Exclusive Tony Woodcock interview: ‘Expect the unexpected’ with Brian Clough

One of the original ‘Miracle Men’, Nottingham-born Tony Woodcock was a vital part of Brian Clough’s glory days, winning promotion to the First Division, the league championship, two League Cups and the European Cup. He spoke to James Edginton in an exclusive interview

Born in Eastwood, Tony Woodcock signed for Nottingham Forest as an apprentice before signing professional terms with the club in 1974. After a couple of loan moves, Woodcock broke into Brian Clough’s team and helped them gain promotion to the First Division.

He was PFA Young Player of the Year as Forest shocked everybody to pip Liverpool to the league championship in 1978. The following season, Forest produced another miracle as they took Europe by storm and won the European Cup.

Woodcock left the club in 1979 but is still fondly remembered as one of Brian Clough’s Miracle Men and The Famous Club spoke to him about his memories of his time at the City Ground.

“Change started to happen pretty quickly”

Woodcock was one of the ‘famous five’ — alongside Viv Anderson, Ian Bowyer, Martin O’Neill and John Robertson — at the club before Clough took over and he recalls his first encounter with the boss.

“Forest were a normal second division football club hanging around midtable. It was a club that wasn’t going in any particular direction until he arrived. There was no thought of promotion until he arrived.

“The first time I met him was the first day he walked in. You can imagine what it’s like when there’s a personality walking into a football club and introducing himself. I think you can tell when someone has got something about them when they walk into a room and, of course, he had a reputation on top of it as well – whether it was good, bad, or indifferent.

“He made an impact on everyone as soon as he walked into the club. Just actually by storming in through the door. It got everyone on their toes and there weren’t many that survived it in the early days because change started to happen pretty quickly.”

“If you didn’t perform, you weren’t going to be at that football club”

Tony believes that Clough’s high standards were what allowed him to get the best out of players.

“You had to have the right attitude and you had to want to succeed, otherwise you wouldn’t succeed under Brian Clough who was asking all the time for 100% and to do things right.

“So it’s a simple formula. If you are a defender, you have got to defend well, you have got to be able to organise, you have got to be able to tackle, and when you have got the ball, you have got to be able to use it.

“There is no magic wand where he goes ‘you can do this now’. If you didn’t perform or didn’t have the ability, then you weren’t going to be at that football club. It’s as simple as that. There would have been someone coming in that could perform how he expects you to play the game.”

“Brian Clough was the driving force”

The dynamic duo of Clough and Peter Taylor guided Forest to the heights of European football; however, for Tony, it was Clough who was the instigator of Forest’s success.

“Brian Clough and Peter Taylor obviously worked very well as a pair. Sometimes it was good cop, bad cop and both would take that lead. But for me, Brian Clough was always the driving force. That’s taking nothing away from Pete — he had his qualities, and a lot of people will actually say that individually they were both very good at what they did, but as a pair they were unbeatable.

“So it is just finding partners, whether it is in sport or business, that you blend with and that can offer something that you perhaps haven’t got. But for me, Cloughie was the driving force although Taylor was a very important part of it all.”

“Good answer young man, now get out!”

Woodcock was a key part of Forest’s First Division and European Cup-winning side; however, there was a moment when Tony didn’t think it would work out for him at Forest.

“I didn’t quite get on with Brian Clough at first. They used to play me out of position, I wanted to play up front. It came to a point where I was doing alright in the reserves but every time he turned up I was a bag of nerves and not playing to my potential. He said, ‘Well, I thought it might motivate you.’ I said, ‘No, it just does exactly the opposite’. He looked at me and then he said, ‘Oh well, you can’t win them all, can you?’ And walked off.

“That was the moment when I thought ‘forget Brian Clough, forget everything else, just go out and play the game’. So I went out on loan. I had a great time with Graham Taylor at Lincoln and then straight away I went to Doncaster and a lot of clubs were beginning to have a look at me, which improved my confidence even more.

