March 19, 2013

Brian Clough's cricket connection

Brian Clough might have been one of the greatest football managers the English game ever knew, but cricket held a special place in his life as well

Later in life, cricket seems to have been a means of relaxation for Brian Clough, a way of escaping the stresses of football © PA Photos

On Thursday, it will be 78 years since the birth of Brian Clough. He was one of the greatest football managers the English game ever knew, winning league titles at Derby County and Nottingham Forest, whom he also led to two European Cups. He also played twice for England and is still the fastest man to 250 goals in the English league. Yet, when he was growing up in Middlesbrough, he dreamed not of being a great football manager or even a great centre-forward, but of opening the batting for Yorkshire and England.

He would race home from school every night, change into old clothes and then dash up to Albert Park - where a statue of him now stands - to play football or cricket. He admits he spent much of his national service, when he wasn't playing sport, sneaking off to listen to cricket on the radio. When he was manager at Forest, he would regularly be seen at Trent Bridge taking in games.

Clough seems to have been a relatively accomplished amateur batsman and bustling medium-pace seamer, fired by the implacable will to win that sustained his football career. Records of him playing are rare but in the summer of 1957, Middlesbrough, the football club at which Clough began his playing career, sent a team to play cricket against Redcar Cricket Club.

Clough, coming in at No. 6, scored 4 and goalkeeper Peter Taylor, later Clough's highly influential assistant-manager, top scored with 31 as Middlesbrough, fielding 12 men, won by a wicket. The game was such a success it was reprised a year later, when Taylor scored 41 and Clough, having taken 2 for 21, scored 15 not out to guide the football club to a six-wicket victory. A year after that, in a benefit for the Redcar groundsman, Ted Johnson, Clough was unbeaten on 24 with Middlesbrough 117 for 7 chasing 170 when bad light stopped play.

"He wasn't a bad cricketer," said Stan Wilson, who played for Redcar. "There was him, and [the Jamaican winger] Lindy Delapenha could play a bit, but the others were just there to sign autographs. But he hadn't come to sign autographs. He'd come to win. I remember him nagging these fellas; he might have been playing in the Cup final the way he was bollocking them. He couldn't understand not playing to win. But that was him: he was a winner."

The next clear evidence of Clough playing cricket comes in 1962. He'd left Middlesbrough for Sunderland in 1960 and seems to have lost contact to an extent with Taylor, who had been a close friend in their days as team-mates. But that summer Taylor organised for a number of his friends in football to face the Nottingham Inland Revenue Cricket Club, for whom he played during football's off-season.

Clough was part of the footballers' team, alongside the likes of David Pleat, Ian Storey-Moore, Tony Hateley, Peter Grumett and Jeff Astle. Again Clough's intense competitiveness was clear. "Our captain told us to let the all-stars get a good score and then we'd chase it," Clive Wood, one of the Inland Revenue side, told Wendy Dickinson, Taylor's daughter, in her biography of her father. "This young chap came in to bat at five for the all-stars... Our captain deliberately drops a catch that would have had him out. This lad stops the play and says, 'If we're going to f***ing play this game then let's play it f***ing properly.'" Needless to say, that young chap was Clough.

On Boxing Day that year, Clough suffered a serious knee injury that effectively ended his playing career. During the long, painful months of rehabilitation, he became a regular visitor to Acklam Park and Scarborough to watch Yorkshire, and it was then that he met Geoff Boycott, who became a good friend. He also spent a lot of time with West Indies spinner Lance Gibbs, then playing as a professional with Whitburn in the Durham Senior League. The day Simon, his eldest son, was born, Clough got so drunk on champagne with Lance Gibbs at Wetherall's club in the centre of Sunderland that the sister was reluctant to allow him in to see his son. "Some welcome to fatherhood," as he put it in his autobiography.

Later in life, cricket seems to have been a means of relaxation for him, a way of escaping the stresses of football. John Wray, who covered football for the Bradford Evening Argus, for instance, remembers agreeing to go and help Clough house-hunt during his ill-fated 44 days as manager of Leeds in 1974. When he got to Clough's hotel, though, he found him sitting with a can of beer, watching cricket (probably the third Test between England and Pakistan at The Oval, which was drawn after Dennis Amiss replied to Zaheer Abbas's 240 with 183). They watched the game until it was too late to go out.

Some have seen that as an indication that Clough recognised quickly that his stay at Leeds would be short and that there was no point getting a house, or perhaps it was simply an indication that he liked drinking beer and watching cricket.

Jonathan Wilson writes for the Guardian, the National, Sports Illustrated, World Soccer and Fox. He tweets here