The 44 days of Brian Clough and Jock Stein at Leeds

The 44 days of Brian Clough and Jock Stein at Leeds

Originally featured in the sold-out Leeds United magazine, support high-quality, wholly independent journalism by ordering our magazine. It’s what keeps everything online free.


It was with an outer projection of calm authority and a sense of national duty done that the Leeds United board discussed, on multiple occasions, just who should be Don Revie’s successor, after the club had agreed to release their most successful manager to take up the England national team job. After a period of widespread media and public opinion that Johnny Giles would be handed the task, news of Brian Clough’s shock, imminent appointment broke on 22 July 1974.

After a turn of events, instigated the previous Friday following discussions hurriedly taking place with a disgruntled Brighton and Hove Albion across the weekend, Clough, having been present, flew back to complete a family holiday in Majorca, and despite the legal disputes Leeds’ approach provoked from the Brighton chairman Mike Bamber, the deal to take Clough to Elland Road was swiftly concluded.

Clough’s insistence on returning to the Balearics, rather than heading straight into what would need to be some open and consolatory meetings with his new players, was to be a crucial error. During his time with Derby, Clough had been Revie and Leeds’ most vociferous critic – at least in terms of their robust embrace of football. Derby had pipped Leeds to the First Division title in 1971/72, and it was spun as the purity of football winning the spoils, fending off the skilled, Machiavellian West Yorkshire outfit. While Revie’s side were no angels, pantomime villainy was propagated by Clough.

Nine days separated the announcement of Clough’s employment at Elland Road and his arrival for his first day in the job – a significant period for old resentments to fester and defiance to heighten. Clough then poured petrol on this smouldering fire with his legendary opening gambit about how their honours won under Revie could be thrown in the bin.

Maybe if Clough had forsaken the remainder of his holiday to deal with a pensive squad immediately, the ice might have been broken. As it was, there was over a week for wounds and anxieties to embitter. Despite this, at least publicly, the Leeds players had made appeasing noises following the news of his appointment.

Added to Clough’s delayed confrontation with the squad he inherited, his perpetual right-hand-man, Peter Taylor, opted to stay at Brighton, a club that had offered he and Clough a job at a time when they had become a duo that were viewed as trouble. As manager at the Goldstone Ground, while he failed to take the club out of the Third Division, Taylor laid the foundations that others would use to take Brighton into the First Division by 1980.

Beyond the refusal of Taylor to follow Clough to Elland Road, as Leeds’ new manager walked into the job, influential coach Les Cocker was departing to team up with Revie in the new England set up. To compensate for this, Clough brought in Jimmy Gordon, who had been a member of his backroom staff at Derby.

While Gordon was a talented training ground coach, he was no replacement for Taylor. Giles, overlooked for the manager’s job by a divided Leeds board, was somebody that Clough reputedly had muted hopes of coaxing into becoming his new Taylor. Over the course of his short time in charge, Clough couldn’t – or wouldn’t – move on the Giles theory he later confessed to harbouring.

He may have been taking over the reigning champions, yet there were several underlying issues at Elland Road. Handed a cluster of unresolved contacts to iron out, the squad that fell into his possession was a steadily ageing one. Norman Hunter, Terry Cooper, Billy Bremner and Giles were beyond 30, while Paul Reaney, Paul Madeley and Mick Jones were fast approaching the end of their 20s. A significant restructuring job was coming up fast on the horizon.

Wasting no time and testing the flexibility of Leeds’ cheque book, Duncan McKenzie arrived for £250,000 from Clough’s future employers, Nottingham Forest, plucking him from the grasp of his former employers Derby, alongside other rivals for his signature in Tottenham and Birmingham. It was Leeds’ record transfer fee, beating the previous one by a full £100,000.

Read  |  Brian Clough and the 32-game spell at Brighton that helped shape his future success

Next up, Clough then took John McGovern and John O’Hare from the Baseball Ground for good measure, for a combined fee of £125,000; both signed after a catastrophic opening day 3-0 loss at Stoke in which Alan Hudson gave a masterclass of a performance and rumours circulated of Clough having had a bust-up with Leeds coach Sidney Owen. The claims were swiftly refuted.

