“NEXT STOP, HARTLEPOOLS!”
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…
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.
CLOUGH’S STRAIGHT TALKING AND CLEAR THINKING HAD THE POWER TO TRANSFORM AVERAGE PLAYERS INTO WORLD-BEATERS