Month: December 2015

Six of the Best – England stocking fillers (early 1990s)

Posted on Updated on

In our last blog post before Christmas, we turn the clock back 20-25 years and reflect on six England-related items fans may have been given as presents during the 1990s – particularly if they were a youngster at the time.

Gazza! The Game (1990)

 

In the wake of Italia ’90, everywhere you looked there was Paul Gascoigne. ‘Gazzamania’ had gripped the nation and the commercial benefits were seen as companies attached his name to products. That was certainly the case with this board game named after him, which to innocent child eyes seemed to be a completely new concept. But the reality was a bit different, as older relatives pointed out they remembered playing a very similar game called Penalty and more digging found the game had been released more recently as Kick-Off. MB Games clearly saw the potential for boosting sales of the game by renaming it after football’s newest star and sticking pictures of him in England kit on the cover, complete with including a poster of Gascoigne inside. But when you played the game itself, Gascoigne did not feature at all in any way.

Football board games don’t always work particularly well and many years have passed since I last played this one. But my recollection is it was one of the better and more enjoyable games of the genre, where having the trump card of ‘penalty’ in your hand could prove decisive. If on a football nostalgia kick, you could do worse than track this one down in one of its guises and give it a go.

England’s World Cup Heroes (1990)

 

Another spin-off from Italia ’90 was the set of VHS releases commemorating the tournament. One of the most popular of these was England’s World Cup Heroes, providing a chance to relive England’s seven matches over and over again. Brian Moore commentated on highlights of each match, with musical accompaniment on key moments such as David Platt’s winner against Belgium and the penalty-shoot-out heartache against West Germany. A companion video was Gascoigne’s Glory – focusing on his contribution to the tournament – and there were various other releases issued about the tournament. If you had withdrawal symptoms from Italia ’90 and wanted to recapture the spirit of the summer, then either waiting for Santa to visit or making a quick trip to Woolworths and handing over the cash for a video would resolve everything.

Having sat through England’s World Cup Heroes several times, Moore’s commentary became almost known word for word in places. But then just a few days after Christmas ITV screened their World Cup review and Moore’s words on England clips were different. Then reality dawned. For the VHS release he’d recorded commentary afterwards from a studio rather than using his original wording for ITV. Hardly a major concern, but somehow the video never seemed to have quite the same magic after that. The subsequent release of One Night in Turin has perhaps provided a more thorough visual account of England’s Italia ’90, but for a long time England’s World Cup Heroes was one of the main ways to recall it all in any depth.

Shoot! annual (various years)

Not specifically about England, but the national team featured prominently in the publication most years. From 1990 to 1994 the player depicted on the front cover was an England star, on a couple of occasions a Scotland player accompanying them to presumably avoid losing sales north of the border. Most football-loving adults of today would have received at least one football annual or yearbook as a child, whether it be Match, Roy of the Rovers, The Topical Times or numerous others. But Shoot! seemed the daddy of them all for probably two generations.

Deep down, I was never as keen on the annuals as the weekly publication. They usually seemed to have been produced months in advance and already felt a bit dated. But somehow they always felt like an essential part of Christmas when they were inevitably among the presents received. Although the regular magazine has had a rather turbulent time in the 21st century – leading to it eventually disappearing from the shelves – it’s been pleasing to spot the 2016 Shoot! annual on sale in the shops in recent weeks. If many youngsters today don’t appreciate the significance of the Shoot! brand, then their dads – and possibly even their grandads – can certainly tell them how it was once a key part of their football diet.

England Subbuteo team (various)

 

Although the onset of computer games meant Subbuteo was less in vogue by the early 1990s than it once had been, it was still fairly popular and there remained a wide range of teams for sale in most toy shops (sadly its initial demise was not far away). England fans were well looked-after, with each new kit usually greeted with a Subbuteo team being issued to match. The period also saw teams produced with a mixture of white and black players at long last. England may have crashed out of Euro ’92 in forgettable fashion but a few hours playing Subbuteo with Gary Lineker smashing the goalscoring record and leading them to trophy glory could help make up for it. Well, a tiny bit anyway.