This defeat came a week beyond the loss in the Charity Shield, in which both Billy Bremner and Kevin Keegan were sent off. The Liverpool number seven had also picked up a red card in a pre-season friendly a few days earlier in West Germany, this uncharacteristic aggression possibly stemming from a violent incident at an airport in Belgrade a couple of months earlier when on international duty, for an England side that was under the pre-Revie caretaker guidance of Joe Mercer.

As Bremner awaited a verdict on his punishment, he had been available to play in the loss at Stoke. An obligatory three-match ban then came into effect; when it ended, a combined Football Association and Football League disciplinary panel decreed that he and Keegan would be banned for another month. By the time Bremner was eligible to play once more, Clough was no longer the Leeds manager.

As if contriving to prove correct Clough’s old accusations of Leeds’ players having a habitually rugged and agricultural approach to their treatment of opposing teams, both Hunter and Allan Clarke missed the first two league games of the 1974/75 season through suspension.

Clough had viewed the Leeds job to have been the biggest in football when it was presented to him, yet he could never have foreseen the problems that lay ahead. Four days after their heavy defeat at Stoke, the Whites welcomed Queens Park Rangers to Elland Road, where they were promptly outfought by the visitors despite them being without the services of the outrageously gifted Stan Bowles. The London outfit returned south with a 1-0 victory.

Amongst the Leeds supporters, there had been high hopes that Clough could continue to deliver success to the club. Prior to the QPR defeat, he had received a warm reception from the Elland Road faithful, on an evening when Leeds goalkeeper David Harvey had been culpable for the only goal, while Peter Lorimer missed a golden opportunity to score. Fine lines were emerging, and McKenzie had been sporadically impressive. It made for a frustrating loss.

Leeds might have been champions in 1973/74 – largely owing to a spectacular 29-game unbeaten run from the start of the season – but after picking up their first defeat of the campaign at the 30th attempt, ironically away at Stoke, Leeds had gone on to lose another three games, drawing four and drifting at such an alarming state that, with six matches left, they had yielded the mathematical advantage in what had been a title procession to a Liverpool team that fatigue eventually caught up with. It handed the advantage back to Revie’s side.

In that title-winning success, Leeds picked off victories in their last three games to ease the pressure, but their performances during the run-in had been unmistakably patchy. Thus, their early form in the 1974/75 season shouldn’t have been a surprise, particularly when combined with the turbulence of Clough’s arrival, the growing collection of suspensions, and what was an unrealised career-ending injury for the influential Jones.

It all made for a febrile environment where the discord quickly mounted for Clough – and allies were low in number. McGovern and O’Hare came in for the next fixture, a 1-0 win against Birmingham in which Hunter and Clarke both returned too. Clarke, the scorer of the goal against Birmingham, would also find the net in the following two games, showing form that flew in the face of theories that Revie’s players weren’t willing to perform for Clough.

As part of the sweeping changes made against Birmingham, Scotland international Joe Jordan had been dropped. Throughout Clough’s managerial career, he would often struggle to factor into his teams what were traditional target men. A few months earlier, Jordan had been scoring at the World Cup, and now he was sent the barely concealed warning that his face didn’t fit. After this victory – Clough’s one and only win as Leeds manager – he boldly claimed there would be no stopping his team now.

Another clash with QPR, this time at Loftus Road, ended in a 1-1 draw, and after this Jordan wasn’t struggling for company on the sidelines. McKenzie dropped out due to a thigh strain, while Eddie Gray and Cooper picked up injuries too. The invaluable Paul Madeley was another to struggle for fitness, and Clough’s line-up became a revolving one.

Read  |  Don Revie: the forgotten master of English football

At Loftus Road, it had been an even game that was marked by two very different approaches. While QPR opted for the short ball, moving it around with precision, Clough’s Leeds hit long, arcing balls from deep, trying to counter-attack. Both teams had their chances, Terry Yorath scoring in the first half for Leeds with an audacious lob, while Don Givens weaved his way to an equaliser shortly after the restart.

It had been a useful point obtained at QPR, but a big test now loomed away to Manchester City in the first game beyond the announcement of Bremner’s extra month of suspension. Leeds were beaten 2-1, a result that was compounded by Giles being linked to the newly vacant managerial seat at Tottenham.

