Me Owd Duck on ‘Nobody Ever Says Thank You’

by , March 13, 2012

Brian Clough: Nobody Ever Says Thank You: The Biography by Jonathan Wilson

Clough biographies have tended to be personal recollections by journalists who knew or were used by the great man at the time like Duncan Hamilton or Tony Francis. Wilson is a reporter from Sunderland who now writes for the Guardian and this claims to be the first full biography of Clough from birth to death. It is a monumental and scholarly work, some 550 pages long, and Forest fans have to read through 350 pages before Nottingham is mentioned other than when Clough scored a hat trick at the City Ground as a player.

It is an impressive work that attempts to consider the contradictions in Clough’s nature – how a man who was always kind to pensioners and children could punch a young Roy Keane in the face for playing the ball back to the goalkeeper, for example. In the introduction Wilson considers the premise that Clough as a North Easterner was far more likely to have had success managing a club like Sunderland and was successful as manager of their youth team bringing through players like Colin Todd, but was sacked unfairly when George Hardwick, the Sunderland manager who appointed him was sacked.

Wilson’s bibliography is long and he states that he interviewed 200 people for the book. Other than one section in the late 80s and early ninerties when he uses Hodge’s biography an awful lot, you do get a grasp of the breadth of literature that has grown up around the man and Wilson’s research is impressive.

The account of Clough’s childhood and his close relationship with his mother is well constructed and Wilson goes on to put forward the idea that as Clough’s mother died during Derby’s European Cup run, the European Cup for Clough became a personal quest on his mother’s behalf. It is the end of the Madrid final, surely Clough’s greatest triumph, that Wilson sees as the beginning of the end for Clough. It was from that point on that the resources Clough had at a club with far smaller gates than the big four teams ‘looked increasingly threadbare’. This was made much worse by Clough putting the club in debt with the building of the Executive Stand and the change of the rules in 1983 which meant clubs were no longer entitled to a third of all away gate receipts.

Wilson is quite hard on Clough at times, calling him ‘a monster’ and saying that even now some people are reticent to talk about him. He mentions several people who denied Cloughie’s drink problems and likens them to ‘those from the former Soviet Union who became so used to suppressing anything that might have been construed as a challenge to the regime.’ He makes it quite clear that at Forest Clough had absolute power. He also considers the ‘bungs’ scandal and points out that whilst nothing was ever proven against Clough, his right-hand man Ron Fenton was banned from working for any English football club as a result of allegations of £45,000 being brought to Hull in a Nowegian trawler to make sure of Alf-Inge Haaland’s transfer.

Wilson is most impressive when describing events that he has had first hand access to. His analysis of the famous Clough/Revie interview by Austin Mitchell is superb, as is his work on an appearance on Saint and Greaves’ TV show in which Clough refers to Alan Sugar as a ‘Spiv’ and is clearly drunk. He also explains the origin of the famous green tracksuit top. Clough was giving Peter Shilton a rollicking and noticed the green number one goalkeeper’s jersey Shilton was wearing. Suddenly Clough looked up and said: ‘There’s only one number one around here and it’s not you.’ From then on he would frequently be seen in a green sweatshirt.

Wilson described a fan with a banner from the 1978 League Cup final which said ‘Nottingham Forest are Magic’ as ‘an oddly banal slogan referencing the single produced by Forest and Paper Lace.’ I think this is missing the point about the innocence and enthusiasm of the Nottingham public at the time. My favourite Trent End Chant mentioned in the book is ‘We all agree, muppets are better than scousers.’

Whilst covering the familiar side of the story I think Wilson charts the break up of the Clough-Taylor friendship and its effects on Clough later in his life very well indeed. What is missing here is the voice of the fans. The same single Forest fan is quoted twice later on. No Hartlepool, Derby, Brighton or Leeds fans are mentioned at all. There is also, for someone that experienced it, something of an absence of appreciation for what Clough achieved in building his second great side in the late ’80s who won ‘novelty’ cups and not the great European cups of almost ten years before. Stuart Pearce, for example, seems hardly present in the narrative at all.

For a football book, this is a very detailed book and working your way through it will take a long time, but is still worthy of a place on your bookshelf.

I’ll see thee.