Biography of Brian Clough

Biography of Brian Clough

Brian Clough – Coach, Soccer Player (1935–2004)


Full name: Brian Howard Clough

Date of birth: 21 March 1935

Place of birth: Middlesbrough, North Riding of Yorkshire, England

Date of death: 20 September 2004 (aged 69)

Place of death: Derby, Derbyshire, England

Height: 5 ft 10 in (1.78 m)

Playing position: Striker


Early Life

Brian Clough was born in Middlesbrough, England, on March 21, 1935. He was an English football player and manager.

As a player Clough was a prolific goalscorer with Middlesbrough and Sunderland, scoring 251 league goals from 274 starts, making him the 3rd most prolific in the league with a conversion rate of 91.61%. He also won two England caps, both in 1959. Clough retired from playing at the age of 29, after sustaining anterior cruciate ligament damage. He remains one of the Football League’s highest goalscorers.

In 1955, he signed as a striker with his hometown club, Middlesbrough F.C., and quickly became a fan favorite. He then moved to North East rivals Sunderland. His playing career was cut short by a knee injury in 1962. Forced to give up his playing career, he turned to soccer management, where he would eventually become famous.

In 1965, Clough took the manager’s job at Fourth Division Hartlepools United and appointed Peter Taylor as his assistant, the start of an enduring partnership that would bring them success at numerous clubs over the next two decades. In 1967 the duo moved on to Second Division Derby County. In 1968–69, Derby were promoted as Second Division champions.

Three years later, Derby were crowned champions of England for the first time in the club’s history. In 1973 they reached the semi-finals of the European Cup. However, by this point Clough’s relationship with chairman Sam Longson had deteriorated, and he and Taylor resigned.

From an early age, sports, stayed at the forefront of Clough’s mind. Though his teachers claimed he was a bright boy, school never captured his interest in the same way that football did. He dropped out of school at the age of 15 to play center forward for the small local side Billingham Synthonia, leaving in 1953 for two years of mandatory national service in the Royal Air Force.

Upon his return from the military in 1955, Clough signed as a striker with his hometown club, Middlesbrough F.C., and quickly became a fan favorite, banging in a remarkable 197 goals in 213 matches over his six years with the club. He then moved to North East rivals Sunderland, scoring another 54 goals in 61 appearances with the Black Cats. Clough’s playing career as a prolific goal scorer was cut short by a devastating knee injury suffered in a collision with an opposing goalkeeper in late 1962. Clough tried to return from the injury, which had ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament, one of the major knee ligaments, in 1964 but appeared in only a handful of games before retiring.

In 1977, Forest were promoted to the top flight and the following season won the league title (the first in the club’s history), making Clough one of only four managers to have won the English league with two different clubs. Forest also won two consecutive European Cups (in 1979 and 1980) and two League Cups (1978 and 1979) before Taylor retired in 1982. Clough stayed on as Forest manager for another decade and won two more League Cups (1989 and 1990) and reached the FA Cup final in 1991, but could not emulate his earlier successes. Forest were relegated from the Premier League in 1993, after which Clough retired from football.

Brian Clough was the sixth of nine children of a local sweet shop worker, later sugar boiler and then manager. The eldest, Elizabeth, died in 1927 of septicaemia at the age of four. When talking of his childhood he said he “adored it in all its aspects. If anyone should be grateful for their upbringing, for their mam and dad, I’m that person. I was the kid who came from a little part of paradise.” On his upbringing in Middlesbrough, Clough claimed that it was not the most well-appointed place in the world, “But to me it was heaven”. “Everything I have done, everything I’ve achieved, everything that I can think of that has directed and affected my life – apart from the drink – stemmed from my childhood. Maybe it was the constant sight of Mam, with eight children to look after, working from morning until night, working harder than you or I have ever worked.”


Educational Life

In 1946 Clough failed his Eleven-plus exam, and attended Marton Grove Secondary Modern School. He later admitted in his autobiography that he had neglected his lessons in favour of sport, although at school he became head boy. Clough stated in his autobiography ‘Walking on Water’ that cricket, rather than football, was his first love as a youngster, and that he would have far rather scored a test century at Lord’s than a hat-trick at Wembley. Clough dropped out of school at the age of 15 in 1950 without any qualifications, to work at ICI and did his national service in the Royal Air Force (RAF) Regiment between 1953 and 1955.


