In 1967, Brian Clough ar­rived at Derby County ready to work mir­a­cles – but only af­ter cut­ting his man­age­rial teeth in the depths of Di­vi­sion Four…

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If you want to see some good stuff from Satur­day on­wards, get down to a lit­tle place called Hartlepools – it won’t be a lit­tle place for long.”

On Oc­to­ber 29, 1965, three years af­ter a pro­lific goalscoring ca­reer with Mid­dles­brough and Sun­der­land had been ef­fec­tively ended by a se­ri­ous knee in­jury on Box­ing Day 1962, Brian Clough made his man­age­rial en­trance. It was some en­trance. English foot­ball’s fourth di­vi­sion hadn’t seen any­thing like it be­fore, es­pe­cially from a 30-year-old.

“Age does not count,” pro­claimed the Foot­ball League’s youngest man­ager. “It’s what you know about foot­ball that counts. I know I am bet­ter than the 500 or so man­agers who have been sacked since the [Sec­ond World] War – if they had known any­thing about the game, then they wouldn’t have lost their jobs.”

Hav­ing been rec­om­mended to Pools by Sun­der­land legend and in­flu­en­tial news­pa­per colum­nist Len Shack­le­ton, who had seen him coach­ing the Black Cats’ youth team, Clough’s first act as man­ager was to per­suade his for­mer Mid­dles­brough team-mate Peter Tay­lor to be­come his as­sis­tant.

“I want suc­cess,” ex­plained Tay­lor, who left a promis­ing job man­ag­ing Bur­ton Al­bion, “and I know that with Brian we will achieve that suc­cess.”

This was a dif­fer­ent Clough to the one who had left Ayre­some Park four years ear­lier, though. “He had been a fresh-faced and hand­some young man, but the in­jury and sad end of his foot­ball ca­reer seemed to have taken it out of him,” said Tay­lor’s wife, Lil­ian. “He looked as if he’d aged 10 years.”

Hartlepools had fin­ished bot­tom or sec­ond-bot­tom of the Foot­ball League in five of the pre­vi­ous six sea­sons, and been forced to ap­ply for re-elec­tion on sev­eral oc­ca­sions in or­der to main­tain their sta­tus. Rein­vig­o­rated by his new ca­reer, Clough set about turn­ing the strug­gling side around.

Alan Brown, Clough’s for­mer gaffer at Sun­der­land, was an early in­flu­ence. Clough placed an em­pha­sis on fit­ness, with train­ing ses­sions often book­ended by a three-mile run to and from Seaton Carew, where the team would con­tinue the con­di­tion­ing work on the windswept beach which over­looked the North Sea. Shadow train­ing, where Pools’ play­ers would run through moves un­op­posed, was an­other in­no­va­tion.

At the heart of Brian’s ge­nius, though, was the com­bi­na­tion of straight talk­ing and clear think­ing that had the power to trans­form seem­ingly av­er­age foot­ball play­ers into world-beaters.

“Stand up straight, put your shoul­ders back and get your hair cut – you look like a girl,” he snapped at one young tri­al­ist dur­ing those early weeks. John Mc­gov­ern not only got a con­tract, the mid­fielder fol­lowed Clough to Derby, Leeds and Not­ting­ham For­est, where he lifted two Euro­pean Cups as cap­tain.

“That fright­ened me to death... but when the fear sub­sided I wor­shipped ev­ery­thing he did,” Mc­gov­ern later said.

“He put me in the [Hartlepools] team when I was 16 and still at school, but af­ter my first ap­pear­ance he de­cided to teach me what I con­sid­ered to be the rudi­ments of the game. He told me to drib­ble a foot­ball around a cor­ner flag and back as fast as I could.

“Then he said: ‘Leave the ball there, run around the cor­ner flag and get back here as fast as you can.’ I came back and he asked which was eas­ier, and I said: ‘Run­ning with­out it. Why?’ He replied: ‘Well, why don’t you try to pass it on a Satur­day, then?’”

Stick­ing to those pass­ing prin­ci­ples, Clough made a fly­ing start at Pools, win­ning his open­ing three matches in­clud­ing an FA Cup tri­umph against Third Di­vi­sion Work­ing­ton Town that prompted a pitch in­va­sion. “The first young­ster I catch on the pitch will get a boot up the bot­tom from me,” said Clough, 24 years be­fore he fa­mously gave a For­est fan a clip round the ear for a sim­i­lar of­fence. Yet, regardless of the fight­ing talk, Hartlepools could only fin­ish 18th in the fourth tier.

