It really should have been Lee Chapman making the headlines after Nottingham Forest's 5-2 win over Queens Park Rangers in the Littlewoods Cup quarter final. Scoring a hat-trick by half-time, and later adding a fourth goal, Chapman had helped Nottingham Forest progress to the last four. Yet it was manager Brian Clough who would dominate the front and back pages, not only the day after, but for days to come.
Never shy of a quote or two, Clough chose Wednesday January 18, 1989, to demonstrate that sometimes actions speak louder than words. But the fallout from Clough's forceful intervention would rumble on. Anyone who was anyone had a view on the Forest manager, with the police, politicians, football authorities, and fans all getting involved. Things were rarely dull when it came to Cloughie.
Clough probably doesn't get enough credit for the team he built towards the end of the 80s. Two third-place finishes in Division One, two FA Cup semi-finals, two League Cup triumphs, as well as a Simod Cup, highlight that these were exciting times for Forest fans between 1988-90. After beating QPR to reach their first League Cup semi-final since 1980, a few hundred supporters took to the pitch to celebrate. Yet instead of feeling the long arm of the law, some received a short hand jab from an irate Clough.
Catching one intruder with a sneaky left hook, Clough then moved on to his next target, grabbing the supporter by the scruff of the neck and throwing him towards the pitch perimeter. Following this up with a right hand slap to the face of his next victim, Clough then threw another right and one more left at two other fans, as stewards and mounted police moved in to control the supporters.
"I was concerned about the possible confrontation of rival fans on the pitch," Clough explained in defence of his attack on a few of the Forest fans who had invaded the pitch. "Whether people believe me or not, I took the action with the right motive. I just wanted to help the police clear the pitch as quickly as possible."
Clough's actions sparked debate up and down the country. Some demanded a criminal investigation against the Forest manager, others felt that Clough should be sacked, and there were even Forest fans who thought their manager had gone too far. Fortunately for Clough, he found his staunchest supporter would be Forest chairman Maurice Roworth.
"I back his actions 100 per cent," Roworth said. "Perhaps I'm a hardliner when it comes to law and order, but hooligans deserve a clip round the ear. If some of those had a clip round the ear five years ago, the incident wouldn't have occurred last night." Standing firmly behind his manager, Roworth reportedly turned down an offer from Clough to quit. Yet many politicians felt that both Clough and Roworth had let themselves, their club, and football down.
Conservative MP and Luton Town chairman David Evans was certainly not sitting on the fence. "It's absolutely deplorable. He should have been sacked this morning by Maurice Roworth, who's let him off 100 times already for other incidents," Evans stated vehemently. "It's unacceptable from football's point of view. It's football that once again is being dragged through the gutter. All because the football manager of Nottingham Forest couldn't control himself."
Other MPs waded into the debate. Conservative backbencher Robert Adley demanded that "the hooligan element among the football managers" should be added to the proposed Football Spectators Bill that was discussing the introduction of identity cards. The Leader of the House John Wakeman felt that "It is clearly right for those in responsibility within football to set the right example."
Throughout the whole affair, the Nottinghamshire Police remained firm in their stance that Clough would only be charged if someone came forward to press charges of assault. Many would voice their disapproval via the press, yet just a few days after the incident, some of these supporters appeared in front of the cameras to kiss and make up with Clough.
20-year-old Sean O'Hara was one man on the receiving end of Clough's anger. "He knocked the stuffing out of me," O'Hara revealed in the Daily Mirror. "If I had done that I would be in the cells by now. I thought it was a QPR fan, but I turned round to see Brian Clough. I just couldn't believe my eyes."
Jimmy McGowan also told his side of the story. "I was just about to pat Nigel Clough on the back when I felt someone shove me from behind. I fell over, looked up and saw Clough senior glaring down at me. My £180 suede jacket was ripped at the shoulder and covered in mud."
O'Hara and McGowan would take centre stage on the Friday after the match. Meeting Clough, the pair would apologise to the man who had attacked them, in a PR exercise which intended to calm the storm. "I feel ashamed of what happened, and I can promise it will never happen again," McGowan said. "These lads were big enough to come down to the ground and apologise," Clough responded. "I had to make my own apologies for what happened."
At the end of the meeting that was shown on the news, Clough asked the pair to plant a kiss on his cheek, which they somewhat reluctantly agreed to do; spot McGowan's contemporary reference to Duncan Norvelle in this clip. The staged event may have succeeded in quietening some of the dissenting voices, but Clough knew that an FA charge would not go away.
"Ban Clough from the game for six months," David Evans implored. "Close Nottingham Forest football ground for a month. Get tough with them." Luckily for Clough, Evans was not sitting on the disciplinary committee. Even so, the record £5,000 fine and a touchline ban for the rest of the season, was seen as a just punishment for Clough's misdemeanours.
The ban did not apply to Wembley, FA Chief Executive Graham Kelly explaining that Clough's absence from the touchline would divert attention away from any Cup final occasion. So at least Clough could lead his Forest team out on to the pitch and claim his first major trophy since 1980, in winning the Littlewoods Cup. The conclusion to the victory over Luton was a lot less controversial than the QPR match.
Shaking hands with Luton's players, Clough made his way to the tunnel, stopping to acknowledge the cheers from the Forest end, as he allowed his assistant Ronnie Fenton to collect and keep his Littlewoods Cup replica. "It was a superb gesture," Fenton said. "The sort you expect from Brian." Certainly much more welcome than a clip round the ear.