Brian Clough's amazing anecdotes are unmatched in modern football

Brian Clough’s amazing anecdotes are unmatched in modern football… Old Big ‘Ead punched Roy Keane, smashed the Crazy Gang’s ghetto blaster and gave his OBE to his gardener! No wonder Jose Mourinho adored him

  • Brian Clough is hailed among the greatest manager England has even produced 
  • Prolific as a striker and manager, Clough worked miracles in his pomp 
  • He was outspoken and outrageous, and brought welcome colour to the game
  • Here we take a trip down memory lane to recall the stories behind the legend

He could be ferocious and kindhearted, outrageous or genius. However you look at it, Brian Clough’s was a personality football will never forget.

Self-styled as ‘Old Big ‘Ead’, Premier League stars wouldn’t know what hit them if he marched into their dressing rooms today.

Clough specialised in miracles. Derby County and Nottingham Forest were both hoisted from the old Second Division, coaxed into the top-flight and roared to the title. He went further on the banks of the River Trent, lifting two European Cups. 

Clough at the City Ground in July 1976… few fans would have guessed the incredibly journey he would take them on

Cloughie barks out orders in his famous green jumper as his time at Forest draws to a close

A menace to the FA, a journalist’s goldmine and a master of man-management, ‘Cloughie’ could sniff-out an inflated ego and send a player crashing back to earth as naturally as he’d make him feel 10-foot-tall.

Throughout the second-half of the 20th century, Clough left a trail of stories from the hilarious to the unbelievable. Here, Sportsmail’s TOBY MILES picks out some of the greatest.


Born: 21 March, 1935

Clubs (striker): Middlesbrough, Sunderland 

Games: 274

Goals: 251 

Clubs (manager): Hartlepool, Derby, Brighton, Leeds, Nottingham Forest

Titles: 2x European Cup, 2x English Champion, 4x League Cup, Super Cup, Second Division 

Died: 20 September 2004 (aged 69)  

Psycho and ‘my Barbara’s’ iron       

It’s a mid-season Thursday, and Brian Clough has entered the Nottingham Forest dressing room lugging a heavy plastic bag. The entire squad is present for training including skipper Stuart ‘Psycho’ Pearce, who has just returned from England duty.

‘How’d you think you did for England in midweek,’ Clough says to Pearce, in a story told on TalkSport. ‘Alright’ was the defender’s verdict.

‘I didn’t think so,’ Clough tells Psycho. ‘I thought you were shocking.’

The attacks don’t stop: ‘Well, our captain, lads, is a fraud.’

Pearce is a trained electrician and ran the family business while playing non-league. In his early Forest days he would advertise his services in match-day programmes, and Clough has a copy handy.

‘If my Barbra rings that number, are you gonna answer it if a light bulb has gone in the house?’ Pearce explains it would be his brother on the line, and Clough again blasts his captain as a ‘fraud.’

‘And if you’re any good at that,’ Clough adds, hoisting an object out of the plastic bag, ‘my Barbara’s iron is broken. Fix it by Saturday or you’re not playing.’

Naturally, Barbara’s iron was fully operational and perched on Clough’s desk that Saturday morning. 

Sparring with Muhammad Ali     

‘If you even dream of beating me you’d better wake up and apologise,’ Muhammad Ali once said. ‘I wouldn’t say I was the best manager in the business. But I was in the top one,’ was Clough’s equivalent.

The peak of the pair’s razor-sharp wit overlapped, and just as Ali was chopping through the heavyweight division, Clough became an unmissable fixture on the box – regularly featuring to voice his forthright opinions.

Introduced by Brain Moore on The Big Match in 1973, Clough reacted to a clip of Ali launching one of his much-loved monologues, signing-off with: ‘Now Clough, I’ve had enough. Stop it.’

Clough and Muhammad Ali had several run-ins, brought together by their outspoken natures

The forthright boss became a household name as he appeared on TV to express his opinions

The Derby boss broke into laughter as the tirade ended, with Moore asking: ‘Well, are you going to stop it.’

