The men who made Brian Clough

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Every genius seems unique.

Yet as Duncan Hamilton’s brilliant book Provided You Don’t Kiss Me makes clear, Brian Clough owed something to Peter Taylor, Frank Sinatra, Muhammad Ali, Harold Wilson and Eric Morecambe.

Sadly, the football giants on whose shoulders Old Big ‘Ead stood are largely forgotten today: Alan Brown and Harry Storer.

Brown’s greatest achievements were creating a fine Sunderland side that pushed Don Revie’s Leeds all the way for the old Second Division title in 1963/64 and steering Sheffield Wednesday to the 1966 FA Cup final.

But his greatest legacy was inspiring Cloughie.

The first time Brown met Clough, he told his young striker: “You may have heard people say that I’m a bastard. Well, they’re right.”

Brown inspired fear – even in Clough – set strict club rules (fining players for minor indiscretions), ordered the senior players to be ball boys for the youth team and yanked Clough off the touchline for talking to a friend during training and (Hamilton says) “dressed him down for it, like a schoolboy caught with matches in his pockets.”

When Clough graduated to the dugout, he often said: “I wish I had Alan Brown beside me.”

God, bonuses and kindness

Like Clough, Brown hailed from the north-east. A tactically aware centre-half, Brown once declared that football was “one of the biggest things that happened in creation.”

His belief that football was God’s gift resonated with Clough, who was convinced he was God’s gift to football.

Brown made his mark as a player quite late: he was 32 when he starred at the heart of Burnley’s famous Iron Curtain Defence in the late 1940s.

As Burnley manager in the 1950s, Brown invested in youth, pioneered the short corner and perfected a vast array of set-pieces.

Brown’s moral integrity proved useful when he joined Sunderland in 1957.

The Rokermen were at the foot of the First Division and disgraced by illegal payments to players.

Brown took them back to the top flight but quit in 1963/64 when directors reneged on a promised bonus.

The bitter lesson was not lost on Clough, who would rage about the “shithouses” in the boardroom of every club he managed.

Brown in 1969, back at Roker Park

Brown came agonisingly close to winning the 1966 FA Cup with Sheffield Wednesday but by 1970, when he was just 56, his career in English football management was effectively finished by Sunderland's relegation.

When Roker legend Len Ashurst visited Brown (who had retired to Devon) he found his old boss “had fallen on tough times, but Alan said: ‘Come here, see those flowers? Brian Clough sent them. And see this cheque? He sent me this as well.’”

Such secret kindness was typical of Clough – and Harry Storer, though the Derby manager could be as tough as bricks.

In Clough’s memoirs, he recalls how Storer dragged a player back to the pitch after a game and demanded: “Show me the hole.”

The baffled player muttered: “What hole, boss?” To which Storer crushingly replied: “The hole you disappeared into for 90 minutes. It has to be here somewhere.”

Such brutal candour became second nature to Clough.

A skilful midfielder in the 1920s, the square-jawed Storer took over at Derby in 1955.

As Derby player Ian Hall recalls: “He knew a lot about sport and about people. He knew a lot about many things and loved an argument about everything from literature to religion.”

Storer the player in 1920

Clough discovered the range of Storer’s conversation – and his thirst for argument – at first hand.

Storer tried to sign Clough for Derby and whenever the Rams played in the north-east, Clough and Taylor would listen as Storer held forth.

Brown was a shrewd tactician, Storer wasn’t.

If a coach got too technical when describing a player’s qualities, Storer would brusquely interject: “Yes, but can he play?”

Electricians and Eric Morecambe

Clough’s greatest signing at Derby, Dave Mackay, was inspired by Storer’s advice: “As you’re setting out for the match, look around the bus and count hearts. If you can’t count five, turn the bus around.”

Impressed, Clough would buy such bravehearts as Mackay, Larry Lloyd, Kenny Burns and Stuart Pearce.

Storer died in September 1967, just a few weeks after Clough and Taylor took over at the Baseball Ground. (Brown died in Barnstaple in 1996).

Twenty-six years later, when Clough finally retired, he remembered another of Storer’s maxims: “Directors never say thank you.”

After 18 seasons at Nottingham Forest, Clough was given a silver rose bowl. Not one director wrote to him.

“One or two of their wives did, but not the directors themselves,” he told Michael Parkinson. “Strange, isn’t it?”

Hamilton’s book has some delightful period detail – even in the 1980s, Stuart Pearce advertised his services as an electrician in the Forest programme – and sheds intriguing, unexpected light on Clough’s career.

Hamilton suggests, rightly in my view, that the pivotal life-changing event for Clough was not the knee injury that prematurely ended his playing career but the public humiliation of his 44-day spell at Leeds United.

Clough takes training at Leeds; Bremner wears prescient number

Out of disaster, a new Clough emerged, not quite so ready – whatever appearances might suggest – to believe his own hype (at least until the booze affected his judgement) and easier with players, press and, occasionally, directors.

He could even dwell amusingly on the foibles of footballers, saying they reminded him of Eric Morecambe failing to impress Andre Previn by playing all the right notes of Grieg’s concerto “but not necessarily in the right order.”

Hamilton’s painstaking account makes the mechanics of Clough’s comeback – the signing of players, the psychological tactics, the plotting within the club – vividly clear.

One overlooked reason for Clough’s remarkable success at Forest, Hamilton suggests, is that the club’s arcane constitution prevented any single tycoon taking over, leaving Cloughie free to divide and rule.

But neither Hamilton nor Clough in his memoirs has explained how Old Big 'Ead acquired his messianic self-certainty – and why that didn’t shatter forever when the most famous football club of his day discarded him.

Clough’s secret war

I never met Clough but I shared a room with him – and 80 other journalists – when he was promoting his autobiography in 1995.

It wasn’t vintage Clough, but he still had a rare mesmeric power – and a gift for saying outrageous things in such an endearing way it felt churlish to take offence.

Reading Hamilton’s book – and Parkinson’s blog describing him as a “loudmouthed prat and a significant working class hero” – I wonder how much of his rise was fuelled by old-fashioned class resentment, a burning desire to put one over on the toffs who had patronised him as a player and a coach.

The psychologist Anthony Storr notes, in his superb essay on Winston Churchill, that Hitler was a very useful enemy for Churchill – as an outlet for all the anger that this manic depressive might have directed inward.

Clough was fortunate in his enemies too: in English football in his day, there was always another upper-class twit who needed taking down a peg or three.

Maybe Clough’s real war wasn’t against Revie or Derby chairman Sam Longson, but the establishment and its many stooges.

Like Brando’s anti-hero in The Wild One, he had no shortage of causes to rebel against.

Back in 1995, none of that occurred to me. I only knew that Clough was undoubtedly the most charming retired dictatorial genius I’d ever shared a room with.

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