One life, one game, one team, one invincibles

One life, one game, one team, one Invincibles (So far)

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Old Big Head. And Brian Clough too.

Growing up as a kid in the 1970’s, football was sparse and for an Arsenal fan, the period from 1974 to 77 was pretty hard going. Bertie Mee broke up the double winning team and struggled to emulate his earlier success, especially without Don Howe’s assistance. My main memories were of Brian Kidd and Jimmy Rimmer helping us fight relegation, finishing 16th and 17th in 75 and 76. The bright spots were the emergence of some younger players in Stapleton, Brady and O’Leary and the purchase of my first real hero; Malcolm Macdonald for a fee of £333,333.34p. The future looked bright and 4 cup finals in 3 seasons ushered in a bright new decade. At least that’s what we thought.

 I made it £333,333.33p

There were not many live games during those years; the domestic cup finals and European Cup games were about it, so The Big Match and MOTD were how you watched other sides except when they played the Arsenal. I remember particular teams from that era nowadays. Liverpool of course were the main draw, a midfield of Kennedy, Souness & McDermott feeding Keegan/Dalglish. I enjoyed the Villa side from the end of the decade as they played attacking football and always admired Gary Shaw and his perfect wedge haircut (it’s a soulboy/casual thing). But one character loomed large throughout the decade and that was Brian Clough.

Cloughie had been a prolific goal scorer in his youth, for his hometown club Middlesborough, then their rivals Sunderland, scoring 251 goals in just 274 games. His career was ended by an ACL injury and he decided to give management a go. In 72 he took Derby to their first ever title (Arsenal holding Liverpool to a draw in the last game of the season to deny them the title!) and the following year to the European Cup semis where they lost to Juventus. In 1975 he then spectacularly failed in just 44 days as manager of dirty Leeds, a club he had done nothing but bad mouth for the preceding years. Imagine Mourinho taking over at AFC and that is the modern day equivalent.

He then joined Forest and within 2 seasons got them promoted to the first division, only just though as they finished 3rd. No one could have foreseen what happened next. In their first season back in Division One, Forest won the title and the League Cup. They remain the last team to manage to win the league at the first attempt after promotion. Better was to follow, in the next 2 seasons they won and then retained the European Cup and Clough’s legend was firmly established. His Forest team set an unbeaten league record of 42 games across the 78 & 79 seasons, which stood until a certain team surpassed it, adding another 7 games to the record in 2004! They won the League Cup a few times in the following years, but Clough’s time in charge came to an inglorious end when they were relegated in 1993. 

Clough was undoubtedly a football genius. He was uber opinionated and Mourinho is the closest I have ever seen to him in terms of mouthing off, but Clough did it with humour and tongue in cheek as opposed to graceless bullying and talking bollocks. He has statues at Middlesbrough, Derby and in Nottingham. He should have been England manager, but the FA were scared of him and opted for Ron Greenwood instead.
But with genius, more often than not comes other flaws. Apart from his supreme confidence in his own ability and talk of ‘bungs’, Clough’s biggest battle was with alcoholism. His time in charge at Forest blighted not only by their relegation, but by the increasingly strange behaviour he exhibited. My abiding memory of him nowadays is that bloody green sweatshirt he always wore, a puce complexion that would put Fergie to shame and him going on to the pitch to slap a fan around the head following a pitch invasion.
Before and after

His reputation was tarnished in the end and it was only after his death in 2004 that his former clubs and fans were galvanised in to action, recognising what he had achieved to a greater extent than they had when he was alive. Having won so much for these clubs you have to wonder why it was so, and hence my reason for writing this seemingly strange piece eulogising Brian Clough for an Arsenal blog.

My Cup's bigger than your Cup

The reason is my biggest fear for Arsene Wenger is that the tide of support continues to turn against him and the bile that we see thrown at him from some of our fans gets even more vitriolic and spiteful with each disappointing result. I am on record as saying that he is on the verge of exhausting my patience and belief that he can still lead us to glory. Unlike others though, that does not blind me to the amazing job he has done for this club, but that praise is for another day. 

For now I just want him to end his time at Arsenal, be that this May or in a few more seasons, rightly lauded for what he achieved and for leaving the club in much better shape than when he arrived and ready to take the next step up the global football ladder. I do not want his reputation and legacy tarnished. I do not want to see Clough’s sweatshirt transposed to Arsene and that ridiculous coat with the sabotaged zip. I want to see a statue erected to him outside the Emirates, a ground that would never have been built without him and for the fans to greet it as they have those of Chapman, Adams, Henry & Bergkamp. 

Which way will it go?

There are currently 2 ways his time at the club can play out. I hope and pray that it will end well, but I really fear the worst. Please Arsene, win the FA Cup in May and then think about walking away with your head held high, because I’m no longer confident that you can adapt your outlook and techniques in the way now required to push us on. If we don’t reach/win the FA Cup final, Twitter will melt! If you get a new contract and we have 2 more seasons of glorious failure I dread to think what shape our fan base will be in. It is just too painful to see you being turned upon in the way currently happening, the impact it must be having on your health and you’re not getting any younger. The terrible fear I have is that if things don’t get better then they’re going to get a hell of a lot worse. Regardless of what camp you’re currently in, Arsene Wenger does not deserve that to happen.

Mark King


  1. Great article by Mark but I believe Clough ultimately floundered due to alcoholism and the break up of his partnership with Peter Taylor. Personally I want Wenger to finish building the current team and lead them to real some success.

  2. yes a great article - partially agree with BD - who I think hits the nail on the head. Clough and Taylor were a great double act and I think AW could do with a trusted lieutenant who can offer support and a critical eye. It's lonely up there and Arsene could learn from foul Fergie who renewed his coaching team on a regular basis.