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The History Boys: Colin Barrett for Nottingham Forest V Liverpool (1978)

A special goal that set Brian Clough’s and Peter Taylor’s team on the road to European glory and legendary status. With this strike, Colin Barrett arguably shaped the club’s destiny.

Doors are important: always have been, always will be. Not only do they keep the cold out, but also unwanted strangers too. Once closed, you can do what you like…within reason.

The Cathedral in Florence is just one of an incalculable number of places to have doors. It’s a quite magnificent structure, boasting a clock designed in 1443 by Paolo Uccello, which still accurately calculates the hours of daylight remaining each day. But the real significance here is the doors. Back in 1401, it was decided that some new ones were required and so the usual course of action was set in motion: put the contract out to tender.  But they weren’t just any old doors: these were the doors of the Duomo. Rival geniuses Lorenzo Ghiberti and Filippo Brunelleschi locked horns to win the contract to build the required bronze doors.

Ghiberti’s fusion of Gothic and Naturalism in terms of style got him the gig and, it is claimed by some, kick started the Renaissance: the pushing aside of ignorance in favour of curiosity in the scientific, leading to the recognition that it was the sun around which the earth orbited, not the other way round. The realization that previously unexplained events could actually be accounted for and were not to be feared due to random superstition, thus reducing fear of the world around us. The Renaissance sparked our curiosity to prod, to poke, to question the world around us and in doing so, achieve magnificent things.

It is from such small whims that momentous events are borne. A provincial football team lifting the European Cup merely four years since languishing mid table in the second tier, is one such momentous event – miraculous even. But if the start of the Renaissance can be (arguably) distilled down to a single event or moment, so can the miracle of the double-European Cup winning team; specifically to around the 87th minute of the first round, first leg between upstarts Nottingham Forest and reigning European champions Liverpool. It was in this moment that Colin Barrett strode forward and scored the second goal to give his team an ultimately unassailable lead going into the second leg.

"If you’d have said right from Cloughie’s first moment walking into Nottingham Forest Football Club, when they were 13th or 14th in the second tier of football, and turned around to the chairman at the time and said, ‘well, I’ll get you out of this division, I’ll then win the next division (the top tier), I’ll then get the club to the European Cup and I’ll win it and then I’ll retain it the next season and just throw in a couple of League Cups in-between. I’ll do all that in four years. Will you give me the job?’ I think they’d send him to the loony house."

Scorer of the all-important second goal on that momentous evening, Colin Barrett, has a point. The rise of the football club under Brian Clough is a miraculous tale (keep an eye out for Jonny Owen’s feature-length documentary chronicling this feat, due out some time in the late summer) and although it’s fair to say that at this stage in their development (the team was League Champions after all) the shakedown of the reigning European Champions and the runners-up to their own championship winning season was, if not a shock, then certainly a seismic moment in the shift in power amongst the top branches of English and European football.

Like Ghiberti’s masterpiece, the goal too was a fusion: combining beauty and determination. The assured finish is a thing of beauty but determination is evident in the build-up, which starts on the halfway line as Barrett heroically blocks not once, but twice. But he’s not finished yet – in fact, he’s just getting started. He gallops on as Garry Birtles, inspired by his debut goal earlier on, carries the ball forward to his left. As Birtles chips the ball into the area onto the head of Tony Woodcock, Barrett has reached the six-yard line. Inside, he’s a bit worried since he knows Cloughie and Taylor will be yelling at him and asking what on earth he thinks he’s doing, or some other words to that effect. After all, this is the 87th minute and a one-goal lead is preferable to a 1-1 draw to take to Anfield.

No time for that now though, as Woodcock has cushioned the ball back to him with his beautifully coiffured head of hair. The next time the ball touches the ground is when it comes off the back of the net, after being rifled first time past Ray Clemence before he’s even had time to adjust his feet, never mind react. Woodcock tries to grab Barrett for a celebratory hug, but there’s no stopping him. He’s gone. He shrugs him off – telling him to politely go away – and runs, runs, runs in utter ecstasy.

Nottingham Forest are on their way to being champions of Europe.

Barrett himself is keen for the approach work to be acknowledged, and rightly so: "Nobody ever shows you the goal in its entirety - they only ever show the finish. I block Phil Neal’s attempted pass and the ball flies down to Birtles on the left hand side." It’s the 87th minute and the left back goes tearing upfield  – Jose Mourinho would be having a fit, nevermind the fact that Brian Clough is sitting in the dugout. Perhaps fortunately for Barrett though, he’s on the other flank, away from Clough and Peter Taylor’s presence.

But Barrett was just doing what comes naturally, especially in a team brimming with confidence. Besides, he’s also doing what every footballer fortunate to play under Clough has been told – keeping it simple and doing his job to the very best of his ability. It matters not a jot the stage of the game, where it is being played or whether you’re a million pound signing or a green apprentice – you play what’s in front of you: "You go and support, you block one, you block two. It’s gone to Birtles and he’s making a run down the left hand side and I just thought ‘I’ve got to get up there’. He’s then gone around (Phil) Thompson and whipped in a fantastic cross. Woody (Tony Woodcock) gets his head on the end of it and he cushions it like a dream and I’ve just smashed it in the net. It sounds simple really!"

But was it really part of the plan to be gallivanting like a troubadour at such a vital stage in the game? Barrett’s wingman on that occasion, and on so many others, was the genius that is John Robertson. As talented and magical as he was, the thought of the ‘Picasso of our game’ (Brian Clough) filling in at left back while Liverpool went in search of an equalizer would not be a reassuring one for Forest supporters.

