Premier League Clubs Managed: Nottingham Forest (1994-1996)
Succeeding the legend that was Brian Clough was never going to be easy at Nottingham Forest but Frank Clark did it his way and enjoyed a fairly successful spell as manager of the former European Cup winners. His excellent man-management skills saw him get the best out of players like Steve Stone, Ian Woan and Bryan Roy. Forest flourished under his guidance, finishing in a brilliant third place in the Premier League table in 1995. He returned to the club in the 21st century for a brief spell as the chairman at The City Ground.
A European Cup winner
Clark’s playing days started at Crook Town in 1961 as an amateur before making the professional breakthrough at Newcastle United. He spent 13 years as a player on Tyneside, featuring 464 times for them in all competitions. He never scored for the club but did experience victory in the 1969 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup final against Hungarian outfit Újpest.
In July 1975, his links with Nottingham Forest began when Clough signed him on a free transfer. He was an ever-present at full-back for the next two campaigns as Forest were about to embark on the most golden period of their existence. He won promotion to the top-flight in 1977 and a year later, they won both the League Cup and the Football League championship title. In 1979, the Midlands side beat Malmo 1-0 in the European Cup final with the only goal coming from the £1 million man, Trevor Francis.
This was to be Clark’s final game as a professional player. He retired shortly afterwards.
A tough act to follow
Frank’s first steps in coaching were at Sunderland, where he served as their assistant manager for three years. In 1982, he became manager of Leyton Orient, taking a position later on as managing director of the Londoners.
He took charge of over 400 matches as Leyton Orient boss before stepping down in the summer of 1991. Two years later, he would return to Nottingham Forest as Clough’s successor. Clark astutely used some of Clough’s players, rekindling the careers of Steve Chettle, Mark Crossley and Stuart Pearce by adding a fresh impetus with the arrivals of David Phillips, Lars Bohinen and of course, Stan Collymore.
In his first full season in the dugout at The City Ground, Clark guided the club back to the Premier League at the first attempt, finishing second in the First Division behind Crystal Palace. Clough would congratulate him for the achievement but added: “If he wants to emulate what we did in the late 1970s he’ll need to be bloody good.”
It was a tough act to follow but he was doing it his own way. Nottingham Forest started the 1994-1995 season with an 11-game unbeaten sequence that left them flying high in second position in the table. They were playing some breathtaking football. Tottenham Hotspur and Sheffield Wednesday were both beaten 4-1 and Wimbledon lost 3-1 as the likes of Roy, Collymore and Bohinen flourished spectacularly. Clark won the Manager of the Month award for September 1994. Forest’s title challenge did fade in the winter months but they never dropped out of the top five and they rallied in the closing weeks to pip Liverpool FC and Newcastle United to third spot in the table.
No repeat performance
Hopes of a repeat performance in 1995-1996 were hurt by Collymore’s summer departure to Liverpool FC for a British transfer record fee of £8.5 million, whilst league champions Blackburn Rovers activated a clause in Bohinen’s contract which saw the Dutchman leave for Ewood Park in the season’s early weeks. However, they remained unbeaten again until mid-November before suffering a 7-0 pasting at Blackburn. Forest finished ninth in the table but upheld British honour in continental competition, going the furthest. They reached the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup before bowing out to eventual winners, Bayern Munich.
The momentum though couldn’t be maintained. There was turmoil in the boardroom with rival parties attempting to buy the club and form drastically disappeared on-the-pitch. After a 3-0 opening day win at Coventry, Clark failed to win another game in the Premier League and desperate moves such as changing tactics and dropping senior players didn’t work.
After a 4-2 loss at Anfield in December 1996, he left the club with them propping up the Premier League table. On his departure, he said: “I have just about run out of things to do so I’ve done the ultimate. Sometimes, a manager leaving a club can be a help.” Pearce took over as caretaker manager until the end of the season but couldn’t prevent them from sliding out of the top-flight in May 1997.
10 days later, Clark took over at First Division side Manchester City but couldn’t galvanise them and left in February 1998 with the club struggling to stay in the second-tier. That was to be his final job in management. He spent a decade as vice-chairman of the LMA (League Managers Association) but Nottingham Forest was always his club. In 2011, he took over as chairman after Nigel Doughty stood down and remained as a club ambassador after a takeover by Kuwaiti owners. That role ended in 2013.