The Socialist Unity Network

So goodbye, Cloughie.

Andy Newman

What are we to make of the often repeated claim by Brian Clough that he was a socialist? Just earlier this year commenting on a community day for pensioners run by Derby council he said: "It's a wonderful concept and fits in right with my socialist ideals, and there aren't many good socialists left these days!"

Brian Clough was a product of his times, but he was also a genius.

He had a remarkable career as a player, first with Middlesborough and then with Sunderland. He was the fastest player to reach 200 league goals; it took him only 219 games.  His career total was a remarkable 267 goals in only 269 games!  But injury finished his career when he was just 27. He was then sacked as Sunderland's youth coach, washed up, but married with a young family to support.

And then it was a different world. Clough was a player in the early 1960s, when football was not the glamorous sport of today. This was before Bobby Moore and his West Ham colleagues were reported in the gossip columns as well as the back page. This was before England won the world cup, and before George Best, with his long hair and longer legged girls became the icon of the age.

Only in 1961 had players broken through the maximum wage of 20 a week through their union, the PFA, led by Jimmy Hill. And throughout the sixties many players were badly paid. Apparently, the legendary Nobby Stiles, World Cup winner, never earned more than the abolished maximum wage and when he retired Matt Busby did not organise a testimonial to fund his retirement.

This was the world that shaped Clough, the former engineering fitter. This was football when provincial clubs were not just businesses, but vanity projects run by autocratic local businessmen for their personal prestige. In the stifling social conformity of small towns, so brilliantly shown in the 1960 film "Saturday Night, Sunday Morning", a confident and outspoken working class man like Brian Clough would learn that there is them and us, and he was us.

The dictatorial little chairman of Hartlepool United, Ernest Ord, gave Clough his chance. Just 29 years old he became the youngest manager in the country. . As his former coaching partner Peter said "The job saved his life. He was a no-hoper, jobless, boozing heavily and on his way out."

"People said you could drop off the end of the world if you went there," Clough said of his time at Hartlepool. "Sometimes I wished I had." Taking Hartlepool from a threatened demotion from out of the Football league to a respectable eighth in Division Four in just two years he joined Derby County, then in the second division. Just three years later they won the first division title. A legend was born

Not many managers in the history of English football have taken a small club from Second Division obscurity to the First Division title but Brian Clough managed it twice. He did the same again with Nottingham Forest. Very few managers in English football have won the European Cup but, again, Brian Clough did it twice, in successive years with Forest. There is no doubt that this is a record of talent and personal achievement unrivalled in English sport. But Clough was never easy with success. Despite being the most successful football manager of his generation he was always an outsider. Never embraced or honoured by the football establishment. By all accounts he was a hard drinking, personally vindictive man with a grudge.

This is what led to the most well known thing about Brian Clough, his almost indecent thirst to be England manager. To be acknowledged. Not only outspokenness, but also what Graham Taylor has described as "brown envelope syndrome" prevented this. But other, later England managers have been equally compromised by financial scandal. There is no doubt that it was Clough's hatred of the establishment, its cronyism and fawning to money and privilege that prevented his talent being recognized.

He cared not at all for reputation or money value. There is an excellent story of how in 1979 Clough signed Trevor Francis from Birmingham City, as the game's first 1 million footballer and promptly put his new signing in the reserves. It got `worse` as the manager, instructing his new player ahead of his first team debut, told him, "Don't worry too much about what to do, just give the ball to John Robertson and he'll do the rest." When Trevor pointed out the blatantly obvious, ` but you've just paid a million pounds for me` Brian replied, "Yes, but he's a better player than you".

But his mercurial outspokenness also damaged the left. Having been one of the first (and biggest) celebrity sponsors of the Anti Nazi League, he was also one of the first to publicly distance himself from the ANL in 1979, in the wake of violence with the NF. Other celebrities, notably boxer Henry Cooper stayed the distance with the ANL.

Clough was also a man of his generation, with the prejudices of an earlier age. He bought Justin Fashanu for one million pounds in 1980, after Fashanu scored BBC TV's Match of the Day's goal of the season for Norwich. At the time Justin Fashanu was in a heterosexual relationship but he was soon drawn to Nottingham's gay scene. When Brian Clough learned about this he suspended him. However, Justin still turned up for training, whereupon Brian Clough had the police escort him from the premises. Homophobia would dog Fashanu throughout his life until his tragic suicide, found hanged in a lock-up garage in Shoreditch in 1998.

So would Clough have been a good England manager? Probably not. Clough as manager was a dictator who governed every aspect of life in his clubs. In that respect he was very similar to legendary Leeds manager Don Revie, who managed England between 1974 and 1978. Only having access to the players for short periods of time Revie was unable to create the family atmosphere and dedication of his Leeds squad. Clough would undoubtedly have fared worse, lacking the diplomatic skills to deal with the conflicting interests of other club managers releasing players for international duty.

So returning to the first question. Was Clough really a socialist? He had a hard life, of early disappointment as a player, and frustration that his genius never gained recognition. Clough lived his whole life in a closed sporting world where money and power hold sway. He never accepted that wealth means you are right. In that sense of instinctive class consciousness he probably was a socialist. He wanted a fairer world.

Finally, Clough would probably have liked the cartoon on the front of the Daily Telegraph - it showed a gravestone, and the words: "The greatest manager of all time, even if I do say so myself."



September 2004


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