On this day in 1961, the legend that is Brian Clough slammed in a hat-trick in a Second Division clash against Plymouth at Roker Park in which Sunderland run out 5-0 victors.
Having finished the previous season in 6th place, manager Alan Brown was keen to strengthen for a promotion push, and nabbed the 26-year-old England-capped striker from Middlesbrough, who’d finished in 5th place, just a point behind their more northerly neighbours.
Clough had started his career at Ayresome Park, and left with a stunning goal record of 204 goals in 222 games; only a club record fee of £40,000 prising him away from North Yorkshire.
Clough carried on at Sunderland where he’d left off at Boro, making a goalscoring debut in an away defeat at Walsall, before scoring his first Roker Park goal in his second home appearance, in a 4-1 reverse against eventual champions, Bill Shankly’s Liverpool.
He soon got into the goalscoring groove in red and white, and by the time the Pilgrims rode (or should that be wandered?) into town, Clough had 14 goals in 16 games. Not a bad way to introduce yourself.
The home game against Plymouth, played in front of 30,023, saw fifth-placed Sunderland line up like this:
Wakeham, Irwin, Ashurst, Anderson, Rooks, McNab, Hooper, Herd, Clough, McPheat, Overfield
Sunderland took the lead on 9 minutes through Harry Hooper, before Clough took control – notching on 22, 43 and 54 ‘brilliantly taken goals’ to give the lads a strong lead, before Hooper sealed the victory from the spot.
In the post match write up, The Journal’s Len Hetherington wrote:
“True, goals win matches, and Clough is proving week by week that he can get them. But it is his play over the full 90 minutes that stamps him as a footballer of world class.
“He is, without exception, the most unselfish centre forward I have ever seen.
“When the service is not there he goes looking for the ball, and if the chance of a breakthrough is not immediately on, his distribution to either flank is faultless.
“And, should the occasion demand it, he is ever ready to drop back and assist in defence.
“He will probably agree that he is at his best with two fast wingers who get the ball over first time, but whatever the situation no defence can feel happy while Clough is there or thereabouts.”
Clough’s hat-trick against Plymouth was – remarkably – his third treble for Sunderland at Roker Park in only his ninth home game.
He’d bagged his first in a midweek league fixture against Bury in front of 39,893, and his second seven days later in a League Cup tie against Walsall.
Despite Clough’s arrival, Sunderland had got off to a slow start that season, sitting in 19th in mid-September. But victory over Plymouth lifted them to third – where they would finish the season. Clough’s 29 goals in 34 games (34 in 43 in all competitions) helped the club improve on the season before, missing out on promotion by a point to Leyton Orient. Middlesbrough, incidentally, finished in 12th place – evidently missing Clough’s goalscoring prowess.
Clough’s remarkable goalscoring saw him also bag a hat-trick at home to Swansea Town – as they were then – later on that season, and another at home to Huddersfield.
Despite his goalscoring form, Clough was overlooked for Chile 1962. Alongside Bobby Charlton and Jimmy Greaves were five-cap Gerry Hitchens of Inter Milan, one-cap Roger Hunt, of Second Division Champions Liverpool, and Alan Peacock, the uncapped Middlesbrough centre forward who’d been Clough’s strike partner; his 24 in 34 in a mid-table side deemed more attractive than Clough’s superior record.
The following season started in predictable fashion for Clough – scoring two in a 3-1 home win over Middlesbrough (Peacock didn’t trouble the scoresheet), while his first hat-trick of the campaign came at The Dell in a 4-2 September victory, and was followed in early November by a treble at home to Grimsby on Johnny Crossan’s debut.
The following month, of course, in the Boxing Day fixture at home to Bury, Clough sustained the injury that would ultimately end his career. At that point in the season he’d scored 28 goals in 28 games, and Sunderland were sitting 2nd in the table.
Up until that game, Sunderland had played 23 games, winning 13 and drawing 5, securing 31 points.
Including the Bury home game (the reverse fixture, incidentally, was played the following day, the side managed 7 wins and 7 draws in the remaining 19 games – and that increased percentage of draws, undoubtedly stemming from Clough’s absence, cost us dearly.
Going into the last game of the season, at home to Chelsea, Sunderland were sitting at the top of a very tight table; Stoke one point behind and Chelsea trailing by two points.
A 1-0 Chelsea victory saw them go level on points with Sunderland, with their superior goal difference securing second place. Stoke City’s 2-0 win over Luton saw them claim top spot.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, despite missing the best part of half a season, Clough’s 28 goals still saw him named as the club’s top scorer that season, and he missed the entire 63-64 season as Sunderland eventually secured promotion – Johnny Crossan top scoring with 27.
Clough did play again, albeit briefly. After 20 months out he appeared in early-season home games against West Brom and Don Revie’s Leeds, against whom he scored a 51st minute goal in a 3-3 draw. That goal – and that appearance – would that would prove to be the last of his career, his knee no longer able to cope with the rigours of professional football.
While Brian Clough is – rightly – best remembered for the remarkable managerial career that followed, he was a truly brilliant footballer and goalscorer; something that often gets somewhat diminished when recalling a stunningly good career in football.