FIFA International Soccer (1993)

Again a slightly more general item, but England were at the heart of the first game in the FIFA series from EA Sports – David Platt was on the cover and only international teams were included – which has become an annual favourite since then and grown beyond all recognition. Released just in time for Christmas 1993 on the Sega Mega Drive, the first edition seems primitive now from looking at the graphics and gameplay but several features were considered advanced and innovative at the time – crowd noise for example – and it was seen as offering more detailed animation than many predecessors in the football computer games market. 

It was though not without faults even by the standards of the time, including no penalty-shoot-out mode  to settle drawn games – perhaps a good thing for England fans! – and having a good chance of scoring simply by standing in front of the opposing goalkeeper as they prepared to kick the ball clear (it would frequently rebound off the forward and go in). Anyone playing as England wouldn’t find Platt, Alan Shearer or anyone else in the team, not even similarly named players. Instead it was invented names representing England or those who were involved in producing the game. The number of nations included was relatively small, mainly restricted to established football nations. But there was one exception whose presence was a little surprising – Qatar. Perhaps we should have known then that FIFA had big plans for them in the future…

Computer games and the FIFA series have long moved on, but there’s a part of me that preferred the more simplistic approach that was in place back then.

England Corinthian figures (1995)

What could anyone have wanted Santa to bring them in 1995 more than a Warren Barton Corinthian figure?

There had been attempts at models of football players before, but Corinthian broke the mould when it issued its first set of 16 England figurines late in 1995. It quickly became clear it was onto a winner, with the England collection soon followed by club sets and a second batch of England personnel in time for Euro ’96. 

  
Teddy Sheringham was part of the first Corinthian set of England players.

The strong facial resemblance to the players they represented, the fact you didn’t have to try to assemble or paint the figures after buying them and their pocket-sized nature meant the sets quickly appealed to fans, particularly as they could be neatly laid out and purchased either individually or in bulk packs (the latter being a particularly popular Christmas item). But still one question remained. How had Warren Barton, who won just three England caps in total, made it into the first set of 16 players ahead of more established names such as Paul Gascoigne?

Merry Christmas to all readers of this blog and followers of our Twitter account – we look forward to sharing many more England-related memories throughout 2016.

Six of the Best – England Sports Personality Moments

Posted on Updated on

Ahead of BBC Sports Personality of the Year on Sunday, we recall six occasions when English football figures featured prominently in the event – from the four who won the overall award, to the occasion when a potential winner failed to even make the top three and the night an emotional presentation was made to Sir Bobby Robson….

1966 – Moore lifts another trophy

Although the BBC Sportview Personality award was created in 1954, football did not produce a winner of the coveted prize until 1966. If ever there was a year that was nailed on for football to triumph this was it, given England’s glory in the summer. It was captain Bobby Moore who took the award thanks to votes from the viewers, but hat-trick hero Geoff Hurst had to contend with third place as New Zealand-born speedway rider Barry Briggs finished above him in what looks a quirky result nearly 50 years on. But Hurst would say years later it never crossed his mind that he might win the award.

Bobby Moore and Eusebio compare trophies.

Hurst and Moore were also part of the England team which won the team of the year accolade, while the World Cup’s influence was reflected in Portugese star Eusebio jointly winning the overseas personality award with cricket star Garfield Sobers. In an era of just three awards, it was as close as football was realistically going to come to a monopoly.

1986 – Lineker loses out

1986 had been Gary Lineker’s year. He had finished as World Cup golden boot winner, First Division top scorer in 1985-86 with Everton as well as PFA and Football Writers’ Player of the Year and he earned a big-money move to Barcelona. In a year of limited sporting glory for Britain, the stage seemed set for him to be the first footballing winner of Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY) since Moore 20 years earlier. 

At the awards ceremony, Lineker saw Liverpool’s double winning player-manager Kenny Dalglish take third place and athlete Fatima Whitbread scoop second spot. Was Lineker about to be announced as the winner? No. Instead, Formula One world championship runner-up Nigel Mansell took the gong after a year when the title was snatched away from him at the death thanks to his rear tyre exploding in Adelaide. “It has come a complete surprise,” said Mansell after Henry Cooper announced him as winner. Lineker may have thought likewise.


