‘The past explains the present’ was the first thing my teacher, John Simkin at Dorothy Stringer, said as I had my first History lesson – a subject I’d chosen to take for ‘O’ Level. (The fact it was my favourite subject at school, and the only exam I failed is another story best left to, er… history.)
In 1973, Brighton & Hove Albion had previously been a bit of a nothing football club, located in one of football’s backwaters (maybe it still is today) in a somewhat rundown Conservative town (definitely not that today) with nothing to shout about on a national level, save for a Charity Shield victory 63 years earlier. So when Brian Clough and Peter Taylor, who had only six months previously led Derby County to the European Cup semi-final, headed south (occasionally) to manage the club (occasionally), it was a real planet-thumper of a story, football-wise.
In ‘Bloody Southerners – Clough And Taylor’s Brighton & Hove Odyssey’, Spencer Vignes, author of several shining sports books in his back catalogue already, tells the story of not just Clough and Taylor, but of a dynamic and ambitious young chairman Mike Bamber (a mere three years older than Tony Bloom was when they respectively took over the reins). These three are cast front and centre in an incredible story of ambition, ambivalence, arrogance and, in certain cases, altruism spread over 33 months, but with the legacy lasting years, if not decades.
Vignes’ book is expertly researched, and wonderfully paced, superbly highlighting fact over many previously held fantasies; fantasies now shown up merely as urban myths. But it’s in him teasing and tickling the memories from the supporting cast of players, writers and broadcasters from the period which is where the story truly comes to life. Vignes interviewed over a dozen people who were there – and cross-checked with a half-dozen more – people whose memories were largely unfaded by the passing of four and a half decades. Well, as a third division player, you’re not going to forget those two cruising into town, are you?
The story of Clough and Taylor at Brighton has only ever previously been told in patches, and even then, only from the point of view of the main protagonists, who can – and often do – write their own take on events. This book, filling in the gaps which hitherto had not really been written about, is worth every page.
Fact is, it’s not good enough, indeed it does the club a disservice, to tell any old gushing story of how great it was that lowly Brighton & Hove Albion could attract two of England’s football giants through its doors. Mercifully, this is something Vignes clearly steers well clear of, and in reading the accounts from those who were there, there is no way he could have written that type of account anyway.
Instead, what is made clear is that, while the love and appreciation 45 years on for Taylor is hardly universal, he comes out of this chapter in their turbulent and ultimately separate lives much better than Clough; the latter, for certain passages of the book, is often relegated to a mere footnote. Who knew that could ever happen to ‘Old Big ‘Ead’?
But the central point – and this is where the past explains the present – is that the legacy of their time here far outlasts their actual time here. As we travel through this oh-so-brief period in the club’s history, Vignes absolutely nails the contention once and for all that, while Alan Mullery is (rightly) lauded as one of the greatest-ever managers of Brighton & Hove Albion, the truth is, he was given an enormous leg-up by what Peter Taylor’s departure had left him with during the summer of 1976. And Taylor would not have been here without Clough. From these acorns etc.
Brighton & Hove Albion fans will see this as a fascinating historical document in their club’s history. Clough and Taylor followers – way beyond Derby and Nottingham – will see their heroes in a typical light, fully aware of their sporadic behaviour. For everyone else, this is a further insight into the politics of what happens when two big fish fall into a little pond.
So how did it all unfold from 1973 to 1976? I thoroughly recommend you read Spencer Vignes’ book to find out.
‘Bloody Southerners – Clough And Taylor’s Brighton & Hove Odyssey’ by Spencer Vignes is published by Biteback Publishing on 18th October – RRP £12.99.