The Miracle That Could’ve Happened…To Derby County

If you’ve been at all conscious and reading the football media in the last couple of months you’ll know about ‘I Believe In Miracles‘, the film and book celebrating Brian Clough’s achievements with a moderate team from the East Midlands, that he’d brought up from the lower reaches of the Second Division to the top of the English game and then Europe. However, if things had turned out a little differently, that film could have been about Derby County, rather than Nottingham Forest.

Clough’s fascination with the European Cup was well-established when Derby won the First Division in 1972 in somewhat frantic circumstances, but it was perhaps enhanced and turned into something close to an obsession by how Derby would exit the competition in 1973. In short, Clough believed that their semi-final against Juventus was rigged, the Rams turfed out of Europe unfairly thanks to unproven skullduggery involving a German referee. Or, as Clough rather more floridly put it in his autobiography: ‘The lousy stench still fills my nostrils when I think of the attempts at corruption. UEFA later carried out some kind of inquiry, but the truth has remained somewhere swept beneath the carpets in the corridors of power.’

Derby started their first ever trip to Europe – unless you count the Texaco Cup, a rather quaint affair involving British Isles sides not in the main European competitions that Derby won in 1972 – with some gusto. They beat Željezničar of Yugoslavia in the first round, and then with the aid of a strategically ‘watered’ pitch in the next phase, they brilliantly swept aside Benfica, Eusebio and all. Czech side Spartak Trnava were beaten next, meaning they would face one of six-time champions Real Madrid, winners in the previous two years Ajax or Juventus in the semi-final, which was rather like being asked if you’d prefer to be punched in the face, stomach or groin.

In the end they received the most favourable (a relative term) draw, and would play against Juventus, Italian champions and boasting the likes of Dino Zoff, Roberto Bettega, German midfielder Helmut Haller and one Fabio Capello. The game carried with it some extra pressure for Derby, given that they were out of both domestic cups and their hopes of retaining the First Division had disappeared after a disappointing start to the season, a rally either side of Christmas then scotched by another poor domestic run that left them ninth in the table when they travelled to Turin for the first leg.

When they arrived in Italy they were greeted by rain, and plenty of it, the northern Italian heavens having been wide open for a couple of days before their arrival. ‘Turin at the moment resembles a comedian’s idea of Manchester,’ wrote David Lacey in the Guardian, but by the time the game arrived the skies had cleared. The opening stages were as one might expect a European tie to be, Juventus on the front foot but Derby jabbing back at them, ‘both sides fencing cleverly for the opening’ wrote Geoffrey Green in the Times, who also beautifully noted that County ‘spoke in sharp syllables in counter-attack.’

Juve took the lead after 29 minutes, the Brazilian Jose Altafini firing left-footed past Derby keeper Colin Boulton, but just two minutes later the Rams were level, Kevin Hector shooting ‘violently’ home to put them on terms at the break. However, the introduction of Haller after half-time seemed to change things, and Juve retook the lead on 65 minutes, the Tom Selleckian moustache of Franco Causio giving his men the advantage, before Atalfini made it 3-1 six minutes from time.

That’s the short version of the story, anyway. Most observers, even Clough himself, seemed to agree that Juventus were the superior side, but events before the game and at half-time made some assume that something more suspicious was afoot.

John Charles, the great former Juventus player, was at the game in an ambassadorial capacity, and around half an hour before kick-off he warned Peter Taylor that he had seen Haller, who scored West Germany’s opener in the 1966 World Cup final, enter the referee’s room. The official in question was Gerhard Schulenburg, as his name suggests also German, so of course this could just have been a couple of Herrs talking about the old country, but inevitably suspicions were raised. Particularly when Haller returned to the officials’ quarters at half-time, prompting Taylor to take action. ‘I hurried after them, trying to overhear and saying ‘I speak German, gentlemen. Do you mind if I listen?’ he wrote in his memoir ‘With Clough, By Taylor’. Of course Taylor spoke no German at all, and in response to his request Haller elbowed Taylor in the ribs, leaving him gasping for air in the corridors of the Stadio Comunale Vittorio Pozzo. ‘Haller…barked something that brought a squad of heavies into action. They shoved me against a wall and kept me there. I didn’t know who they were, except that some were uniformed, and possibly club stewards, and others looked like plain clothes police. I didn’t know what was going on; my only thought was ‘Let me get into that ref’s room because I’ve rumbled them.’

But rumbled them of what? While the consensus was that Juventus were the better team, most observers also noted that Schulenburg adopted a rather laissez faire attitude to the Italians’ rough-housing, but quite the opposite to the Derby players. Archie Gemmill and Roy McFarland were both booked, two players that by coincidence or otherwise, were the only two already on bookings from previous rounds, so were thus suspended from the return leg. Gerald Mortimer wrote in the Derby Telegraph that: ‘Gemmill had his name taken for a trip on [Giuseppe] Furino, retaliation after Furino’s elbow had smashed into his face….McFarland’s booking was totally absurd. He went up to challenge [Antontello] Cuccerddu for a high ball and the two heads clashed. For that, and only that, he was cautioned…it looked like a put-up job.’

