European Cup-winning captain John McGovern talks about Nottingham Forest's famous first success on the continent.This is a nostalgic time of year for Nottingham Forest fans old enough to have experienced the euphoria surrounding the club’s European Cup successes in 1979 and 1980.
No-one has fonder memories of what happened at both finals than John McGovern, who on this day 35 years ago had the honour of lifting the European Cup for Forest for the first time before repeating the feat the following season.
While naturally very proud of those achievements, he is keen to stress what happened in Munich was made even more remarkable by the club’s rapid rise to prominence.
"The thrill of winning the cup with Forest in 1979 was that we had just won the league championship after promotion the year before,” says McGovern.
“We were novices in a sense, but surprisingly went on to win it. Being part of that was something quite unique.
“We taught people in Europe that there was a new club with enough quality to win the tournament. And if anybody thought it was a fluke, we went on to prove them wrong by winning it the year after as well."
The Reds’ achievements sent shockwaves across the continent, leaving many people scratching their heads as to how Forest could have pulled it off. For McGovern, the answer was simple.
“We had a superb combination of managers,” he says. “And I say managers because Peter Taylor, Brian Clough’s assistant, was an integral part of our success.
“Clough was a one-off. He produced a team that both entertained and won, which was something quite new to English football. Entertaining and winning? You’ve covered every base there.
“What made his achievements even more remarkable was the fact he did it on a budget. He paid a record fee for a goalkeeper in Peter Shilton and a striker in Trevor Francis, but he spent a lot less than some other managers did.
“There aren’t many managers in the world who can inspire players to the degree Clough did. We had talented, focused players who didn’t necessarily like each other, but respected each other. When we crossed that white line we worked for each other. That was mainly down to the motivation of the manager, and it worked brilliantly for us.”
Football fans needn’t have watched the recent Champions League final between Real and Atletico Madrid to realise the competition has changed significantly since Forest emerged as a leading force in European football.
And for McGovern, the format of the tournament represents one of the most significant alterations.
“It should have been called the Champions League then and the European Cup now,” he says. “Then, you had to win your national title to enter. It was prestigious because of that. Now you can be fourth in your country and win the Champions League.
“It was a pure knockout competition and in some ways it was more exciting that way. But we can’t decry the modern game. People want to watch football and the more Champions League games there are, the more pleasure people are able to get from it.
“The coverage of the competition is far greater now and its popularity is global. When the trophy was first formed, the vast majority of people in under-developed countries didn’t even know about football. Now it’s the world’s most popular sport.”
Recently appointed as an official club ambassador by Fawaz Al Hasawi, McGovern is acutely aware of the chairman’s burning desire to add to the honours racked up by him and his teammates.
And while he also knows Mr Al Hasawi’s ambitions are realistic, McGovern believes the nature of football, combined with Forest’s track record of springing surprises, means fans can afford to dream of future successes comparable to those achieved by him and his teammates under Clough.
“The chairman is just desperate to get us to the Premier League to see what we can achieve,” he says. “He wants us to be in there with the big boys, where we can flex our muscles and see how well we do. But first of all we’ve got to get out of the Championship.
“I get a lot of people telling me ‘the Championship is the hardest league to get out of’. There is no easy league to get out of.
“You have to earn that right. Every sportsman needs that little bit of luck, but you also need team spirit and dedication.
“We also know it can take a lot of money to buy the quality required to get to the Premier League – and that’s only the first step towards competing at the very top level again.
“But strange things can happen. As long as you go out there and perform to the best of your ability you can achieve things other people think you can’t.
“The first step we must take is back into the Premier League. Then we can start to dream about competing for the biggest trophies again.”