Coaching and Playing Career

Clough played for Billingham Synthonia before his national service in the RAF between 1953 and 1955. Following this, he became a prolific striker for his home town club Middlesbrough scoring 204 goals in 222 league matches for Boro, including 40 or more goals in four consecutive seasons. However Clough also regularly submitted transfer requests and had a tense relationship with some of his fellow players. He was especially irked by Boro’s leaky defence, which conceded goals as regularly as he scored them.

Clough’s playing career as a prolific goal scorer was cut short by a devastating knee injury suffered in a collision with an opposing goalkeeper in late 1962.

He played twice for the England national football team, against Wales on 17 October 1959 and Sweden on 28 October 1959, without scoring.

In July 1961 one of Clough’s transfer requests was finally accepted and he moved to Boro’s local rivals Sunderland for £55,000. With Sunderland Clough scored a total of 63 goals in 74 matches. In the 1962–63 season, Clough had scored 24 league goals by December as Sunderland pushed for promotion. In a match against Bury at Roker Park on 26 December 1962, in icy conditions and torrential rain, Clough was put through on goal and collided with goalkeeper Chris Harker. Unable to stand up, Clough had torn the medial and cruciate ligaments in his knee, an injury which in that era usually ended a player’s career. He returned two years later, but could manage only three games and so was forced to retire from playing at the age of 29.

Of the players that have scored over 200 goals in the English leagues, he has the highest goals per game ratio of 0.916, and has second highest ratio in the list that includes the Scottish leagues.

Not yet 30 years old when forced to give up his playing career, Clough quickly turned to football management, where he would eventually become famous. When he took the reins of Hartlepool United of the Fourth Division in 1965, Clough became the youngest manager in the Football League. He brought the same level of ambition, obsession, and skill to management that he earlier carried onto the pitch as a player. Clough’s stay at Hartlepool was brief, but it was there that he first teamed up with assistant coach Peter Taylor, who would prove to be an invaluable partner throughout his career.

In 1967, Clough and Taylor left Hartlepool to take over management duties at Derby County of the Second Division. Clough’s time at Derby set the mold for his career to come. There, he experienced the highs of success and weathered storms of controversy over his dealings with board members, players and fans.

In 1968, Clough led Derby to the Division Two title, winning the club promotion back to the top tier of English football after more than a decade in the Second Division. In 1972, Derby County’s third season under Clough in the top flight, the club won the league in dramatic fashion when rivals Liverpool and Leeds both lost on the last day of the season. The title was the first in Derby County’s long history, dating back to the late 19th century.

Clough was universally seen as a hard but fair manager, who insisted on clean play from his players and brooked no stupid questions from the press. He was famous for insisting on being called ‘Mr Clough’ and earned great respect from his peers for his ability to turn a game to his and his team’s advantage. Derby’s first season back in Division One saw them finish fourth, their best league finish for over 20 years, but, due to financial irregularities, the club was banned from Europe the following season and fined £10,000.

In 1970–71 the club finished 9th. In February 1971 Clough bolstered his squad by signing Colin Todd for a British record £175,000; on the same day Clough had denied that Derby were about to buy Todd. During the 1971–72 seasons, Derby tussled with Liverpool, Leeds United and Manchester City for the title.

In August 1972, Clough refused to go on an arranged pre-season tour of the Netherlands and West Germany unless he could take his family with him. Derby chairman Sam Longson told him that it was a working trip not a holiday, so Clough put Taylor in charge of the tour instead, and refused to go. The club did not contest the FA Charity Shield that year.

On 24 August 1972, Clough and Taylor signed David Nish from Leicester City, for a then record transfer fee of £225,000, without consulting the Derby board. Afterwards, Jack Kirkland, a director, warned Clough and Taylor there would be no more expensive buys like Nish. Then, on 3 September 1972, Clough attacked the Derby County fans, stating that “They started chanting only near the end when we were a goal in front. I want to hear them when we are losing. They are a disgraceful lot”, he said, after the team defeated Liverpool 2–1 at the Baseball Ground. In the same interview, Clough also attacked the club’s board of directors for their policies. The following day, Board chairman Sam Longson apologised to the fans and dissociated himself from Clough’s remarks.

