Notts Forest (they hate being called that, so let’s go with it) are one of those annoying, middle-sized clubs with no real history or tradition, who got lucky for a brief period during an otherwise mundane existence – and whose fans have never stopped boring on about it since. In this respect, they’re even worse than Aston Villa, who had at least been there and done it in previous eras. But Notts Forest led a life of almost unrelieved dullness between the time of Robin Hood‘s departure and the arrival of one Brian Clough. Then, for a brief period, everything gelled – and there was a purple patch. Not one to compare with the dominance of Liverpool in the seventies and eighties, to be sure – or even Leeds United in the sixties and seventies. But a purple patch nevertheless, and – for many residents of Nottingham – it was the best time of their lives (always excepting the defeat of the miners in the mid ’80s…)
The magic factor that made the difference for Notts Forest is of course one man, now sadly departed. Without him, all of that unprecedented success would never have happened. His eye for a player and his ability to play his crucial part in a phenomenal double act was the vital ingredient – the difference between mere competence and spectacular success. What a pity that publicity hog and shameless ego-maniac Brian Clough went and nicked almost all the credit for himself, ruthlessly marginalising the true hero. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Peter Taylor – the divine spark behind the conflagration of conspicuous achievement at the City Ground 38 years ago. The fact that Taylor made the vital difference is undeniable – and reflects poorly on those who, to this day, accord all the kudos for everything to Old Big ‘Ed himself. They could hardly be more wrong.
The truth of Taylor’s importance to Clough is easily enough illustrated. For whatever reason, Peter Taylor remained behind at Brighton when Clough strolled into Elland Road, expecting to repeat the success of Don Revie “but better”. 44 days later, he left Leeds, an abject failure – but lollied up to the eyeballs and able to name his own terms in any future job. And he had learned the painful reality that, without Taylor, he was no better than ordinary. All of Clough’s finest achievements came about with Peter Taylor at his side. If that duo had ever worked in tandem at a big club – and there was none bigger than Leeds in 1974 – then a dynasty of success could have been founded. Taylor wouldn’t have let Clough make his rash Elland Road mistakes – he’d have set about the matter far more gently, far more constructively. It was Leeds’ calamity – and Forest’s eventual good luck – that the mainspring of the Clough/Taylor double act stayed at the Goldstone Ground, Brighton – while Clough was left alone in a hotel in Leeds to discover the unwelcome truth of his limited potential as a one man band.
Nowadays, the glory years of dominance and success are distant memories for both Forest and Leeds – though United’s early-nineties revival at least gives Whites fans a choice of eras to drone on about – and they find themselves instead as the undisputed two biggest clubs below the elite Premier League level. The meeting at Elland Road on Saturday will reflect this in a bumper crowd of over thirty thousand, with the added spice of what appears to be a keen mutual dislike between clubs, personnel and supporters. Notts Forest possibly resent the continual references to their local area’s lack of solidarity during the Miners’ Strike, and also to their ridiculous nickname. Honestly – the Tricky Trees? Who on earth was responsible for that particular weird flight of fancy? Neither have they got over the perceived injustices of the 1-1 draw between these two at the City Ground earlier in the season, when apparently the Tricky Trees should have had half a dozen penalties at least, if not more.
Saturday’s game sees Leeds United in a more relaxed frame of mind than might have been the case only a few short weeks ago. Relegation worries have been seen off, and the Whites are bobbing about comfortably in mid-table, looking unlikely to move very much either upwards or down. The most likely realistic goal for the remainder of the season will be to see if a disastrous pre-Christmas spell can be overcome for Yorkshire’s Number One to confirm that position in the league table. A win over Forest would be another step on the way to realising that baseline target.
The main problem for United is that the Trickies have revived somewhat since the dismissal of the useless Stuart Pearce, their results showing a distinct improvement under the guidance of former United striker Dougie Freedman. There are even some pundits who fancy them still to make a late bid for a play-off place, which would at least give the rest of us the pleasure of them collapsing in a fit of nerves against whoever they might play in the two-leg semis. But it’s more than likely that both of these mid-table pedestrians will be renewing hostilities next season, in the same league – but hopefully with better prospects – at least for Leeds.
Meanwhile, Saturday’s game still has that top flight feel about it, with memories of Curries and Strachans and Battys and Hankins taking on the likes of Shilton, Gemmill, Keane and O’Neill. It’s not a fixture that wants for historical appeal, and a fullish Elland Road will be ample tribute to that. Leeds fans will hope for three more points towards sealing Yorkshire supremacy and, with a few solid if unspectacular victories under their belts, it would be most welcome if – just for once – United could set about their visitors with enough relish to see them off convincingly. It’s not that long since Forest got the worst of a goal-laden afternoon as Leeds emerged 4-2 winners – but there have been heavy defeats for the Whites too, about which the least said the better we’ll all like it.
Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything wearily dons its pundits hat then – and the prediction this week is that the Whites will see off their embarrassingly nicknamed foes by three goals to one. And, in a crude attempt at reverse psychology, I would simply like to emphasise that there is no possibility of Steve Morison scoring for Leeds, none whatsoever – just forget that completely, it ain’t gonna happen.
Glad we got that cleared up.