After the respite of victory over Birmingham and a committed performance in the draw at QPR, the setback against Manchester City, and the potential loss of Giles, had suddenly magnified the importance of the visit of Luton. Nothing but a victory would do, and if it could be combined to a decrease in the escalating drama, then all the better.

Leeds were then outplayed by the newly promoted Luton at Elland Road, in which an audible section of the crowd openly turned against Clough. In a rare piece of good news, Clarke scored again, but the 1-1 draw flattered the hosts rather than the visitors. Barely a month into the job, the new Leeds manager could sense the foundations were no longer stable beneath him.

This was then followed up by the unpopular news that a fee had been agreed for the sale of Cooper to Nottingham Forest. Exception was taken by the Leeds board, however, and a Monday morning meeting between the manager and his directors resulted in a rare climbdown from Clough, who began to project an exaggerated state of unity at Elland Road.

A day later, Clough took his side to Leeds Road, the home of Huddersfield, for a second-round League Cup encounter. With much to think about and many problems to solve, he took a large squad. Along with the 12 that had been on duty against Luton, McKenzie had returned to full fitness, Mick Bates was back in contention, and Jordan was saved from another outing in the reserves.

Dropping McGovern and O’Hare, Bates and Jordan won recalls, while McKenzie was on the bench. In front of the watching Revie, who was essentially an unwitting – or perhaps witting – voyeur in a moment of football history, the game proved to be a fascinating and closely contested Yorkshire derby, with the enthusiastic hosts, two divisions below the reigning league champions, matching Clough’s confidence-thin side blow-for-blow.

A 1-1 draw was played out, with Lorimer snatching a last-minute, face-saving equaliser to take the tie to an Elland Road replay. A portent of just how significant the game was, Lorimer had seen an early penalty saved by the Huddersfield goalkeeper Terry Poole. It had been a retaken spot-kick, having put the first attempt away, only to be made to take it again due to encroachment from Clarke.

This determined Huddersfield side were managed by the former Leeds legend Bobby Collins. Just three days beyond the board meeting in which Clough declared all to be “beautiful and clear” at Elland Road, another one was called in which he was informed that his employment with the club was at an end. Within 24 hours of the first of those board meetings, the players reportedly had their famous dressing room meeting in which a vote of no confidence was reached. Clough had held the position of Leeds’s manager for just 44 days.

Incredibly, on the evening of his sacking, Clough agreed to an interview on Yorkshire Television’s regional news programme, Calendar. Fronted by future Labour MP Austin Mitchell, and with Revie sat alongside him as a fellow guest, it made for bewitching viewing. The conversation ploughs through candid moments of reflection and occasional bouts of abrasiveness between the two managers. It is easily located on YouTube and I suggest you find time to watch it.

On the front foot, Manny Cussins, the Leeds chairman, pulled no punches in his assessment of the situation. Fronting up to an ocean of photographers, television cameras and reporters outside Elland Road, he stated: “What has been done is for the good of Leeds United – they come first and the happiness of the players. Nothing can be successful unless the staff is happy.” Intimating the thoughts of the players, Cussins went on: “They seem to criticise the tactics, the training and so forth of Mr Clough.”

Read  |  The great Battle of Britain: when Jock Stein’s Celtic met Don Revie’s Leeds in the 1970 European Cup semi-final

The Leeds chairman was big enough to put his hands up to say that when he appointed Clough, he thought he had landed the best man for the job. Without Taylor, however, there was no handbrake with which to temper the extremes of the new manager.

Clough, meanwhile, after being so abrasive and confrontational in his approach to the job, would later admit he made mistakes, and it was in an interview with David Frost, later in the year – a month or so prior to taking on the Nottingham Forest job – that he was brutally open about himself, without relinquishing any of his trademark confidence.

Within 24 hours of his departure, Leeds were being defeated at Turf Moor by Burnley, while responsibility for Clough’s sacking was sparse, as the players publicly distanced themselves from the accusations that their power had unseated the manager. Another director, Bob Roberts, on holiday at the time of the sacking, stated that he was shocked to hear of the news; a decision that he hadn’t been consulted about, going on to voice his personal opinion that Clough had had too little time to make an impact at the club.

