The day Brian Clough decided there was no substitute for Steve Hodge

One thing I wish I’d done from the beginning of my career was keep track of the games I covered.

Keep a notebook of every game I was at, what happened, funny stories etc – but I never did.

I should also have kept a note of how many miles I’d driven down the years, how many hours I’d spent stuck in roadworks on the M1 at two o’clock in the morning!

What made those journeys far more pleasant was the company – the people in the car with me. 

That might have been the commentators on the game – and there were a fair few of those in the 20+ years I covered sport for BBC Radio Nottingham.

Colin Fray was ever-present in my time, and Colin Slater only recently hung up the mike to be replaced by his name-sake Charlie. 

I was fortunate that they are all good people, fantastic company – and put up with my regular stops for coffee en route to an away game.

So, for 99% of the games I covered, I largely travelled with one of three people.

Where I’ve also been lucky is to work with some brilliant men as summarisers on the game – the former players have all been a joy to spend time with.

Whether that be Garry Birtles (as it was when I first arrived in Nottingham) or John McGovern, Dean Yates, or more latterly Steve Hodge, Brian Laws, Steve Sutton or Mark Stallard.

They’ve all taught me so much, and told me so many good and funny stories, they’ve all helped those car journeys fly by.

I always think that a good summariser/expert on sport (whether that’s football, cricket, ice hockey or whatever) needs to tell the audience something they don’t know about the game.

What have they seen that’s made a difference to the way the match is going?

I also like pundits to have a view, and bring their own thoughts into a conversation.

I don’t mean “have a view” just to be controversial, like some former Derby midfielders I could name (!!) but have a view, believe in it, and be happy to back it up when you’re questioned more about it.

That’s where I got lucky with all of those former players I mentioned above – they would all be able and willing to do that.

I learned so much about football from them all, and they also told such funny stories about the game too.

But a bit like when you go and see a great comedian effortlessly stroll through his or her routine, you walk out of the venue afterwards desperately trying (and failing) to remember their best lines – it’s a bit like that with me.

I should have either written them down, or drunk less at the gigs I went to! 

One of the funnier tales on a long car journey I recall came from Steve Hodge.

It was about his time playing under Brian Clough, and particularly the 1990/91 season when the Reds reached the FA Cup final.

In the third round, Forest had been given a tough draw – away at Crystal Palace (the previous year’s beaten finalists) – but drew 0-0 to force a replay.

However, in the City Ground re-match, the two sides drew 2-2 – which meant another replay in those days. 

Fortunately enough, Forest were cruising in that third match between the teams – 3-nil up with ten minutes to go, against an effective, but robust and physical Palace side. 

At that point, legendary coach Liam O’Kane – a fantastic servant to many managers in his time at the club – walked to the touchline and put up Steve Hodge’s number, indicating that he’d be coming off – there were no fourth officials back then.

“I really wanted to stay on,” said Hodge. “Palace had ‘gone’, and we were about to play keep-ball, which would have been fun.”

As Hodge wandered over to the touchline and towards coach O’Kane, he became aware that there wasn’t a player ready to come on.

“I remember slowing down,” added Hodge, “because whoever was coming on to replace me obviously needed more time to sort themselves out and meet me on the touchline.

“But nobody came to the touchline, and as I met Liam, he told me to go and get a shower.

“I looked into the dug-out and it was completely calm, nothing was happening.”

A bemused Hodge headed for the dressing rooms, to go and get that shower. 

Incredibly, Brian Clough had taken off midfielder Steve Hodge and not replaced him, when substitutes were available to use. Forest finished the game with ten men. 

Nothing was said after the game on the Wednesday night. I guess you didn’t question what Clough did. He was always right. 

The players had the Thursday off, as was usual after a midweek game, and then all met up to train on the Friday morning.

Afterwards, there was the regular team meeting in the room that’s now the boardroom at The City Ground.

As he left the meeting, Hodge was called to see Clough.

“Harry (Hodge’s nickname), I just wanted to let you know what happened on Wednesday night,” said the great manager.

“You played very well, and I wanted to get you off to give you a little rest before the weekend.

“I didn’t bring anyone on to replace you because I wanted to have some fun at Crystal Palace’s expense.

“You know I don’t like how those sh*thouses play, so I was just taking the p*** out of them son.”

Hodge said “OK, gaffer,” smiled and wandered off. 

I can’t think that there’d be any other manager in history who’d have done it. 

It makes me chuckle every time I think of the story – can you imagine if that had happened these days?

The furore there would be, with countless columns in newspapers debating the rights and wrongs of it, and the rolling sports news channels also having their pound of flesh.

A happier, more straight-forward time, I think. 

5 thoughts on “The day Brian Clough decided there was no substitute for Steve Hodge

  1. I love these little little stories from your time as a bbc radio sports correspondent. Keep them coming and when is the book coming out👍

  2. Colin Slater, what a legend! I really like it when Hodgy is on duty, he says what will happen before it does (or rather what should happen! Love his Clough stories, especially when he whacked Robbo as a youngster and the Clough voice boomed,looking round he got that classic Clough OK sign!

  3. I remember that night and always thought Cloughie was taking the p**s, thanks to Harry for confirming and another reason to love the great man !!!

  4. always think Hodgey is wasted on the radio. His reading of the game really should be on the coaching staff somewhere. I remember being 1-0 down away to Fulham and getting over ran. Hodge highlighted the problem and how to correct it. We were 3-0 down by the time we made the change he called, lost 3-2 but could have drawn level.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: