Cloughie And My Mates Won The European Cup - Tyldesley On Forest Heroics In 1979

Commentary great Clive Tyldesley talks us through the first of five major matches from his career
11:00, 13 Jun 2022

Clive Tyldesley has commentated on some of the most iconic moments in football history. From World Cups to Champions League finals, he is the voice of the sport for a generation of football fanatics. Now, in a five-part series, he has talked The Sportsman through some of the most important matches across his career, from his unique perspective. All five games feature in Clive's series of Commentary Charts, which are now available as part of his latest business venture.

The first one takes us right back to 1979, when Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest became European Champions for the first time. Clive wasn’t even working that day, but we’ll let him explain in his own majestic way why the European Cup final of 1979 was so important for him.

England has played a big part in my career but I suppose the defining moments of my career so far have been Champions League finals. The 1979 Champions League final was the second that I had actually attended, the second of 28 and counting. I have commentated on Champions League finals for radio, local radio and for television and network television - I've now commentated on the final for US network television. 

I'm sad to say that I have counted dead bodies at one Champions League final. 

But I have only attended one as a guest. I always feel a bit of a spare part when I go as a guest and I'm not working. But in 1979, Nottingham Forest invited me as their guest to go to Munich and watch them play Malmo in what was then the European Cup final. Why? Well, my very first job in radio, straight out of university in 1975, was with Radio Trent in Nottingham. I was assigned to cover Forest home and away quite early in my career, I was in my 20s, the same age as the players. I spent my entire working week around those players, and I would often interview Brian Clough twice in a week. I often travelled with them on club transport to and from the game and then going out for a beer with quite a few of them, after the game, which you could do in the late 1970s and early 1980s. 

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So these were my mates, and in their promotion campaign to what is now the Premier League in 1976-77 were a lot of the guys that to this day I call my friends. Martin O'Neill was my first great friend in football who remains a great friend. In 1979, eight of the promotion team started the European Cup final. There were two more of that promotion team on the bench. 

The Nottingham Forest squad with Brian Clough
The Nottingham Forest squad with Brian Clough

The only additions in those two years from being promoted in third place in what is now the Championship into the Premier League, to winning the Champions League, were Peter Shilton the goalkeeper, Kenny Burns and Trevor Francis - the first million-pound player who actually took my mate Martin O'Neill's place in the team. Martin was elbowed by Cloughie onto the subs bench! So I was watching my pals play in a Champions League final when two years earlier I was watching them play away at York and Bolton. 

Trevor Francis' solitary goal was probably, I've got to be honest here, probably my only disappointment of that night. The guy who had taken my best mate's place in the team scored the winning goal. 

There's a very famous commentary by Barry Davies, who I didn't know at the time but I have come to know, older readers would be in awe of Barry Davies, John Motson, Brian Moore - those commentators from the late 1970s, early 1980s. Each of them were very, very distinctive in their style. I worked with Barry and John at the BBC for four years, and occasionally a footballer would say: “Remind me how many caps Barry Davies has got. He is always criticising us like he is the England manager and he never played the game.” 

Well no, maybe not, but he has got an opinion and he voices it. And that night, when John Robertson got on the outside of his full-back and crossed for Trevor Francis to head the goal, the goal that decided that European Cup final, Barry's commentary was: "That's what I've been wanting him to do all night!" 

It was a little bit high and mighty, if you think back on it. 'Why didn't you listen to me, Brian Clough?' They were the kind of moments that made Barry so distinctive and in many ways he spoke as a fan watching the game. "That's what I've been wanting him to do all night!" But he said it openly in commentary, and that was the famous goal that settled the 1979 European Cup final.

The players - my pals - were truly incredible, but we can’t talk about this Nottingham Forest team without mentioning Brian Clough. He was a very big part of the first two years of my career. It was my access to Clough that really got me noticed by network radio stations. The fact that he was prepared to give me interviews, he trusted me. He bullied me. He was an old school manager. You served an apprenticeship with him and I had some famous rollockings from him.

I actually learnt a great deal from him. I learnt the sanctity of the dressing room. He once caught me interviewing Martin O'Neill in the dressing room during the week, it was just somewhere to go to do the interview after training. He turfed me out and said: "Young man, unless I select you to play for Nottingham Forest, you do not cross the threshold of this door. This is where the players get changed, not the commentators."

So, any time I have ever been invited into a changing room since, wherever, by whoever, I've always looked over my shoulder in case Cloughie is watching, because I'm not a player, I am a commentator. So I learned a great deal from him. He was drinking, and that is not an opinion, that is a matter of fact. The only contest in his life that he couldn't win. The only contest that even his wonderful wife Barbara couldn't persuade him to give up. 

It affected his moods and anybody and everybody around Nottingham Forest, however much they loved, admired and respected him, were in fear of him because we were never sure which Brian we were going to get on any given day. But that, in a sense, makes his success even more remarkable because alcoholism is an illness, and Brian Clough was fighting illness as well as fighting Liverpool and the best teams in the world. He won every contest apart from that one. 

Iconic Forest manager Brian Clough next to Peter Taylor
Iconic Forest manager Brian Clough next to Peter Taylor

My actual role in Munich that day, and I was given a role by the commercial director, was to look after the wives, which sounds very 20th century - ‘women in a major city can't look after themselves’ - they certainly could. Helen Francis, sadly late, lamented Helen Francis, an absolutely wonderful fireball of a Welsh woman who was Trevor Francis' life really. Trevor has never really been quite the same since Helen left us. Helen took control of all the organisation, the lunch, the shopping and so I was a redundant spare part and a guest at the European Cup final. 

I was a fan at a European Cup final and that is something that I sort of miss, because who do I support? I really don't have a team. I did have - I grew up in Greater Manchester , and my dad took me to Old Trafford at four or five years of age, and even in the season when they were in the second division I supported them home and away. 

But when I got to meet Martin O'Neill and John Robertson and Ian Bowyer, those guys who became my mates in my very first job, my affections just moved to them. To this day, who do I support? I support my mates in football. 

So the first commentary chart that I am presenting to you, Nottingham Forest vs Malmo, the big breakthrough for Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest is special to me, because I was watching my mates. 

You can buy Clive Tyldesley's commentary charts, including this Nottingham Forest one, from commentarycharts.com. Stay tuned for his next tale on The Sportsman on Tuesday. 

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