‘No, I want to fight him,’ Clough, with a beaming smile, replied.

Clough even managed to contribute to Michael Parkinson’s tense 1974 interview with Ali, where the broadcaster challenged the boxer’s views on race.

‘When I threw it to the audience, Brian Clough put his hand up and said: ”Nice to see you again, Muhammad,” Parkinson explains.

‘”You lost your cool with Michael, Ali, and he would’ve won. But Michael, you lost your temper as well…”’

‘Make your own f***ing tea’  

‘Young man, I want a pot of tea and six cups brought to the boardroom, now,’ Clough orders down the telephone. A teenage Nottingham Forest apprentice, interrupted from cleaning the home dressing room, is on the end of the line.

Clough’s tight grip on his players was fostered by a mixture of fear, respect, unpredictability and admiration – but he didn’t always win the last word.

‘Sorry, I’m busy,’ the apprentice replies, and Clough hears a clunk as the phone is hung-up.

He calls right back: ‘Young man, I don’t think you understand. Stop what you’re doing, make a pot of tea and bring it up to the board room, with six cups. Now.’

Many players lived in fear of Clough, but even in his pomp the boss could get his comeuppance

‘Sorry, I don’t think you understand, I’m busy,’ the youngster replies, again cutting the line. This was a severe deviation from the script.

The phone rings again, it’s Clough: ‘Young man. Do you know who this is on the phone?’

Of course he does. ‘Do you know who I am,’ the fearless – or foolish – boy replies. Of course, Clough doesn’t.

‘Well make your own f***ing tea then,’ the apprentice says, slamming the phone on the double European Cup winner a final time.

Tying the knot… then his boot laces       

Clough’s wedding day was ‘the most important day of my life, apart from the day I was born.’ Naturally, such a day would involve football.

On April 4, 1959, Clough and Barbara Glasgow were married in Middlesbrough. That same Saturday, Leyton Orient were travelling up to the town’s old Ayresome Park stadium for a Second Division clash, and the hosts would need their centre-forward.

A mid-season wedding would now be unthinkable for a striker prolific as Clough, who racked 251 goals in 274 games for Middlesborough and Sunderland.

Clough married Barbara Glasgow in 1959 in their home-town before shooting off to a match

He was a gifted goalscorer and an incredible record, and even scored on his wedding day 

Gareth Bale tied the knot in June 2019, in Mallorca, in a 17th century fortress, amid a secret three-day spectacular costing around £1million. Clough couldn’t even spare an afternoon for his ceremony 60 years earlier.

After rushing the speeches, Clough had to leave his newly-wed wife and dash to make kick-off.

Orient were beaten 4-2, Clough scored and after the 90 minutes had ended, the skipper could resume his first day as ‘my Barbara’s’ husband. 

Stealing Gemmill over a fry-up

Archie Gemmill was all-but an Everton player when Derby manager Brian Clough began plotting a last-gasp heist in the summer of 1970.

The midfielder would later follow Old Big ‘Ead to Nottingham Forest and coach there in retirement, but without an unexpected night in Clough’s company his career would have played-out very differently.

Clough’s right-hand man, Peter Taylor, spotted Gemmill at Preston, and Derby placed a late bid. ‘I said I wasn’t interested because all I had to do was sign at Everton,’ Gemmill told Rams TV.

Archie Gemmill would become a key player Clough at Derby, later joining him at Forest 

Taylor was Clough’s right-hand-man and deserves more credit for Derby and Forest’s success

‘Alan Ball (Preston’s manager) said to go and see if (Clough) is like he is on television.’

The next day, Clough drove to Gemmill’s home. He didn’t leave until night had fallen.

‘He decided he was going to sleep in his car. But my wife invited him in and he stayed the night. She cooked him breakfast in the morning.’

Over Mrs Gemmill’s fry-up, Clough got serious: ‘Let’s get down to facts. What chance have you got playing for Everton?

‘If you sign here, you play for Derby on Saturday.’