Gary Lineker had plenty of trophies to his name in 1986 – but Sports Personality of the Year wasn’t one of them.

“I hadn’t actually written my acceptance speech but I did think I had a decent chance,” Lineker told The Telegraph in an interview in 2007. He reflected on whether he paid for now earning his living abroad, in an era when British viewers saw far less of Barcelona in action than they do now. “I’d sort of disappeared, hadn’t I?” he said when reflecting on missing out, while also believing football’s reduced popularity at the time did not help his cause. He would eventually clinch third place in 1991 and Lineker has gone on to enjoy a long presenting stint on the show – some consolation we guess for not winning the main honour.

1990 – Gascoigne’s glory

There are a lot of misconceptions about the award being about someone’s ‘personality’, meaning cyber warriors will bemoan winners for apparently lacking one and believing being able to stand up and crack gags should be a prerequisite for winning it. But 1990 was an instance when someone’s charisma helped play a part in them taking the award, coupled with their on-field contributions during the year.

There was no question Paul Gascoigne had enjoyed a successful tournament at Italia ’90, but as we saw with Lineker four years earlier having a good World Cup was no guarantee of a player being in serious contention for the SPOTY award. But Gazza’s tears in Turin, England coming so close to winning the competition and the subsequent rise of ‘Gazzamania’ had made him a star name and he was duly presented with the award by Bobby Charlton. 1990 had been Gascoigne’s year, although even then there were concerns raised about how well he’d be able to handle his new-found fame. “They say it’ll ruin your football,” said presenter Des Lynam as he interviewed Gascoigne – wearing a bow tie – on the night.

Paul Gascoigne triumphs in 1990.

1990 represented a year of change for Sports Review of the Year and not totally for the better. It began with Lynam and co-host Steve Rider having to pretend to be running late for the show, something Lynam hinted in his autobiography he was unimpressed with. There was also an attempt to review the year month-by-month rather than the familiar format of by each sport – this would thankfully last just for one year. Football didn’t have things all its own way, with England’s efforts at Italia ’90 failing to win them the team award – Scotland’s rugby union team took it after a Five Nations grand slam – and the overseas personality accolade went to Australian rugby league player Mal Meninga rather than any World Cup star such as Roger Milla. But as the decade progressed, football’s resurgence would continue.

1998 – Owen’s instant impact

In 1996, Alan Shearer finished as Euro ’96 top scorer but he failed to finish in the top three of SPOTY, which perhaps provided comfort to his future Match of the Day buddy Lineker. But then two years later football claimed its third winner and one of the youngest in the history of the award, as Michael Owen collected the accolade on the eve of his 19th birthday. His wondergoal against Argentina in the World Cup proved decisive in winning the public vote, even though the match ended in heartbreak for England.

Owen gave a short speech after Lynam announced him as the winner, in which his nerves were clearly – but understandably – on show. “It’s been a great early birthday present,” he said, as he proudly held the trophy. Owen’s award was to be the last act in Lynam’s years as a host – the party games element that he became associated with went with him (a table football contest was staged one year, Frank Bruno inevitably being one of the participants). And soon the longstanding Sports Review of the Year title for the show was no more, with now both the programme and main award known as Sports Personality of the Year as the emphasis increasingly became on the awards.

2001 – Beckham’s redemption

Where Owen was hailed a hero after the 1998 World Cup, Beckham was hounded for his sending-off against Argentina. But he put the episode behind him to finish second in SPOTY in 1999 after helping Manchester United win the treble. Two years later his stoppage time free-kick against Greece took England to the World Cup finals and won him the award. The pain of three years earlier was now banished to the past.  

Considering it wasn’t a World Cup finals year, football featured incredibly prominently in the awards – reflecting the level of popularity the sport was now enjoying. Owen was third in the main award, while Liverpool won team of the year. Sir Alex Ferguson received the lifetime achievement award and Sven-Göran Eriksson capped his first year in charge of England by winning the coach of the year accolade. Since then though, the only footballing winner of the main SPOTY award was Manchester United’s Welsh star Ryan Giggs in 2009.

