Brian Clough is famous for being “The Best Manager England Never Had”. He was the one man the fans demanded to take charge of the Three Lions. But did you know that Brian Clough came close to taking over as Wales manager?
How did “Old Big Head” come within a hairs breadth to taking charge of England’s neighbours, in a time where Wales were 30 years from their last major tournament and sleeping in the shadow of their enemy.
Hen Ben Mawr (Old Big Head)
“Hen Ben Mawr” or “Old Big Head” yn Saesneg is what fans, players and manager alike called the legendary Brian Clough. Whether affectionate or not depended on who was saying it.
Brian Clough was famous as “The Greatest Manager England Never Had”. Despite openly lusting over the job and attending an interview at the Football Association in 1977, Clough never got the chance to manage The Three Lions.
He and assistant manager Peter Taylor did manage the England u23 team, but it was simply an appeasement by the FA.
Not only did Clough, who’s famous arrogance and self belief was unmatched, want him in charge of England. Fans, pundits and the media also wanted to see Clough in the job. In 1983, then England manager Bobby Robson offered to resign from his role, due to Clough’s popularity. Naturally, the FA resigned.
Clough was known as one of the best in England. He and Taylor took Derby from the Second Division to English Champions in three years. Years later, he did one better.
Clough took over Second Division Nottingham Forest, and turned them into a European force. He won one First Division title, and followed it up with two consecutive European Cups.
Brian Clough is one of the few men to have his own trophy named after him. Every match between Derby County and Nottingham Forest is contested for the Brian Clough Trophy.
Y Swydd Freuddwydiol(The Dream Job)
So, what made Brian Clough, the loud mouth, hot headed genius, consider matching someone the stature of Wales?
It all stemmed of his desire, his need to manage England. He cites missing out playing in the World Cup as his biggest regret in football.
It was what spurned him on to achieve everything he did in his career, and what drew him to the England Job, (You can read more about this in the incredible book, Provided you don’t kiss me by Duncan Hamilton).
Clough went for an interview with the Football Association in 1977. He was sure he would get the job this time. He was top of the league with Nottingham Forest, and the only candidate to have won the First Division. The consensus was that Brian Clough was the best manager in England.
So when that job went to West Ham’s general manager Ron Greenwood, Clough was broken hearted. He struggled with the rejection, even though he knew deep down he was too much of a controversial figure for the Football Association to manager.
“Blimey, the FA would worry that I might want to get rid of them for a start. And of course they were dead right. I’d have torn the place down brick by brock and rebuilt it the way I wanted it” Brian Clough said to Nottingham Evening Post journalist Duncan Hamilton, before adding “After (former Leeds Boss) Don Revie, I was just too risky.”
Issue’s with Directors
Clough would regularly bad mouth Football Directors and club officials, anyone who claimed to have more power than himself.
His hatred of authority came from his childhood, but intensified after butting heads with club Directors at Hartlepool and Derby County.
In 1966, Hartlepool Chairman, who was known for his interference in the managers business, sacked Clough’s assistant, Peter Taylor. Citing finance issues, he would not accept Clough’s rejection of the firing, and terminated his contract alongside Taylor’s.
This situation was ratified later on, with the board turning on Ord and firing him. Clough and Taylor reclaimed their jobs, but the damage suffered by Clough was not long forgotten.
His greatest fear was being unable to feed his family, and he saw club directors as the only men who could make that happen.
Y Swydd Cymru (The Wales Job)
It wasn’t until 1983 when Clough would close in on the Welsh National Team job.
Clough had previously travelled the Iran to interview for the managers job of the Iranian national team. He was offered a £40,000 two year deal to manage the side at the 1978 World Cup, Clough travelled to the middle east fully intending to not accept the offer, but instead used it to remind the FA of his credentials after his poor spell at Leeds United.
The Englishman also flirted with the Ireland job before Jack Charlton was appointed as manager in 1985, but came closest to managing the Welsh National side.
He was out of contract with Nottingham Forest at the end of the season, when Wales came knocking in 1988. Mike England was sacked as Wales boss in February that year after failing to qualify for the European Championships. The FAW were certain that Clough was the man for the job, and that Clough could perform both duties simultaneously.
Brian Clough claimed that managing Wales was “Fulfilling a life’s ambition” and would be a “Beautiful prospect” to be treat as an international manager. He seemed set on the idea of managing Wales.
Clough was adamant that he wanted the Wales job, but would not compromise his position at Nottingham Forest. The former Middlesbrough striker assured the Forest board that he could do both jobs concurrently. He called the Forest directors “A shower (of shit)” for blocking the deal. He claimed the Wales job would not affect his performance, even threaten to quit his role at Forest if not allowed to combine the two.
However, these threats were not serious in the slightest.
Mae’r Freuddwyd Wedi Marw (The Dream is Dead)
Just like with the Iran job 10 years prior, he was using Wales for his own selfish gain. Clough’s contract with Forest was coming to an end in four months. He wanted to get the best deal possible, and flaunting another job in the boards face was a sure fire way to do that.
When it became clear Clough wasn’t going to take charge of Wales, he backed down over his claims of resignation.
“Resigning is for Prime Ministers and people caught with their pants down” he humorously quipped to the press. Clough signed a new contract with Forest, having outplayed the Forest board with his psychological games. His contract was more lucrative than ever before, and allowed him to show how he was the man in charge at Forest, not the board of directors.
Gweld FAW (FAW’s view)
FAW Secretary Alun Evans was disappointed at not securing Clough as Wales manager.
“It’s my biggest regret during my time at the FAW that we didn’t quite pull it off,” Evans said in an interview with Wales Online. “We had a fine team at the time with a lot of good players and we felt we needed someone of Brian’s ability to take us that extra step to a major finals“
“We heard Forest had blocked it, which surprised us as we thought Brian could get anything he wanted from the board” Evans’ added. Brian Clough had agreed a deal to become Wales manager, but told the FAW that Nottingham Forest would not sanction him to perform both roles. The role instead went to Terry Yorath, who failed to achieve any success with Wales. No manager would, until Chris Coleman in Wales Euro 2016 campaign.
So did the Forest board block the deal?
Alun Evans’ seems to think so, and Clough reiterated the fact throughout his career.
However, after his retirement in 1993, he revealed something to Duncan Hamilton.
“Maybe, Wales did suit a purpose or two for me at the time“Brian Clough
Hamish is a writer and podcaster and wrestling fan who is a key part of the Atletifo team.
After playing countless hours of WrestleMania X8 on the Gamecube, he discovered Rey Mysterio getting his head crushed by The Great Khali, and thus a love for professional wrestling was born.
He is also a Media Graduate, as well as writing for multiple sites about Premier League football and the culture of Wales – his home country.