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Season 1978-79



Nottingham is a relatively small English city with a population of less than 300,000 and has two professional football clubs - Notts County and Nottingham Forest. The one major trophy to be won by either club in the 20th Century had been Forest’s F.A.Cup win in 1959, and by the mid 1970’s both clubs seemed to have left their best years far behind them. But in 1975 Brian Clough - who had already guided similarly unfashionable Derby County to the European Cup semi-finals- arrived at Nottingham Forest as they languished in the lower regions of the second division. Clough’s impact was not immediate - his first full season in charge saw Forest finish in 8th place - but at the end of the 1976-77 campaign, just weeks before Liverpool won their first European Cup, they sneaked into third place in Division Two and gained promotion to England’s top division. Incredibly, using a mixture of seasoned professionals that many thought past their prime such as defenders Larry Lloyd, Kenny Burns and Frank Clark; second division players transformed into international stars like midfielders John Robertson and Martin O’Neill; and young players plucked from obscurity like forwards Tony Woodcock and Garry Birtles; Clough led Forest to the League Championship in their first season back in the top flight and so gained entry to the European Cup for the first time.

As luck would have it, Nottingham Forest’s first opponents in the European Cup turned out to be their fellow English club and reigning European champions Liverpool. Despite having finished seven points clear of Liverpool in winning the League Championship, Forest were still heavy underdogs, but they were to take their doubters by surprise in the first leg of the first round match at their City Ground stadium. Liverpool knew little about young Garry Birtles who started up front for Forest, but it was he who tapped home a Woodcock pass to give his side the lead after 26 minutes, and it was Birtles again who pounced on a mistake in the Liverpool defence during the final minutes of the game and crossed the ball to Woodcock who knocked the ball down to the onrushing Barrett to volley the ball home for a crucial 2-0 lead. Still Liverpool were favourites to go through, but the tie was now set up perfectly for Forest. With the defence keeping things tight at the back and with the midfield closing down Liverpools creative players, the European Cup holders could find no way through in the return game. The match finished 0-0 and Liverpool, after having beaten all comers in Europe for two seasons, found themselves knocked out by a fellow English team.


Nottingham Forest v Liverpool


That was not the only surprise result of the 1st Round. Bruges, the team that Liverpool had beaten in the 1978 final, had taken a 2-1 lead to Poland after their first leg game against Wisla Kracow. Despite going behind to a first half goal from Kmiecik, a van der Eycken strike ten minutes from time looked to have seen the Belgians through, but Lipka (82 minutes) and Krupinaki (89 minutes) subsequently scored for Wisla and ended any hopes Bruges had harboured of going one better than the previous year.

Many of Juventus’ Italian international stars had spent much of the summer in Argentina for the World Cup, and the Turin club were hampered by having to kick-off their European campaign before their league season had started, but it was still a surprise when they were eliminated at the first round stage by Glasgow Rangers. The Italians did win their home leg by 1-0, but in the return match in Glasgow, headed goals by Alex MacDonald and Gordon Smith were enough to see another of the tournaments favourites fall at the first hurdle.

Those who expected normal service to be resumed in the second round were to be disappointed. Real Madrid were one of the few remaining big names left in the draw, having already put 12 goals past Progres Niedercorn, and they were expected to see off their next opponents Grasshoppers of Zurich without too much difficulty. Juanito gave Real a 5th minute lead in Madrid, but Claudio Sulser, who had scored six goals against Valetta in round one, equalised on the hour. Even so, goals from Hernandez and Santillana sealed a 3-1 first leg lead. Sulser scored again for Grasshoppers after eight minutes of the second game, but Real looked to have done enough until the 88th minute when Sulser bagged his ninth goal in four games to send Real crashing out.

Also out in the second round went PSV Eindhoven who included several members of the Dutch squad that had just reached the World Cup Final. Up against Juventus conquerors Rangers they had managed a creditable 0-0 draw in Glasgow and were a goal up in the opening minute of the second leg. Although Rangers equalised just before the hour mark, PSV struck back just three minutes later to retake the lead. But a Kenny Watson shot deflected in by Derek Johnstone and a breakaway goal by Robert Russell gave Rangers yet another surprise victory and saw yet another of the favourites go out.

Dynamo Kiev were another big name to go out before the quarter-final stage. Dynamo were drawn against the Swedish champions Malmo who were coached by a 32 year old Englishman named Bob Houghton. Houghton had achieved little success as a manager in his home country, but had proved very effective in Sweden as he built his team around a strong muscular defence, a ruthless offside trap and a long ball style. One goal had been enough to beat Monaco in the first round, and a 2-0 win over the Soviet champions after a goalless draw in Kiev saw them into the last eight.

And so the competition contained not one former winner or runner-up in the quarter-finals - in fact only Rangers had even reached a European Cup semi-final and that had been nearly twenty years earlier. The two favourites were now Nottingham Forest who had beaten AEK Athens - managed by European Cup legend Ferenc Puskas - by a 7-2 aggregate score, and German champions Cologne who had scored five unanswered goals against CSKA Sofia.

Having already disposed of Juventus and PSV, Rangers were once again handed a tough draw when they were paired with the Germans in the quarter-finals. Coached by Hennes Weisweiler and featuring top German marksman Dieter Muller, Cologne beat Rangers 1-0 at home with yet another Muller goal, and it was Muller again who struck early in the second half in Glasgow to send the Germans into the semi-finals, despite a late McLean consolation goal.

