How Nottingham Forest won two European Cups under Brian Clough

Nottingham Forest 1979 European Cup Winners
Nottingham Forest 1979 European Cup Winners / Getty Images/GettyImages

Nottingham Forest are one of only four English clubs to win Europe's biggest competition on multiple occasions, with both triumphs coming during the reign of Brian Clough.

Clough is considered one of the greatest English managers ever, mainly because of the success he enjoyed while managing Forest.

During his 18 years there, he made them one of the world's best sides, leading them to two European Cups; here's how he did it.

How Brian Clough turned things around at Nottingham Forest

Nottingham Forest were far from a top team when Clough took over as manager at the start of 1975 following an unsuccessful 44-day spell in charge of Leeds.

Specifically, they were languishing in the Second Division after being relegated three years prior and looked a shadow of the side that had challenged for the First Division title in the 60s.

It didn't take Clough long to start turning things around though as he led his team to promotion in his first full season in charge. Remarkably, he then went and won them the First Division title as well as the League Cup in his second, firmly establishing them as one of England's best sides again.

That triumph gave the club the chance to make their mark on the European stage, and they took it.

How Nottingham Forest won the European Cup in 1978/79

Forest couldn't have been given a much tougher first round draw, being pitted against defending champions Liverpool who had won the previous two editions of the tournament.

They beat their opponents 2-0 at home, but even at that point, many expected Bill Shankly's side to go through. That wasn't the case though with a 0-0 draw at Anfield sending them out and the visitors into the last 16.

There, they faced Greek champions AEK Athens and made easy work of the tie, winning 2-1 away and 5-1 at home to set up a quarter-final clash with Swiss side Grasshopper, who they beat 5-2 on aggregate.

Their semi-final was a much harder affair with West German champions Koln standing between them and a place in the final.

A thrilling match in Nottingham ended 3-3 with the home side fighting back from 2-0 down only to concede a late equaliser, making the visitors slight favourites heading into the second leg.

Clough got things right in Germany though, leading his side to a narrow 1-0 win and a place in the final courtesy of a 65th-minute goal from Ian Bowyer.

Their opponents in that game were Malmo who, managed by Englishman Bob Houghton, were one of the underdog stories of the year just by getting to the final.

Forest were very much favourites but they didn't brush their opponents aside by any means with things remaining goalless for 45 minutes in a game of little quality.

In the 45th minute though, Trevor Francis broke the deadlock, and his team held on to become European champions.

Nottingham Forest's 1978/79 European Cup results

  • Nottingham Forest 2-0 Liverpool
  • Liverpool 0-2 Nottingham Forest
  • AEK Athens 1-2 Nottingham Forest
  • Nottingham Forest 5-1 AEK Athens
  • Nottingham Forest 4–1 Grasshopper
  • Grasshopper 1–1 Nottingham Forest
  • Nottingham Forest 3–3 Köln
  • Köln 0–1 Nottingham Forest
  • Nottingham Forest 1–0 Malmö

How Nottingham Forest won the European Cup in 1979/80

Given that they'd had a relatively easy route aside from Liverpool and Koln, many doubted whether Nottingham Forest were actually the best team in Europe following their triumph, but they silenced those doubts the following year.

Clough's boys picked up where they left off, getting the better of Swedish opponents, beating Oster comfortably in the first round.

Things weren't much trickier in round two with Romanian side Arges Pitesti unable to put up much of a fight, losing 4-1 on aggregate to the reigning champions.

Next up were Berlin side BFC who did prove to be much more formidable opponents, picking up a 1-0 win in England. They were unable to hold on in the second leg though, losing 3-1 on home turf with Francis getting two goals.

For the first time in that year's competition, Forest didn't go into their next match as clear favourites with Dutch heavyweights Ajax favoured by many, but they won the first leg relatively comfortably, claiming a 2-0 victory at home with Francis again key.

Ajax went 1-0 up just over an hour into the second leg to set up a tense finish to the semi-final tie, but the English side were ultimately able to hold on.

Unlike the previous year, Clough and co were handed a tough final with Kevin Keegan's Hamburg knocking out Real Madrid in the semis. To make matters worse, Francis had ruptured an Achilles tendon a few weeks prior and was thus unavailable.

Thankfully though, another England legend in the form of Peter Shilton was fit and on top of his game. The goalkeeper made a number of saves throughout the night, being much busier than his counterpart.

Thanks in large part to his performance, a 20th minute goal from John Robertson was enough to make Clough's side European champions for the second year in a row.

“You win something once and people say it is all down to luck,” the manager said afterwards. “You win it twice and it shuts the buggers up.”

Nottingham Forest's 1978/79 European Cup results

  • Nottingham Forest 2-0 Oster
  • Oster 1-1 Nottingham Forest
  • Nottingham Forest 2-0 Arges Pitesti
  • Arges Pitesti 1-2 Nottingham Forest
  • Nottingham Forest 0–1 BFC Dynamo
  • BFC Dynamo 1–3 Nottingham Forest
  • Nottingham Forest 2–0 Ajax
  • Ajax 1–0 Nottingham Forest
  • Nottingham Forest 1–0 Hamburg