Over the following weeks, Giles was touted as the early favourite for the job, yet history was to repeat itself and the position passed him by once more. This time, however, it was by choice: the board was divided over his projected appointment, which prompted him to withdraw from the field, despite seemingly being the favoured choice of Cussins. Instead, a short few weeks later, the job went to the former Bolton manager Jimmy Armfield.

Clough would sit out for the next four months, until Nottingham Forest came calling for his services, where he would eventually team up again with Taylor to startling effect. He would also be reunited at the City Ground with Gordon, McGovern and O’Hare. McKenzie, meanwhile, remained a Leeds player until his sale to Anderlecht in 1976.

Armfield led Leeds to defeat in the 1975 European Cup final, going on to oversee another flirtation with potential glory in the club’s 1977 FA Cup semi-final loss, a defeat that seemed to break the spirit of many at the club. Jordan and McQueen were gone by the following February, joining the team they lost to in the semi-final, Manchester United.

With added league inconsistencies, Armfield’s contract wasn’t renewed for the 1978/79 season, and in a bid to regain a place amongst the elite, Cussins eventually turned to Celtic legend Jock Stein, after an untidy summer that had begun with talk of a contract extension for the existing manager, before dispensing with his services and openly courting the likes of Lawrie McMenemy and Ron Saunders.

When the Southampton and Aston Villa managers both opted to stay where they were, Giles was again linked to the post, as were Bremner and Jack Charlton. A massively attractive job vacancy, through a combination of polite refusals of potential candidates, and a lack of majority will toward any of the other possibilities available, it got to the point that the new season was fast approaching and Leeds would go into it without a new manager.

With Armfield still effectively contracted until December, the Leeds board even sounded out their recently sacked manager over any interest he might have had in taking the job back. Ultimately, it took them over six weeks to appoint their new manager. Stein had been marginalised at Celtic Park, and feeling he still had much to give, he jumped at the chance to test himself in the English First Division, at a club he had defeated as Celtic manager in the 1970 European Cup semi-final.

The prolonged nature of clinching Stein’s appointment suggested he harboured potential reservations, however. A Glasgow-loving wife who was reluctant to move south of the border, and a watchful eye being kept on Ally MacLeod’s position as Scotland manager were both huge considerations.

Read  |  Jock Stein: the ordinary man who was anything but

When the Scottish Football Association announced that MacLeod had narrowly retained his job, it acted as the impetus for Stein to accept the offer on the table from Leeds. Two weeks separated MacLeod’s reprieve at Hampden Park and Stein taking over at Elland Road. When he did, it rounded out a very lucrative week for him, having just enjoyed a bumper testimonial game against Liverpool at Celtic Park, which earned him a reputed £80,000. That was then supplemented by Leeds’ offer of a £75,000, three-year contract.

As such, Leeds started the 1978/79 season without Stein, who was still waiting in the wings. Coach Maurice Lindley temporarily took charge, and of the players who played under Clough, Harvey, Madeley, Cherry, Eddie Gray and Lorimer remained.

Five days beyond his Celtic Park testimonial, Stein was at Highbury, watching from the stands as the team he was about to take over played out a 2-2 draw with Terry Neill’s Arsenal. His appointment was unanimously agreed to in a board meeting 48 hours later. After a summer of struggle, the Leeds hierarchy must have felt like they’d struck gold in the European Cup-winning legend.

After taking a protracted route to their new manager, Cussins having been voted down yet again in the potential appointment of Giles, a week prior to Stein getting the job, finally there seemed to be stability at the club. Yet, little did anybody know what lay ahead.

A very different landscape to the one Clough had walked into, while not much had changed in the Elland Road boardroom over the course of the previous four years in terms of personnel, Leeds had switched from a club that invested in players to one which had either opted to be a selling club or had simply become easy prey when it came to picking off their biggest and brightest players.

As proof of this alarming turn of events, Jordan had been sold to Manchester United in January 1978, with Gordon McQueen following him to Old Trafford a month later. This brought added symbolism to Stein’s first game in charge, albeit one he watched from the stands as Leeds slipped to a 3-2 defeat at home to their two former idols and their new employer at Old Trafford.

