Remembering Nottingham Forest's 1980 European Cup Heroes - Led by the Incomparable Brian Clough

May 28, 2020, 2:40 PM GMT+1
Brian Clough - manager of Nottingham Forest
Brian Clough - manager of Nottingham Forest | Getty Images/Getty Images

In 1978, only three British teams had ever won the European Cup.

Celtic's trailblazing Lisbon Lions were the first in 1967, with Manchester United unsurprisingly taking the trophy the very next year. Liverpool's rampant European kings were next, becoming the first British team to win the competition in successive years in 1978.

While the thought of Nottingham Forest returning to the English top flight - let alone winning a European trophy - may seem like a pipe dream after years of heartbreak and self-destruction, this was not an alien concept in the late 1970s.

With Brian Clough's arrival as manager in 1975, Forest began building a team capable of challenging England's best and brightest. Three years after the maestro's appointment, the Midlands side had already picked up their first major pieces of silverware; the Football League Cup and the First Division title.

Having only been promoted from the second division the previous campaign, Clough was working miracles at the City Ground with fairly limited resources. Now mixing it with the big boys in the top tier, Clough inspired Forest to astounding success in the first division, laying the foundations for an incredible rise to the top on European soil.

Having been drawn against the two-time reigning champions Liverpool in the first round of the 1978/79 European Cup, expectations were fairly subdued. A 2-0 home win was enough to see them through to the next round, with Clough's men going on to topple the likes of AEK Athens, Koln and eventually Malmo in the final.

Forest's rise to supremacy had been achieved in a remarkably short period of time, masterminded by a man who didn't accept failure.

Despite having won the trophy the previous year, expectations weren't sky high for the Midlands club at the beginning of the 1979/80 campaign. After all, what Forest had achieved was staggering - but many thought it was unsustainable. While that perhaps proved to be the case over the next five or six years, this certainly wasn't the case in 1980.

Having eased past Swedish outfit Östers IF in the first round with a comfortable 3-1 aggregate victory, FC Arges Pitesti lay in wait for the defending champions in the next round. Goals from Gary Birtles, Tony Woodcock and Ian Bowyer - who had netted twice in the previous round - saw off the unknown Romanian underdogs, who struggled to keep up with the pace and power of Clough's side.

Things were about to get much harder for Forest in the next round, however, as they welcomed a robust Dynamo Berlin side to the City Ground. A physical East German outfit, Dynamo proved their credentials with an impressive and rigid 1-0 away win in England - only one of two games Forest lost throughout the competition.

Luckily for Forest, an inspired performance from Trevor Francis - who bagged a brace - and John Robertson in Germany changed the dynamic of the tie as Clough's men raced into a three-goal half-time lead, rattling their no-nonsense opponents no end.

With Dynamo unable to find a response, Ajax were soon the next team to be overpowered by Francis and Robertson, who both scored as Forest overcame their Dutch counterparts despite losing the second leg in the Netherlands.

Ajax had won three successive European Cup trophies between 1970 and 1973, yet Forest proved to be far too much to handle for the experienced Dutch side.

For the most part, Forest had faced a string of relatively unknown entities on their way to the final in Madrid. However, there was one instantly recognisable face that they would have to overcome in the Bernabeu.

Two-time English Ballon d'Or winner Kevin Keegan and his Hamburg side were waiting for Forest in the final, with the club aiming to become the first German side other than Bayern Munich to lift the European Cup.

With the highly-influential Francis injured for the final, Forest still entered this game as underdogs, despite having won the trophy the year before. Many expected Keegan to run the show, breaking hearts in much of his homeland as a result, but the Midlands club weren't going to roll over without a fight.

Robertson's 20th-minute strike upset the apple cart, as a weary Keegan struggled to impact the game in the manner to which those in Hamburg had become accustomed. Forest's defensive rigidity and mental strength proved pivotal as Clough continually barked orders at his loyal soldiers fighting tooth and nail for every ball.

With stardom in sight, Forest managed to hold what they had, once again proving what they were capable of on the continent. John McGovern lifted the trophy for a second year running, just about having time to pick his jaw up off the ground first.

Ultimately, that fateful night in Spain sealed Forest's position as one of the great over-achievers in European competitions, immortalising the legend of Clough and his team in the process.

Forest have never come close to lifting major European silverware since, but the euphoric memories of the past can serve as a great reminder to Forest fans today that better times are ahead.