Nick Miller: People grow up with football at different ages. I was lucky - or not, depending on your point of view - to have two parents who have been season ticket holders at the City Ground since 1977.
They stood in the old East Stand when it was part-roofless terrace and were drenched to the skin and chilled to their core, before eventually graduating to the decidedly more comfortable seats upstairs when the stand that today bears Brian Clough's name was built. They had the choice between buying a carpet to cover the bare floorboards in their first house together, or going to Munich in 1979. The splinters were annoying for a while, but they made the right call.
I was thus taken to Forest at basically the earliest possible age, specifically five, when my dad gave me the option of going to the circus or to the City Ground on a bastard cold December afternoon in 1988, to watch Forest lose 1-0 to Wimbledon. Like the senior Millers a decade earlier, I chose wisely. I went to Wembley four times over the next few years, so I thought Forest reaching finals and even winning things was normal, expected even, when a more mature appraisal of the history books and perhaps a glance into the coming 25 years would have revealed a different story entirely.
Of course, that was all down to Brian Clough. He was an 18-year anomaly at a club which, if we're honest, nobody would give much of a stuff about were it not for him. Every major trophy the club has, bar two FA Cups, was won under his management. He was an outlier, a footballing freak, a man who did things that stretched the limits of plausibility. Great managers generally fall into two categories: those that build a club from a position of struggle, like Bill Shankly, and those that win bucketloads of trophies, like Bob Paisley. This is why, if you absolutely insist on grading and comparing managers from completely different eras, Sir Alex Ferguson is probably the best Britain has ever produced, because he did both.
However, Clough certainly belongs in the conversation, because not only did he take a provincial club with little to recommend them in historical terms from the second tier to the league title, but he did it twice. And then won a couple of European Cups, just to make it all even more absurd. The old line about Forest being the only European Cup winner to ever drop into the third tier is usually spoken about in terms of a 'fall from grace', but the truly remarkable thing about it is of course the first bit, not the second. The idea of Clough being a great man is harmed, to say the least, by things like his treatment of Justin Fashanu, but little aside from going on for a few years too long can harm his standing as a manager.
The argument has been made that Brian Clough has been as much of a curse to Nottingham Forest as he was a blessing, because he created unreasonable expectations, he elevated the club to a level that couldn't be sustained, and made the following years of par performance feel like failure. It's a reasonable point, but would you trade Clough's greatest expectations for something more reasonable? Neither would I.
Thanks Brian. Thanks for making us unreasonable. We wouldn't change it for the world.
David Marples: Brian. I never met him, but he is probably the sole reason why my mum, my dad and me started schlepping up and down the M1 in 1982 from Rotherham to Nottingham. Growing up in Rotherham, you hate Wednesday, United and Leeds and although I went to countless Rotherham United games as a kid in between Forest games, my heart always was and obviously still is with Forest.
Why? One man. His aura, his success, his attitude towards the game, his penchant for playing exciting young men like Webb, Crosby, Parker, Glover, Pearce and of course, our Nigel. I imagine that once I hit 6 years old, dad thought about going to the footy, surveyed the scene and realised that 40 minutes down the M1 was not only a successful team (admittedly on the wane by '82) but more importantly, a likeable team.
Brian is in many ways the reason why I sit here typing about bloody football, why I (and no doubt your good selves) am obsessed with both the game and obviously, Forest and, although it may be stretching it, a part of what makes me what I am. After all, I'm that guy who goes to see Forest loads, has been to stacks of football grounds, invests stacks of money and busloads of emotional baggage into that club: that's who I am to many others, family and friends alike. A major contribution to this state of affairs is a man called Brian Clough. We’ve all got our favourite anecdotes, favourite quotes and our favourite moments relating to the man himself. But for me, Brian and his football club were the reason a family from Rotherham stood on the terraces in the 1980s.
Think about that for a moment. In terms of football, the 1980s were a dark period: Millwall fans rioting at Luton, Heysel, the Bradford fire disaster, the wall collapsing at St. Andrews after a riot between Birmingham and Leeds fans, Thatcher wanting to brand us all and of course, Hillsborough.
Of course, I didn’t know any better and as a kid, closed my ears and stood in relative safety at the front of the terrace, desperately trying to find a space in the tightly knitted towering fences in order to get a clear view of the pitch. But we kept going, home and mostly away.
But with Brian Clough in charge, it seemed right; it seemed safe; we seemed appreciated. Fans of other football clubs didn’t seem to mind us; we were the neutrals’ favourite. We felt proud to be a part of it all. And how many other people could have a fanzine named after just their Christian name? Only one.
Thanks, Brian. Thanks for the exciting childhood, which meant I did something, and went to fantastical places on Saturday afternoons. Thanks for the Wembley trips. Thanks for sending teams out that didn't moan or argue with referees.
Thanks for making me proud to say that I was, and am, a Forest fan.
Daniel Storey: It's rather odd to have an individual leave a huge impression on your life without ever actually having met them, especially when nearly all of what they achieved happened before I was even born.
(I guess one could make a link to religious leaders here, which probably makes a degree of sense. For so many seasons the City Ground was the church of Clough, with 'Cloughism' gaining admirers and followers worldwide).
I was only seven years old when Clough left Nottingham Forest, a man weathered irrevocably by addiction and a club relegated at precisely the moment when a seat at football's top table became so crucial. As I was growing, he was dying, alcohol breaking everything but his spirit. Therefore, it seems strange that Clough can have had such an impact or influence on my life but, no matter what your age, by supporting Forest you are allowing the great manager to permeate into your football supporting psyche, almost by way of an involuntary osmosis.
In our house, Clough was used as a threat or bargaining tool. Growing up alone with my mother (it was she that took me to my first games and is responsible for my Forest addiction/affliction), between the ages of four and seven, my mum would genuinely use Clough to control my behaviour. "If you do that again then I'll make sure Brian Clough finds out," was the typical promise, and I had no reason to disbelieve or distrust that. "I think Brian Clough would be disappointed in you," was another.
Coincidentally or otherwise, a couple of years after he retired my mother met Brian through the friend of a friend, and got him to write a message to me. 'To Daniel. Be good for your Mam,' it read. Bloody parents, always right.
To me, there seems something oddly fitting that Clough could, without ever meeting me, act as a kind of surrogate father in such a (what I admit is bizarre) fashion. To the supporters of Nottingham Forest, he was not just a football manager, and the best one we ever had. He was also an inspiration, and guide, a God and even a warning, that sorrowful reminder than geniuses can so rarely be found without a streak of self-destruction running through their core.
And finally, to my mother, a useful threat. The most special thing about Stuart Pearce returning to the City Ground is that I can imagine mothers and fathers across Nottingham having a stern word with their children. "I think Stuart Pearce would be disappointed if he found out about that," they would say.