Nottingham Forest received a shock when Claudio Sulser gave Grasshoppers an early lead in the first leg at the City Ground. Although Birtles and Robertson goals had put Forest 2-1 up as the game drew to a close, the Swiss side were still in with a strong chance, but a goal from Gemmill on 87 minutes and a Lloyd header two minutes later gave Forest a commanding lead to take to Switzerland where a 1-1 draw gave them a comfortable aggregate win.


Nottingham Forest v Grasshoppers


Malmo’s impressive run looked to be coming to an end as, after losing 2-1 away to Wisla Krakow, they went a further goal behind after 58 minutes in Sweden, but four goals in the final 25 minutes, including an Anders Ljungberg hat-trick, transformed the tie. Malmo were joined in the semi-finals by Austria Vienna who had shown their European pedigree by reaching the Cup-Winners Cup Final a year earlier. The Austrians had beaten Dynamo Dresden 3-1 in their quarter-final first leg and, despite conceding a first half penalty goal in East Gremany, had held on for a famous victory.

In the semi-finals, however, Austria Vienna could not break down the Malmo defence. Over the course of two games they were unable to score a single goal and the tie was decided by a solitary Tommy Hansson header after 47 minutes of the second leg in Sweden, so provoking wild celebrations as Sweden had a club in a European final for the first time ever.

There was plenty more drama in the other semi-final as the two favourites met to see who would reach the final. Forest were without two key defenders in Viv Anderson and Kenny Burns, and it showed as first a shot from the Belgian Roger Van Gool that went into the net off the post, and then a Dieter Muller tap in gave Cologne - themselves missing midfielder Heinz Flohe - an early 2-0 lead in Nottingham. But the English side came back with characteristic vigour and were 3-2 up with nearly half an hour of the first leg still to play. A shot from Bowyer and headers from Birtles and Robertson had brought the home crowd to life and turned the match full circle. But there was one twist remaining in the game as Cologne’s Japanese substitute Yasuhiko Okudera came on to score a late equaliser with a 25 yard shot that surprisingly sneaked under the body of Forest’s England international goalkeeper Peter Shilton and put the Grman side right back into the driving seat.

The second leg produced a classic European away performance from Brian Clough’s team. With his two defenders back in the side they kept the Cologne attack, and Dieter Muller in particular, at bay, and they scored after 65 minutes from a corner as Ian Bowyer latched onto a Larry Lloyd flick to nod home the winner.

The 1979 European Cup had provided many great stories and had thrown up a final that no-one could have predicted when the competition had started the previous August. Unfortunately, with two of their best defenders - Bo Larsson and Roy Andersson - already ruled out with injury and with their captain and key midfielder Staffan Tapper breaking his toe in training on the eve of the final - Malmo resorted to the same defensive tactics that Bruges had used at Wembley twelve months earlier. With neither of the finalists being one of Europe’s giant clubs, Munich’s Olympic Stadium was far from full for the Final, and the game itself was something of an anti-climax. There was, however, one memorable story still to be told. Back in February, Brian Clough had elected to spend the money that Forest had made from winning the league title and entering the European Cup for the first time on a forward from Birmingham City. Clough made Trevor Francis Britain’s first £1 million footballer when he took him to Nottingham, but UEFA rules stipulated that he could not play European football for another three months. The first game that Francis was eligible for, therefore, was the final itself and, with O’Neill and Gemmill both out through injury, he was picked to play his first ever European club game, albeit out on the right wing.

With Malmo sitting back in defence, the game was merely about whether Forest could break through. Despite constant pressure, the English side had still failed to score as first half injury time began, but then John Robertson, a man who before the arrival of Brian Clough at Nottingham had been an overweight and unremarkable second division player, but was now one of the most feared wingers in European football, beat two Swedish defenders on the left hand side before whipping in a cross that the previously inspired goalkeeper Jans Moller dared not come for, and there at the far post was none other than Trevor Francis to head the ball into the roof of the net.

And that was effectively the end of the match. Both Birtles and Robertson missed good chances in the second half, but it was immaterial, as Malmo never looked likely to score.

It may have been an unremarkable final, but it was certainly the end to a remarkable story. Under their maverick manager Brian Clough, Nottingham Forest, a relatively small English provincial club, had won European club football’s biggest prize. In a competition that had started with the likes of Real Madrid, Juventus and Liverpool taking part, it was Nottingham Forest who had run out winners. They had shown what man management and teamwork could achieve and they would be back the following season to defend their title, although Europe’s finest would be there to challenge them and they were unlikely to capitulate so easily next time around.

1979 European Cup Final (Munich)
Nottingham Forest 1 Malmo 0
Nottingham Forest:
Shilton, Anderson, Lloyd, Burns, Clark, McGovern (capt), Francis, Bowyer, Birtles, Woodcock, Robertson
Scorer: Francis
Malmo: R.Andersson, M.Andersson, Jonsson, Erlandsson, Prytz, Tapper (capt) (Malmberg), Ljungberg, Kinnvall, Hansson (T.Andersson), Cervin


You can find details of all the results, dates and scorers on the RSSSF website here.

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