The death of Clough’s Forest and the immediate rebirth

Nottingham Forest

By the end, Brian Clough was Nottingham Forest through and through. Clough was one of the best managers of his time. But Clough’s final year, not only at Nottingham Forest but in management, was the major disappointment of his 18 year legacy with the club.

That final season in 1992/93 was the start of the Premier League with Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest one of the 22 teams. Forest had finished 8th the previous season so the club were confident they could push on further and perhaps challenge the top five.

The season however did not start well with Des Walker being sold to Italian Serie A side Sampdoria. Walker was followed by Teddy Sheringham, who went to Tottenham after the season had started. Sheringham had scored in Forest’s first game in the Premier League, securing an impressive 1-0 win against Liverpool.

They lost their next two, with the match against relegation candidates Oldham Athletic a classic. Oldham ran out 5-3 winners. Forest then faced four of the in-form teams – Manchester United, Norwich, Blackburn and Sheffield Wednesday, losing all four games.

After 7 games, Forest found themselves bottom of the table with only 3 points. This was the worst start to a season since Brian Clough had taken charge. But this was still early in the season, the fans remained confident that this was nothing more than just a blip.

Defensively they were poor, conceding 18 goals already. The loss of Des Walker at centre back really started to show. Clough decided to put Roy Keane into the centre of defence to try and plug the gaps. The move worked for a time with Forest drawing the next three matches.

A 1-0 loss to Arsenal was followed by their second win of the season against Middlesbrough, another team fighting relegation. Stuart Pearce scored the only goal of the game with a deflected shot. This was quickly followed up with a spirited draw against Sheffield United.

Their next four games ended in disappointment. With three home games, they were expected to pick up points. Unfortunately they lost all three, only managing a draw away to Crystal Palace – another team down the wrong end of the Premier League.

Forest were struggling. They had stemmed the flow of goals going in with another change at the back by Clough. He had brought Steve Chettle back into the team, alongside Carl Tiler, allowing Keane to move back to the centre of the park. But goals were hard to come by without Teddy Sheringham.

December improved slightly for the team, with a convincing 4-1 away win at Leeds, Keane scoring two of the goals. But they only managed to win one point in the next three games.

Suddenly, come January, there seemed to be life left in the Midlands club as they lost only once in seven games. They secured wins against Coventry, Chelsea, Oldham, Middlesbrough and QPR as well as a 0-0 draw away to Liverpool.

The club had dragged itself out of the bottom three. Suddenly there was hope, the fans believing the club had finally turned the corner. But unfortunately, it was short lived.

The next four games ended with three loses and one draw again against relegation strugglers Crystal Palace. Clough had admitted in his autobiography that at this point he had the chance to sign Stan Collymore. The team needed a goal scorer, as the signing of Robert Rosario was not working out. But after a draw with Leeds United and an away win at Southampton, Clough became more optimistic and decided against signing Collymore. Clough, like everyone else, still believed that Forest were too good to go down.

With eight games remaining they faced five of the top ten teams. But the fans remained hopeful. This was still Nottingham Forest, a team steeped in history and a winning mentality instilled in them from their manager. They lost the next three games but beat Tottenham 2-1. Forest were running out of matches. One point from their next two games left them in serious trouble. The realism dawned on the Forest supporters.

Then came May 1st. Nottingham Forest against Sheffield United, both teams needing points in the battle for relegation. But for Forest, defeat would mean relegation to Division 1. On top of that, this was Brian Clough’s last ever match at the City Ground. A truly emotional day, when stakes couldn’t be any higher.

26752 supporters packed into the ground, not just to watch the game but to witness an end of an era. What the Forest fans would give for a home win for the club and manger.

As Brian Clough appeared from the tunnel a roar went up from the home side faithful. Clough was handed his famous green jumper which he obligingly put on. Walking out to the dugout he looked emotional. There were photographers everywhere wanting to catch a glimpse of the great man one last time at the City Ground.

Steve Chettle had been restored to the back four after being dropped for the last four games to try and add some steel. But after 30 minutes, disaster, as Glyn Hodges scored putting Sheffield United 1-0 up. Half time came and went, with the crowd trying to rally the team at the start of the second half.

Roy Keane missed a great chance with a header just outside the six yard box, before Sheffield United put the final nail in the coffin. Brian Gayle scored, putting United 2-0 up.

Clough was never one to leave the dugout but here he was on his feet by the side of the pitch. He looked downbeat, the reality of relegation finally kicking in. A chorus of “Brian Clough, Brian Clough, Brian Clough” started to ring out from all sides of the ground from both sets of fans. Clough acknowledged them with a despairing wave.

On the final whistle, despair. Nottingham Forest had been relegated to Division 1. The players and manager left the pitch, looking shell-shocked. Nigel Clough was the last to leave, applauding the fans for their support on this grim day for the club.

Brian Clough completed a lap of honour after the match, with both sets of fans applauding this great man and manger. They all knew then, they may never witness his like again.

The last game of the season was insignificant with Forest already relegated, going down 2-1 at Ipswich.

For Clough it was a major disappointment. After achieving so much at Nottingham Forest, it was a dramatic fall in his final ever season as manager.

Clough admitted the sales of two of his major players did not help, with the club leaking goals at one end and struggling to score them at the other. He admitted that he should have signed a centre back and centre forward. Admittedly, this was not the only reason, with some pointing towards Clough’s continued battle with alcoholism as a factor. But for Clough, he felt at times his approach and judgement failed the club that season.

