You will struggle to find a Reds fan who won’t tell you that the arrival of Brian Clough at the City Ground in January 1975 set Nottingham Forest on a remarkable course from obscurity in the old Division Two, to the top of Europe. With this month marking forty years since the team lifted the European Cup, what better opportunity to revisit that miraculous journey?
There was a point, following his infamous 44 days at Leeds United, where Brian Clough genuinely thought that he might never go back to football. Fortunately for Forest, this spell didn’t last and, after four months of quality time with his family, Ol’ Big Head returned, refreshed and eager, albeit slightly less brash than he was in his earlier years.
Already at the club were Ian Bowyer, John Robertson, Martin O’Neill, Viv Anderson and Tony Woodcock who, despite eventually gaining 42 caps for England, was at the time underrated by Clough and loaned out to Lincoln City. The Reds finished the 1975/76 season eighth in the Second Tier, a slight improvement on the previous year where they’d positioned sixteenth.
In July 1976, Brian Clough and Peter Taylor were reunited, and the team really began to gain traction. Taylor is credited with getting Robertson into shape and seeing the potential in Woodcock; further down the line he would set Birmingham City’s Kenny Burns in his sights, looking past his reputation for excessive gambling and drinking.
Having already picked up the Anglo-Scottish Cup in December, the end of the 76/77 season would mark a further change in the club’s fortunes. Partly down to an own goal at the City Ground by Millwall’s Alan Moore, and thanks to Bolton’s defeat against Wolves, a third place Forest were promoted to the top tier on an exceptionally low tally of just 52 points.
Forest would be matched against European royalty in Liverpool in the first round of the 1978/79 European Cup and, domestic success aside, the team would have been forgiven for thinking that their campaign was dead in the water against a team that had won the competition for the previous two years. Yet, to Forest’s delight, home goals by Birtles and Barrett put them through 2-0 on aggregate. According to several members of the squad, it was this victory that gave the team the belief that they really could go all the way.
Further wins against AEK Athens (6-3) in the second round and Grasshopper Club Zurich (5-2) in the quarters meant they went on to the semi-final where they were set to play FC Köln. Here however, after a three-all draw in leg one at home, doubts began to set in. If Clough had any concerns though, he didn’t let it show; in a post-match interview, he stared directly down the camera lens and uttered those immortal lines, “I hope anybody’s not stupid enough to write us off.”
Many fans did not share his confidence. “I thought our chances of reaching the final where slim to none,” recalls supporter Tony Fenyn, “So with the money earmarked for Munich I decided to go to Cologne for the second leg”. But their journey was far from over: Ian Bowyer scored the only goal of the game and Forest were in the final.
Determined to be there with their team, fans would do whatever they could to get to Munich. “I hadn't got any money for the final,” Tony remarks, “I decided to sell everything: my fishing gear, record player and anything else I could get my hands on, I had enough to see my beloved Nottingham Forest in a European Cup final.” Many fans, like Tony, found the experience somewhat surreal, “Were we dreaming? Would we wake up and find it wasn't real after all? No. It was really happening.”
Another lifelong fan, Martin Carey remembers the spectacle of it all, “I don't think any of us realised the magnitude of the achievement. Having gone to Cologne - and probably expecting to be knocked out - it was unbelievable that, weeks later, we were back in Germany at the futuristic Olympic Stadium in Munich.”
Lifelong memories were being made in the hours running up to the match, “I remember hanging around Munich and marvelling at its cleanliness and the friendly people, especially the supporters of our opponents Malmö,” Martin says. “As we made our way to the amazing Olympic Park, we met a pair of very blonde haired Swedish lads, twins, who shared their Rum and Coke with us and we discussed the merits of Swedish music and British; my buddy John Maddock countering their Abba with our Rolling Stones. No contest!”
The match itself can be summed up in one word: disappointing. Malmö weren’t at their strongest, Bo Larsson and Roy Andersson had been lost to injury and Staffan Tapper was fielded with a broken toe only to be subbed. In truth, their opportunities to score were few and far between.
For Forest though it was only ever a matter of time. Birtles landed the ball on top of the net early on and McGovern sent a shot wide about half an hour in. After this, the Reds really began to put the pressure on, with Francis in particular really beginning to make his presence known and in the final moments of the first half, a beautifully timed cross from Robertson allowed him to score. “The game itself was very tense,'' says Martin, “It was more a sense of relief than joy when Robbo's cross was met at the post by a stooping Trevor Francis.”
Tony sums it up. “We won. Yes, Nottingham Forest were European champions. I remember tears of joy rolling down thousands of Forest fans’ cheeks and I was no different.” It may not have been particularly remarkable but now everyone knew their name and, contrary to popular belief, sometimes life is just as much about the journey as it is the destination. And by God, what a remarkable journey it was.
8.15pm - Austrian referee Eric Linemayr blows the whistle to begin the game, watched on by 68,000 fans
8’ - A pass from John Robertson finds Garry Birtles, but his shot lands on the roof of the net
17’ - Trevor Francis comes alive, flying past three Malmö players, only to be swarmed in the box
45’ - GOAL! A stunning cross from John Robertson is met with a diving header at the far post by Trevor Francis.
It’s half time in Munich, and Forest look good for their 1-0 lead.
62’ - Francis tears through the Malmö defence. His cut back is met by Robertson, whose shot thunders back off the post.
68’ - Tony Woodcock’s chip toward the far post is off target, and Birtles arrives too late to capitilise. Brian Clough and Peter Taylor are deep in conversation on the Forest bench.
90’ - FULL TIME! As Viv Anderson breaks forward down the right, the referee blows the final whistle. The Forest players are hugging one another, whilst Brian Clough and Peter Taylor applaud the travelling fans
The Forest team stand ready to lift the European Cup for the first time in their history. Captain John McGovern is handed the trophy, which he lifts into the air sending the stadium into a cacophony of cheers.
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