In the first of a series of light-hearted articles about his career as a television and radio football commentator, and as nationwide after-dinner performer, boyhood Brighton & Hove Albion fan Peter Brackley winds the clock back first to his days as a young sports editor of BBC Radio Brighton in the 1970s- and to a totally unexpected arrival at the old Goldstone Ground!
I can't remember exactly what I was working on when the phone call from the Albion came through to the Radio Brighton news room - perhaps I was busy fastidiously checking and re-checking the local darts results to ensure, unlike on one calamitous occasion, I didn't have ONE team still left over after reading the scores out live on air!
Whatever it was I was doing, it instantly paled into insignificance compared to what was to follow.
"Peter," said the excited Albion official.
"You'd better get down to the Goldstone Ground pronto! Brian Clough's just agreed to be our new manager!"
"Yeah, right," I sneered, just checking the desk calendar to make sure it was November 1st and not April the 1st. "And who's his first signing? Pele or Franz Beckenbauer?"
After all, this was Brian Clough we were talking about. THE Brian Clough. The most talked about manager in the country and the man who only a year earlier had led unfancied Derby County to the league championship.
He was outspoken, arrogant, eccentric, controversial and the scourge of fellow managers, pressmen and TV interviewers alike - and an apparent genius at the peak of his powers. Yet, unbelievably, it was true!
Somehow Albion's ambitious chairman Mike Bamber had persuaded this footballing messiah to take on a struggling third tier team and, what was more, his much-vaunted sidekick Peter Taylor was coming with him!
So, armed with my little tape-recorder, I hot-footed it to the Goldstone Ground, home of my boyhood dreams, and within half an hour was standing nervously (alright, shaking nervously) on the terrace steps alongside the old West Stand, preparing for his entrance. It was like awaiting an audience with royalty.
I bowed and scraped my way through the local radio interview but, before I could relax, a scribbled note informed me to my horror that the BBC Nine O'Clock News reporter hadn't made it in time, and that I would have to do one for that as well!
This was no casual assignment. In those days, the BBC mid-evening news was major viewing and television interviews were only carried out by a select few.
I wasn't exactly dressed for it either with my straggly long hair, check-squared jacket and outrageous kipper tie that even Jeremy Clarkson might turn his nose up at. But the show must go on as they say, and although I'm sure the watching millions, as did those with whom I watched the programme later, fell about in hysterics at the sight of my curious attire, it was perhaps his answer to my final question that drew most attention.
"Will you continue to be controversial, Mr Clough?" I whispered.
“I prefer to call it a touch of honesty, young man," he replied in that familiar drawl.
Even the BBC news reader smiled as they cut back to the studio, and for months, every time I walked into a room or passed someone on the stairs, it was the same response - and how are you today, YOUNG MAN?" Still at least I'd survived my first encounter with Old Big 'Ead, and, while Cloughie was only at the club a few months, they were certainly eventful ones.
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I believe the success of his teams owed much to his unpredictable responses to their performances. It was that uncertainty that kept them on their toes and motivated them to raise their game to unexpected and exceptional levels. It was the same for the local media too. You had no idea what Brian was going to do next! One colleague advised that for press conferences with Clough, ‘You best bring a gun in one hand and a bottle opener in the other!’
One Friday afternoon, I was called (well, summoned) to Brian's office.
“I understand you're getting married tomorrow, young man," was his opening gambit as I stood quaking before him.
"I am, Brian, yes,” I spluttered.
"Well, you shouldn't be," he retorted, "We're at home to Tranmere Rovers, and YOU SHOULD BE HERE!" And he wasn't joking, I can promise you!
“Anyway, carpets,” he said.
“Sorry?" I replied.
"Carpets!" he shouted, "Do you want some carpets?"
And that was Brian. One minute he was chastising me for getting married on a matchday, the next he was offering to help arrange a deal with a local carpet company to furnish my new home for me! You never knew where you stood with him!
But he finally met his match years later at Nottingham Forest when, legend has it, and I'm told it's a true story, he phoned down to the dressing room and an apprentice answered the telephone.
"Bring me a cup of team to my office immediately!" Brian barked.
"I'm busy," said the young lad.
Brian Growled, "Do you know who this is speaking? It's me, Brian Clough, manager of this football club, and as far as you're concerned, a very important person, young man!”
The apprentice replied, “But do you know who THIS is speaking?”
"I have absolutely no idea at all who YOU are," snorted Brian.
"Good," said the lad, "Then get your own flipping tea!"