NOTTINGHAM FOREST were surprise champions in 1978, becoming the first team since Tottenham Hotspur in 1951 to win the title directly after promotion from the second division. Forest were as unfashionable as Derby County six years earlier when they finished top under Brian Clough, who himself became the first manager since Herbert Chapman to win the Football League with two different clubs.
Forest had only won promotion by a single point, finishing behind Wolves and Chelsea and ahead of much-fancied Bolton Wanderers. Clough joined Forest in 1975, returning to the game after his ill-fated 44 days as Leeds United manager. He later persuaded his partner, Peter Taylor, to join him at the City Ground, and from thereon, the duo recaptured the spirit of their time at Derby.
Forest started the season well, but a heavy defeat in the fourth game, at Arsenal, prompted Clough and Taylor to pay a record £ 325,000 for a goalkeeper, Stoke City and England custodian Peter Shilton. Forest’s defence, with former Birmingham City striker Kenny Burns at its heart, proved to be rock solid. Just as Shilton signed, so too did Archie Gemmill of Derby County.
These signings, coupled with the rejuvenation of players like John Robertson and Martin O’Neill and the youthful promise of Tony Woodcock, were the key to Forest’s success. And up front, Forest had the effective but under-rated Peter Withe.
Forest’s consistency and counter-attacking football didn’t win over everyone. Before meeting Ipswich Town, Forest were labelled “a team of has-beens” and even BBC pundit Bob Wilson predicted that, “Forest are a bubble that will burst soon.” What was recognised was the team’s discipline – always a feature of Clough’s teams. “I am a little bit stupid and a little bit of an idealist. We want to entertain, fill grounds and make people happy, and it may just be that the media will give us some credit,” said Clough at the time.
The bubble stayed intact for the entire season and by the turn of the year, the “experts” could only admire a Forest team that kept astonishing people – such as when they went to Old Trafford and beat Manchester United 4-0. Forest were only beaten twice more after that game at Arsenal in August – single goal defeats at Chelsea and Leeds United.
When Arsenal were beaten in the return in January 2-0, Forest were six points clear at the top of the table. A few weeks later, they lined-up at Wembley for the Football League Cup final against Liverpool. The tie went to two games with Forest winning 1-0 thanks to a dispute penalty from John Robertson. They also reached the last eight of the FA Cup but were unexpectedly beaten by West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns.
With one trophy in the cabinet, Forest homed in on the title. Between April 1 and April 29, they played eight games and remained unbeaten. The title clincher came on April 22 at Coventry City. With Shilton in fine form, Forest held on for a 0-0 draw.
Clough’s band of born-again players like Larry Lloyd, Kenny Burns, Archie Gemmill and Peter Withe, were never given the credit they deserved. Losing just three games, taking the run well into 1978-79, Forest’s consistency, behaviour and energy provided an alternative to the age of Liverpool. It was also the era of Nottingham Forest and Brian Clough.
Nottingham Forest’s usual team was: Shilton; Anderson, Clark, Burns, Lloyd, Needham, Barrett; O’Neill, McGovern, Gemmill, Robertson; Woodcock, Withe.
Peter Shilton (27): Outstanding goalkeeper who began his career with Leicester City and Stoke City. Forest signed him in September 1977 for a £ 325,000 fee. In a long and distinguished career, he played 125 times for England.
Viv Anderson (21): When Anderson was capped by England in 1978, he became the first black player to represent the national team. A product of Forest’s apprentice scheme, Anderson was a tall and quick full back who liked to dash forward to score goals. He played over 300 games for Forest before joining Arsenal in 1984.
Colin Barrett (25): Joined Forest in 1976 from Manchester City. An under-rated full back who stayed with the club until 1980 when he moved to Swindon Town.
Kenny Burns (23): When Forest signed Burns – who had a ‘bad boy’ image – from Birmingham City in July 1977 for £ 150,000 it was as a striker. Clough converted him to centre half and in doing so, created an accomplished and influential defender who was named Football Writers’ Player of the Year in 1977-78. He won 20 caps for Scotland. He left Forest in 1981 to join Leeds United.
Frank Clark (33): Veteran full back who had played over 400 games for Newcastle United before arriving at the City Ground in 1975. Began his career with Crook Town, where he won the FA Amateur Cup. He later added the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup (with Newcastle) and European Cup to his medal haul.
Larry Lloyd (28): Another player who gained a new lease of life under Clough. Joined Forest in 1976 from Coventry City for £ 60,000 after a career that started with Bristol Rovers and then onto Liverpool. Won four England caps. A tough centre half.
David Needham (28): Central defender signed by Forest in December 1977 from Queens Park Rangers for £ 140,000. Started out with Notts County.
Ian Bowyer (26): One of the unsung heroes in Forest’s team who joined from Leyton Orient but started out with Manchester City. A hard-working midfielder who could also play up front. Had two spells with Forest either side of a stint with Sunderland.
Archie Gemmill (30): Arrived at the City Ground in September 1977 from Derby County. Had an excellent season in midfield and was part of Scotland’s 1978 World Cup squad where he scored a spectacular individual goal against the Netherlands.
John McGovern (27): A Clough acolyte (he played for him at Hartlepool, Derby and Leeds), McGovern was an under-rated and consistent midfielder.
