Nottingham Forest rocked the football world when they won the league title followed by back-to-back European Cup victories under the guidance of Brian Clough and Peter Taylor. Forest enjoyed the most successful spell in their history under the management duo but their remarkable relationship was more of a fine romance than an affair to remember.
The two men, who combined to become one of the most successful managerial partnerships in the history of English football, were about as similar as chalk and cheese; Clough was a stylish and outspoken man who often craved the media’s attention, he coached in a simple way favouring hard talking and hands-on management rather complicated set-piece routines. Taylor, however, was a shy, optimistic and very much a right-hand-man who disliked any form of press attention.
The pair first met in the summer of 1955 during a trial match for Middlesbrough, who were in the second division at the time. Taylor, who was 27 and was born in Nottingham was seven years the senior of Clough and had previously played for Coventry so was very much looking to make a name for himself while Clough, who was a North East man with no experience at a professional club, was there to try and kick-start a career in the game.
During the match, Taylor, who was already assured of a first team place had noticed Clough’s ability, mostly due to the fact that he had a front row seat when it came to the tricky striker’s ability. Middlesbrough manager Bob Dennison would not have signed Clough if Taylor had not intervened and suggested that the young striker should be snapped up, which he duly was. From that moment on the two would remain great friends.
Although they would eventually be united as the formidable management team we know them as today, their playing careers would take rather different paths. Clough scored 251 goals in 274 matches for Middlesbrough and Sunderland between 1955 and 1964, winning just two England caps along the way, while Taylor remained the number one choice goalkeeper for Boro.
But Sunderland’s Boxing Day fixture against Bury on 26 December, 1962 would be a huge moment in Clough’s life both on and off the field. On a pudding of a pitch Len Ashurst's ball sent Clough clear to beat the offside trap but the onrushing Chris Harker in the Bury goal dived for the ball and his shoulder connected fully with Clough’s right knee.
Unable to stand, despite his best efforts, Clough had torn both his medial and cruciate ligaments in his right knee and the whole of his leg would be in plaster for the next three months. Eighteen months in brutal rehabilitation would follow but without his pace, Clough was never the same player again.
By this time Taylor was now manager of Burton Albion but a new boss was about to be unleashed on the lower divisions when his old mate Brian Clough was offered the chance to take over at Hartlepool United having struggled to make a living in the game following his retirement.
Clough was the youngest manager in Britain at the time and jumped at the chance to take a coaching role, such was his enthusiasm he even applied for an HGV licence so he could drive the team bus, but if he was going to succeed in the cut-throat world of the old Fourth Division he knew he couldn’t do it alone telling his old pal: “I’ve been offered the manager’s job of Hartlepool and I don’t fancy it, but if you’ll come, I’ll consider it.”
The duo performed admirably in tough financial circumstances and weren’t helped by Chairman Ernest Ord’s constant interference, but the newest managerial partnership in the game stuck to their guns, making some inspired signings, notably a certain John McGovern, and took Hartlepool up to Division Three in 1967.
It wasn’t long before the job offers came flooding in and the prospect of leading Derby County to the First Division was too much of temptation for both men. County had been languishing in the second tier for a decade and their long-standing chairman Sam Longson saw Clough and Taylor as the men to bring the big time to the Baseball Ground.
Derby County’s only major trophy when the two took over was the FA Cup in 1946 and they were hardly an instant success, with the club finishing one place lower than in the previous campaign in their first season in charge. However, they had laid the foundations for a period of success that nobody could have ever foreseen for these perennial under performers.
By signing the likes of Roy McFarland, John O’Hare, Alan Hinton and that man again John McGovern, The Rams now had a spine to their team and were soon promoted back to Division One thanks to a run of 22 games without defeat which saw them climb some 17 places up the table.
Incredibly the end of the 1972/73 season had seen Derby top the league table by one point after playing their final match. As the team headed off on an end of season holiday with their fate in the hands of those elsewhere, Leeds lost to Wolves and Liverpool drew at Arsenal meaning Derby had done the unthinkable and were league champions for the first time in their 88-year history.