Some could even point out that not all players played well that season, apart from possibly Roy Keane. Neil Webb was injured for a vast majority of the season, Nigel Clough went through a lean spell in front of goal, and Stuart Pearce only managed to play once from January to May. Pearce himself later admitted that his mind was not quite fully focused on the games, after his falling out with Brian Clough.

Clough was quoted afterwards having been asked about the supporters chanting his name. He said, “I didn’t deserve it. Not the sincerity, the warmth, the concern or the sympathy, not on that occasion. Not on the very day that our worst fears had been realised. Relegation day is not an occasion for thanksgiving.”

Brian Clough was without doubt an exception to the rule. He may have been unorthodox, but his methods garnered fantastic results for a Nottingham Forest team who in the past beat all before them to become European Champions.

He truly was a great man and a world class manager.

Brian Clough retired at the end of the season and was replaced by Frank Clark. Clark had been a full back in Nottingham Forest’s famous 1979 European Cup winning team managed by the manager he was now replacing, Brian Clough.

With the unenviable task of replacing the great man, Clark also had the challenge of getting Forest back into the Premier League. He had kept majority of the squad together but had lost Roy Keane to Manchester United and Nigel Clough to Liverpool. Clark was able to add some key players. Stan Collymore arrived from Southend, midfielder David Phillips moved from Norwich and defender Colin Cooper from Birmingham. Collymore and Cooper seemed to be the replacements that Forest so desperately needed the season before, to replace Walker and Sheringham.

Philips finished the season as the club’s player of the year, Stan Collymore scored 19 goals and centre back Cooper was a rock in defence. He even popped up with seven goals. Three inspired signings, which in the end breathed confidence into the rest of the squad.

However it was not all plain sailing.

The first three games started well, winning one and drawing two but if Forest thought it would be easier they were mistaken.
They only managed one win in their next five, a 2-1 away result at Luton Town giving them the three points.

Their next six games were a mixed bag, two wins, two draws and two losses. The 1-0 win against Notts County was a massive boost for the Forest supporters, Stan Collymore scoring the only goal.

They were looking anything other than promotion candidates. It seemed the task of taking over from Brian Clough was too much for Frank Clark.

Then, at the start of November, they began a run of thirteen unbeaten games which lasted until February. Collymore, in particular, was immense in the period, scoring nine goals. But at the back the defence looked solid, only conceding 8. They had dispatched Birmingham City twice in this spell as well as beating Tranmere Rovers away 2-1, who themselves were fighting for promotion.

The club had got themselves back into contention. Excitement around the City Ground was beginning to build. The fans had something to cheer about again.

In the next three games they wobbled slightly, only gaining one point. They also lost to neighbours Notts County 2-1, it was a sour note for the Forest fans.

Forest suddenly went on a run, and the next 12 matches were excellent, securing wins along the way against Stoke and Charlton.

Cooper had formed a fantastic partnership at the back with Steve Chettle. Collymore was playing up front on his own holding the line and scoring goals and they had Philips sitting in front of the back four offering protection. Scott Gemmil played in the centre of the park with Ian Woan, Steve Stone and Kingsley Black sharing winger duties, all three chipping in with vital goals. Stuart Pearce, of course, was left back and captain.

Then came rivals Derby County away from home. A massive match for the supporters, not just for the bragging rights but also to be one step closer to promotion back to the Premier League at the first time of asking.

The game started well, Colin Cooper striking a 25 yard free kick into the net to get Forest on their way. The game was secured by Steve Stone, Forest running out 2-0 winners. It meant that all Nottingham Forest had to do was win away from home at Peterborough.

London Road was packed with Forest fans that day, waiting to celebrate promotion. The Forest fans seemed to outnumber the home support. The game didn’t start too brightly for Forest however, as Peterborough went 2-0 up after 10 minutes. There was stunned silence from the Forest fans as this was not in the script. Then just before half time, Stan Collymore scored to close the gap. The teams went in at half time with Peterborough 2-1 up.

As the players came out for the second half, the away support was in full voice, cheering the team on, willing them to score.

Forest were on the attack pushing for the equaliser. Suddenly the ball was swung in and Nottingham Forest equalised with a diving header from captain Stuart Pearce on 82 minutes. The Forest fans could not contain themselves, as about 100 or so ecstatic fans spilled onto the pitch.

Once play had resumed, the fans were as loud as they had been all match, suddenly they had belief and excitement. It was all Forest as they pushed for that elusive goal. Then, with 5 minutes left on the clock, Stan Collymore received the ball, surged into space and hit the ball high into the Peterborough goal.

There was pandemonium in the stands, and more Forest fans surged onto the pitch. At the final whistle, the pitch was flooded with Nottingham Forest supporters, the team had won 3-2 and had gained promotion back to the Premier League.

The final two games of the season both ended in draws, away to Grimsby and the home match against Sunderland finishing 2-2. Pearce with a penalty and Stan Collymore once again. It was party mood once more at the City ground, where a year previous they had suffered the doom of relegation.

It was a fantastic achievement by Nottingham Forest. They finished runners up to Crystal Palace but, more importantly, they had sealed promotion back to the Premier League with, some would say, Brian Clough’s team.

You cannot take away anything from Frank Clark. He had taken over the reins of a job, following the most successful Nottingham Forest manager of all time, making three inspirational signings and galvanising a team low on confidence, taking them back in to the Premier League.

Could Brian Clough have done the same? Let’s be honest we would all love to think he would have. He was a true legend, not just with Nottingham Forest but in football as a whole. But let’s not forget, it was Frank Clark who brought the club back to life and back to where they belonged.

I am sure Cloughie was telling everyone that Frank Clark had learnt everything he knew from him.

One thing is for sure, I doubt anyone would have argued with that.