As the Champions League Final looms, two super clubs steeped in history play for the greatest honour in domestic football. Therefore, it feels fitting to look at the most humble of champions: Nottingham Forest.
It has become almost too easy to pick the final four teams in the Champions League. Recent years have provided predictable scenarios based around a handful of teams. In 1979, however, the recently promoted, League and Cup-winning Nottingham Forest, stunned the footballing world. A victory against Malmo in the final cemented their immortality.
Forest’s route to the final was by no means easy; facing the likes of holders Liverpool and AEK Athens. Along with German champions Cologne in the semis. Before finally beating Malmo 1-0 thanks to Trevor Francis’ goal.
But how? How did a little provincial club languishing in the second division of English football two years previous, manage to go on to be the Champions of Europe?
Because of Brian Clough, Peter Taylor and 15 players whose work ethic and desire was only exceeded by their humility.
Clough, the greatest manager to have never managed England, possessed a charismatic arrogance. This same arrogance and sureness that led to a disastrous 44 days in charge of Leeds, propelled Forest to European Glory.
Peter Taylor’s tactical nous was just as important. The man behind Clough and possibly the reason for his arrogance. Taylor had an incredible eye for talented players. Peter Shilton, John Robertson, Archie Gemmil and Trevor Francis would all appear on his radar, before being instrumental in Forest’s success.
Most of all, though, the players respected Clough. He came with a notorious and well publicised background. Leading a second division Derby to being first division champions in 1972. He possessed a charm and simplicity that made players want to play for him, and play well for him.
“There was no doubt who was in charge from the moment he swept into the lounge bar. Brash, big-headed, just as he had appeared to me on television, Brian had everyone running around after him”
This simplicity and almost charming honesty, brought the best out of the talented players Clough had at his disposal. Peter Shilton is, to this day, the greatest keeper England has ever seen. Kenneth Burns was the impassible centre-back that gave everyone around him confidence. John Robertson had an unprecedented skilfulness on the ball, complimented with an ability to use both feet. Likewise Archie Gemmil was a dogged and tenacious midfielder who rejoiced in a crunching tackle.
The players had a camaraderie and understanding that oozes from their play and an elegance and simplicity that was ahead of their time.
A team that consisted of several players plucked from the footballing abyss managed to beat European giants on their road to success. Garry Birtles, for example, was a carpenter before signing for Non League Long Eaton for just £2,500. Likewise Larry Lloyd was playing in the Coventry Reserves before moving to Forest.
On the other hand, stars like Trevor Francis and Peter Shilton were humbled in a Forest shirt, treated no differently to the ‘nobodies’ beside them. They fit like cogs in a machine, forming a bond and a style under Clough and Taylor that reduced European teams to rubble.
Their success is a true and raw fairy tale which is often forgotten in recent times.
Oh, and they happened to retain the cup the following year.