Friday, 13 November 2015

Football Art: Brian Clough in Albert Park

"I was the kid who came from a little part of paradise, to me it was heaven. Everything that I've done, everything I've achieved, everything I can think of that has directed and affected my life - apart from the drink - stemmed from my childhood". 

It was the first weekend of September and summer was barely clinging on in Middlesbrough's Albert Park.  An elderly couple shuffled past the sunlit bandstand,  a bloke was showing his son the South African War Memorial and a cannon captured in the Crimea, and two women traded gossip under the branches of a tree.  "Get away, he never! He'll be alright if they win this afternoon."

A little way off stood another figure, seven-foot high, cast in bronze and with a familiar twist to the mouth.  "I want no epitaphs of profound history and all that type of thing," Brian Clough had once commented. "I contributed - I would hope they would say that, and I would hope somebody liked me."  Three years after his death, and over three and a half decades since he'd left his hometown club, there were enough there who still liked him to make up over half of the £65,000 a statue in his honour had cost.  "It's in recognition of one of the greatest people to ever come from Middlesbrough," said the chairman of the fund-raising committee.  "There was a deep reservoir of feeling for Cloughie in this town and they don't want him to be forgotten".

Clough, Albert Park and football went back a very long way.  It was there that Middlesbrough had played their very first matches, using the archery strips for pitches until they were kicked out for making a mess of the grass.  Born on one side of the park at 11 Valley Road, he would, wrote Jonathan Wilson, "race home from school every night, change into old clothes and then dash (straight there) to play football or cricket".  Later, even after moving from games with Acklam Iron and Steelworks Athletics to a professional contract, he'd return to the playground of his youth with a wheelbarrow and cart wallflowers home to his mother's garden.  "We spent many sunny days in ths park, so it's really appropriate that it's here," thought Clough's widow when the statue was unveiled in May 2007.

"When Clough left for Sunderland, the town wept," Daniel Gray wrote in  Hatters, Railwaymen and Knitters, his magnificent account of football in England's lesser-visited provinces.  "The only thing I enjoyed during my six years there was scoring goals," Clough recollected in 1973. "From Saturday to Saturday I was very unhappy.  My ability was never utilised, by me or the management.  Only goals kept me sane.  That was my only pleasure."  Nonetheless, the man always remembered the place that had shaped him. "Wherever we went, Brian made sure everybody knew he was from Middlesbrough," his widow said. "I think if his success as a manager had happened here, that would have been his ideal.  But life is not that perfect."

Unlike the sculpted tributes at Derby and Nottingham, Teesside's Clough is young and lithe.  "Twenty-four and in training gear," wrote Gray, "his boots slung over a shoulder, purposeful, on the way to training or a match".  It's placed on his route from home to Ayresome Park - two pitches' length away from the statue - and now part of a waymarked trail that passes the street where a second managerial genius was raised.  Don Revie left at 17, fleeing poverty and the spectre of the Holgate End workhouse. "He used to talk about taking baths in the sink," said one friend. "It was a poor upbringing and that left him determined that everything went well later on the monetary side".  For all his flaws, Clough was a man of the people, sticking around long enough to become the Holgate's idol and leave behind a legacy of a phenomenal 197 goals in just 213 games. "He would have been absolutely amazed at the very idea of a statue and he would have been so touched at the different ways you have raised the money," his widow told the crowd at Albert Park. "You have done him proud and I thank you from the bottom of my heart". 

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