Nottingham Forest film 'I Believe In Miracles' recalls their glory days

Nottingham Forest (back l-r) Peter Shilton, Chris Woods, John McGovern, Ian Bowyer, David Needham, front Larry Lloyd, John Robertson with 1979 European Cup

Ahead of the release of I Believe In Miracles, a film celebrating Nottingham Forest's extraordinary rise to become two-time champions of Europe under Brian Clough, Nick Miller talks to former defender Larry Lloyd and film director Jonny Owen about that remarkable achievement…

It's tough to recall two clubs whose history is more defined by single characters than Nottingham Forest and Huddersfield Town, who face each other on Thursday night. For Town, it's Herbert Chapman, the manager who guided them to two league titles and set them on course for a third, while for Forest, it is of course Brian Clough.

It's been 35 years since Forest won the European Cup for the second time. In those years, many stories have been written, books published and films made about the man that took them there.

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However, perhaps the definitive tale of Clough is about to be told. I Believe In Miracles, a film about Forest's rise from the nether regions of the Second Division to the summit of Europe that's already been called "the greatest film about football you will ever see" by author Irvine Welsh, will be released in October, and details the five years from Clough's arrival in Nottingham through the eyes of the players who he shaped into European champions.

"These are the men stood every day with him for five years," says Jonny Owen, the film's director. "These are the people who knew him best. This isn't artistic license by somebody who's saying, 'I imagine Clough would be like this', these are the people who spent hours and hours with him every day."

 Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough (R) and assistant Peter Taylor
Image: Nottingham Forest boss Brian Clough and assistant Peter Taylor

Probably the most engaging of those voices is Larry Lloyd, the burly and bruising central defender whose career was drifting after leaving Liverpool, until Clough brought him to Forest, then in the Second Division, in 1976.

Clough paired Lloyd with Kenny Burns - or 'Kenneth', as only Clough and his mother called him, says Burns in the film - to form one of the most feared defensive partnerships in the country.

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Nottingham Forest captain John McGovern lifts the trophy as Larry Lloyd (c) and Frank Clark (r) look on after the 1979 European Cup Final win over Malmo
Image: John McGovern lifts the trophy in 1979 as Larry Lloyd and Frank Clark look on

That Clough would even think to play Burns - until that point a striker - at the back speaks to his audacity as a manager and self-belief, but also to his unrivalled man management. How else, after all, would a rather brusque character like Burns have been persuaded that this was a good idea?

For some, that would mean a kind word and encouragement, but for Lloyd, who admits he and his former manager "were never going to be on each other's Christmas card list" it was the opposite, as Clough actively tried to antagonise him and make him work for the praise he gave to others.

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"That was part of his man-management way," says Lloyd. "This little thing I mention in the film, whereby he puts his index finger and his thumb together and he gives you a signal, meaning 'well done' - I rarely got one of those. That was part of management, because he knew I craved a little bit of a pat on the back."

Clough and Lloyd regularly clashed, to the point where the centre-half thought he was "the most fined player in Forest history". One famous story involves a mix-up involving a club blazer on an away trip, which ended with Lloyd's punishment rising from £100 to £500 as the argument progressed, but Lloyd would even manage to get in trouble during pre-season friendlies.

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"[Clough] took me off in Toronto on a tour where the referee asked me to pull my socks up for the National Anthem, and I told him where to go. We were all lined up for the kick-off and up went No 5 and he dragged me off before a ball was b***** kicked! I think I'm about the only player that was taken off in the warm up. But, it got me where he wanted me to be. That 'right, I'll prove him wrong' type of thing."

I Believe In Miracles does a superb job of relating Clough's idiosyncrasies that helped produce this utterly extraordinary feat, unlikely ever to be repeated, of taking a provincial club like Forest to the European Cup, twice. But would Clough's methods work now?

Nottingham Forest goalkeeper Peter Shilton celebrates with the trophy after Forest had beaten SV Hamburg to win the 1980 European Cup
Image: Forest goalkeeper Peter Shilton celebrates with the 1980 European Cup

"Maybe he would have to adjust a little bit," says Lloyd. "It's the same thing that people have often said to me of the likes of Kenny Burns, Tommy Smith, Norman Hunter; the hard lads who were playing when I was playing, could we handle it today? Well, we would have to adjust, of course we would have to adjust, but, it's like the old saying that good players can play in any era.

"Stanley Matthews could play today. George Best would be priceless today. So yes, he would be able to manage because he was a world-class manager. He would perhaps have to adjust a little bit, but knowing Clough, he wouldn't adjust much."

brian clough peter taylor
Image: Lloyd had a curious relationship with Clough, pictured here with Taylor

"They all say two things that are really interesting," says Owen, about the players interviewed in the film. "First, there's no doubt he liked a pint, but as Frank Clark said, [they] never saw him drunk - they all say that. The second thing was this, he was always funny, he was always a laugh. Nobody was scared of him. Like John Robertson said to me, 'You can't go on the pitch scared, you can't do that, it's impossible'."

The other thing all the players seem to agree upon in I Believe In Miracles is the talent of Robertson. The winger, affectionately described by Clough as that "little fat lad" is still perhaps not recognised outside of Forest for his extraordinary gifts, the ability to drop a shoulder and drift past his marker with consummate ease despite having little pace. Clough's eyes would gently glaze and a grin would appear on his lips when talking about the man that John McGovern, the captain of that Forest team, called "like Ryan Giggs but with two good feet, not one".

1979:  John Robertson of Nottingham Forest celebrates victory during the European Cup Final match against Malmo.
Image: John Robertson, pictured celebrating the 1979 win, was admired by his colleagues

"It's a million years since I finished playing," says Lloyd, "but even now when people say who was the best player you played with, I don't even hesitate. He was a magician, whenever we were in trouble at the back my outlet was John Robertson. Give him the ball and he'll give us a rest or he might create something. He was our main man to get us out of trouble. He deserves all the praise that is coming his way."

'I Believe In Miracles' will premiere at the City Ground on October 11, before a selected nationwide release on October 13. It will be released on DVD November 14 and an accompanying book, written by the Guardian's Daniel Taylor, will be out on November 12. Follow the latest updates on Twitter - @MiraclesFilmUK.

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