‘That was it,’ Gemmill said. Clough and Taylor believed the midfielder was the ‘final jigsaw piece’ for a title. A season later, they were champions.

Clough said that the Derby boss and Peter Taylor were determined to bring him to the Rams 

‘Bites yer legs’ chomps Clough  

It’s July 1974, in Leeds United’s player’s lounge. Norman ‘Bites Yer Legs’ Hunter, Johnny Giles and Billy Bremner are among the men sat before Brian Clough.

Bremner has asked Clough to finally hold a meeting. It’s been four days since the new boss replaced one of his fiercest foes, Don Revie.

Clough described these men as ‘the dirtiest, most cynical team in the league’ among a mountain of digs at Revie’s 1973-74 champions. He wanted them to become ‘loved’, but Clough himself was never even liked at Elland Road.

Clough lasted 44 days at Leeds, and his first meeting with the squad set the tone for the spell

The former Derby boss had spent the last five years criticising Leeds’ style of play in the media  

‘Right you fucking lot,’ Clough opens-up with. ‘As far as I’m concerned you can take all the medals you’ve won and throw them in that bin over there, because you’ve never won anything fairly. You’ve done it all by cheating.’

He turns to Hunter, a bruising centre-back: ‘Hunter, you’re a dirty bastard and everyone hates you. I know everyone likes to be loved, and you’d like to be loved too, wouldn’t you?’

Looking up at Clough, eyes narrowed, Hunter growled: ‘I couldn’t give a f***.’

Clough never got going at Leeds, lasting 44 days and leaving the champions floundering in 19th – exiting with a huge dump of ‘f*** you money.’

League Cup lock-in     

‘The key to preparation, is relaxation.’ That was a Clough mantra, and he was always willing to take risks to follow it.

Manchester City have won the last three League Cups, but it’s hard to imagine Pep Guardiola locking Kevin de Bruyne and Co in a hotel bar and ordering them to guzzle champagne all night before the final – watching Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden help a plastered Sergio Aguero to his room.

Detecting anxiety in the camp, Cloud decided that was exactly how Nottingham Forest should ‘prepare’ for the 1979 League Cup final against Southampton.

Nottingham Forest triumphed over Southampton in the 1979 League Cup final at Wembley

Birtles bags one of his two goals, powering Clough’s men to victory despite their boozing 

‘He insisted we went down to the bar, then wouldn’t let us go to bed,’ Martin O’Neill, who started in midfield the next day, told the Nottingham Post.

‘By midnight Archie Gemmill was getting jumpy, asking the boss to go.

‘We finally left at 1.30am, Robbo (John Robertson) and I literally carrying Woody (Tony Woodcock) upstairs.’

A bleary-eyed morning led to a heavy-legged first-half, going in 1-0 down at Wembley. But once Forest had sweated-out last night’s drink, they steamed to a 3-2 victory – Birtles scoring double, Woodcock the winner.

‘He’d do things like that all the time,’ Birtles said of Clough.

Trent Bridge heroics  

A pale blue Mercedes rolls to a stop on Nottingham’s Trent Bridge one afternoon in September, 1980. A crowd has gathered, something is wrong.

A man is sitting on the deadly side of the bridge, drunk and threatening to jump over. The police have arrived but their attempts to coax him back to safety are failing.

The Mercedes’ door pops open and out climbs the recently-crowned double European Cup winning Forest manager, Brian Clough – who was driving home from the City Ground.

The Forest manager was in his European Cup winning pomp when he stopped on Trent Bridge

This is a story Clough has never told. Not a word in his two books, nor his endless newspaper columns. Many of his Forest players still aren’t aware of it. It’s typical of the Clough football barely knew.

Having briefly spoken to a policeman, Clough took control: ‘Young man, I’m not going anywhere and neither are you.’

Of course, the man knew who Clough was. They chatted and Clough listened, moving closer until he could touch him. They spoke about football. Eventually, the Forest boss triumphed.

A Citizen of the Month award was Clough’s prize for an act that exemplified his sheer care for everyone and anyone. 

