It was Neil Young who once sang “It’s better to burn out than to fade away”. I don’t imagine for a minute that Brian Clough listened to old Shaky on a regular basis but he most certainly shared those sentiments. For that is the way that the former Nottingham Forest manager would have wanted to end his illustrious career and not in the sorry way that I and 30,000 others witnessed at the City Ground in May 1993.
The Reds lost to Sheffield United that day not only confirming their relegation from the top flight after 16 eventful years but also providing the swansong to a remarkable career following Cloughie’s decision to retire only weeks earlier.
The result seemed irrelevant to most of us who had packed the Trent End to pay tribute to a man who had given the club and English football so much to be thankful for. His charisma and unique personality touched everybody whilst his unparalleled managerial ability transformed both Forest and Derby from unfashionable second division also-rans into English Champions.
It was a miserable end for a man who had won two European Cups and proudly led his side out at Wembley in the FA Cup Final only two years earlier and a League Cup Final just the season before. There was no supernova or spectacular ending for Clough, just a painful whimper and a poor conclusion for a genius who didn’t do life (or indeed his drinks) in half measures.
By 1993 he had become consumed by alcoholism which inevitably manifested itself in poor decision making and shoddy football. He looked withdrawn and resigned to his fate. The sale of key players such as Des Walker and Teddy Sheringham, combined with Clough’s inability to find adequate replacements, saw the team’s fortunes dwindle sharply and the Reds won just 10 matches all season.
Old Big ‘Ead had lost his mojo, his sharp wit and astute observations blunted by a near-permanent state of drunkenness. It was a painful way for Clough and Nottingham Forest to bid farewell to a division they had both been a more than equal part of for nearly two decades.
I think I speak for most who witnessed the emotional scenes in Nottingham that day following the final whistle that whilst the destination was unfortunate, the journey to get there was one of the most remarkable in history. For that I am thankful.
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