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13th November 2023 19:01

Nigel Clough: Mansfield Town boss on 25 years in football management
BBC Sport, By Andrew Aloia, 10 Nov 2023

"Well, it's a bit of a family business." That is how Mansfield Town boss Nigel Clough explains how he got into management 25 years ago, when put on the spot by a nine-year-old student.

The 57-year-old went on to nonchalantly explain to the small group of pupils at St Andrew's Primary School in the Nottinghamshire village of Skegby that "long before their day" his father was also a manager.


It was just a casual nod to his late father Brian, a manager of legendary status for the European and domestic glory he brought to Nottingham Forest and the success he delivered to their fierce rivals Derby County before that.

With his energetic pet dog Bobbie by his side, Clough got involved in the English Football League's Week of Action by helping deliver a special leadership award session for Mansfield Town's Community Trust.

His longevity in management, numerous promotions with Burton Albion, cup runs with Sheffield United, and spell at Derby County made him the ideal guest speaker.

Clough himself never had to look far for such inspiration and still holds on to all he learned from his father - a manager the former England international played under and won two League Cups with at Forest.

"It's everything," Clough said of his father's influence.

"Because of the principles and the standards he put in place, you try and install those and implement them into the players, the way we work, and create the sort of environment where players can thrive and enjoy coming to work.

"We enjoyed going into Forest every single day when we were training there, honestly.

"And you want players to feel that and I think if they do, then they are going to play better and perform better.

"But I don't think there are as many leaders around as there were back then. Look at one of the biggest clubs in the world, Manchester United, and since they lost Sir Alex Ferguson they have been nowhere near the same because of the standards he set."

Like his father before him, Clough has also enlisted canine help with Bobbie the Hungarian Vizsla a constant at the Stags' training base just as Del Boy, Brian's Golden Retriever, was a regular at Forest.

Injured players are tasked with walking Bobbie as part of their recovery sessions.

"She is a benefit at home and around training," Clough told BBC Sport.

"They take you away from everything. You have to take them out no matter the weather.

"Everybody who has a dog will understand that. And when you get out there, and yeah your phone goes sometimes, but you can switch off and it's a very soothing time. That is why they use them as therapy dogs in hospitals and in schools.

"He [Brian] must have been ahead of his time, I think. We had to walk down the River Trent to the training ground from the City Ground and Del used to trot along with us."

While management might feel like the family business, Clough explained he never envisioned he was walking into a career that would span more than two-and-a-half decades when he decided to join then seventh-tier side Burton as a player-manager in 1998.

As a new dad, aged 32 at the time, the job with the non-league Brewers was a way of spending more time with his young family after leaving Manchester City that same year.

"It sort of creeps up on you once you finish playing," Clough said.

The career change may have crept on on him, but he soon had Burton bounding up the divisions.

He had them on their way to promotion to the EFL for the first time in the 2008-09 season when Derby turned to him as a non-league boss to lead them in the Championship.

Four and a half years at Derby were followed by 19 months at Sheffield United, a stint in which he guided the then League One Blades away from relegation trouble to the semi-finals of both the FA Cup and League Cup before being dismissed after missing out on promotion.

A return to Burton saw him do the once seemingly unimaginable, taking the Staffordshire side to England's second division where they stayed for two seasons.

But it was when football stopped during the Covid-19 pandemic that Clough showed the sort of leadership that defines him as a living Burton legend, stepping down as boss to help them cut costs.

"I think everyone needs that person at the top who leads by example," Clough said.

"It's not just strong figures, it's figures who are willing to do the tough things as well.

"There was no employment on the horizon and it took six months to get back in at Mansfield. But it felt like the right thing."

Clough admits he never felt assured another job would come up, and bemoans how little time managers are given when results go against them.

He has had the Stags constantly challenging for promotion in recent years, taking them to the League Two play-off final at Wembley in 2022.

Mansfield are now fourth in the table and unbeaten in 15 League Two games to start the season - having had a club-record equalling run of 20 games unbeaten ended by three successive losses in cup competitions.

Even now, Clough will not take his job for granted, readily admitting "you fear every week that you are only a few games away from being under pressure".

And it is for that reason Clough says he works with greater enthusiasm than he did when he started a quarter of a century ago.

"I think it intensifies because you know you probably don't have that much longer left in the job - you just don't know," he said.

"And the desire to win and be a success is as strong as ever."