Martin Smith column: fags and nettles, how Euro titles were won

Brian Clough and his son Nigel, pictured in 2000
Brian Clough and his son Nigel, pictured in 2000

Sheffield Wednesday - Premier League champions 2019, Champions League winners 2020. Impossible to imagine? That’s the 21st century equivalent of what Nottingham Forest did in the 1970s.

Forest then, as now, a team and a club going nowhere much in the second tier of English football until someone offered Brian Clough a job. That was January 1975. Four years later Forest became European champions when Owls legend Trevor Francis headed in the winner to beat Malmo in Munich.

These are the years film-maker Jonny Owen charts in his evocative ‘I Believe In Miracles’ documentary that premiered on a giant screen at the City Ground last Sunday =in front of those players, their families and 3,500 fans. His likeable film - with a brilliant soul-funk soundtrack - tells one of sports’ greatest stories through match and fans’ footage, player interviews and unforgettable Clough clips.

Former Blades boss Nigel Clough, his brother Simon and families were there as were all the old players - except Martin O’Neill who had business in Poland. The film conveys the awe the players still have for their achievements in those fairy-tale years. The days when Clough Snr encouraged them to have a drink the night before a game, when the star man had a fag at half-time and training was a run through nettles and a game of five-a-side.

But they know how good they were as a team, journeyman players don’t win European cups. Though they could scarcely believe their story as it unfolded back then and they accept that team would not have done as it did without the remarkable management of Clough and Peter Taylor whose clarity of vision, judgement and spell-binding eccentricity unlocked their full potential.

Those players watched the film and shared footballers’ jokes, their sense of pride and togetherness as strong as ever. But there were moments as they saw themselves as young men in action, the stuff of their fondest memories reflected in their eyes in the cinematic darkness, when they shared the wonder the world felt for that team, their team.

Asked towards the end of the film how much of the day-to-day story he remembered as he saw himself on screen smashing in goal after goal for his home town club, former England striker Tony Woodcock whispered a one word reply. “Everything”.

The rest of us should be reminded.

I Believe in Miracles was released in cinemas nationwide on Tuesday and on DVD and Blu-ray from November 16th.