premier-league

Dad loved the League Cup – Nottingham Forest made it great

Brian Clough (left) and Nigel Clough – Nigel Clough interview: My dad loved the League Cup – it made Nottingham Forest great – John Sumpter

It’s almost 31 years since Nottingham Forest last contested a League Cup semi-final, but Nigel Clough can still remember those moments with razor-sharp clarity.

Clough’s affinity for the competition the club has won four times runs deep and, as Forest prepare to face Manchester United on Wednesday, he recalls the period when trips to Wembley felt like annual events under his father, Brian.

With Clough Jnr in the team, Forest lifted the League Cup twice, in 1989 and 1990, and also reached the final in 1992, and the memories are flooding back for the club’s former striker.

“We beat Bristol City in extra time (in the 1989 semi-final) on a bog of a pitch with snow and sleet hammering down. It was one of the coldest days I’ve ever known,” he says as he sitting in his office at Mansfield Town’s training ground.

“There used to be a big bath at Ashton Gate and after the game we’d all jump in it, shivering. We’d just got to a Wembley final but we were more interested in getting warm than anything else.”

Nottingham Forest celebrate with the League Cup trophy after beating Luton Town in the 1989 final - Nigel Clough interview: My dad loved the League Cup - it made Nottingham Forest great - Getty Images

Nottingham Forest celebrate with the League Cup trophy after beating Luton Town in the 1989 final – Nigel Clough interview: My dad loved the League Cup – it made Nottingham Forest great – Getty Images

Two seasons later, in the 1990/91 campaign, Forest were two-time defending champions and faced Coventry City at Highfield Road. Clough is still struggling to make sense of what unfolded during 90 frantic minutes.

“We hadn’t lost in two and a half years (in the League Cup) and were 4-0 down after 34 minutes. Plenty of Forest fans had gone home but we clawed it back to 4-4 (Clough scored an eight-minute hat-trick before half-time) and still ended up losing.

“A guy in Marks & Spencer came up to me the day after the World Cup final and mentioned it, he said I must have felt like (Kylian) Mbappé.

“I didn’t even get the match ball – Kevin Gallacher got it.”

In Forest’s last semi-final appearance, they faced Tottenham Hotspur over two legs in 1992. The second leg was at White Hart Lane and both teams’ preparations were turned upside down by a long delay before kick-off.

“There was a bomb scare at the ground,” Clough recalls. “We were due to start in a couple of hours and the bus stopped in a side road half a mile from White Hart Lane.

“We were just waiting to be told when we could go in. We didn’t get too much information. It felt like hours so we sat and played cards. I think some of us went for a walk.

“We had had the pre-match meal five or six hours before, so I don’t think the nutritionists and sports scientists today would have approved.”

Forest would go on to win the tie, thanks to a thunderous extra-time header from a 20-year-old Roy Keane, and then lose the final to United.

Roy Keane (left) and Lee Glover - Nigel Clough interview: My dad loved the League Cup - it made Nottingham Forest great - Offside/Mark Leech

Roy Keane (left) and Lee Glover – Nigel Clough interview: My dad loved the League Cup – it made Nottingham Forest great – Offside/Mark Leech

Although nobody imagined it at the time, it was the end of an era for Forest and Clough’s father, who retired a year later following the club’s relegation from the Premier League.

“When you watch Forest this season on TV and the faces of the supporters, they are absolutely loving every minute of it. So they should, because you never know when it will come again,” says Clough, 56.

“One phrase I hear in football that makes me angry, sad and frustrated is ‘oh it’s only the League Cup’ – if someone had said that when we played all those years ago you would have been out of the dressing room in a flash.

“Every competition we entered we went to win. There were no weakened teams. Whether it was the Simod Cup, Zenith Data or Mercantile Credit you played and they were treated properly.

“That came mainly from my father. There was no less game or competition. We used to be unafraid, whether it was Arsenal at Highbury or United at Old Trafford.”

Brian Clough (left) and Kenny Burns - Nigel Clough interview: My dad loved the League Cup - it made Nottingham Forest great - Colorsport

Brian Clough (left) and Kenny Burns – Nigel Clough interview: My dad loved the League Cup – it made Nottingham Forest great – Colorsport

Up the A60 at Mansfield Town, Clough still keeps a close eye on his old club. He is a great admirer of Steve Cooper, who has transformed Forest since his appointment in September 2021.

Clough wrote to Cooper to congratulate him on promotion from the Championship and met him in November when Forest played Mansfield in a friendly.

“It’s so good to see them back up there and Steve deserves a lot of credit for that,” he says. “I think they will survive (in the league) and traditionally the trophies always went hand in hand with Forest.

“There have been managers in the past who have not embraced the history of the club, but Steve understands that.

“You don’t have to obsess over it, but at least acknowledge it because fans will talk about it. You cannot ignore the past. It feels like a lifetime ago, but it must be celebrated.

“Fans my age come up to me and say their kids never saw the good times, but now they can enjoy it.”

Nigel Clough - Nigel Clough interview: My dad loved the League Cup - it made Nottingham Forest great - EMPICS/Duncan Raban

Nigel Clough – Nigel Clough interview: My dad loved the League Cup – it made Nottingham Forest great – EMPICS/Duncan Raban

Cooper face United on Wednesday in the first leg, aiming to protect a home record that has seen them unbeaten in eight games.

“The atmosphere will be incredible and they’ve got a real chance,” says Clough.

“I don’t think it helped initially to bring in so many players and it takes three to four months to find your best team.

“The first few months would have been chaos, taking a few beatings, but it’s about how you react. Gradually they’ve found their feet and the belief is growing.”

For Clough, the full focus remains on Mansfield and taking the club out of League Two.

There is still some disappointment after defeat in last season’s play-off final, but they remain within touching distance of the top-seven.

Clough is now 1,402 games in charge and admits the matchday addiction will never leave him.

Nigel Clough - Nigel Clough interview: My dad loved the League Cup - it made Nottingham Forest great - Getty Images/James Gill

Nigel Clough – Nigel Clough interview: My dad loved the League Cup – it made Nottingham Forest great – Getty Images/James Gill

“It’s 24 years now and we keep going. It gets more intense as you get closer to what is perceived as the end. You actually get more animated and absorbed. Defeat hurts you just as much, it doesn’t get any easier with time .

“We always try to separate the result and the performance. If you’ve given it your all and lost, the fans here will give you a standing ovation. We had been on a terrible run last season and played Port Vale at home, we drew 1-1 and missed a penalty but we were fantastic.

“The crowd was on their feet. It was almost emotional for us and the players. They had never experienced it before. I never thought I would play so many games – my wife certainly didn’t!”

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