Brian Clough’s achievements in the game, like winning the league title with unfashionable Derby County and taking lowly Nottingham Forest from Second Division obscurity to uncharted glory, have rightfully gone down in football folklore; but it’s safe to say the most infamous period of his managerial career was his ill-fated 44-day spell at Leeds United.
Clough had famously described Leeds as: “The dirtiest, most cynical team in the league,” before replacing Don Revie, who was still worshipped in the city for his years at the helm that had seen Leeds win two league titles, the FA Cup and League Cup while also finishing runners-up on three separate occasions; which didn’t make for the best of starts.
And when he was finally introduced to his new players, who were still fiercely loyal to their old boss after he had left to manage the England national side, things only got worse when he announced: “The first thing you can do for me is throw your medals in the bin because you’ve never won anything fairly; you’ve done it by cheating.”
Needless to say his comments and general demeanour didn’t go down well with those at the club, both on and off the field, but it was Leeds’ somewhat disastrous start to the 1974-75 league campaign that would ultimately seal his fate.
A sign of things to come was Clough’s first game in charge of the champions, the Charity Shield against FA Cup winners Liverpool at Wembley, but not before he had called Revie to ask if he would like to lead the team out as it was his side that had clinched the title three months before – an offer which Revie politely declined.
In a bad tempered affair both Kevin Keegan and Billy Bremner were sent off for fighting and to be honest another two or three could easily have gone before Liverpool finally won the resulting penalty shoot-out.
The league campaign also began in disappointing fashion for Clough, who was now without Peter Taylor, his trusty number two who he had achieved so much success with at Derby County, after he decided to honour an agreement to manage Brighton.
With just one win from the opening six games and only four points taken from a possible 12 the new manager was now under huge pressure as Leeds found themselves 19th in the table having endured their worst start to a season in 15 years.
Defeats against Stoke, QPR and Manchester City proved too much to take for the Leeds faithful, who had been so used to success under Revie and the players, many of whom were accused of openly taking against Clough, also become frustrated with their new manager’s approach.
"He never got off first base,” former skipper Johnny Giles later claimed. “He would have been great for Leeds. I'd say he regretted that it didn't work out. I'd say we regretted it as well because it was an impossible situation. It came out that player power got rid of him which wasn't true. His attitude was really, really bad.”
And on September 12, 1974, following a home draw with Luton Town, Brian Clough was eventually sacked by Leeds United, the ultimate embarrassment for one of the brashest and most confident managers the game had ever seen.
But that wasn’t the end of his humiliation. That evening he appeared on the current affairs programme Calendar to discuss his dismissal; only to be sat next to the man he had replaced just six weeks earlier - his old nemesis Don Revie.
The broadcast was an incredible piece of television theatre and gripping drama as the two giants of the game, who had achieved so much in their own unique way, verbally jousted in front of an audience of millions with an equal measure of mutual respect and dislike on display for all to see.
To many at the time the appointment was a strange one. Why employ a man who had been so critical of the previous manager and why would a man who appeared to have nothing but disdain for the club want to take the role in the first place?
Despite the bitter disappointment and failure Clough left Leeds with his contract paid in full, which amounted to around £100,000, but he had been robbed of the chance of leading what was seen as one of the best teams around to test themselves against Europe’s best, probably one of the biggest factors in Clough taking the role in the first place.
“Did I say the European Cup? I hardly lasted long enough to be given my own teacup at Leeds,” he would later remark in his autobiography. But he wouldn’t have to wait long. Just four years later his Nottingham Forest side would bring home the huge trophy in what many believe was “Old big ‘ead’s” greatest achievement.