Remembering when Leeds United sacked Brian Clough after just 44 days

Matthew Crist by Matthew Crist / 12 September 2018, 11:30

On September 12, 1974, one of the shortest and most talked about managerial tenures in the history of English football came to an end when Brian Clough was sacked as manager of Leeds United after just 44 days.

Prior to managing the champions Clough had worked miracles at Derby County by taking the unfashionable East Midlands side from the second-tier of English football to the First Division championship in just five years alongside his trusted right hand man and assistant Peter Taylor.

But after the pair unceremoniously left the Baseball Ground, following a high-profile falling out with Chairman Sam Longson, “Old Big ‘ead” was soon looking for his next challenge in the game and one of the most sought after managers in the game wasn’t short of offers.

A brief stint with Third Division Brighton & Hove Albion followed before Clough was approached by Leeds United following the departure of their talismanic boss Don Revie, who had taken the job as the new England national team manager – a move many at the time considered questionable to say the least.

Throughout his time in football Clough had never missed an opportunity to criticise Revie’s side of the late 1960s and early ‘70s, mainly due to their tough-tackling and direct approach to playing the game which had seen them become one of the most feared sides in the country as well as one of the best.

Having once referred to Leeds as “the dirtiest, most cynical team in the league,” perhaps it’s not that surprising Clough’s spell at Elland Road lasted just over a month as from the moment he walked through the door he struggled to win over, not just the supporters, but the players too.

 

Revie may have gone but his legacy at Leeds, the club where he’d just won the second of two league titles, an FA Cup and the League Cup, along with three second place finishes lived-on; something which would ultimately be the downfall of the incoming Clough.

After allegedly telling his new squad to “throw your medals in the bin because you’ve never won anything fairly; you’ve done it by cheating,” things went from bad to worse as the 1974/75 season got underway with Clough’s first game in charge of the champions, the Charity Shield against FA Cup winners Liverpool at Wembley, ending in chaos.

Kevin Keegan and Billy Bremner were both sent off for exchanging blows in a bad tempered affair which could have made others see red before Liverpool finally won the resulting penalty shoot-out with Leeds ‘keeper David Harvey bizarrely being nominated to take the decisive kick and blazing the ball over the bar.

The league season began in similar fashion as Clough, without the services of his old friend Taylor who had stayed on to honour his commitments at Brighton, saw his new side win just one game from the opening six, taking only four points from a possible 12 as the pressure mounted.

Defeats against Stoke, QPR and Manchester City would mean it was the club’s worst start to a season for 15 years as the Leeds faithful, who had been so used to success under Revie, and the players grew increasingly restless and frustrated with what they were seeing under their new boss.

Rumours began to circulate about a rift between Clough and his players, many of whom were still fiercely loyal to the recently departed Revie, but former player Johnny Giles later refuted accusations that the team brought about his early demise: “It was an impossible situation,” he later said “It came out that player power got rid of him which wasn't true. His attitude was really, really bad.”

But after a disappointing home draw with Luton Town, the Leeds board had seen enough and Brian Clough was sacked, the ultimate humiliation for one of the most confident and highly thought of managers in the game at the time.

In an incredible piece of television, that night Clough appeared live on the Yorkshire Television current affairs show Calendar to discuss his short reign at the club sitting alongside his great rival and nemesis Don Revie as the pair traded compliments and digs with each other as an audience of millions watched on in awe.

Clough inevitably put on a brave face for the cameras but his disappointment was impossible to hide. He’d taken charge of the best side in the land at the time and replaced one of the most revered names in the game only to fail miserably in just over five weeks.

However, in typical fashion he wasn’t out of the spotlight for long. A year later he rocked up at Nottingham Forest and, reunited once more with Peter Taylor, would take this unfancied Second Division side to the top-flight title as well as winning back-to-back European Cups to prove, if it were ever needed, why he is still regarded as one of the greatest managers of all time.

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