A Close Shave

"He prized clean sheets more than the housekeepers at the Ritz." That's just one of Garry Birtles' memorable observations of Brian Clough in this book which contains many great stories about the Master Manager.

The former carpet fitter describes the time Cloughie used his unique style of man management to tackle Birtles' nerves before a European Cup Final - by making him have a shave.

"That day in Munich he could see that I was getting more fractious the closer the occasion loomed," says Birtles. "Instead of putting his arm around me, he needed something to take my mind off things.

"Making me shave and curse him in his own hotel room mirror took me twenty minutes and took all the edge off my nervous tension. By the time I got back downstairs, the bus was revving up ready to go and so was I."

In an exclusive interview with this website, Birtles described some of the Master Manager's more unusual training methods. He said Brian ordered his team to run through nettles and then squeeze into a small five-a-side net.

"It was so unpredictable - no two days were the same," said Birtles. "He got us running through a clump of nettles in the corner of the training ground. It was like compost corner, where the groundsman dumped all the grass cuttings. You'd then hear him shout, 'last one in the five-a-side net' and everyone would run to the goal and try and squeeze into the net! It was bizarre. It was just another way that the Gaffer showed us who was the boss."

Birtles also became Cloughie's squash partner, playing at the Trent Bridge courts near the City Ground. "Even after training, caked in mud, I'd have to quickly clean myself up ready for a game of squash." And on one occasion, it was even followed by a reserve match against Derby in the evening.

"I thought he might go easy on me during the reserves match because we'd played squash earlier. But far from it. Mine was the one name you could hear him shouting throughout the game. There was no way I was getting any sympathy!"

Clough & Birtles

Birtles' book has a foreword by Brian's son Nigel. "It was a great experience playing alongside him for Nottingham Forest, when he returned for his second spell at the club," says Nigel, who has remained a close friend. "I learned a great deal from the way he conducted himself and the way he understood and read the game."

In the book, Birtles describes his shock when Nigel told him his Dad had passed away. "I will remember Nigel's phone call until the day I die and his hesitant voice telling me he had some 'really bad news'. He was devastated and people who never even knew the man were in a state of shock." Birtles says he still misses Brian. "He was such a colossal man, nothing was beyond him."

'My Magic Carpet Ride' is published by Reid Publishing at £17.99.