Brian Clough is remembered as one of the greatest managers England has ever produced. Two First Division titles is an astonishing achievement. Back to back European Cup’s is simply outrageous.
He added a further four League Cups to his haul, and even regarded the Anglo-Scottish Cup as being transformative. He was regarded as the most talented manager in the world in his time, and is revered to this day.
But one thing that evaded the magisterial Brian Clough was the England job. When long time rival Don Revie left the post in 1977 amid accusations of financial conduct and bribery, the stage was set for Clough.
Revie vs Clough
Brian Clough had replaced Don Revie as Leeds United boss 4 years earlier. When Revie took over from England’s World Cup winning manager Sir Alf Ramsey, Clough was drafted in to replace him.
It did not go well for Clough. His arrogant nature and distrust of Leeds United shone through, and the players felt it. He derided the achievements of the Leeds Players, reportedly telling them to throw their multiple championship medals in the rubbish.
“As far as I’m concerned you can throw all those medals you’ve won in the bin, because you won them all by cheating”Brian Clough – To the Leeds players on his first day as Leeds manager
He rubbed the Leeds players the wrong way from the word go. Clough claimed that “Leeds had been the dirtiest and most cynical team in the country in the late Sixties and early Seventies” and wanted to make them play the beautiful football he was famous for.
Clough wasn’t Revie’s choice for the job, either. Don Revie recommended Johnny Giles, a Leeds midfielder, to be the next Leeds manager. The board instead went for Clough, who had taken Derby from the Second Division and won the First Division title.
Clough was outspoken and crass, especially towards the higher ups in the club. He had a long distrust of football directors, ever since Hartlepool chairman Ernie Ord sacked he and Peter Taylor in 1966. Clough did not respect any board members since, and would bad mouth them at any occasion.
The pair came to a head on an interview on ITV in 1974. After his sacking from Leeds after 44 days, Clough and Revie spoke on national television about Clough’s time at the Yorkshire club. The conversation was heated but respectful, but nothing was held back between the two.
Don Revie left his post as England manager in 1977, amid allegations of financial misconduct. He spent only three years at the Three Lions helm before these allegations arose.
Clough, as noted in Duncan Hamilton’s book, suspected Revie of bribery, as far back as his spell at Hartlepool and Derby. Clough claims he saw Revie and a referee in the Leeds bosses office, with the referee asking “Was that alright, Mr Revie?”
Don Revie immediately fled to the middle east, where he signed a deal to manage the United Arab Emirites. He claimed he was in scouting mission in Italy and missed England’s 0-0 draw with Brazil to travel to Dubai for negotiations.
He left England 3 points adrift of Italy in their qualification group, and ultimately caused England to miss out on the 1978 World Cup.
Brian Clough for England?
Brian Clough was one of the considered to take over from Revie in 1977.
Five men were up for consideration for the England manager’s job. Clough was joined by Ron Greenwood, Lawrie McMenemy, Jack Charlton and Dave Sexton. Of the five men, only Clough could boast a Division One title to resume.
Brian Clough was managing Nottingham Forest, and was top of the league when Revie shockingly resigned. He and Taylor were the fans pick for the job. Fans voted him the top choice in newspaper polls, but that meant little to the Football Association.
Clough was confident he would win the role. He was by far the most qualified choice, and he himself admitted he left the interview thinking the job was his.
“The Jobs mine” Clough said, “I didn’t so much walk out of the room as float. I was absolutely brilliant, I told them what I’d do and how I’d do it.” Clough was on his best behaviour that day.
“I was utterly charming” Clough added, “I walked in, introduced myself to them individually and I saw (Sir Harold) Thompson look so startled!”. Sir Harold Thompson was the chairman of the FA, and one of Clough’s biggest detractors. “I thought his glasses were going to slide off the end of his nose!”
“At the end I thanked them all very much and said ‘Hey, you’re not a bad bunch!” Hey added, walking confidently out of the room.
Why did Brian Clough not get the England job?
“The FA wanted Ron Greenwood” Clough admitted years later. “Good guy, safe and boring. They wanted the whole thing kept cosy”. Ron Greenwood was the West Ham General Manager, and hadn’t been a head coach in years.
The football world was baffled by Clough’s snub. The Nottingham Forest vice-Chairman Richard Dryden was pleased at Clough staying with Forest, but had some comments on the FA’s selection.
“I am delighted for Nottingham Forest but I can’t understand the FA making a mistake of such gigantic proportions in not choosing Brian Clough,” Dryden said. Clough had the best CV of all the options, and, by his own admission, had the best interview. However, fellow candidate Jack Charlton did speculate that his rivalry with Don Revie counted against him
Sir Harold Thompson was one of the key reasons why Clough wasn’t appointed as England manager. Manchester City Chairman Peter Swales confirmed that Clough never had a chance at the job. Swales was part of the selection committee along with the likes of Thompson and former Manchester United boss Sir Matt Busby.
“Sir Harold Thompson didn’t want to grant (Clough) an interview in the first place” Swales said. “And promised to sort him out once we got into the interview room. We were 90 per cent against him.”
Swales did however back up Clough’s claims of how impressive an interview it was.
“He gave the best interview of all the candidates – confident, full of common sense and patriotic”.
Clough and Taylor were appointed the England under 21 coaches, but it simply an appeasement to keep Clough quiet. They didn’t last long, and instead kept on with their jobs at Nottingham Forest.
Clough and Taylor led Forest to the First Division title that season. They followed it up with the European Cup the year after, beating Malmo FF 1-0 in the final. Trevor Francis scored the winning goal. He became the first £1,000,000 signing after joining Forest from Birmingham City.
They followed it up with a second European Cup, this time beating Kevin Keegan’s Hamburg in the final. Club became one of the most decorated managers in history, and Forest became the first club to have more European Cups than Division 1 titles.
Clough would later flirt with international managed management, but never fully commit. The FAW contacted Clough, and wanted Brian Clough Wales manager in 1988.
Clough never managed England. His missed appointment is one of the biggest ‘what if?’ moments in football. If you ask Clough, England would have won a World Cup under his management.
But who really knows?