‘It is perhaps useless to hurl accusations at the referee,’ wrote Green. ‘But he was very harsh on much of the Derby tackling against Juventus players.’ Lacey commented on the persistent fouling of Furino, saying it ‘continued to the point of monotony’ and that he ‘followed through dangerously against [Colin] Todd, fouled Hector in full flight and went over the ball blatantly against [John] O’Hare, receiving only a wag of a finger from the referee’.

While the men in the press box were firm but circumspect in their observations, Clough was a little more forthright. ‘I couldn’t believe my eyes at some of the things that happened in Turin,’ he wrote in his autobiography. ‘We had two key players booked well before half-time…As far as I can remember their only crime was to stand somewhere adjacent to an opponent who flung himself on the floor. Now wasn’t that a coincidence? McFarland and Gemmill – two players who just happened to have been booked in previous games – would now, automatically, be ruled out of the second leg. It stank to high heaven. I’d heard lurid tales of bribery, corruption, the bending of match officials in Italy, call it what you will, but I’d never before seen what struck me as clear evidence. I went barmy.’

Indeed he did. At the post-match press conference Clough declared loudly that he would ‘not talk to any cheating bastards.’ The assembled local press asked Brian Glanville, the English journalist who spoke Italian, what Clough had said, but his attempts at a diplomatic silence were scuppered rather when the manager returned to bark ‘Tell ’em what I said, Brian!’

“Juventus bought the referee,” Clough told his biographer Tony Francis years later. “Of that there is no shadow of doubt. I was cheated, Taylor was nearly arrested and two players were booked for next to nothing. What surprised me is that Juventus were good enough without that. They were the better side, but we could have reached the final if Gemmill and McFarland had played at Derby.”

Clough’s certainty that Derby had been swindled was strengthened when a few days later he ‘got wind’ that the Portuguese referee for the second game had been ‘approached’ too. ‘Francisco Marques Lobo,’ wrote Jonathan Wilson in his Clough biography ‘Nobody Ever Says Thank You‘, ‘revealed he’d been offered $5,000 and a car if Juventus won. Uefa subsequently investigated and exonerated Juventus, ruling that the bribe was the work of the notorious Hungarian fixer Dezso Solti, whom the commission ruled to have been acting independently.’

Beyond that and Clough’s suspicions, there was never any hard evidence that Schulenberg was bribed, never mind by Juventus directly. Glanville investigated the matter at some length later on, and while he did find a letter signed by Solti ‘on behalf’ of Juventus from 1971, two years before the game in question, nothing else to link Solti directly to that game ever came to light.

However, it’s also true that Italo Allodi, the Juve general manager at the time, was involved in assorted attempts to bribe and corrupt referees, including in a European Cup game between Liverpool and Inter, where Allodi worked at the time, in 1965. ‘Liverpool were so badly cheated by the refereeing of a Spaniard, Ortiz de Mendibil, that their half-back Tommy Smith kicked him all the way to the dressing room,’ wrote Glanville in his obituary of Allodi. ‘In 1966, a brave Hungarian referee was spirited up to [Inter president Angelo] Moratti’s villa and offered, in the presence of Allodi and Solti, numerous gifts. After refusing to bend the game against Real Madrid, he never got another European match…Solti, a Hungarian refugee, held no official position with the club, but was responsible for seducing referees – and he answered directly to Allodi.’ “All Allodi knows how to do,” said former Italy manager Fulvio Bernardini, “is give gold watches to referees.” In short, while the evidence is circumstantial, it would surprise few to learn that Allodi had been up to his old tricks.

Derby lost the tie after drawing the second leg 0-0, with Lobo officiating fairly, by common consensus. Alan Hinton missed a penalty, while young forward Roger Davies carelessly got himself sent off, dubbed “disgraceful” by Clough for headbutting Francesco Morini. “There’s no excuse for being sent off the way he was,” said Clough after the game, accepting the result and promising to fine Davies a week’s wages. “He is only young and he will learn.”

But still, the sense of injustice simmered in Clough, and the fascination with the European Cup was one of the reasons he took the baffling decision to rock up at Leeds the following year. Juventus lost to the great Ajax side of Cruyff, Rep and Neeskens in the final, so the chances of Derby winning the thing if they had gone through were probably slim.

Still, as Clough proved a few years later, with him miracles could happen to moderate teams from the East Midlands…

You can follow Nick Miller on Twitter (@nickmiller79)

The Miracle That Could’ve Happened…To Derby County
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