What has the Northern League ever done for us?

#2 Nottingham Forest

Speaking about David Platt, a great man once said: “He’s learned more about football management than he ever imagined. Some people think you can take football boots off and put a suit on. You can’t do that.” That great man was Brian Howard Clough.

Cloughie is without doubt the most worthy man of making such a statement. Old Big ‘Ead himself had done just that. Son of a sweet shop worker from a Middlesbrough council estate he would go on to become the greatest football manager England never had. But what people sometimes overlook is where it all began for Brian. “Mr Clough”, as he insisted his players call him, began his playing career at Northern League side Billingham Synthonia in 1953.

Clough played with the Synners at their old Belasis Lane ground which they left in 1958. It was there he attracted envious glances from a number of professional clubs through his performances as a young striker. This led to Clough eventually returning to Middlesbrough where he had a brief stint as a youth, and for whom he signed in 1955 after a spell in the RAF.

At the time the Northern League was breaking out quickly in popularity within its local communities, and players like Clough ensure that legacy remains intact even today. Like many Football League clubs, Nottingham Forest have a lot of gratitude for grass roots clubs such as Billingham Synthonia for giving greats like Clough a stage to display their talents to the footballing world on. And Cloughie certainly used his stage brilliantly.

Brian Clough is not the only Reds player to have come from the Northern League, however. Nottingham Forest star turned manager Frank Clark also started his career in the Northern League, at Crook Town. The full back went on to play under Clough in the 1979 European Cup final and then manage Forest from 1993-1996. We can only thank these great clubs for what they have produced.

Clough went on to win two European Cups with Nottingham Forest, the First Division title in the 1977-78 season and four League Cups. And let’s not forget he also helped re-build Forest’s arch rivals Derby County, taking them from Second Division strugglers to First Division champions in the 1971-72 season.

The prestige and long routed establishment of the Northern League will keep football fans entertained for decades to come. The foundations are in place for more and more talent to shine through in the seasons to follow. It represents what can only be described as a magnificent showcase of local North East football.

Forest legends like Brian Clough and Frank Clark ensure I will always have the upmost respect for North East amateur football, and I sincerely hope it has every success in the years to come.

Many thanks to Forest fan and up-and-coming football writer Shaun Wheatcroft for contributing this piece. You can follow Shaun on twitter @KCommonsluvspie. More of his work here.

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