On 5 August 1973, Clough put his name to an article in the Sunday Express which savaged Leeds United’s disciplinary record, stating that Don Revie should be fined for encouraging his players in their unsporting behaviour and Leeds relegated to the Second Division. Clough also said that “The men who run football have missed the most marvellous chance of cleaning up the game in one swoop” and went on to say, “The trouble with football’s disciplinary system is that those who sat in judgment being officials of other clubs might well have a vested interest.”

In July 1974, Clough (by now a tabloid regular dubbed “Cloughie”) left Brighton to manage Leeds United, a First Division team left leaderless after the legendary Don Revie left the club to manage the England national team.

In April 1972, four weeks before taking Derby to the league title, Clough and Taylor had briefly resigned for a few hours to manage Coventry City before changing their minds after getting more money from Longson.

After his disastrous month and a half at Leeds, Clough returned to management in the middle of the 1974-75 season at Nottingham Forest, a team then languishing in the bottom half of the Second Division.

Clough followed a similar blueprint for success, bringing in trusted former players, recognizing untapped young talent and bringing Peter Taylor back on board to assist. Clough favored a style of play based on keeping the ball on the ground, emphasizing dribbling and short passing rather than knocking long balls through the air. He once said, “If God had wanted us to play football in the clouds, he’d have put grass up there.”

By the 1985-86 season, Clough was building a Forest side which would enjoy another run of success, although not quite as successful as the one at the end of the 1970s. His 1985 close season signings included Coventry City defender Stuart Pearce, who would enjoy a long and successful career at club and international level, and high-scoring midfielder Neil Webb from Portsmouth. He also drafted in his 19-year-old son Nigel, who played as a forward and scored 15 league goals in his first season in the first team, quickly becoming one of the First Division’s most highly regarded strikers, as well as young defender Des Walker. All four had been capped by England within a few years.

It was not until 1988–89, however, that Clough and Forest would enjoy another major trophy success, when they beat Luton Town in the League Cup final. For a time, Forest were on course for a treble of cups that season, and won two of those cups – the Football League Cup and the Full Members Cup. Defeat in the FA Cup semi-finals was in a replay after the first game was abandoned shortly after kick off due to the Hillsborough disaster.

In 1991, Forest reached their first FA Cup final under Clough against Tottenham Hotspur. With typical idiosyncrasy, Clough selected two players – Lee Glover and Ian Woan – with only a handful of league games behind them and left England international Steve Hodge on the substitutes’ bench, preferring the young Roy Keane in the starting line up.

In 1992, Forest reached another League Cup final, but lost 1–0 to Manchester United, although they did win a second Full Members Cup (the last edition of the competition) that season.

The 1992–93 season was Clough’s 18th with Forest – and his last. They were one of the 22 clubs in the inaugural Premier League, but the sale of key players like Teddy Sheringham and Des Walker, and Clough’s increasing battle with alcoholism, saw the club’s fortunes take a sharp decline and they were bottom virtually all season.

Clough’s humor and charisma shone brightest at Forest, and he cut down on the appearances as a pundit that had garnered him negative attention in the past. Whenever he talked about his players, a good-natured ribbing was likely around the corner. Describing his rotund yet talented winger, for example, Clough once said, “John Robertson was a very unattractive young man. If, one day, I was feeling a bit off colour, I would sit next to him. I was bloody Errol Flynn to him, but give him a yard of grass and he was an artist. The Picasso of our game.”

In the 1990s, Clough was implicated in the “bungs” scandal which emerged in English football, and which in 1995 cost the Arsenal manager George Graham his job. Under particular scrutiny was his involvement in the transfer of Teddy Sheringham from Nottingham Forest to Tottenham Hotspur in 1992. Then-Tottenham chairman Alan Sugar claimed under oath to have been told by Spurs manager Terry Venables that Clough “liked a bung”, an illicit payment made to ensure a transfer deal went through. Sugar sanctioned a cash payment of £58,750, which he believed would be paid to an agent, but instead it was handed over to Ronnie Fenton, Clough’s assistant at Forest. Sugar, protected by legal immunity as a court witness, never repeated the allegation out of court during the rest of Clough’s life.

