4 April ~ We've reached 1989 in our look-back at 25 years of WSC. Since his death in 2004, Brian Clough has remained a figure of huge interest – not a year goes by without the appearance of yet another biography claiming to tell the inside story of his time at Derby/Leeds/Forest/etc. But as this editorial from WSC 25 (March 1989) shows, the Clough industry was starting to grate even when he was alive

Who does Brian Clough think he is? Sadly, he now believes that simply being "Brian Clough" is sufficient excuse for any action, however outrageous. When Clough attacks spectators on the pitch at the City Ground, it is not a foolish, out of character action by someone who is much loved within the game. Instead, it a further extension of the depressing development that seems to have taken place in his personality in recent years. Without getting too involved in psychology, Brian Clough, expert manager and lovable rogue, has been largely taken over by the other side of his persona, the professionally controversial loudmouth and occasional yob.

Was it right to hit spectators who had "invaded" the pitch after the Cup game against QPR? No it wasn't. Football fans should not be subjected to this kind of assault every time they celebrate an important victory. Running on to the pitch is not, of course, an essential part of the game, but such exuberance is bound to express itself from time to time, with younger fans, especially, wanting to be close to their heroes. There was nothing threatening or dangerous about the celebrations after the QPR game. So where is the problem?

The assumption that underlies the actions of Clough and his apologists is that those who dared to "trespass" (Maurice Roworth) deserved a clip round the ear. We can assume, then, that Clough's action represented a welcome return to an ancient and much missed disciplinary tradition. You know how the story goes. Society is much more violent now than in the past, when young people had much more respect for their elders and were less inclined to complain about being punched in the face by them. It was painful, but ultimately beneficial, just like National Service.

In the more recent past, pitch invasions were far more common than they are now. Did Bill Shankly, Matt Busby or Bill Nicholson (each of whom had as much influence at their respective clubs as Clough has at Forest) ever find it necessary to march onto the pitch and strike out at a bunch of harmless teenagers?

A "clip round the ear" is an imprecise phrase. A hastily conducted poll here suggests that it refers to a blow by a flat hand to the side of the head. A clenched fist aimed at the face, as witnessed on TV pictures from the City Ground, is quite a different thing. Clough's actions were never likely to prevent the crowd trouble that he claims to have been concerned about. Far from it. Who knows what sort of disturbance might have resulted had he continued to plow in with fists flailing?

Brian Clough is a paradox. An avowed Labour man who advertises the Sun. A man who has brought on some of the best young black players in the country who described African nations as "a load of spear carriers who still eat each other".

In the last few years, his wilful publicity seeking – well-paid outbursts in selected tabloids – has become increasingly tiresome. He is undoubtedly one of the best football managers in England, with frank and wittily expressed opinions which enliven otherwise dull TV coverage of football. His views on the intrigues and fumblings of football's bosses usually struck a chord with supporters. But he seems to have lost touch with the reasons for his popularity and has become enamoured with the idea of being controversial purely for the sake of it.

Much of the blame for this belongs with our deservedly-maligned tabloid press. They didn't create the old Brian Clough, but they have moulded the new one to fit their needs. His ability to come up with outspoken comment on the issues of the day has been transformed into a useful back page filler, unleashed on the world when there is nothing else of note going on.

Any story can be given an extra day's life by incorporating The Clough Judgement. A moribund issue can be expanded to fill a page if you can get Brian to comment in his own inimitable style (which has become so hackneyed that even the Sun's ghostwriters are now capable of mimicking).

He allows his name to be associated with any old crap that his Fleet St employers decide to write for him. The "man of the people" has become a man of the media, for the sake of hard cash and an abundant willingness to dispense with principles whenever necessary. His actions at the City Ground confirm the transformation. The old Brian Clough was occasionally infuriating but more often both amusing and perceptive. The new one is just a pain.

Comments (1)
Comment by trashcan 2011-04-05 13:34:09

Nobody ever said Clough was perfect, and he certainly upset lots of people during his career. However, like it or not, this adds to the legend of the man - a flawless, goody two shoes would have been far less appealling and much of the public's love for him is as a result of his willingness to do his own thing, regardless of conventions or public opinion. Consequently he overstepped the mark on many occasions. The oft quoted anecdotes receive such a regular airing precisely because he said and did what he wanted to do. Clough's life and numerous biographies are full of light and dark, and tragi-comic in the extreme. We shouldn't call him a saint but we shouldn't deny his greatness either.

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