“So I went to see him — after him throwing me out of the office two or three times beforehand about different things — I went in, and he said: ‘What do you want now?’

‘I want to play centre forward’

‘What are you going to do there?

‘I’m going to score goals.’

‘Good answer young man, now get out!’

“I just needed a chance – I finally got it and then you have got to take it, which obviously I did.”

Clough was a “great believer in rest”

Training under Brian Clough was very different to training at any other football club.

“Our training was not what you would consider at a football club as training. Brian Clough believed that if you were putting your lot in in the games then rest was very important, so the sessions were always short and sharp.

“You had to always expect the unexpected. Of course the ball came out and there were games of football but not so much on tactical displays and how we should be playing against this team on the weekend. He trusted the players he had, and he put this jigsaw puzzle together with all of these different shapes and sizes and talents and trusted the players.

“He was a great believer in rest, so if you put your lot in at the weekend or twice a week, you can’t be leaving stuff on the training ground because you had to be mentally and physically sharp for when the games came.”

“Hold on, we could do something here”

The moment the players believed Forest could win the league championship in the 1977/78 season was when they only needed a point.

“You don’t think that you are going to be champions. You can’t think that way. You are training, the matches are coming thick and fast. You win one, you win a second one, you want to win a third. They start to say the bubble is going to burst and you think ‘no, not with these guys it’s not going to’, but you have got to stay concentrated all of the time.

“As the old cliché says, you have got to take it game by game because if you’re thinking ahead, you are not thinking about what is happening now. This is what good players do. You have got to go again and again until all of a sudden you think ‘hold on, we could do something here’.

“I think we had three games to go and needed a point. We had never lost three games on the trot so we were thinking we can do this. But don’t get me wrong, nobody until that point would have thought we could have possibly achieved it.”

“We all sat there a little bit dejected”

On 30 May 1979, Forest beat Malmo to win the European Cup and Woodcock spoke of his memories of that day.

“It was the European Cup final. All of the lads were very humble and now suddenly we were playing in the final of the greatest club competition, which we thought was for the Real Madrids and Barcelonas.

“We were actually disappointed because we didn’t put a show on in the final. We really wanted to show how good we were, but you have to get through those games, and we managed to win it 1-0.

“We were all sat there afterwards a little bit dejected because we hadn’t played brilliantly well, until Clough and Taylor came in and said listen, ‘it’s about the whole competition where you have been fantastic’. So then I thought ‘we are European champions and that’s not too bad’.”

“No regrets” for Woodcock

Tony Woodcock left the City Ground in November 1979 as he made a German transfer record-breaking move to Cologne and missed out on the latter stages of Forest’s 1980 European Cup triumph.

“Do I have regrets? No, I played in Germany and I was bought by one of the biggest clubs in Europe.

“I was winning things with Forest, I had won one or two individual awards, and I wanted to cement my status as a football player at the highest level. If you come through the ranks at one club, even today, you never really have the same reputation as someone being brought into the club. So I wanted to go and experience all of that.

“I still played up until the quarter-finals in the European Cup in 1980 so I am the only Nottingham Forest player who has never lost a European Cup game. The two campaigns I had with Forest we won every game, and that had nothing to do with me by the way, but it’s just a nice little statistic to throw on the table.”

“It is exactly like it was years ago”

Woodcock says that his best memory from his time at Forest is that the team are all still close to this day.

“The best memory is that we are all still very close. All the lads are very close and you get that with successful teams.

“The only team that you can compare with being as close as our Miracle Men would have been the Lisbon Lions. They were a group of Scotsman, mostly from Glasgow, so they were a really tight-knit group of players and won the European Cup in 1967 [with Celtic]. That’s the only one that I can compare our group of players to.

“To this day we are all still very close indeed, even if we haven’t seen each other for a while as soon as we are back together it is exactly like it was years ago.”