Senior career

Years              Team                          Apps   (Gls)

1955–1961      Middlesbrough            213         (197)

1961–1964      Sunderland                    61          (54)

Total                                                   274        (251)


Personal Life

Brian Howard Clough was born into a large, working-class family in Middlesbrough, England, on March 21, 1935. Clough was the sixth of nine children born into a close-knit family of football (soccer) fans.

On 4 April 1959, Clough married Barbara Glasgow in Middlesbrough. He later said that meeting Barbara was “the best thing I ever did”. They went on to have three children; Simon, born in 1964, Nigel, born in 1966 and Elizabeth, born in 1967. Nigel also became a professional footballer and played for his father at Forest in the 1980s and 1990s. He then moved into management and in January 2009 followed in his father’s footsteps when he was appointed manager of Derby County. In 2011, his family and friends contributed memories to a book entitled ‘The Day I Met Brian Clough’ which also included recollections from fans and journalists. His widow, Barbara, died on 20 July 2013 at the age of 75, nine years after Brian Clough himself died. Her death was revealed to have been the result of a head injury suffered when she fell over on a car park of a hospital where she was being treated for cancer.

A lover of cricket, he was good friends with Yorkshire and England cricketer Geoffrey Boycott.

Clough was a lifelong socialist, often appearing on miners’ picket lines, donating large sums to trade union causes, and being the chairman of the Anti-Nazi League. On two occasions he was approached by the Labour Party to stand as a parliamentary candidate in general elections, although he declined in order to continue his managerial career in football.

Much of Clough’s retirement was spent concentrating on his fight against alcoholism, ill-health and corruption allegations.



In January 2003, the 67-year-old Clough underwent a liver transplant; 30 years of heavy drinking had taken its toll and doctors said that Clough would have died within two weeks without a transplant, as his liver was severely damaged. The transplant gave Clough a new lease of life for the next 20 months; he took up light exercise again and appeared happier than he had for many years. Clough died of stomach cancer on 20 September 2004, on Ward 30, in Derby City Hospital, at the age of 69, having been admitted a few days earlier. Such was his popularity, fans of Derby County and Nottingham Forest, usually the fiercest of rivals, mourned together following his death.



In 2002, Nottingham Forest renamed the City Ground’s largest stand, the Brian Clough Stand in his honor. That same year, Clough was inducted into the English Football Hall of fame.

A memorial service was held at Derby’s Pride Park Stadium on 21 October 2004 which was attended by more than 14,000 people. It was originally to have been held at Derby Cathedral, but had to be moved because of demand for tickets.

In August 2005 the stretch of the A52 linking Nottingham and Derby was renamed Brian Clough Way.

In August 2000, a tribute website was set up in honour of Clough with the backing of his family. This helped to raise money for a statue of Clough, which was erected in Nottingham’s Old Market Square on 6 November 2008. In December 2006, the Brian Clough Statue Fund in Nottingham announced it had raised £69,000 in just 18 months for a statue of Clough in the city. The winning statue was selected from a choice of three designs in January 2008. The site chosen for the statue is at the junction of King Street and Queen Street in the centre of Nottingham. On 6 November 2008 the statue was unveiled by Mr Clough’s widow Barbara in front of a crowd of more than five thousand people.

As a manager

Derby County

  • First Division: 1971–72
  • Second Division: 1968–69
  • Texaco Cup: 1971–72
  • Watney Cup: 1970

Nottingham Forest

  • First Division: 1977–78
  • League Cup: 1977–78, 1978–79, 1988–89, 1989–90
  • Full Members Cup: 1988–89, 1991–92
  • FA Charity Shield: 1978
  • European Cup: 1978–79, 1979–80
  • European Super Cup: 1979
  • Anglo-Scottish Cup: 1976–77
  • Football League Centenary Tournament: 1988

Individual awards

  • Manager of the Year: 1977–78
  • Sunderland Solid Gold XI