Brian Clough’s time at Sunderland in some ways is a story of what could have been for the man born and raised in Middlesbrough.
His move from ‘Boro caused heartbreak and dismay from their fans after he moved a short journey to Wearside - and it was one that looked like a masterstroke from the off.
The move to Sunderland cost the club £55,000. Clough seemed to enjoy his new setup and settled in straight away, resuming his scoring habits with 34 goals in his first season -helping the club’s push where we finished third in the league and one point off promotion.
Averaging a goal almost every game with a staggering 204 goals in 222 games for the Teesiders, it appeared that he was going to match that record at Roker Park where he had notched up 63 goals in 74 appearances by Boxing Day 1962 until a shocking injury where Clough tore his MCL and ACL cut short a glittering career.
These goals were crucial for a team who were seeking promotion to the top flight of English football, and whilst the club eventually got promoted the following season, Clough never appeared to recover from the injury that single-handedly destroyed his playing career at just 29 years of age.
Without having the science and medicine that footballers today are afforded, Clough didn’t have the same tools for recovery. His injury took about a year and half to recover from.
He fought hard to come back after his injury but like many players at that time the damage had taken its toll on him, wearing the Sunderland shirt three more times before he decided to retire from football.
It was a shame for Clough and Sunderland alike, who appeared to be a match made in heaven. Two of Clough’s children - including his son Nigel - were born in Sunderland and the former player has stated that some of the happiest moments of his life were when he was on Wearside.
The happiest time I ever spent in a football club, including when I was manager of league champions was when I played for Sunderland.
Considering the love and adoration that appeared to be mutual between the man and the club, it is a shame that a situation never transpired where Clough managed Sunderland.
His familiarity with the locality and club alike would have ensured he understood the passion of the fans. It is something he had stated himself that it was one of his regrets.
I would have crawled up the M1 on my hands and knees over broken glass to be manager of Sunderland.
What was Sunderland’s loss was the gain of clubs such as Nottingham Forest and Derby County where Clough’s unique management style brought domestic and European glory to these clubs. He was a man who appeared to inspire so many and will certainly go down as one of the true greats of Sunderland (even in his short time at the club) and in football generally.
Today we celebrate what would have been his 88th birthday.