Sunday 17 November 2019

Book on Clough Brighton move details deeply bizarre episode

Brian Clough shouts instructions to his Brighton players during his short stint in charge in an FA Cup match against Walton and Hersham. Photo: Getty Images
Brian Clough shouts instructions to his Brighton players during his short stint in charge in an FA Cup match against Walton and Hersham. Photo: Getty Images

Jim White

Forty-five years ago this week, English football's strangest managerial appointment took place.

On November 1, 1973, it was announced that Brian Clough was taking charge of Brighton and Hove Albion. Never mind that Britain was about to be plunged into a three-day week, it was news that had the nation scratching its head.

Clough had won the title 18 months before and had proceeded to guide Derby to the semi-finals of the European Cup. And here he was, for his next act, taking on a club then lying sixth from bottom in the old Third Division.

If you want a modern parallel, imagine Pep Guardiola leaving Manchester City to manage Shrewsbury Town. This was a career move that can only be described as barking.

Nobody - including, it seemed, Clough himself - could quite understand what he was doing.

Fascinating

It is an episode examined in a fascinating new book, 'Bloody Southerners', by the Brighton-supporting author Spencer Vignes.

The details are hilarious, not least the fact that Clough walked into his introductory meeting with the players in a pub with the song 'If I Ruled The World' playing.

"My first impression was he was a complete head-case," goalkeeper Brian Powney tells Vignes. Nothing that happened next was to change his mind.

Clough was recruited by the then Brighton chairman Mike Bamber, a local entrepreneur Vignes describes as "incapable of passing a pie without putting his finger in it".

Money was involved. Clough and his partner, Peter Taylor, were to be paid £25,000 between them, far more than they had been earning in the First Division. And Clough had a point to prove: he had been fired that summer after falling out with Derby chairman Sam Longson.

But if Taylor was enthused by the idea of settling by the seaside, Clough, the unreconstructed Teessider, remained suspicious of everything southern.

His first decision was to make Norman Gall captain, insisting that as he was the squad's sole north-easterner, he was the only guy he could trust.

From the start, refusing to relocate his family and staying, Jose Mourinho-like, in a hotel, Clough spent as little time as possible on the coast, initially expending his energy trying to stir up dressing-room dissent at Derby in an attempt to get his job back.

He was routinely absent, not only sidestepping training, but on one occasion missing a match when he flew to New York at a newspaper's expense to watch Muhammad Ali fight Joe Frazier. The nadir was reached when, seven months after facing Juventus in the European Cup semi-final, he presided over a 4-0 defeat by non-League Walton and Hersham in the FA Cup.

Little progress seemed to have been made when he finished the season with the club in the same position as when he took over: sixth from bottom.

Yet, even amid the chaos, the tensions and the public berating of his players (after an 8-2 home defeat by Bristol Rovers, he told the press his team did not have sufficient heart "to fill a thimble"), Vignes suggests that there were hints of the genius to come.

Besides, bizarre as it might have been, his Brighton experience was light relief compared to what came next. Eight months after his appointment, he abandoned the coast for Leeds, and the most testing 44 days of his career. As David Peace discovered, there was another book in that. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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