For Beckham, his SPOTY successes weren’t over yet. He took second place in 2002 and then in 2010 he received the lifetime achieving award, aged just 35. He was far younger than other recipients of the award, including Sir Bobby Robson who had collected his honour in the most memorable of presentations three years earlier.

2007 – Not a dry eye in the house

Due to the format it now adopts, SPOTY is not without its critics today. But one of the enjoyable elements of the show in recent times has been the presentation of a lifetime achievement award. One of the most memorable occasions came in 2007, when former England manager Sir Bobby Robson made his way to the stage to receive the accolade. As he stood there, the entire audience stood and clapped and clapped for one of the longest standing ovations you are likely to see. Robson must have cast his mind back to occasions such as when England were held to a draw by Saudi Arabia in 1988 and he was portrayed as public enemy number one in the press. Now he was seeing just how loved he was by so many people – and not just within the world of football.

It was a lump in the throat moment for Robson and so many others. Presenter Lineker later admitted it was only the prolonged applause that enabled him to regain composure as the emotion of the moment got to him. Sir Alex Ferguson even put aside his long-running feud with the BBC to present the award. Robson spoke of his pride and told of how his father would have somersaulted his way from Durham to see him collect the honour in Birmingham had he still been alive. The following year, another English footballing Sir Bobby – Charlton – would follow him in winning the accolade and he also received a prolonged standing ovation.

The Euro ’96 draw remembered

Posted on Updated on

Ahead of the draw for Euro 2016 on Saturday, we look back 20 years to when Birmingham hosted the draw for Euro ’96. For England, there had been a long wait for the tournament but now the excitement could finally build as they were paired with their oldest rivals – Scotland.

December is often a bit of a dead month in international football, but the last month of 1995 proved anything but for England and boss Terry Venables. A week in mid-December was full of international happenings. On Tuesday, December 12, the qualifying draw for the 1998 World Cup placed England in a group including Italy. That night, Steve Stone scored as they drew 1-1 with Portugal in a rare December friendly. The following evening, Anfield staged the only qualifying play-off for Euro ’96 as the Netherlands turned on the style in beating the Republic of Ireland 2-0 – a result that would almost certainly spell the end of Jack Charlton’s reign with Ireland.

On Saturday, December 16, Venables suffered a blow as left-back Graeme Le Saux was carried off playing for Blackburn Rovers against Middlesbrough with an injury that would rule him out of Euro ’96. And behind the scenes, Venables was left deciding that he would be moving on after the tournament amid a series of legal battles (the announcement would be made the following month).

Euro ’96 would mark the end of Terry Venables’ England reign.

But Venables would be spending the next six months carrying on doing what he had been for almost two years – preparing England for Euro ’96. It had been a long wait, England having not played any competitive football – if one discounts the Umbro Cup mini-tournament – during his reign as one friendly merged into another. But eight days before Christmas, the draw for Euro ’96 was to take place at Birmingham’s International Convention Centre. At last the tournament and what Venables had been working towards was starting to seem real.

Draw brings festive cheer

There’s something quite enjoyable about the draw for major tournaments taking place shortly before the festive season, with the Christmas tree up as you settle down to watch it. In much the same way that the holiday guide in the Christmas edition of the Radio Times provides a good chance for readers to start planning for the following summer, the draws for major tournaments do the same for England fans – as they either start making arrangements to attend the matches or plan for where and when to watch them on TV.

How the Euro ’96 draw panned out.

As if to convey the significance of the draw, both the BBC and ITV showed it live on the Sunday afternoon with Sue Barker and Bob Wilson jointly introducing proceedings for viewers across the continent. Some international draws can be ridiculously long and do not flow, seeming more of a cultural event than the simple procedure of determining who plays who the following summer. The draw for Euro ’96 was not without such accusations, as the coaches and media sat through English schoolchildren welcoming each participating nation and Mick Hucknall performing. But mercifully as this draw was largely free of seedings it flowed far better than many have.

England were joined as a seed by Germany, Spain and holders Denmark and the other 12 sides were not seeded – there were no second tier seeds etc. This made it hard to guess just what sort of group England might end up with, the worst case scenario being something like Italy, the Netherlands and Portugal all joining them.

