A free chapter from my book

I’ve co-written a book called MediaMasters with my good friend Alan Stevens.

The aim of the book is to learn how top sports stars, performers, business people, politicans and others in the public eye, use the media to best effect.

Below is a free chapter about one of my footballing heroes, Brian Clough. We didn’t always get on, but he was a brilliant manager. His teams played attractive football and he was a godsend for journalists. He played the media better than anyone before or since. He knew the game and always provided great quotes.

BRIAN CLOUGH – the statue in the Old Market Square, Nottingham.

‘That’s the man we should have as England manager’, my Dad used to say, whenever Brian Clough was on the television in the seventies, talking about football. ‘But they’ll never give him the job, he’s too outspoken’.

Dad was right. Despite winning the league title with two unfashionable teams Derby County and Nottingham Forest, and then two European Cups with Forest, they never gave him the job he really wanted, because he couldn’t keep his mouth shut. He said entertaining, witty, outrageous and controversial things that the blazer wearers at the Football Association would never condone. Brian was years ahead of his time and he understood the importance of television to football. Most of all he spoke in terrific soundbites, and that’s why he’s a media master in my book, even if he did once punch me.

Here’s a few Cloughie soundbites to kick off with:

‘Football hooligans – well, there are 92 club chairmen for a start.’

‘Don’t send me flowers when I’m dead. If you like me, send them while I’m alive.’

‘Players lose you games, not tactics. There’s so much crap talked about tactics by people who barely know how to win at dominoes.’

Known to all as Cloughie, he died in 2004. He’s the only person, I didn’t interview specifically for the book, but I have interviewed him many times and have referred back to those old interviews as well as TV and radio footage from the archives. And if that sounds a chore, well it wasn’t. He’s one of the most entertaining speakers ever in my view. In the sports world only Muhammad Ali and Yogi Berra come close. Every time he opened his mouth, out came a gem.

Most neutrals loved the way Cloughie’s teams played, attractive passing to feet, not just hoofing it up in the air and hoping.

‘If God had wanted us to play football in the clouds, he’d have put grass up there.’

Like many a fan of the beautiful game, I was disappointed when Manchester United opted out of the FA Cup one season, so they could play in the World Club Championship in Brazil. Brian didn’t hold back with his feelings:

‘Manchester United in Brazil? I hope they all get bloody diarrhoea.’

He was a very arrogant man, but with justification, and he could joke about it as well. When honoured by the Queen for his services to football, he was the first to say that his OBE stood for Old Big ‘Ead.

‘I wouldn’t say I was the best manager in the business, but I was in the top one.’

‘The river Trent is lovely, I know because I have walked on it for 18 years. ‘

‘They say Rome wasn’t built in a day, but I wasn’t on that particular job. ‘

Brian was uniquely eloquent. He’d had his playing career cut short through injury, so he came to management very young. He was fresh faced, witty and outspoken. TV producers and viewers loved him.

I don’t want to upset any footballers who might be reading this book, or having it read to them, but they aren’t always the greatest with words. So gifted with their feet, many can barely string two words together. ‘Yeah like I say, the lads done great, if you know what I mean, obviously, we’re just taking each game as it comes.’ (I always think playing one game at a time is a good idea, or the pitch would be far too crowded!)

When Sven Goran Eriksson, a Swede, was appointed the first foreign manager of England, Cloughie came up with the priceless soundbite:

‘At last England have appointed a manager who speaks English better than the players.’

Despite making a good living from being an expert analyst on television, he thought there was too much football on the box.

‘You don’t want roast beef and Yorkshire every night and twice on Sunday.’

He could be a bit rude, like this piece of advice to David Beckham, about his wife’s career with the Spice Girls.

‘He should guide Posh in the direction of a singing coach, because she’s nowhere near as good at her job as her husband.’

(He could be right. I’ve never heard David sing!)

He hit me once. Cloughie not Becks.

Brian had signed Steve Hodge for Nottingham Forest and he’d been drinking whisky with the player in his office to celebrate. I waited outside in the cold with the press pack. When he emerged after a few hours and a few glasses, Cloughie’s nose was a little redder than usual. He said a few words to the press, but refused me an interview for BBC radio. I asked again and he punched me full in the face, I fell backwards through a door and landed on his labrador, Del Boy. I picked myself up and asked again, which really wasn’t a good idea. He shoved me through a door and slammed it closed. In his mind he had thrown me out, but in fact he was now in the corridor and I was in his office.

I stood there for a few moments just looking at all the pennants from foreign football clubs on the wall alongside a picture of Frank Sinatra. How would I explain to my boss at the BBC that relations with Cloughie might be a bit strained from now on. Eventually I let myself out, interviewed Brian’s assistant Archie Gemmill about the new signing and then went back to find Old Big ‘Ead. He was drinking whisky with some newspaper reporters.

I held out my hand.

‘See you next week Brian’.

He shook it.

‘Young man, you are the first reporter I’ve punched this season, but you won’t be the last.’

That year Forest won the League Cup Final at Wembley. While other reporters were kept waiting in the tunnel, I was hauled into the dressing room by Cloughie wearing just a white towel. He gave me an exclusive radio interview while internationals Des Walker and Stuart Pearce stood naked drinking beer out of the trophy. As I left Clough said, ‘That’s cos I took your head off earlier in the season.’

I don’t feel bad about being clobbered by Cloughie, after all he hit his own fans who ran onto the pitch during a game. Once, rather bravely in my view, he dished some out to tough guy footballer Roy Keane.

