In the latest installment of his look back at Nottingham Forest’s two Champions League triumphs, Rory Jiwani details that famous Trevor Francis goal against Malmo in 1979.
In May 1977, Brian Clough and Peter Taylor led Nottingham Forest to promotion from the Second Division. One year later, they claimed the club’s first ever league title after winning the League Cup. One year after that, Forest were in their first Champions League final after retaining the League Cup.
Forest’s cup exploits no doubt hindered their league defence with Liverpool regaining the title. But they had knocked out their rivals from Merseyside in the first round of the Champions League before beating AEK Athens, Grasshopper Club Zurich and FC Cologne to put them on the brink of becoming the third English name on the European Cup.
Standing in their way were Malmo who had also defied the odds to make the biggest club game in Europe. The Swedes, managed by Englishman Bobby Houghton, had reached the final thanks to an incredibly solid defence and potency at set-pieces.
Malmo had conceded just two goals in the tournament, both in their quarter-final against Wisla Krakow, and Forest knew they would be in for a tough battle. Clough’s men were only starting to become accustomed to being favourites in big matches, and they were heavily fancied here.
Like Clough, Houghton thrived on being written off and he regarded Malmo’s odds of 6/1 as insulting saying, “I wouldn’t make our junior team 6/1 against Forest with proper organisation.”
Forest’s preparations for their moment of destiny in Munich were as unconventional as ever. Clough did not fly out with the team to Germany because he and his family were in Crete for their end-of-season holiday. He had even been known to take the odd vacation during the season.
The Reds had finished the league campaign strongly. Four wins in their last five games saw them finish second behind champions Liverpool. In the days before large squads, it was a mighty effort considering their extended runs in the League Cup and Europe.
This was the first time Trevor Francis was available for Forest in Europe but he was kept guessing as to whether he would be playing until the morning of the match. His main rival for the right-wing berth, Martin O’Neill, had undergone intensive treatment on a thigh injury which saw him miss the last two games of the season.
Archie Gemmill had torn a groin muscle in the semi-final first leg against Cologne but played half an hour against Mansfield in the Nottinghamshire County Cup with no adverse reaction. Frank Clark was also struggling with a hamstring issue.
Clark recalls in Daniel Taylor’s ‘I Believe In Miracles’, “We knew deep down that Trevor was going to play. But that left the three of us.”
When asked in turn by Clough if they thought they were fit during training, O’Neill and Clark both replied, “Right as rain, gaffer,” with Gemmill saying, “Absolutely perfect.”
Clough’s response was, “I’m delighted. But you’re all lying and I can risk only one of you. You’re playing, Frank.”
The veteran left-back was told by Clough some years later that he was the one least likely to fib about his fitness. As for his memories of the day of the game, he said, “I was delighted but the two of them were devastated – I mean, out of it, bitter.”
Gemmill swore and stormed off, believing that he was going to start after Clough had told him during his recovery, “If you get fit, you will play in the final.” O’Neill did not say a word.
There was a marked contrast between the glee among the 25,000 Forest fans descending upon Munich and the atmosphere in the team hotel. It scarcely improved on the bus to the Olympiastadion with Gemmill raging, O’Neill sullen and the rest of the squad adopting a respectful silence.
Perhaps there was a realisation of the enormity of how far they had come and the importance of the game they were about to play in. And the pressure, unusual for this Forest side, of going into a big match as favourites.
Unbeknownst to the squad, several crates of beer had been loaded on board and Clough walked down the aisle offering bottles around. After some initial hesitation, they had a drink. But the tension was definitely there.
It was still present after kick-off with Malmo striker Jan-Olav Kindrall failing to capitalise on a rare error from Kenny Burns. The Scot’s attempted header back to Peter Shilton went straight to Kindrall but the goalkeeper reacted quickly to snuff out the danger.
The decisive moment came on the stroke of half-time. After Birtles and Woodcock had missed decent opportunities, Ian Bowyer found John Robertson who finally had a chance to run at the Malmo defence. He got to the byline and his deep cross to the far post was met by Francis’ head after a rapid sprint into the penalty area.
Francis later said, “From a personal point of view, there was probably more pressure on me than any other club game that I’ve ever experienced. Not because it was a European Cup Final, but because it was my first game in Europe and I felt that I had to go out there and try and justify the faith shown in me by the manager to omit Martin O’Neill and to play me.”
The million-pound man almost repaid the favour with a pull-back following a lung-busting run down the right but Robertson’s shot crashed off the post. And that was pretty much that with the Swedes unable to carve out anything like a clear-cut opportunity.
Cue delight among the Forest players, with a couple of obvious exceptions, and their travelling fans. But one man who certainly did not wear the expression of a Champions League winner was the man who had done most to make it possible. Clough’s desire to win with style was not satisfied by what was a workmanlike performance against inferior opposition.
Truly Clough was a man with impeccably high standards. With the assistance of Peter Taylor and coach Jimmy Gordon, he had led a team from third place in the Second Division to the league title and the Champions League in just over two years.
And the best was still to come.