Brian Clough Part Seven

Thanks are due to Dave Heasman for pointing out my mistake in the last article in this series. Chelsea beat Sunderland to promotion in 1962-3, Clough’s second full season at Roker Park, on GOAL AVERAGE, not goal difference. Goal average – the number of goals scored by a team over a season divided by the number of goals conceded – was the tiebreaker at the time, and made all the difference between Chelsea and Sunderland who had both finished with 52 points.

Sunderland, like Middlesbrough before, had a tendency to ship goals away from home on the grand scale. It wasn’t something they were prepared to do by halves: in 1961-2, they conceded a full 10 goals more than Orient (who went up on the strength of an extra point over the Rokerites, only to fall like Satan from Division One the next year). Not satisfied with that, they let in 13 more than Chelsea in that agonisingly close promotion race of 1962-3.

Clough didn’t play every game of 1962-3 owing to the first real injury of his professional career, but it showed less than might have been expected – in 1961-2, Sunderland scored 85 goals (a full 16 more than Orient), for 53 points, and 84 goals in 1962-3 for 52 points. Consistency, unrewarded.

I can’t be the only person who watches the footage of the Kennedy assassination, with its golden weather and beehives and sundresses, whilst reflecting that there is something terribly seventies about the sun. Not that Jackie O would have thought so then, of course, but the entire scene is shocking in its inadequacy as a setting for horror. Cut out the worst scenes and it might all be the backdrop for an episode of Cliff Michelmore’s “Holiday Programme.”

Football had to wait until the seventies to become seventies, what with Match of the Day staying black and white until 1969, but there is something seventies nonetheless about the kind of company that was frustrating Clough as he played his football in his northern city on his island in-between Camelot and Krushchev.

Because it was Shankly’s Liverpool who ran away with Division Two in 1961-2. Two years earlier, Liverpool had been close to the bottom of the table. In 1973-4, Shankly would finish his Anfield stint with a burst of trophies: UEFA Cup, Championship, and FA Cup. In 1962-3, Tony Waddington’s Stoke City won Division Two, going up with Tommy Docherty’s Chelsea. In 1972, Waddington brought Stoke their only major trophy, the League Cup. Docherty would spend the Seventies first as king of Manchester United, then as King Over the Water.

Sunderland were finally promoted in 1963-4 – coming second in Division Two to Don Revie’s Leeds United. To complete the picture, the man who replaced Docherty at both Chelsea and Manchester United, Dave Sexton, was manager of Leyton Orient for a while after their spectacular fall from grace in 1963-4…

And that’s the danger in writing about football, isn’t it, the constant temptation to see the present day – or, in this case, the footballing seventies – taking shape in the football of the past. Herbert Butterfield would call it Whig History; nevertheless, it’s interesting to note that of all the teams who would win 1970s League titles, the most successful of them during Clough’s career in terms of trophies was Nottingham Forest, with an FA Cup win in 1959. Liverpool, Derby County and Leeds were in Division Two for most of the period, whilst Arsenal continued to produce reasonable teams without actually winning anything. Once the Busby Babes had gone, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Tottenham Hotspur (with a bizarre Ipswichian interlude under their Essex-born coach, Ramsey, intervening) were the dominant sides.

Part of the secret of Clough’s goalscoring success was his good fortune with injuries. He was almost ever-present for Middlesbrough, and then Sunderland, for seven years. By the late 1950s and early 1960s, the first team was not the rigid eleven of the Chapman era, and, despite the lack of substitutes, some idea of the importance of the squad had come into play. But, given that he was fit, and had a deserved reputation as a fanatical trainer, it was inevitable that Clough should play, both for his goals and his on-the-field communication (at Middlesbrough, he was club captain to boot).

Even to this day, there is something brutal and cultish about the attitude towards injuries in football. Men who “play through,” or worse, “run off” injuries are admired and celebrated. It isn’t something that translates into real life. A factory-employed football supporter, applauding Stuart Pearce’s attempts to play on with a broken leg, wouldn’t react that way to an industrial injury or to a road accident. It’s a translation of a comicbook attitude to war. In real war, you don’t hear the phrase “it’s only a scratch” that often, because it’s so rarely just that, and when it is, the chances of infection are high enough to encourage a more mature approach.

In that sense, spectators have sometimes been guilty of forgetting that their heroes aren’t real people. But the attitude extends to those who should know better. Shankly, that great working-class hero, subject to this day of ridiculous, fawning biographies to an extent that even Churchill has begun to escape, cut injured players dead in the corridor.

And when Clough finally did pick up an injury, in a home game in bad weather on Boxing Day in 1962, Alan Brown’s first reaction was to prevent the trainer taking Clough’s boots off in case the player would be going back on.

Brown had known immediately that Clough’s injury was going to remove him from the rest of that game against Bury. He’d have been responding very much in the moment, and, having been watching proceedings through sleet and hail, wouldn’t have been able to see the full situation from the dugout. He’d have seen Len Ashurst’s pass to Clough go astray, Clough chase after it, Bury keeper Chris Harker hesitate then lunge, Harker and Clough collide. But no more.

In fact, Harker’s shoulder had slammed into Clough’s knee. Hip and knee injuries are the bane of a footballer’s life, both made worse by the natural wear and tear of athletic life. In the early 1960s, they held more potential for trouble than broken legs (albeit remembering Derek Dooley’s amputation at around this time) – Dave Mackay, of Spurs, broke a leg twice and returned to the top level of the game twice.

In David Peace’s superb The Damned Utd , Bob Stokoe – who’d manage Sunderland to FA Cup glory in 1973 against Revie’s Leeds (a bit of anti-Butterfield again) – mocks Clough while he is on the ground in agony. I’ve not been able to source the story, and Peace’s book is after all a novel.

Mocked or not, Clough had torn his anterior cruciate ligament. Generally, when that happens, the knee is destabilised, the shin bone moving forward in relation to the thigh bone. There would be no football for Clough for a long time after Christmas 1962. There wouldn’t be for his team mates either. The winter of 1962-3 was the worst for fifteen years, and football would be at a total standstill for two months. Clough would play for Sunderland again – and score for them – and do both in the First Division. But not for Alan Brown.

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One response to “Brian Clough Part Seven

  1. As this week’s WSC tells us, Goal Average only gave way to Goal Difference in 1976, and had Goal Difference applied in 1923-4 Cardiff would have won the League.
    What it doesn’t say, and might be interesting, (for seriously-nerdish meanings of “interesting”) – but I bet it’s been done – is to determine what results would have been different had the “three-points-for a win” system applied earlier than whenever it did start.