‘I only ever hit Roy the once. He got up, so I couldn’t have hit him very hard.’

Drink was Brian’s downfall. He did like his whisky.

‘Walk on water? I know most people out there will be saying that I should have taken more of it with my drinks. They are absolutely right.’

He was the best in the business at motivating players. They just had to agree with his methods. If they disagreed:

‘We talk about if for twenty minutes and then decide I was right.’

Martin O’Neill, now a successful manager in his own right pays tribute to Brian’s ability with words.

‘It’s fair to say I wasn’t one of his favourites, but when he gave you praise he made you feel a thousand feet tall.’

Football is a much poorer place now Cloughie has gone. This is how the man himself wanted to be remembered:

‘I want no epitaphs of profound history and all that type of thing. I contributed. I would hope they would say that, and I would hope somebody liked me.’

I think we can safely say that a few people liked him. Not much unites the rival East Midlands cities of Nottingham and Derby, but the loss of Cloughie did.

The road that links Nottingham and Derby has been renamed Brian Clough Way.

I stood in the pouring rain with supporters of both teams at his memorial service at Derby’s Pride Park.

What a stormy night it was. We were soaked through. Nigel Clough summed it up, when he spoke on the microphone, suggesting he may have inherited his Dad’s knack of capturing the spirit of an occasion.

As the rain streamed down from the heavens, Nigel said, ‘I’m sure he’s going to have a bit of an input upstairs about who’s running the show up there. We hope he’s sat up there with friends in the sunshine, looking down and saying- look at those daft buggers sitting in the rain.’

Brian Clough was the best football manager the England national side never had. Most of the people in this book have got where they are today, by being great talkers. For Brian his mastery of the spoken word cost him the job he wanted most. As always he gets the last word. Here’s his thoughts on where he went wrong.

‘Telling the entire world and his dog how good a manager I was. I knew I was the best but I should have said nowt and kept the pressure off ‘cos they’d have worked it out for themselves. ‘

by Jeremy Nicholas London Uk (Links to Kindle and print versions of the book on Amazon below)


Hillsborough

In April 1989 I went to Hillsborough for a football match, an FA Cup semi final between Nottingham Forest and  Liverpool. I was commentating on the game for BBC Radio Nottingham.  96 Liverpool fans lost their lives in a dreadful crush on the terracing behind the goal.  20 years on here’s my  account of the day for The Times newspaper.

Witness: We went to report on a football match  and ended up reporting on a tragedy

Jeremy Nicholas worked as match commentator for BBC Radio Nottingham at Hillsborough. Now 46, he is an after-dinner speaker and author

It didn’t seem any different to any other day. I drove from Nottingham to Sheffield, it took just over an hour. To do a radio show, you get there really early, to do your preparatory work. That day, we were presenting the show from the ground, with me commentating and Mark Shardlow doing the presenting.

Just before kick-off, I noticed that it seemed very busy at the Leppings Lane End. Already, I could see people in the upper tier hauling up those below them. It wasn’t right, something was badly wrong. It all unfolded very quickly.

I remember a policeman running, then walking, on to the pitch. He sort of stuttered, as if he was worried about what he was doing. I just thought: “What a brave man.” He got to the ref [Ray Lewis] and told him to stop the game. Some fans booed; they had no idea what was happening.

We had hooliganism in those days. People were climbing up the fences, as if they were causing trouble, but they were pushed back. I still thought it was just a bit of a squash. At 3.25, we were saying that people could be seriously injured. I saw a little boy carried out. Then we were saying some people may have died.

Mark carried on talking, I went off to get the information, to find out what was going on. We crossed on air to other matches: what was happening at the other semi-final [Everton v Norwich City]? How were Notts County getting on?

I kept repeating that no Forest fans were involved because I was conscious that I was only broadcasting to the Nottingham area and I wanted to reassure people with friends at the game. It was like saying: “People have lost their lives but it’s not your people.” I felt very heartless but, in the following weeks, I had so many thank me for letting them know that.

I went on to the pitch to interview Kenny Dalglish [the Liverpool manager]. I asked him a question, which he answered. He then paused for ages. So I said: “Do you think the match should be replayed?” He replied: “I haven’t finished yet.” I felt so small. I spoke with Graham Kelly [the FA chief executive]. I can’t remember what he said.

The police took a party of journalists to the Leppings Lane End. We saw the crush barriers, so thick but all mangled. What force could have done that? Then into the tunnel, where people had died. It was silent. No one said anything. Not until we came out did people start talking again.

When it was happening, the Forest fans had been restless. They didn’t know. I saw a guy carried out and put down in front of them. He was given the kiss of life. He sat up, he was OK. The fans applauded.

I went to a press conference at the police headquarters in Sheffield. They were saying 50 had died, maybe 60. I’d thought it was about ten. Returning to the newsroom at Radio Nottingham in the evening, a colleague said to me: “Well done, that was brilliant. It sounded really good.”

I remember thinking how it had been anything but brilliant. It had been the worst day of my life. I dropped off my equipment, handed over the tapes, then went home. I felt emotionally drained.

We won a New York radio academy award for live coverage of a breaking story but we didn’t go to collect it. It’s not the sort of thing you want to win an award for. What were we going to do? Hold it above our heads and celebrate?

I’d not listened to the commentary again until last week. We went to report on a football match and ended up reporting on a tragedy.

Jeremy Nicholas was talking to Russell Kempson