Stein made all the right noises on his arrival at Elland Road. He spoke of how his ambition still burned brightly and how impressed he was of the facilities and the potential of a club that were only four years beyond their last league title and three years beyond contesting a European Cup final.

His initial dealings with the players he inherited were cordial, with Stein telling them that he wanted the club to continue with what was a very successful way of doing things. This was the opposite to Clough’s approach four years earlier, and flew in the face of Stein’s own reputation, which was billed as being quite blunt, even brutal at times, when it came to him dealing with his players.

That first game in charge was a sold-out occasion at Elland Road, defeat at home to a Manchester United side that procured a late winner from the former Stein “Quality Street Gang” protégé, Lou Macari, when he drifted straight through the centre of the Leeds defence from where he lobbed the ball over the exposed Harvey.

Stein had been given an enthusiastic welcome by the Leeds faithful and was only there in a watching brief. In comparison, Jordan and McQueen were afforded a hostile reception. McQueen scored the opening goal with a powerful header from a strangely retaken corner. Within seven minutes, Paul Hart had equalised with a near carbon copy effort. Jordan then played a part in the visitors’ second goal, nodding down a cross from Steve Coppell for Sammy McIlroy to force home. A Frank Gray penalty just after the restart levelled the scores again, until Macari’s clincher.

Read  |  The wing wizardry of Leeds legend Eddie Gray, the man who left no footprints

Soon enough, Stein had more food for thought as Harvey picked up an injury. He wasn’t the only one either, and Madeley was forced to switch from right-back to centre-back. Cherry missed games too, before slotting into midfield upon his return. Frank Gray covered left-back until Cherry reclaimed the role. It made for an unsettled midfield. The loss of Leeds’ new hero, Tony Currie, was a massive blow when it came.

The visit of Wolves was the first game in which Stein was fully in control of his new team. Only one change was made to the line-up that had lost in midweek, and it was an enforced change. With Harvey injured, into goal came David Stewart. An improved defensive showing enabled the Leeds attack to enjoy their afternoon, with goals for Ray Hankin, Frank Gray and Currie taking Stein’s side to a 3-0 victory, all the goals coming in the second half.

Away to West Brom in the League Cup came next – a physical game with hard work aplenty, although little in the way of finesse. Stein opted for a counter-attacking tactic, built upon strong defending. A replay was earned via a second successive clean sheet, in what was Willie Johnston’s first game since failing a drugs test for Scotland in Argentina at the 1978 World Cup.

Suddenly, it was as if Stein was working his magic. Leeds then travelled to Chelsea and came away with a 3-0 win, one that suggests a Leeds masterclass, but it was a victory that was garnered via selective effort. Arthur Graham opened the scoring in the first minute thanks to a comedy of Chelsea defensive errors. The hosts, lacking in confidence, were there for the taking, yet Stein still opted for a display of shadow boxing, picking off two further second-half goals through John Hawley, one a header at the end of a sharp counter-attack, the second thanks to more poor Chelsea defending.

Hawley, a borderline Jordan tribute act of a striker, and his partner Carl Harris were beginning to click. Another clean sheet achieved, Stein concentrated on making Leeds hard to break down, before fine-tuning the offensive side of the team. What flair was on display flowed through the half-fit Currie. Chelsea would end the season propping up the First Division.

West Brom were navigated once more in their League Cup replay, and another goalless draw ensued, a game that went to extra-time. Now it was 210 goalless minutes of football between the two teams. Leeds’ best chance of a goal was when Laurie Cunningham almost lobbed his own goalkeeper.

Devastatingly, Currie was injured in a challenge by Bryan Robson. The knee ligament injury would mean Stein would never be able to field him again, and as Currie was the creative hub of a Leeds side that wasn’t exactly showing its attacking intent too often, it was a massive blow. On the plus side, it was a fourth successive clean sheet, and nobody was looking forward to facing Stein’s stubborn side.

Whether or not it was primarily due to the loss of Currie, Leeds’ momentum was halted emphatically away to Manchester City. A 3-0 defeat, in which the influence of Currie was undoubtedly missed, his absence still offered no explanation as to why the Leeds defence hit the self-destruct button. After four games of focused defending, Leeds gifted two of the three goals they conceded at Maine Road.