Barry builds up the excitement

As a seed, England would be one of the final balls drawn out. Eventually all that was left was England and Germany, to go in either a group with the Netherlands, Scotland and Switzerland or Italy, the Czech Republic and Russia. The former option was probably the slightly more preferable to Venables and the chances of a clash with Scotland now stood at 50-50. BBC commentator Barry Davies seemed to suddenly morph into his statistically-obsessed rival John Motson as he dwelt on the possibility of the old rivals clashing again. “107 meetings they’ve had England and Scotland. 43-40 it stands in England’s favour. Are we to have another one?” he asked as the piece of paper was pulled out of the ball. “Yes we are,” he exclaimed as England’s name popped up on the screen.

England and Scotland were to meet for the first time since 1989, when Steve Bull scored on his debut.

Venables was seen performing the customary chuckle response to an intriguing draw, as the rest of the proceedings were lost amid the anticipation in the room of England taking on the Scots. Ally McCoist, joining Des Lynam and Gary Lineker in the BBC studio, was preparing for six months of pre-match banter with Rangers colleague Paul Gascoigne about the tie. It would have been exciting enough for England to be paired with the Scots regardless, but the fact they had not met since 1989 following the demise of the Rous Cup meant it was particularly appealing. It would also be the first time England had met a fellow British side at a major tournament (but not the first meeting with another British Isles nation after playing the Republic of Ireland at Euro ’88 and Italia ’90).

Football’s coming home

Each England group game had its own attraction. Switzerland – who Roy Hodgson had steered to the finals before moving on – were the least enticing of the three fixtures but they would play them in the tournament’s opening match. The Scots would be up next for the match that would inevitably be dubbed the ‘Battle of Britain’. And the group would conclude with a clash with the Dutch, much-hyped after the play-off win over the Irish but with England having a score to settle after their opponents had qualified for the 1994 World Cup at their expense.

David Lacey, writing in The Guardian the following morning, said: “In terms of match patterns, the draw has just about given Venables what he would have wished. Switzerland are England’s most recent victims, beaten 3-1 at Wembley in a friendly last month; Holland their most recent tormentors and best saved until the last game of the opening phase.” Tournament director Glen Kirton, referring to the tournament’s ‘Football Comes Home’ slogan – which inspired the ‘Football’s Coming Home’ chorus in Three Lions – said of England being drawn against Scotland: “Football really has come home with the first international fixture repeating itself. It was time England started playing Scotland again.”

  
England were to face Switzerland at Euro ’96 – but not Roy Hodgson.

Not all the newspaper talk about England playing Scotland focused on the positives, with some fears raised about the threat of trouble. However, both Kirton and Scotland manager Craig Brown played down the likelihood of hooliganism. Meanwhile, Venables was being quizzed about playing the Dutch, who had looked so impressive against the Irish. “They currently have an outstanding team,” he said. “But we have confidence to play against them. I don’t fear sides because fear in itself then becomes your greatest obstacle. We knew that whatever group we were in it was going to be exciting because of the high quality. To play against Scotland and Holland makes it doubly exciting.” Opposite number Guus Hiddink was playing down Dutch chances despite now being installed as favourites by some bookmakers, reminding the media they had “qualified by the kitchen door”.

Although most of the talk after the draw concerned England’s group, there were some interesting looking fixtures in store elsewhere. Group B contained the two sides who met in the Euro ’84 final – France and Spain – as well as Bulgaria and Romania who had both done well at the 1994 World Cup. Group C provided a match-up between two of the favourites in Germany and Italy, although their Old Trafford clash could potentially be about nothing more than who topped the group if they both took care of the Czech Republic and Russia. Group D looked arguably the weakest of the other three groups, with Denmark – not expected to repeat their 1992 heroics – being joined by a re-emerging Portugal side and the unknown quantities of Croatia and Turkey.