Martin O’Neill (25): An intelligent midfielder who usually played wide. Joined Forest from Distillery in Northern Ireland and played more than 300 games for the club. He won 64 caps for Northern Ireland and went on to have a long and successful management career. Left Forest in 1981 to join Norwich City.
John Robertson (24): A winger who became a key part in Forest’s team that won two European Cups in 1979 and 1980, scoring the winner in the latter final against Hamburg. Clough identified that Robertson – who was an excellent crosser of the ball with an eye for goal – had the ability to be an outstanding player. Had two spells at Forest and won 28 caps for Scotland.
Peter Withe (25): The 1977-78 season saw the much-travelled Withe benefit from the many chances created for him by Forest’s quick-moving midfield. He joined the club from Birmingham in 1976 but left at the start of 1978-79 for Newcastle. He later won the title with Aston Villa and accumulated 11 England caps.
Tony Woodcock (21): Young striker whose speed and finishing earmarked him as a player with a great future. Woodcock went on to play 42 times for England, scoring 16 goals, and his form for Forest earned him a move abroad with 1 FC Koln.
Football League Appearances
|Anderson, V||37||Lloyd, L||26||Robertson, J||42|
|Barrett, C||33+2||McGovern, J||31||Shilton, P||37|
|Bowyer, I||25+3||Middleton, J||5||Withe, P||40|
|Burns, K||41||Needham, D||16||Woodcock, T||36|
|Clark, F||12+1||O’Hare, J||10|
|Gemmill, A||32+2||O’Neill, M||38+2|
Goalscorers: Robertson 12, With 12, Woodcock 11, O’Neill 8, Bowyer 4, Burns 4, McGovern 4, Needham 4, Anderson 3, Gemmill 3, Own goals 2, Barrett 1, Clark 1 Total: 69
Football League Results
|Aug 20||Everton||Away||W||3-1||Withe, Robertson, O’Neill||38,001|
|Aug 23||Bristol City||Home||W||1–0||Withe||21,743|
|Aug 27||Derby County||Home||W||3-0||Withe 2, Robertson||28,807|
|Sept 10||Wolverhampton W||Away||W||3–2||Withe, Bowyer, Woodcock||24,662|
|Sept 17||Aston Villa||Home||W||2–0||Woodcock, Robertson||31,106|
|Sept 24||Leicester City||Away||W||3-0||O’Neill, Woodcock, Robertson (pen)||21,447|
|Oct 1||Norwich City||Home||D||1-1||Burns||23,741|
|Oct 4||Ipswich Town||Home||W||4-0||Withe 4||26,845|
|Oct 8||West Ham United||Away||D||0-0||–||26,128|
|Oct 15||Manchester City||Home||W||2-1||Woodcock,Withe||35,572|
|Oct 22||Queens Park R||Away||W||2-0||Bowyer, Burns||24,248|
|Oct 29||Middlesbrough||Home||W||4-0||Anderson 2, Bowyer, McGovern||27,373|
|Nov 12||Manchester United||Home||W||2-1||Burns, Gemmill||30,183|
|Nov 19||Leeds United||Away||L||0-1||–||42,925|
|Nov 26||West Bromwich A||Home||D||0-0||–||31,908|
|Dec 3||Birmingham City||Away||W||2-0||O’Neill, Woodcock||29,925|
|Dec 10||Coventry City||Home||W||2-1||O’Neill, McGovern||29,823|
|Dec 17||Manchester United||Away||W||4-0||OG, Woodcock 2, Robertson||54,375|
|Dec 28||Newcastle United||Away||W||2-0||Needham, McGovern||54,375|
|Dec 31||Bristol City||Away||W||3-1||Needham, Woodcock, O’Neill||31,990|
|Jan 2||Everton||Home||D||1–1||Robertson (pen)||44,030|
|Jan 14||Derby County||Away||D||0-0||–||36,500|
|Jan 21||Arsenal||Home||W||2-0||Needham, Gemmill||35,743|
|Feb 4||Wolverhampton W||Home||W||2-0||Woodcock, McGovern||28,803|
|Feb 25||Norwich City||Away||D||3-3||Withe, Barrett, O’Neill||26,004|
|Mar 4||West Ham United||Home||W||2-0||Needham, Robertson (pen)||33,924|
|Mar 14||Leicester City||Home||W||1-0||Robertson (pen)||32,355|
|Mar 25||Newcastle United||Home||W||2-0||Robertson (pen), Anderson||35,552|
|Mar 29||Middlesbrough||Away||D||2-2||Woodcock, O’Neill||25,445|
|Apr 1||Chelsea||Home||W||3–1||Burns, O’Neill, Robertson||31,262|
|Apr 5||Aston Villa||Away||W||1-0||Woodcock||44,315|
|Apr 11||Manchester City||Away||D||0–0||–||43,428|
|Apr 15||Leeds United||Home||D||1-1||Withe||38,662|
|Apr 18||Queens Park R||Home||W||1-0||Robertson (pen)||30,339|
|Apr 22||Coventry City||Away||D||0-0||–||36,881|
|Apr 25||Ipswich Town||Away||W||2-0||OG, Clark||30,062|
|Apr 29||Birmingham City||Home||D||0–0||–||37,625|
|May 2||West Bromwich A||Away||D||2-2||Bowyer, Robertson (pen)||23,612|
FA Cup: Round Six
Football League Cup: Winners
Average home attendance: 32,501