‘You’re not playing tomorrow, son’ 

Brian Clough was immensely proud of his youngest son, Nigel. But, obviously, it wasn’t easy being Brian Clough’s son.

‘There was a (Forest) youth team game I was due to play in and on the Friday night I went round to my girlfriend’s house,’ Nigel, now 54-years-old and manager of Mansfield Town, said in an ITV documentary.

‘I got in about 11 o’clock and he said: ‘Right that’s it, you’re not playing tomorrow.”

Nigel Clough became a reliable goalscorer for Forest, rising through their youth ranks 

The youngster argued his case, but his father – and boss of the first-team he hoped to rise into – had no interest: ‘I don’t care, you’re not playing tomorrow.’

‘That was it,’ Nigel admitted. ‘The next morning I get a phone call from the youth team manager asking where I was. He said: ‘Well, he never told us.’

‘There was that sort of incident occasionally.’

Nigel rose into the first-team too late to bask in his father’s glory years at Forest, but proved beyond doubt that nepotism had no bearing on his game-time.

The forward broke the 100 goals mark for Forest in more than 300 appearances, going on to have a four-year spell in charge of his father’s former club, Derby County.

Nigel went on to have a four-year spell in charge of his father’s former team, Derby County 

‘You like Frank, you like flowers, do you like me son?’  

‘There’s a knock on the door. The gaffer is here,’ says Dean Saunders, 1991’s most wanted striker. The Welshman is in Forest coach Alan Hill’s house, ready for transfer talks with Clough.

‘Young man, it’s nice to see you,’ Clough says. Wearing his green sweatshirt, the manager walks across the room and sits ‘with his nose an inch from the wall.’

Clough never liked agents, and requests Saunders’ stays quiet. With his wish granted Clough slides onto his knees, crawls towards the striker and asks: ‘Do you like flowers son?’

Dean Saunders’ scoring form at Derby made him a top target for Clough in the summer of 1991 

Clough was a massive Frank Sinatra fan and would be known to belt out his songs constantly

‘At this point I worked out he might be drunk,’ Saunders admits, telling the story on TalkSport. ‘They’re alright,’ was his baffled reply.

‘Hang on, don’t move.’ Clough darts into the garden, yanking a handful of flowers from a pot as Hill screams: ‘No! That’s my best pot.’

‘Hilly, you’re ruining the deal son, the lad likes flowers.’ 

At Clough’s request, ‘Hilly’ plays Frank Sinatra’s My Kind Of Town. ‘Get your mic out son,’ the Forest boss says, motioning towards the flowers. 

Having belted every line into their floral microphones, Clough gets to business: ‘Right, now then. You like Frank, you like flowers, do you like me son?’

‘I had to say yes,’ Saunders admits, ‘but I told him I’ve got to speak with my wife before signing.

‘I get home, and he’s only sat in my lounge, with the pot, with his arm around my mother in law!’

‘I only ever hit Roy Keane the once’  

With seconds remaining in added-time, 19-year-old Nottingham Forest midfielder Roy Keane’s back-pass to Mark Crossley looks short.

It’s January 1991 and Forest are 2-1 up in their FA Cup third-round clash with Crystal Palace. But the back-pass was, indeed, short.

Crossley rushes out of his penalty area but can only clear to John Salako, who lobs the ball into the net from 45-yards.

‘When I walked into the dressing room after a game, Clough punched me straight in the face,’ Keane wrote in his autobiography.

Roy Keane states he’s ‘eternally grateful’ to Clough for giving him opportunities as a youngster

Keane was 19 when he was floored by Clough but has never held it against the Forest icon 

‘”Don’t pass the ball back to the goalkeeper,” he screamed as I lay on the floor, him standing over me.

‘I was hurt and shocked, too shocked to do anything but nod my head in agreement.’

Keane ‘never held that against’ Clough – a surprise since he never reconciled with his other great boss: Sir Alex Ferguson. The Irishman pays tribute to his Forest manager every chance he gets, and is ‘forever grateful’ for Clough kick-starting his glittering career.

