Last week Nottingham Forest celebrated the 40th anniversary of their second European Cup win in Madrid. The odds may have been stacked heavily against them, but Brian Clough and Peter Taylor found a way to win and made history in the process.
Twelve months earlier the narrative was somewhat different, despite it being their first ever final the Reds were favourites to beat Malmo and had Britain’s most expensive footballer at their disposal. It was very much a case of turn up in Munich and do what you’ve been doing in order to take the trophy.
The thought of facing Hamburger SV in 1980 was a completely different concept, they were an excellent side who’d thrashed Real Madrid 5-1 in the semi-final and had the great Kevin Keegan within their ranks. However, Forest’s very own superstar Trevor Francis was in electric form as the competition neared the final stages. A brace and stunning performance to boot versus Berlin in the quarters was soon followed up with a vital goal against Ajax in the semi.
As we are all aware, Francis damaged his Achilles tendon and was ruled out of the final in Madrid. Secretly, Clough and Taylor must have realised the chances of Forest making another final after this would be extremely slim so the pressure to retain the trophy increased.
The ability of the Forest management duo to adapt to the setback was commendable, immediately they set about utilising what they had in their armoury as opposed to dwelling upon what they’d lost. They took solace from the fact they had one of the best goalkeepers in the world, and in front of him a defence meaner than Ebenezer Scrooge. Peter Taylor rightly predicted that a solitary goal would suffice, and in John Robertson they had a man capable of doing just that.
Let us now jump in the metaphorical DeLorean and arrive in the year 2020, the trophy is exactly the same but its name has been changed by deed poll, like a person on the witness relocation program, desperately trying to erase the memories of the past.
An almost impenetrable circle of super clubs guards the famous old cup with squads larger than Derby County’s average attendance. The million-pound man has almost become the two hundred-million-pound man whilst flagrant rule breaking is yet to be punishable by anything more than a slapped wrist. We wait with bated breath for the outcome of Manchester City’s ban from UEFA, however, don’t be surprised to see cheque books waved and charges dropped.
For the likes of PSG and Man City the loss of a star forward prior to the Champions League final is different to the predicament faced by Clough and Taylor. If Neymar’s out you’ve still got Mbappe, Icardi and Di Maria. If Aguero’s out you’ve got Jesus, Sterling and Mahrez. You get the idea; admittedly, those in waiting might not be as good, but for the most part they allow you to enforce the same system.
Flux capacitor engaged, Madrid 1980 coordinates punched in and back we go again. Early into the game and Forest’s irrepressible management duo change the shape of the side as Hamburg come forward in their droves, 4-5-1 it is!
The little fat guy cuts inside, plays a one-two with Birtles and the only goal required has been scored. Brilliant from Robertson but take time to appreciate the assist by Gary Birtles, whilst grounded he somehow manages to flick out his left boot and tee up the Scotsman. For me, it’s these seemingly minor details that so often go unnoticed; as for the lone front man, Birtles ran himself into the ground for worthy cause that night, another facet of the management’s game plan that worked wonderfully.
The targeting and roughing up of Kevin Keegan was a necessary evil in my book, Kenny Burns would have been sent off after about ten minutes if it were 2020. That said, you’d see red for shoulder barging someone in fluorescent boots, wearing an Alice band nowadays!
Nottingham Forest football club were victorious against all the odds, toppling a better team and lifting the big eared trophy for perhaps the very last time. To an extent they sacrificed their game and won ugly which certainly constitutes a plan B in my book. Get a solitary goal, pack the midfield, defend like lions, and rely on the youngster up top to run his heart out. Sounds simple doesn’t it?
If I were to ask you who the better manager was, would you choose Pep Guardiola or Zinedine Zidane? My guess is the majority will say Pep, but this may well be diluted if we again crank up the DeLorean and arrive in 2050. Imagine the debate if Pep, who’ll have no doubt retired by then, never wins back-to-back Champions Leagues or even just the one with Man City. You’d be hard pressed to argue against Zidane at that point, after all, he’s won three on the bounce; top managers are usually judged on trophies, Mauricio Pochettino springs to mind. Guardiola is a genius and in no way am I belittling him, a man who’s won domestic trophies wherever he’s been, playing beautiful football in the process. However, like Clough and Taylor, is he capable of changing his philosophy to win consecutive European cups if it means winning ugly? I’m not so sure.
I have a beautiful framed photo in my office, it was taken just after Nottingham Forest scored their third goal in the 1898 FA Cup Final. It was given to me by Ron Clarke, a lovely guy who wrote a book about the early years of the club. I sat and stared at it just now, wondering how Forest played that day and if they’d passed Derby off the park. Nobody knows how they played, but everybody remembers the important bit, just like 1980, they found a way to win it!
*Article provided by Steve Corry (Nottingham Forest Correspondent).
Main image @laligalowdown John Robertson scores the winning goal v Hamburg in 1980.