The Irish Mail on Sunday
THAT FOREST FIRE
Clark recalls day he got the nod ahead of Ireland boss
EMXACTLY 35 years after his finest hour as a footballer, Frank Clark recalls the dramatic build-up to the European Cup final in Munich with a crystal clarity. Why wouldn’t he? After all, it was his last match in a 17-year pro career, and what a way to go.
Just like Clark, two other former Nottingham Forest players, Martin O’Neill, the Ireland manager, and Archie Gemmill, the Scottish midfield tyro, have never forgotten the time when an unfashionable English Midlands club lorded Europe.
Only the latter pair’s memories are sour, not sweet for they have never fully exonerated Brian Clough, the most enigmatic of managers, for their absence from the starting XI. Instead, they were left to stew on the bench as Forest planted a red-andwhite flag on Europe’s summit.
Ahead of last night’s all-Madrid Champions League final in Lisbon, Clark, now 70, took up the story of a time when two unheralded clubs jousted for glory, against a backdrop of in-house intrigue.
‘Before the final, myself, Archie and Martin had been injured and out of the team for a couple of weeks. We were back in training and travelled with the team for the final but knew the day of the game that only one of us would start.
‘Brian [Clough] had paid a lot of money for Trevor Francis, who was eligible for the final and was going to play out on the right wing as Brian wasn’t going to break up the Tony Woodock-Gary Birtles partnership.
‘If Martin started, he would be in the midfield with John McGovern, and Ian Bowyer would play left-back; if Archie started, he’d be beside McGovern with Ian at left-back; if it was me at left-back, it meant McGoven and Bowyer stayed in the middle,’ he explained.
‘Brian asked all of us were we fit and we all said we were, I suspect none of us were 100 per cent.
‘Brian picked me to start and when I asked him about it later, he said he went for me because he felt I was the one most likely to be telling the truth! ARTIN was devastated, Archie too. In fact, Archie left the club that summer. I don’t think he ever forgave Brian. Martin stayed and got to play the following year in the win over Hamburg, but it  rankled with him, and still does.’
Clark’s observations are spot on regarding O’Neill, who has made a number of vinegary references to his European Cup final omission since becoming Ireland manager.
O’Neill may have felt let down by Clough as he was the longest-serving player at Forest, and the only player to survive the rebuilding work under- taken by Clough when he was appointed in January 1975.
As for Gemmill, he was ‘devastated’ at not being picked against Malmo and said he ‘hated’ every minute of the final and the celebrations which followed.
The route to the final had seen Forest take out Liverpool, the holders, in the first round, 2-0 on aggregate, before comfortable wins over AEK Athens and Grasshopper of Zurich.
In the semi-final, Forest faced Cologne, but their run seemed headed for the buffers as they trailed 2-0 at home in the first leg.
For Clark, that position of adversity led to a recall to the front-line, which possibly kept him in favour with Clough for the final. ‘When we played Cologne in the semi-final at the City Ground we went 2-0 down early on and Brian made a couple of substitutions,’ recalled Clark. ‘He put me in at left-back, moved things around and we came back to lead 3-2. Their Japanese winger [Okudera] got a late goal to make it 3-3 and everyone was writing us off.
‘I felt the English media were very unsupportive. No one gave us much of a chance but Brian and Peter Taylor were convinced we would get through... With the final in Munich, there were ads all over Cologne about it, trips for fans and how the German champions would be crowned European champions in Germany. Brian made sure we knew all about it.
‘The game went as he planned it. We were solid at the back, and looked to counterattack. Shilts [Peter Shilton] made a couple of straightforward saves and then Ian Bowyer scored in the second half. We were quite comfortable after that.’ For Clark (below), the magic of Munich signalled the time to retire after an Indian Summer at Forest where he had won the English League, European Cup and Second Division honours, having signed on a free after 13 years at Newcastle where he played over 450 games. ‘When I signed for Forest, the furthest thing on my mind was winning the European Cup. We were in the old Second Divi- sion, now the Championship and it took us two seasons to get out of it,’ he said. ‘Then, we went on to win the League in our first season, and the European Cup the following year.
‘When Brian was concerned, I was Hobson’s choice as he didn’t have much alternatives at left-back, and we had a very small squad.
‘When the European Cup run came around I got injured and was in and out of the team. I’d had a couple of hamstring injuries and was nearly 36 by the time of the final. I had a year to go on my contract but I’d been offered the chance to be assistant manager to Ken Knighton at Sunderland and I was keen to take it as I was looking at getting into management. It was great to go out on a high. I was lucky; not many players retire after winning the European Cup.’