The loss of Currie proving a difficult conundrum work out, Leeds were then beaten 2-1 at home by Tottenham, Ossie Ardiles the star of the day. After an unremarkable goalless draw at Highfield Road against Coventry, it now meant that Stein’s side had failed to win any of their last four games. The absence of Currie had dramatically stunted the attacking prospects of Leeds. The only positive was the return of a clean sheet.

Living in a hotel, struggling to convince his wife to join him, and his contract still unsigned, Stein was an interested observer from afar on the day that MacLeod resigned as Scotland manager in late-September.

While striving to do his best by Leeds, the Scot was frustrated in his efforts to sign Gerry Daly from Derby, with Tommy Docherty knocking back a bid of £300,000, instead demanding an extra £100,000 that Leeds were unwilling to part with. All the while, events in Glasgow and the pull of the Scotland job began to weigh heavily.

Read  |  Cry ‘Havok!’ and let slip the dogs of war: the brutal 1970 FA Cup final

Within 24 hours of MacLeod’s departure, Stein’s name was being linked to the vacancy, but so too was Billy McNeill’s, along with Jock Wallace and Eddie Turnbull. Stein himself did little to downplay the speculation, with footballing folklore insisting that he asked football commentator and journalist, Archie McPherson, to spread a story of SFA interest in him.

Soon, engineered speculation turned into serious attention, with Scotland’s supporters unanimous in their favoured choice for the job. Stein’s last league game in charge of Leeds was a 3-0 victory at home to bottom of the table Birmingham. By Monday, the SFA were locked in a meeting at which those assembled agreed that Stein was the man they wanted.

That evening, at Maine Road, the League Cup saga between Leeds and West Brom came to an end as Stein’s side benefitted from a one-man advantage for most of the second half to edge a 1-0 victory. It was a win that was more one-sided than the scoreline suggested, gaining themselves a trip to Bramall Lane in the third round to face Sheffield United.

At the end of the game, the supporters who had made the journey across the Pennines chanted Stein’s name, more in hope than expectation that they could persuade him to stay. But sensing the gravitational pull that Stein was experiencing, he was given permission by Leeds on 3 October to be interviewed for the Scotland job.

Stein travelled north, to Glasgow, the following day. Within 48 hours of the SFA having approached Leeds for permission to talk to their manager, they had secured their man, while simultaneously having thrown Leeds back into disarray. He had held the job for just 44 days.

Both parties were left with a sense of regret. Had the Scotland job been available immediately after the World Cup, Stein would have taken it. Yet, the SFA had retained the services of MacLeod and Stein took up the offer of employment from Leeds instead, only for MacLeod to resign just weeks after the former Celtic legend had taken on the manager’s seat at Elland Road.

Cussins declared himself to be “heartbroken”, while Cherry described the prospect of losing Stein as being “a disaster”.  A little over a week after trying to sign Daly from Derby, Stein was no longer the Leeds manager.

In terms of a successor for Stein, Giles was again mentioned, while the Leeds board were quick to rule out Clarke due to his managerial inexperience. John Bond and Tony Book, the Norwich and Manchester City managers, were soon linked to the job, as a scattergun approach was taken by the media in their attempts to identify Leeds’ next manager. Alan Durban of Stoke was approached, but the club refused to let Leeds speak to him.

Leeds’ first game beyond Stein’s departure ended in a 3-1 defeat at Bolton, and it was former Burnley manager, Jimmy Adamson, who was eventually appointed on 25 October. It began what would be polarising spell at the helm.

The right men at the wrong times, what you are left with is a sad sense of what might have been for both Clough and Stein at Leeds. With the former, you have to speculate how he would have rebuilt the ageing side he inherited throughout the second half of the 1970s, while with the latter, you have to wonder if he could have added flair to the defensive solidity he was clearly implementing.

Instead, a slow puncture situation escalated in the following years, leading all the way to Leeds’ relegation from the First Division in 1981/82. It’s something that was nigh-on impossible to imagine a few years earlier. Perhaps it wouldn’t have happened at all had Brian Clough or Jock Stein’s stay at the club have stretched beyond 44 short days.

By Steven Scragg @Scraggy_74

Art by James Quartly @jtqdraws

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