If the DVD of Jonny Owen’s I Believe In Miracles is the first thing on any Nottingham Forest fan’s Christmas wishlist, then Daniel Taylor’s book of the same name must surely be second. The magical tale of Brian Clough’s transformation of a down-at-heel club into European champions is the story of a lifetime

I Believe In Miracles

It’s a rare case that a film is as good as the book. In this case they’re both essential. The film excels in not only bringing the genius of Brian Clough to light, but giving context, detail and the simple joy of a remarkable story, rather than the random anecdotes and clips that stick in the memory. The book gives you that and more — not a snapshot of that incredible five-year period but filling in the gaps a 100-minute documentary can’t, and shouldn’t, attempt to do. The wit and charisma of Clough will never really translate as well on paper, and the magnificence of John Robertson can only be explained in print rather than enjoyed, but the book and the film go hand in hand; like pie and mash, fish and chips or, if you like, Brian Clough and Peter Taylor.

Daniel Taylor’s previous Forest book, Deep into the Forest, may have attained cult status but because of the myriad stories it never really got going. This, however, picks up momentum as the narrative builds and builds; it’s almost a first-hand account. Sit down to read this and, if you’ve got time, you’ll finish it in one sitting. If you’re forced to stand at any point, you’ll still finish it within a matter of days.

What’s remarkable about both the book and the film — for those who thought there was nothing left to say, no anecdotes left to repeat — is the breadth and depth of what you didn’t know or hadn’t really considered. With this much focus on a short period, and the availability of interviewees, you begin to comprehend the some of the difficulties Clough faced — the wasted potential of Robertson, the difficulties in signing Larry Lloyd, the persistence and lack of hope Tony Woodcock experienced… The size of the job becomes all the more palpable.

If you think Nottingham Forest are in the mire now, it’s got nothing on 1975. A time when crowds had dwindled to around 8,000, the training pitch was a ‘rough patch of grass and concrete’ and the ‘stench of disillusionment had been years in the making and the City Ground was nothing like the shiny, photogenic stadium that reflects off the Trent now’. This was a club with just one trophy since the war, in a city Lawrie McMenemy described as a ‘football village’. During his first year, Clough himself said, “I have to depend on some of those players and they can’t pass a ball, let alone control it.”


This is situation that Old Big ‘Ead faced, one that he thought at times might be beyond him and, until the arrival of Peter Taylor in the summer of 1976, perhaps was. And it’s a story all the more fairytale for the fact that Viv Anderson, Martin O’Neill, John Robertson, Ian Bowyer and Tony Woodcock were already at the club and, despite almost being left by the wayside, became mainstays in one of the most successful football teams in history. Indeed Clough and Taylor’s eye for talent, and rehabilitation of talent, runs through the book but it also demonstrates the, often unsung, success of the players. ‘On a scale of one to ten, Kenny Burns gives his old manager a rating of nine. ‘As good as he was, the team was better — ten out of ten,’ he insists.’

Frank Clark was deemed surplus to requirements at Newcastle United; Kenny Burns was a troublesome striker at Birmingham City; Peter Withe, a ‘drifter’, also from Birmingham; Larry Lloyd was ‘slumming it’ at Coventry City; Garry Birtles was a non-league carpet fitter; and, of course, John McGovern and Archie Gemmill were old Clough stalwarts, but unwanted at Leeds United and Derby County respectively. The only notable big money signings were Peter Shilton and Trevor Francis once promotion had been achieved — a promotion, in terms of points, that perhaps wouldn’t have been in any other season; the fifth lowest total of any promoted club in history.

The focus on players’ personality and playing style offers an in-depth insight into the team spirit and mutual respect, and halfway through the book it almost feels like you know them. And littered with their quotes throughout, it adds new perspective on Clough as well as the players and games themselves. The games in which they regularly beat Liverpool, came back from the dead in Europe, went 42 unbeaten, and continued to confound and dumbfound, not just their critics, but everyone in football.

The list of achievements is still staggering: the Anglo-Scottish Cup in 1976, promotion in the 1976-77 season, the League Cup and championship in 1977-78, the Charity Shield, the League Cup and European Cup in 1978-79, the Super Cup in 1980 and, lastly, the European Cup again.

And if you don’t find yourself scrambling for YouTube clips, you’ll be replaying the ones you know inside-out over and over in your head. How can you ever tire of watching, reading or thinking about Trevor Francis’s goal against Malmo? And what more evidence do you need of John Robertson’s genius? (Well, there’s plenty in the book if you need it.)

With the weight of research, interviews and facts this could’ve been dry, cumbersome and heavyweight in tone, but it strikes a fine balance between the detail and simply relishing the story. This isn’t just a beautifully-written, finely-crafted Nottingham Forest book; it’s a beautifully-written, finely-crafted football book.

The thing that baffles many is how the double-European Cup winners failed to stay at the top of the tree. Jonathan Wilson’s biography suggests the construction of the Executive Stand, and the end of sharing gate receipts in 1983, crippled Forest financially. But what if the likes of Peter Shilton, John Robertson and Tony Woodcock hadn’t left? What if Taylor hadn’t left in 1982? What if…

Maybe that’s the wrong way to think. It was a miracle to come from nowhere and win practically everything. To do something that no club had done before and no club will ever do again. Maybe we should just be thankful that when all the stars fell into line, they fell in line over Nottingham.

‘We were like one of those comets you see flying across the night sky. We burned brightly, but it was all too brief. But, boy, did we burn brightly for a while.’ John McGovern

I Believe In Miracles: The Remarkable Story of Brian Clough’s European Cup-winning Team is published by Headline. RRP: £16.99.

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