A star striker for Middlesbrough (1955-61) and Sunderland (1961-64), Clough's playing career was cut short by a knee injury. He turned to management and, in 1965, took over at Hartlepools United. He was then just 30 years old, making him the youngest manager in the League at that time.
In May 1967, Clough took over at Derby County, then languishing in the Second Division. Clough, along with assistant manager Peter Taylor, reversed Derby's fortunes and led them to the First Division title at the end of the 1971-72 season. Clough and Taylor soon fell out with Derby's Board of Directors over issues including transfer fees and Clough's propensity for making controversial statements (such as his criticism of the Derby supporters as "a disgraceful lot"), and the pair resigned in October 1973.
After a brief and unsuccessful spell at Brighton & Hove Albion during the 1973-74 season, Clough took the reins at Leeds, who were coming off their own First Division title. Taylor remained at Brighton.
Clough's move to Leeds raised more than a few eyebrows, as, during his time at Derby, he had been especially critical of Leeds and their previous manager, Don Revie. In particular, he had accused Revie's Leeds side of playing dirty and suggested that the club should be relegated and Revie himself fined.
Despite his appointment as manager, Clough reportedly remained vociferously critical of Revie and Leeds' prior tactics, which alienated him from many of the team's best players, including the midfield pair of Irish international Johnny Giles and Scottish international Billy Bremner. Clough's Leeds side won only one match and drew two from its first six, after which he was promptly sacked.
Clough cemented his status as a coaching legend, however, after moving to Nottingham Forest in 1975. At that time, Forest was a mid-table Second Division side, but Clough and Taylor (who joined Forest from Brighton in 1976) led them to promotion in 1977 and the Division One title in 1978. At Forest, Clough also achieved his crowning glory, winning back-to-back European Cup titles in 1979 and 1980.
Clough retired in 1993 and died in 2004. In 2006, author David Peace published a fictionalized account of Clough's time at Leeds, titled The Damned Utd. Critics generally praised the book, but Clough's family and former players—including Giles—claimed Peace's portrayals of events was inaccurate and painted Clough in an unfairly negative light. A film version of the book was released in 2009, starring Michael Sheen as Clough.