Barrett recalls the reaction from the dugout: "As I start to go forward (Clough and Taylor) are saying, ‘Where is that idiot going? Where’s he going now? What is he doing?’ They’re shouting, ‘Get back! Get back!’ Then all of a sudden, ‘GOAL!’ Martin O Neill (substitute that evening) told me how he could still remember Peter Taylor later deadpanning, ‘We encourage our full backs to go forward.’"

To watch the left back signed from Manchester City three years previously maraud forward is a joy to behold. After doing his job meticulously by winning the ball on the halfway line, he strides forward – always looking around to check his whereabouts and the position of those around him. This is not just tearing forward without a care in the world, on the hunt for personal glory – he is fully aware. But as he approaches the penalty area, his pace slows – perhaps doubt, or even fear, has started to hit him. "I ended up in the furthest part of the ground away from our goal and if they go and score, I am really in the muck." But once the ball comes in to Woodcock, there is little danger of a Liverpool breakaway. Before anyone can draw breath and appreciate Woodcock’s cushioned header and think to themselves, ‘that’s a lovely knock-down, maybe he has a chance here,’ the ball is in the net after the left back has spun and adjusted his body shape to blast the ball beyond Clemence. Woodcock tries to grab him but Barrett is having none of it. He’s off: "Eff off! I’m on my way!’ I’ve pushed him out of the way and I’m gone!"

Those of a certain age will recall Marco Tardelli wheeling away in sheer exultation after scoring against West Germany in the 1982 World Cup final. Such an iconic image conjures up the absolute pleasure of scoring a goal in a high stakes game that us mere mortals cannot comprehend. Barrett’s celebrations, like Tardelli’s, go some way towards capturing such unadulterated and pure joy. He’s in a world of his own before Viv Anderson appears and leaps into his path to impede his progress. To be fair, Barrett had already slowed down; perhaps the moment is starting to catch up with him. After that, all of the Forest players want a piece of him.

But the tie wasn’t over; only the first leg. The cushion that Barrett’s goal provided was crucial though and altered the complexion of the second leg.  "It gave the team confidence going into the away leg. We could hold on to a lead of some sort." Indeed, Forest only conceded 24 goals in the previous season on their way the League title. Furthermore, Clough’s team was in the midst of a record breaking 42 game unbeaten run, spanning back ten months to November 1977. By the time Liverpool arrived at the City Ground for this tie in September 1978, Forest had only let in 16 goals in the whole run – and three of those came in one game, away at Norwich City in February. With Peter Shilton between the sticks, the fearsome pairing of Larry Lloyd and Kenneth Burns at centre back and Barrett and Anderson setting the mould for the modern day full backs in their desire to get forward, this was a formidable defensive unit. Just for good measure, John McGovern patrolled the back four with stealth and skill. Of course, the lads fancied their chances of keeping a clean sheet at Anfield – which they duly did, playing out a reasonably comfortable 0-0 draw.

Disposing of Liverpool was a huge hurdle for this Forest team in their first European tie. Initially, the squad were a tad disappointed to draw them after getting all giddy about which far flung destinations and exotic teams they envisaged pitting their wits against. But to draw Liverpool…

No matter. Once the reigning champions were out of the way, there was little to fear. The record books state that Forest went on to beat AEK Athens, Grasshopper and Cologne. Needless to say, all of these clubs were reigning champions in their own leagues. Although Grasshopper may not send shivers down the spine of the modern football fan weaned on the Premiership, they saw off a Real Madrid side boasting Uli Stielike, Vicente Del Bosque and Juanito – a team that were reigning La Liga champions and would go on to reclaim their title the following year.

In May 1979, John McGovern lifted the European Cup in Munich after John Roberston sent over a teasing cross for Trevor Francis to head home. Unthinkably, the team went on to successfully defend their crown and only went and lifted the darn thing again, this time in Madrid after a John Robertson goal against a Kevin Keegan and Felix Magath inspired Hamburg team. Without the cushion of Barrett’s goal in the embryonic stages of Forest’s European odyssey, one wonders whether the side might have progressed so far and achieved so much. Of course, we’ll never know and their defensive record suggests that they may well have stood firm against the inevitable Liverpool onslaught of the second leg regardless. But cushions are lovely things to possess and snuggle up to: they offer comfort and in turn inspire confidence. Colin Barrett’s tenacious blocks and adventurousness arguably shaped the club’s history.

In a slightly sad coda, Barrett missed out on the final after sustaining an ultimately career threatening injury. He did play in the gloriously bonkers semi-final tie against Cologne at the City Ground, resulting in a 3-3 draw: a result that gave the German team the edge, courtesy of their away goals. Nevertheless, Ian Bowyer’s header in the away tie edged Forest through. Barrett never fully recovered from his injury and did not feature in the subsequent European Cup final of 1980 either. He left Forest in that year for Swindon Town but his knee eventually gave way. He has no regrets though, and points out that he did play in the 1979 League Cup final victory against Southampton.

Neither is he sick of talking about ‘that goal’: "I don’t get frustrated with it. I know it’s meant a great deal to an awful lot to people. A lot of my fellow players as well have always mentioned it too. From my point of view, I never get fed up with it. It’s always the first thing anybody says to me anyway! Everybody says ‘I was there.’ I’ve had about 70,000 people say they were there!"

Every great achievement, era or epoch has a starting point or moment in time that can, in retrospect, be recognised as defining ones. It is people like Lorenzo Ghiberti and Colin Barrett who produce such moments that shape history. Without these, the world might look slightly different.

David Marples