There was now six months of planning for Venables and 15 other managers, as fans both north and south of the border particularly looked ahead to June 15. England against Scotland was back – at 3pm on a Saturday at Wembley and in the finals of the European Championship…

When Brian Clough missed out on the England job

Posted on Updated on

This week in 1977 saw Brian Clough interviewed for the England manager’s job following the departure of his great rival Don Revie a few months earlier. Today we look back at the episode, as Clough saw the job he craved elude him and he would never come as close again…

In June 1977, England were on tour of South America. They were in grave danger of failing to qualify for a second successive World Cup finals and had suffered poor home defeats in the Home International Championship to Wales and Scotland. Manager Don Revie disappeared from the tour to secretly take up the offer of a lucrative deal managing Saudi Arabia, later claiming he feared he would face the axe with England anyway. The following month Revie sensationally announced in a newspaper exclusive that he was leaving and immediately there was talk of Nottingham Forest boss Brian Clough becoming his permanent successor. 

  

Brian Clough on the day of his England job interview.

The public showed it wanted Clough in newspaper polls, but that didn’t automatically count for much. What they hoped for was likely to differ from what the Football Association hierarchy sought. Ron Greenwood was in caretaker charge of England and a rousing 2-0 win over Italy – while not enough to take them to the World Cup – did the 56-year-old’s chances of getting the job full-time no harm at all. But Clough was to be afforded an interview, along with others including Lawrie McMenemy and Bobby Robson. FA coaching men Allen Wade and Charles Hughes were also candidates, Clough later dismissing their credentials for the job. But the FA wanted to revamp its coaching structure with the new manager helping oversee it, which meant the appointment was likely to be about more than simply being able to win football matches.

Several interviews for the job – including Clough’s – took place on December 5, 1977, two days after England’s failure to qualify for the World Cup was confirmed when Italy unsurprisingly beat Luxembourg. It had been a turbulent 1970s for England, continually missing out on major tournaments just a few years after the glory of 1966. Revie’s appointment off the back of winning the First Division with Leeds United in 1974 had promised much but been a disappointment  – and was ending with an unpleasant legal battle over his resignation – and now the FA had to find a successor who could deliver. 

The interview day

Clough had at least this time been given the chance to audition for the role, which as he pointed out to the media outside Lancaster Gate was further than he had got three years earlier when Revie was given the job. McMenemy would recount how, as they waited to be interviewed, Clough caught sight off a gentleman of advancing years and was patronising about him trying to climb the stairs – telling him he should get the lift instead. However well meant, McMenemy believed this was a bit of an own goal as the man turned out to be on the interviewing panel. And the panel, chaired by Sir Harold Thompson – a man often described as ‘autocratic’ – and including Bert Millichip, Peter Swales and Dick Wragg, was something Clough found hard to identify with besides former Manchester United boss Sir Matt Busby. Clough also probably did not help his cause by making scathing criticisms of England’s new kit to FA secretary Ted Croker while he waited.

“I wasn’t comfortable with most of the company at that interview,” wrote Clough in his 2002 autobiography. “I had nothing in common with any of them so you can imagine how grateful I was to see Sir Matt Busby sitting there. He knew my business; he knew what made me a manager.” But despite feeling a limited rapport with the interviewers, he maintained 25 years later that had the appointment been based on the interviews only then it would have been his as he felt he did very well. With typical modesty, he wrote: “I was not only ready for the job. I was perfect for it because I would have been good at it.” That will forever remain one of the great ‘what ifs?’ in English football. 

Greenwood gets it

After the interviews it was announced there would be a seven-day wait until the new manager was appointed. But even the following morning speculation was mounting that Greenwood would get the role. That duly became the case as Greenwood was announced as manager on December 12. The FA could not get hold of him but still went ahead with the announcement anyway. He learnt of his appointment on the radio while going out for lunch. 

  
Jack Charlton claimed he did not receive a reply to his application.

Indeed, even accounting for the relatively limited technology of the time the process did not cover the FA in glory so far as communication was concerned. Two of England’s 1966 heroes, Bobby Moore and Jack Charlton, claimed they did not receive a response to their applications (the Daily Mirror reported at the time that Charlton had been interviewed but several sources contradict this). Charlton, who like Clough had a straight-talking reputation, would later speculate if his association with Revie counted against him.

