's Premiership, then successive Champions' Leagues. Inconceivable surely?

"Why not? Always expect the unexpected in football," said Woodcock, who now runs a business development company, my Sports, with his former team-mate Viv Anderson. "People talk about money these days but I'm sure the players are out there, if you coach them properly and have the right set-up. I'm sure if Mourinho was on a lower budget he would be successful, the way he has organised his team.

"It's difficult to compare eras. We had one or two players coming up through the ranks, like Viv and myself, we had John Robertson and Martin O'Neill, who had not really been given the chance or backing before. He got one or two players in who had experience but had not really done it at other clubs, like Kenny Burns and Larry Lloyd, and when we started to roll he brought in players like Peter Shilton.

"It wasn't rocket science. It was about getting players in with character, though they obviously had to be able to play as well. If players have the right attitude, and want to learn, why can't they develop into something? People say it will never happen again but they thought our unbeaten record would never be broken. Arsenal did it."

Forest, of course, have declined significantly and are in danger of being relegated to League One. Woodcock has looked on sadly: "It's not happened overnight, it's been over the last few years," he said. "It's down to bad management, and I mean the whole structure. They still get good crowds, but they are a bit shell-shocked. The supporters were brought up on teams playing stylish football and it is a shame to lose that. It is part of the culture of the club.

Domestic tiffs

The only other all-English tie

Between Forest's defeat of Liverpool, and tomorrow's tie at Stamford Bridge, there has been only one other all-English European Cup match, last season's quarter-final. Arsenal were favourites especially after Robert Pires' away goal nullified Eidur Gudjohnsen's first-leg opener.

Arsenal seemed sure to progress when Jose Antonio Reyes sent them into the break one-up at Highbury but Frank Lampard equalised when Claude Makelele's shot came back off Jens Lehmann's chest. With three minutes remaining, Wayne Bridge, of all people, produced the winner.

Chelsea, however, went on to lose to Monaco in the semi-finals.