Speak to any former Nottingham Forest player that played under the legendary influence that was Brian Clough and you can guarantee they have a cracker of a story in the memory bank.
Ex-Reds goalkeeper Mark Crossley played 393 for the club during a 13-year association with the East Midlands-based outfit and in the process became something of a cult hero with those of a Forest persuasion.
The commanding stopper’s first game for Forest came in late October back in 1988 and he confesses that he doesn’t know too much about the 2-1 win over Liverpool, largely thanks to Clough keeping the whole thing a secret all the way up until 45 minutes before the 7:45 kick-off.
On his debut for the Reds, he said: “As young lads we all used to live in digs and if there was a midweek game we would all walk to the City Ground together at about 5:30 and at this stage this night was no different.
“I had fish and chips on the way to the ground as I always did and then when we arrived at the ground I went to turn the heating up full blast in the away team dressing room, as I always did, as the gaffer felt this would dehydrate the away side giving us an advantage when we took to the pitch.
“Brian always called me ‘S***house and he shouted me at 7pm and said ‘S***house, go and put your boots on, and you’ll probably need your gloves too, you’re playing.
“I genuinely thought he was joking but he knew that had he told me I would be lining-up against Peter Beardsley, Ian Rush and John Barnes I would have been a nervous wreck and would probably have played terribly.
“We won the game 2-1 and he’d actually rung my family on the sly and told them I would be playing, which was testament to Brian as a man to be honest.”
Despite hitting the ground running upon his arrival to the first-team at Forest, the firm fan favourite speaks as vividly as though it was yesterday about how he learned first-hand just how good Clough was at ensuring his players never got too far above their station if they were part of his squad.
Crossley said: “I had made my debut in the first-team at home to Liverpool and then kept my place for games against Newcastle United and Coventry City and I confess, as a young lad just starting out in the game, I genuinely felt as though I had hit the big time.
“After the game against Coventry he came into the dressing room and announced that he would see us all for training on the Monday, as we usually got the day off on Sunday.
“He came over to me and asked what plans I had for the Sunday as I needed to cancel them and be at his house for 9am in the morning as he wanted to see me.
“As a young lad, I didn’t even know where the gaffer lived, so I had to find out from someone else at the club who actually agreed to give me a lift to his place on the Sunday morning.
“We got there and I am sat having a cup of tea with Barbara (Clough’s wife) and then Brian walks in and says ‘morning son, I won’t call you S***house as Barbara is present’ and I must admit at this stage I started to wonder what the hell I was doing sat in the gaffer’s house at 9am on a Sunday morning.
“He then proceeded to tell me that his son Simon was playing Sunday League football and his team were short of a keeper and that I was playing in the net for them on this particular morning.
“You can just imagine it can’t you, I have just played three games on the spin for the Nottingham Forest first-team and here I am about to play in Division Five of the Derbyshire Sunday League for AC Hunters!”
“That was Brian though and it made me realise straight away that if I ever got above my station he would always be there to keep me level headed. The Sunday League side were actually fined £50 for playing me as a ringer in the game and he took it out of my wages to pay the league!”
Now 48-years-old, Crossley cites Clough as being a father figure to not just him but all of the players he managed at the City Ground, speaking fondly of the late great.
“Brian was like no other. He would always be there to bring you down if you got too big-headed, but he also had this great knack of realising when you needed an arm around you and that is what made his team’s so successful. He was unique – one in a million.
Crossley played in some quality sides during his playing days at the City Ground but he classes the 1994/95 and 1995/96 campaigns as his real favourites, under the influence of Clough’s replacement, Frank Clark.
“We were promoted from the old Division One as runners-up in 1993/94 and we then went onto finish third in the Premier League, which I believe is still a record to this day for a newly-promoted side.
“We qualified for Europe, where we got to play the likes of Bayern Munich and Lyon and just had no fear. We went into every single game knowing that we could get a result. It sounds really big headed but we were good and in the dressing room we knew it.
“I remember at that time we went to Old Trafford and won 2-1 and we also thumped Sheffield Wednesday 7-1. They were a decent side then but our attacking quality was so good in that particular game I had even forgotten the score at one point!”
When asked to pinpoint the best player he played with during such a fruitful spell for the Reds, Crossley is firmly snookered, given such quality available to choose from.
“I absolutely loved Stan (Collymore), but then I loved Bryan Roy as well. As a goalkeeper there was Colin Cooper and Steve Chettle at the back, whilst Ian Woan and Steve Stone were always class on the wings. It was just a great side to play in”, Crossley said of the star-studded squad at Clark’s disposal back in the nineties.
Appointing Clark as boss following Clough’s mightily successful reign is something that Crossley was particularly happy with and he also thinks that one of the main reasons for Forest’s struggles in recent history is because they haven’t stuck with a similar approach.
He said: “Clough left and he was replaced by a bloke who knew the history surrounding the club, had played under Brian and lived and breathed Nottingham Forest.
“Since then they seem to have largely done away with the concept of appointing people who hold the club close to their heart and that is a real shame.
“Forest is a special club and not everyone that isn’t, or hasn’t been, associated with it understands that bond. I don’t think it is any coincidence that the club has massively failed in recent years, given the lack of people with a large affinity to the club associated with it.”
‘Big Norm’ as he was affectionately known by the Forest faithful still classes himself as a Forest fan and his work these days has seen him rock up extremely close to the City Ground, in a coaching capacity at neighbours Notts County.
The Magpies are currently managed by former West Ham United and Newcastle United midfielder Kevin Nolan and Crossley is relishing working with the up-and-coming manager in his role as first-team coach.
On Nolan, he said: “Kevin is so enthusiastic in his work and I have no doubts that he will go all the way to the top in management.
“He isn’t afraid to ask questions, which I think can be rare for someone who is relatively new to management. Sometimes it can be a case of the manager’s way or no way, but that’s not Kevin and I am really enjoying being at Meadow Lane alongside him.”
Notts have failed to scale the heights that saw them top League Two earlier in the 2017/18 campaign in recent weeks, but Crossley has no doubts that it won’t be too much longer before the Magpies are back on a roll.
“When he (Kevin Nolan) took over last season he kept us up and if we’re being totally honest we have already overachieved this season in terms of our pre-season expectations set by people outside of the football club.
“The results in recent weeks haven’t been quite as positive as earlier on but we’ve been working hard on the training ground and I am confident that we can finish the season in the best possible fashion.
Nottingham Forest fans, what are your memories of Mark Crossley playing for Nottingham Forest? Let us know in the comments below…
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