Clough misses out

Clough declared himself “slightly disappointed” about not getting the job, which appears to have been a major understatement going by subsequent comments on the subject. A more damning response on his behalf at the time came from Forest vice-chairman Richard Dryden, who was both pleased the club was keeping hold of Clough but disgusted on his behalf that he had been turned down. “I am delighted for Nottingham Forest but I can’t understand the FA making a mistake of such gigantic proportions in not choosing Brian Clough,” he said. 

Clough believed his last contribution to the interview, saying he would be willing to work in any role if offered, dented his chances of landing the big job. He ended up instead having a short-lived stint running the England Youth team. It was merely a consolation prize and a long way below what he really wanted.

The job specification for the new England manager was perhaps not to Clough’s advantage during the process, the FA wanting a man to “supervise integration of coaching at all levels” which Greenwood fitted the bill for. As Norman Fox in The Times wrote: “If the Football Association select committee had wanted no more than a manager to restore the team’s status, they would probably have been tempted by a different candidate.”

Taking it out on United

After the rejection, Clough was left to focus on his club again, with Manchester United possibly feeling the full wrath of his disappointment as Forest won 4-0 at Old Trafford shortly before Christmas. It was a day that they sent out a message they could seriously win the title, which they duly did. And the trophies kept on coming under Clough and his assistant Peter Taylor, which served to leave many still believing they should have been at the English helm. 

All told, Clough was like an outspoken and unpredictable candidate on The Apprentice who might pull off some great deals along the way, but you just know Lord Sugar won’t take a chance on them come the final reckoning. The FA seemingly felt like that about him and unfortunately for Clough, the organisation’s hierarchy in the 1970s was still old school and at odds with his way of operating. Even years later a man like Clough might have been turned down, but one feels he may have stood more of a chance.

  
After losing out on the England job, Brian Clough twice led Nottingham Forest to European Cup glory. 

A bit of a myth has built up surrounding Clough over the years, that turning him down in 1977 was inconceivable. There is no question he did a superb job at Derby County and he ticked a lot of the boxes as a winning manager. But really it wasn’t a major surprise he was rejected, as if the FA were looking for faults they wouldn’t have to search too far. Although he had widespread public support, there would have been plenty of concern from the FA too. His fallouts with chairman such as Sam Longson at Derby would have not gone unnoticed, while his infamous stint at Leeds United did not provide many positive endorsements (particularly when it came to managing star names). Five years had passed since his only major honour – albeit an achievement that shouldn’t be underestimated – and he had spent the majority of the last four years managing beneath the top-flight. Forest, who had unconvincingly won promotion the previous season, were now off to a strong start in the First Division – but there was no guarantee it would last. 

Clough was a bit unlucky with the timing here. Had the job instead come up in the summer of 1980, by which point he had inspired Forest to a league title, two European Cups and two League Cups and now managed to twice transform clubs into champions, it would have been far harder to dismiss him. 

  
Brian Clough would have sought for his sidekick Peter Taylor to work alongside him with England.

But it wasn’t just about his capability to win matches that he would be judged on. The FA would have been understandably concerned about his nature for attracting controversy, particularly given he would be an ambassador for the nation as England manager. Even if meant in jest, some comments he made could be interpreted as xenophobic and the FA would have been uneasy about this. Greenwood fitted the ambassador bill more and also as someone who could help oversee the desired revamp of the coaching structure. 

There was also the question of Peter Taylor. Clough made it clear to the media that Taylor would assist him with England, but several years later Bobby Robson was knocked back when he wanted to appoint Don Howe as his full-time assistant. Had Clough suffered the same fate in trying to appoint his own sidekick full-time, it could have led to a fraught relationship with the FA from the word go.

In later years Clough would make jokes along the lines of: “They thought I was going to take over the FA and they were right.” He may not have seen eye-to-eye with Revie on many things, but the way the organisation operated would surely have been one of them (by all accounts, Revie and Sir Harold’s working relationship was not an easy one).

A futile exercise?

There has been a feeling over the years that whatever Clough and everyone else did at the interviews would count for nothing, believing the job was already Greenwood’s. The FA’s press officer at the time, Glen Kirton, said Greenwood – who was interviewed on the same day as Clough – wasn’t even on the candidate list and hinted it may have been a futile exercise in the excellent 2009 ITV documentary Clough. “The chairman would have said ‘I want to appoint Ron Greenwood’ and they would have agreed,” he recalled, as one of the few survivors from the process.

