Jurgen Klopp said all the right things about respect when asked this week about Liverpool’s lower-division opponents in the FA Cup this weekend.
es, Nottingham Forest are on form in the Championship and at home in tomorrow’s quarter-finals, but even a side from Liverpool with rested players – and Klopp has already confirmed he takes the tie seriously enough to play Alisson instead of Caoimhin Kelleher to play time – should be able to take Forest into account.
But there was a time when Forest were one of the few clubs in England who could put a glove on one of the best Liverpool sides of all time. Only two teams could beat Kenny Dalglish’s side on their way to winning the 1987/88 league: former champions Everton and Forest.
And an Irishman played a key role in those exciting days when Forest were a force in the English game, led by the incomparable Brian Clough.
“They were great days, it was great to be a part of it all,” says Tommy Gaynor. The Limerick-born attacker is now well away from football, having spent his days in car sales at James Barry Motors in Limerick. He has not been involved since a brief stint as Kilkenny City manager in 2007 and has no urge to re-engage.
But Gaynor (59) left his mark, especially in Nottingham. His career began and ended in the League of Ireland, where he played for 11 clubs, including three different Limerick teams (“as my late father told me, if you play for Derry and Harps, you’ve played them all,” he jokes ). but those five seasons at Forest (1987-1992) were his high point – exhilarating days of top-flight football, cup wins and Wembley glory.
At the start of the 1987/88 season, Gaynor was signed by Clough from Doncaster Rovers. Injuries and an intense battle for places limited Gaynor to 53 league games (10 goals) over his five seasons but he is still fondly remembered there, particularly for the role he played in a 1989 League Cup final win.
No league medals, two FA Cup runs halted by Liverpool in the semi-finals and no caps, but no regrets for Gaynor, who was enjoying the ride at a time when Forest could mix them with the best.
And Liverpool was the best.
“We had a great side, a team of internationals, basically Sheringham, Clough, Pearce, Walker, later Roy Keane. I was there for five years, we finished third in the top flight in England, unfortunately we played against a very good team from Liverpool all those years,” Gaynor recalled.
“They were just a great team, the best team in England, they were the best team for a period of five to six years. Alan Hansen was a midfielder disguised as a defender, he just set up that defense so well and was so good on the ball.
“John Barnes was the best player in England for me at the time, Ian Rush and John Aldridge up front, Ronnie Whelan in midfield, every player on that side was just brilliant.”
In his debut season with Forest, they played Liverpool three times in a hectic 11-day period towards the end of the season: a 2-1 home league win for Forest, just one of two league defeats for the designated champions Liverpool, then a 2-1 victory for the Reds in the FA Cup semifinals and a bitter defeat.
“They were tough games against Liverpool. I remember being at Anfield at the end of a 5-0 drubbing, which was hard to take. I was on the bench that day and I was probably glad I didn’t play, nobody likes to lose 0-5. We had beaten them 2-1 just before the 5-0 and they were injured,” says Gaynor.
Gaynor was more prominent in Liverpool struggles the following season (1988/89), a season in which trauma trampled on the English game. Gaynor was in sunny Sheffield for the Forest-Liverpool Cup semi-final which was interrupted by the Hillsborough disaster and when the game was rescheduled a month later Gaynor started with an emotional 3-1 win for the Reds.
“It was a tough time for everyone involved in football, but especially for the Liverpool lads. Everton had already made it to the final, in England the whole country, maybe the whole world, was screaming for a final only in Merseyside and it was probably fitting that it ended that way,” he says.
In his first two seasons at Forest, Clough’s side were well ahead of the likes of Manchester United.
“In my first year there (1987/88) we finished third, Liverpool became champions. At Christmas we beat Arsenal away and finished second but we were still behind Liverpool but we managed to give them a good game,” he says.
“The next season (1988/89) when it was Liverpool vs Arsenal on the last day we finished third and the next year we finished ninth. We were bottom half every year.