“I’m not jok­ing when I say that if I live to be 90 and stay in man­age­ment for an­other 40 years, I hope I will never ex­pe­ri­ence an­other pe­riod as dif­fi­cult and wor­ry­ing,” Clough ad­mit­ted. “To call Hartlepools a tip would make a tip ashamed to be called a tip.”

Both Clough and Tay­lor were forced to pitch in, sweep­ing and paint­ing the ter­races, re­pair­ing leaks in the stands and mow­ing the pitch, too. The young man­ager even took lessons to qual­ify for a Pub­lic Ser­vice Ve­hi­cle li­cence so that he could drive the team coach to away matches – al­though, de­spite the amus­ing pic­ture (far left), anec­do­tal ev­i­dence sug­gests he never really did. Nev­er­the­less, things re­mained dire. “You should have had a new ball for ev­ery match but Hartlepools couldn’t af­ford it,” re­vealed Tay­lor’s daugh­ter Wendy Dick­in­son in her bi­og­ra­phy of her fa­ther, For Pete’s Sake, “so they’d wash and wax the two good balls they did have and pray that they’d fool the ref and sur­vive the match.”

Sur­vive they did, and in the sum­mer of ’66 Tay­lor’s eye for a player, al­lied with Clough’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to get his man, started to come into its own.

“I was play­ing golf with a mate in Lough­bor­ough and I’m just about to take my sec­ond shot on a long par five when I think I can see sand flick­ing up out of the bunker,” said Richie Barker, a pro­lific striker un­der Tay­lor at Bur­ton and still the Brew­ers’ record goalscorer. “I played my shot, which wasn’t very good, and as I walked up to­wards the bunker who should pop up but Pete and Brian, killing them­selves laugh­ing.”

Barker couldn’t be per­suaded to move up north (al­though he would later join Clough at Derby), but sev­eral oth­ers did and this team of young­sters and mis­fits were quickly put to work.

“He told us to warn our wives that they wouldn’t be see­ing us from Mon­day to Thurs­day,” said striker Ernie Phythian. “We spent the evenings going round all the pubs in the area, play­ing darts, snooker, domi­noes or cards with the lo­cals. It helped to raise quite a bit of cash and it got all the fans be­hind us. Be­fore long, the crowds at the Vic­to­ria Ground were much big­ger, and the at­mos­phere im­proved tremen­dously.”

With enough money raised for a new set of flood­lights, Hartlepools fin­ished eighth in Clough’s first full cam­paign at the helm, and the fol­low­ing sea­son (1967-68) were pro­moted to the third tier for the first time in their his­tory.

By that point, Hartlepools United had be­come Hartle­pool AFC (af­ter the town of Old Hartle­pool and West Hartle­pool be­came one) while Clough and Tay­lor were long gone, prised away by Sec­ond Di­vi­sion Derby in July 1967.

Clough never for­got his man­age­rial roots, though. With Pools on the brink of bank­ruptcy in 1972, he re­turned to the North East to re­cruit Tony Parry for £3,000, de­spite not really need­ing to sign the cen­tral de­fender.

Per­versely, Tay­lor be­lieved that the fledgling dou­ble-act was par­tic­u­larly in­debted to the tyran­ni­cal Hartlepools chair­man Ernie Ord, who ef­fec­tively dis­missed the pair in 1966 af­ter the lat­est in a long line of ex­plo­sive rows with Clough. But the duo were soon re­in­stated fol­low­ing a board­room coup that re­sulted in Ord’s exit.

Tay­lor re­called: “It was like win­ning the Euro­pean Cup. Once we’d beaten Ord, we were on our way.”

Clough would even­tu­ally fall out with Sam Long­son at Derby as well. But af­ter his run-ins with Ord at Hartlepools, the fu­ture Old Big ’Ead had the courage to stand his ground. When he first met up with his Derby play­ers he said: “You’ve got three weeks to make an im­pres­sion on me. If I don’t rate you, you’re out.”

Within five years, the Rams were the champions of Eng­land.


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