Clough certainly maintained that what he did in the interview counted for nothing, writing in his final autobiography in 2002 that: “I remain unshakeable in my belief that the whole interviewing process was a charade. It wouldn’t have made the slightest difference one way or another… It was done and dusted, decided near as damn it before the FA lot got down to talking to Bobby, Lawrie and the candidate who was best qualified of all – me.”

Just a day after he was interviewed, the Daily Mirror said Clough had been through “what looked a charade of an interview” as it declared ‘Ron’s the one’ in its back page headline. Clough, like the others, was left hoping he still had a chance but deep down he must have known what was coming.

  

Southampton manager Lawrie McMenemy was among the unsuccessful candidates.

Clough wasn’t the only man left disappointed, of course. Bobby Robson missed out, but must have impressed sufficiently to be offered the job when it next came up in 1982. Robson would reflect it had been “the right decision” to appoint Greenwood. He later wrote: “Between 1977 and 1982 I believe I became a better manager, more fully equipped to tackle the daunting task ahead.” At Ipswich Town he won the FA Cup and UEFA Cup during this period and they were unlucky not to win the First Division. McMenemy got on with life at Southampton, where he led them to a club record position of second in the First Division in 1983-84. He would later get his chance to serve his country when he assisted Graham Taylor from 1990-93. 

In 1988 Charlton would get his own back on his national football team for rejecting him, as he led the Republic of Ireland to a famous win over England at the European Championship. And there were plenty of others too who didn’t get the desired job. There was little doubt back then that it was very much THE job in English football, one seemingly every English manager aspired to. Only one man was lucky enough to get it and that was Greenwood.

‘The right man at the right time’

Greenwood is sometimes rather unfairly dismissed as nothing more than a ‘safe’ choice for the job. He certainly was someone the FA would have felt more at ease with than Clough, trusting him as a diplomat who would stay out of trouble. His strong status as a coach would have certainly helped him, while he took some indirect credit for England’s 1966 triumph as three key players – Geoff Hurst, Bobby Moore and Martin Peters – played under him at West Ham. Trevor Brooking would be a later youth product to establish himself with England and Greenwood won both the FA Cup and European Cup Winners Cup with the Hammers.  He had also previously coached England at youth and under-23 level.

Greenwood’s experience of managing in Europe was to his advantage, coupled with the progress made since becoming caretaker manager of England. “Ron was the right man for the job at the right time,” wrote Brooking in his autobiography. He added: “Even today, England players of that era will tell you how much they thought of him.” Greenwood had moved upstairs at Weat Ham in recent years with John Lyall taking over team affairs, but now he was happily getting on his tracksuit and heading for his natural habitat of the training ground again.

  
Ron Greenwood managed England from 1977 to 1982.

The Football League secretary Alan Hardaker, on learning of Greenwood’s appointment, made an interesting quote. He said of Greenwood: “He is not a ‘yes’ man and he has the character to disagree with someone without falling out with them.” This perhaps sums up a key difference between Clough and Greenwood. The former had a reputation for shouting and bawling at people he disagreed with, sometimes really putting them down in the process. Greenwood would be seen as simply offering a thoughtful viewpoint, not belittling someone else in disagreeing with them. And this perhaps sums up one key reason why Greenwood appealed to the FA more than Clough. Having enjoyed his caretaker reign, Greenwood now got on with the job full-time and duly led England to the 1980 European Championship.

But the process by which he got the job will forever be remembered for one man who didn’t – Brian Clough. It was seen as much as a case of Clough missing out on the job as Greenwood landing the role. It is hard to recall another instance of someone being unsuccessful in a football manager’s job interview being so frequently recalled. But there is no doubt that Clough, for all his misgivings about the FA hierarchy, genuinely wanted to manage his country. Through both the Greenwood and Robson years there were frequent calls for Clough to get the role instead, but it never happened. “The greatest manager England never had” has become a frequently applied phrase. Would Old Big ‘Ead have been a success? Well we’ll save that one for another day…