“But in 1987/88 we could have been champions. It was between us and Liverpool, we were the top two teams in England at the time. We were just unlucky to play them, in the league and cup, they beat us twice in the FA Cup semi-finals.”
The mugs would bring some joy to Forest and Gaynor. In 1988/89 they had two successful trips to Wembley, beat Luton Town in the League Cup Final and three weeks later beat Everton in the Simod (Full Members) Cup.
But Gaynor was almost denied those days. “The year we won the League Cup, I injured myself in a Simod Cup game at Stamford Bridge in January, I hurt my knee cartilage. I got injured in the first half but kept playing, we went into extra time, I scored the goal… and I was out for three months,” he says.
“That was back then, you just got the magic sponge and moved on but I came back to play in the League Cup final. Coming back from injury was fantastic, coming into the team and playing and playing well was incredible.
Five years working under Clough taught Gaynor a lot. He was asked for a story of local legend: When asked by the local press what injury kept Gaynor away from the Forest side, Clough replied: “He’s Irish. He probably fell when he came back from the pub.”
No offense was taken. “That was Clough, his way of deflecting things,” Gaynor says today.
“I don’t remember him saying that, I heard the story, maybe he said it, but it’s the sort of thing he would have said and no offense was intended.
“He calmed you down. I was staying with Des Walker, we were in our rooms at the hotel the night before the ’89 League Cup Final but we couldn’t sleep, we tossed and turned.
“We went down to the hotel, Clough and his staff were playing pool there. Me and Des joined in, played a few games of pool, drank two pints and went back to have a great night’s sleep, we slept well and played great at Wembley the next day. That was Clough, his man management was outstanding.”
Gaynor was also on hand to see a young Roy Keane show up with Forest. “You could see from day one that he was so talented, it was just pure raw talent. When he came to us he was his own man, he had a good head on his shoulders and he knew the story, he could turn it on at any time,” he says.
“We had a similar background – from Ireland but not Dublin, we had played in the League of Ireland. I would try to point him in the right direction, but when a boy is young he never goes in that direction, he has to find his own way and he’s settled into Forest well. He was great to play with, he had this energy, he came in at the end of a game and he could easily go out and play another 90 minutes, he was so good and so fit.”
Injury also prevented a day in the 1991 FA Cup final. “I played every round but got injured before the end and didn’t get in in time.
“I think me and Roy played in a reserve game on Wednesday, the cup final was on Saturday, for both of us that was our first game after injury, Roy came through and played in the cup final but I didn’t. It was tough playing every round and not the final, but that’s life,” he says.
His days in the Forest came to an end when Gaynor played infrequently in his last season there (1991/92) and after a stint with Millwall returned to Ireland for family reasons in 1993, and a Discover Ireland tour (Derry City, Cork City, Athlone Town, Bohemians, St Pat’s, Limerick and Kilkenny).
He watched from a distance as Forest slipped out of the competition and down the English game ladder, while his presence as the club’s special guest at Martin O’Neill’s first game as Forest manager in 2019 marked his first participation in 25 years, but fans still remembered his pivotal role in winning the 1989 League Cup.
“It’s been a tough couple of years for Forest,” he says. “It’s a Premier League focused club but they just can’t match it, they have a great fan base, their fans are amazing and it would be great to see them back in the Premier League. They are seventh in the championship and have a chance to move up again.”
He knows his era is over. “I’d rather play then than now, it’s all a bit sterile now, it’s all stop-start. If I was playing and someone attacked you, you would get up and carry on, move on and maybe later fight back yourself,” he says.
“It’s difficult to manage players and that’s how difficult it is now. Look at Man United, they’re a shambles, it’s difficult for managers now and I don’t think Clough would have been great in modern times.”
https://www.independent.ie/sport/soccer/i-dont-think-brian-clough-would-have-been-great-in-the-modern-era-tommy-gaynor-41464230.html “I don’t think Brian Clough would have been great in modern times” – Tommy Gaynor