‘I only ever hit Roy the once. He got up so I couldn’t have hit him very hard,’ Clough said.

Vinnie Jones, a ghetto blaster and psyching-out the Crazy Gang    

In 1986 Wimbledon – the ‘Crazy Gang’ – were on a mission. One which, in November, brought them to the City Ground.

John Fashanu, Dennis Wise and Dave Beasant all rolled off the coach, with skipper Vinnie Jones hauling a ghetto blaster on his shoulder.

‘You can see Cloughie is thinking “what the f*** is that,”’ Forest’s Mark Crossley told Undr The Cosh.

With Wimbledon’s tunes blasting, Clough calls his assistant: ‘Hilly, would you go and knock on their f***** door and ask them to turn that f****** music down?’

Vinnie Jones was the ferocious Wimbledon skipper central to their ‘Crazy Gang’ reputation

Former Forest keeper Mark Crossley remembers his old boss intimidating the Crazy Gang

Hill had no choice, facing the Crazy Gang. ‘Vinnie Jones opens the door and he’s stood there, growling at Alan,’ Crossley says.

‘Of course, what happens? They turn it even louder.’ Hill is sent back, Jones opens the door ‘with a smirk,’ and the cycle repeats.

With just 10 minutes to kick-off, Clough decides to take charge.

Jones opens the door a third time to face the double European Cup winner, who barges past him. Clough smashes the ghetto blaster into the floor, turns, and announces: ‘Now play your f****** music Wimbledon.’

They didn’t need their tunes at full-time, losing 3-2.

‘Even the Crazy Gang didn’t say ‘owt to him.’ 

Wimbledon’s memorable FA Cup triumph came two years after Clough smashed their speaker

Peter the gardener, OBE   

Spontaneous acts of generosity were a Clough staple, many of which will still be secrets.

He was known to buy meals and drinks for total strangers, pay for lunches with journalists and even welcomed a poverty-stricken 16-year-old boy into his family home for four years.

One day at Clough’s mansion on the outskirts of Derby, the master manager’s gardener, Peter, had just finished work.

The Forest boss stopped Peter on his way out, handing him a plastic bag with the words: ‘Take this present from me as a good friend and don’t open it until you get home.’

The manager (pictured with his son, Nigel) was incredibly generous to anyone around him  

Inside, Peter found Clough’s OBE in its presentation case.

‘To say I was stunned is an understatement,’ he said. ‘I spoke to him on the phone and informed him I would bring it back.

‘He said it was a present. We agreed a compromise. I would keep it for a week, then return it to its rightful home.’

For those seven days, Peter slept with the OBE under his pillow for fear of it being stolen.

And even The Special One’s a huge admirer     

Jose Mourinho’s fascination with Brian Clough has brought him to Nottingham. It’s 1996, the Euro’s are in England and the Barcelona coach has made a special trip to the City Ground.

As he takes in the Trent-side ground, Clough’s impact hits home: ‘I thought, ‘are you kidding – this club won the European Cup? Twice?”’

‘It was a nice stadium and a nice city, but it was a small place. The size of the stadium really took me aback,’ Mourinho continued, writing the foreword for a book on Clough.

Jose Mourinho said he and Clough ‘would get on’ if the legendary manager was alive today 

Clough died in 2004 but saw enough of Mourinho to see himself in the Portuguese boss 

Warring with the FA, sparring with rival managers and playing mind-games in the press – Mourinho is modern football’s best answer to Old Big ‘Ead.

But Clough, unlike the Special One, just wouldn’t fit into this new game. As a manager he was everything Mourinho is, just turned up a few notches.

Apart from anything else, his brutal man-management and outspoken nature would cause chaos. That is perhaps as much a reflection on what football has become as Clough.

Before his 2004 death, Cloughie witnessed Mourinho’s emergence: ‘That Portuguese bloke at Chelsea, Jose what’s his name… He reminds me of me at the same age.

‘But I were better looking.’

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