However, what should have been a period of domination was overshadowed by predictable boardroom strife. A fall-out with chairman Longson over who was in charge of signings and picking fights with the games greats such as Sir Matt Busby, Alan Hardaker, Sir Alf Ramsey and questioning the integrity of the nation of Italy after Derby were knocked out of the European Cup by Juventus meant the writing was on the wall for the pair.
Chairman Longson was furious when he found out that the pair had made a £400,000 offer for both Trevor Brooking and Bobby Moore in September 1973, not to mention a public display of disrespect for Revie and Busby by Clough, so on 15 October 1973 the duo and their whole backroom staff resigned.
Clough and Taylor were soon snapped up by Third Division Brighton & Hove Albion in what was seen as more of a publicity stunt than anything. Clough’s heart simply wasn’t in it and Brighton finished 19th, winning just twelve of thirty-two games in 1973/1974. Clough clearly had his sights set a little higher and his next move would give him the perfect opportunity.
When Leeds United manager Don Revie became England manager at the end of the 1973/1974 season, Clough applied and took over at Elland Road in July of 1974, something of a surprise given Clough’s public hatred for the philosophy of both club and manager at the time. Clough saw it as a way to affirm his legacy while implementing his own philosophy of playing football, though many thought it was more about outdoing what Revie had achieved with the same players while performing in a more “admirable” style.
However, with his family settled on the south coast and not keen to embark on another managerial journey, Peter Taylor decided to stay on at Brighton, leaving Clough to go his own way, the right decision in hindsight seeing that the venture lasted just 44 days as Clough failed to win over the dressing room and struggled without the services of his most loyal Lieutenants.
Having not spoken for six months Clough was prepared to swallow his pride and once again teamed up with Taylor in what was to be a key move for both men as they once again returned to the east midlands and took over a Nottingham Forest side who were sitting in 13th place of the old Division Two table.
Together, Clough and Taylor transformed Forest’s fortunes almost instantly: the first success at the club came in 1977 when they won promotion to Division One. And incredibly in their first season after promotion Forest were crowned champions of Division One, finishing seven points clear of nearest challengers Liverpool, who they also beat to win the League Cup that same season.
Forest narrowly failed to retain their Championship the following year, finishing runners-up to Liverpool but would incredibly be crowned European Champions for the first time in their history, beating Malmo in the final. They would also retain the League Cup they had won 12 months before when they defeated Southampton 3-2 at Wembley.
A year later and the pair guided Forest to a second successive European Cup success, this time beating Kevin Keegan’s Hamburg SV 1–0, with John Robertson scoring the winner. They also narrowly failed to make it three League Cup wins in succession when they lost to Wolves at Wembley.
Sadly, Taylor’s and Clough’s relationship broke down at the end of the 1981/1982 season with Taylor’s unauthorised autobiography, “With Clough,” which focused mainly on Clough rather than himself. Taylor then announced his retirement from the game at the age of 54. Clough still didn’t hold back, even when Taylor returned to manage Derby County once again, claiming: “We pass each other on the A52 going to work on most days of the week, but if his car broke down and I saw him thumbing a lift, I wouldn’t pick him up. I’d run him over.”
Peter Taylor died while on holiday in Majorca on 4 October, 1990 at the age of 62 and the two had still not made-up, but the loss affected Clough deeply. On hearing of Taylor’s death he was unable to speak, wept heavily and could not even bring himself to sit near the front at the funeral.
It was to be a sad end to a twenty-seven year partnership that saw Taylor help launch Clough’s football career and Clough benefit hugely from Taylor’s managerial and scouting ability that in return would make him one of the game’s greatest managers of all time.
Speaking at a ceremony to mark being awarded the freedom of Nottingham in 1993 Clough chose these words to close proceedings: “My only regret is my mate is not with me.”