Nottingham Forest’s European Cup History

General view inside of The City Ground, home of Nottingham Forest

Fighting for survival since their return to the Premier League, Nottingham Forest had a different story at the end of the 1970s. As debutants, they won back-to-back European Cups under the legendary coach Bryan Clough. Let’s revisit their historic runs in extensive detail.

1978-79 European Cup

When the long-time managerial duo of Bryan Clough and Peter Taylor joined Nottingham Forest, the club was in the bottom half of the second division. The pair were also coming at the end of a mere 44-day spell at Leeds United.

But it was a match made in heaven. They won the club’s first trophy in nearly two decades with the 1976-77 Anglo-Scottish Cup. For Clough, this was the cup that made all the difference.

At the time two points used to be awarded for a win, Forest got promoted back to First Division football with one of the lowest points tallies. But they were about to take it up a notch amongst England’s top clubs.

On their return to top-tier football, Forest won the First Division for the first time in the club’s history. Defensive solidarity was the main reason behind the remarkable feat as they only conceded 24 goals in 42 league games.

The league title gave them the passage for the 1978-79 European Cup. Back then, except for the defending winner of the European Cup, all participants were champions of their respective leagues. 

First Round – vs. Liverpool (2-0, 0-0)

As fate has it, England’s two representatives were drawn together in the First Round. Nottingham Forest’s European Cup debut sees them face last season’s champions Liverpool in a two-legged affair.

Months after this crossover, Liverpool ended Nottingham’s record 42-game unbeaten run in English’s top division. But it was the First Division champions that knocked out European Cup holders in this encounter.

Off of chances created by Tony Woodcock, Garry Birtles and Colin Barrett scored either side of the half-time break in the first-leg at The City Ground. A fortnight later, Clough only made one change to the side with Frank Clark replacing the seriously injured goal-scoring left-back Barrett.

Peter Shilton played his part as Forest kept their advantage from the home game with the goalless draw knocking Bob Paisley’s Liverpool side at the first hurdle.

Round of 16 – vs. AEK Athens (2-1, 5-1)

Next up for Clough’s inexperienced team was Greece champions AEK Athens. Semi-finalist two years ago in the UEFA Cup, the club managed by Real Madrid great Ferenc Puskas had the advantage of exploring European football in comparison to their opponents from England.

The two teams met each other in the pre-season friendly at Athens Stadium. Forest are back in this arena for the first-leg a couple of months after the 1-1 draw in the warm-up game.

The hosts conceded early to John McGovern’s strike and they had to play 70 minutes with ten men following Milton Viera’s red card. As such, the 2-1 home defeat wasn’t considered the end of AEK Athens’s chances of progressing to the next round.

But Forest played them off the park with an emphatic five-star display in the City Ground. They were 3-0 ahead by the minute 40. After the break, Birtles, who scored the second goal in Athens, added two for the final scoreline of 5-1. 

Quarter-Finals – vs. Grasshoppers (4-1, 1-1)

In the next round, Forest had to come from behind for the first time in the European Cup as Switzerland’s champions Grasshoppers took the lead in the tenth minute at the City Ground.

Birtles once again came up with the goods as his fifth of the competition tied the score at the half-time break. John Robertson’s penalty-kick seemed the difference between the two sides until Forest added two more goals in the final five minutes for an emphatic 4-1 first-leg lead.

In Zurich, Grasshopper scored the first goal in the half-hour mark, but Forest replied with the equalizing goal through midfielder Martin O’Neil three minutes later. England’s best defensive team, Clough’s men had no difficulty finishing the game with the 5-2 aggregate score.

Forest were through to the semi-finals where they were joined by FC Koln, Austria Viena and Malmo FF. One thing was certain at this stage – it would be the first European Cup for the team lifting the trophy at Olympiastadion on 30 May 1979.

Semi-Finals – vs. Koln (3-3, 1-0) 

For the first time in their European campaign, Forest failed to win the first-leg fixture. And the 3-3 scoreline meant Koln had the away goal advantage before the showdown at Mungersdorder Stadion.

But the manner they salvaged the draw at the City Ground inspired Forest to maintain the spirit of the team. After a two-goal deficit in 20 minutes, they overturned the result to lead 3-2 before Japanese international Yasuhiko Okudera’s late equalizer for the Bundesliga outfit.

Ian Bowyer, who was also on target in the first-leg, scored the only goal of the game in Koln as another English club reached the European Cup final. Including the all-important one, out of their four semi-final goals, three of them scored with headers.

The 1973-74 UEFA Cup semi-finalists missed out on the chance of playing the final on home soil as Clough’s fairytale run earned him a first European final. With Derby, Clough and his coaching team reached the 1972-73 European Cup semi-final, where they lost to Italian side Juventus.

Finals – vs. Malmo (1-0) 

In the middle of the season, Forest broke the record to add a striker to their ranks. Trevor Francis became Britain’s first £1mil player when he joined them from struggling Birmingham City.

But the striker was unavailable during Forest’s European campaign as UEFA’s rule for January transfer kept him out for three months. That wasn’t in place for the big final at the Olympiastadion, however.

In place of injured Martin O’Neill, Francis, who scored six league goals in the second half of the season, started in his unfavoured wing position. Clough started the game with the striking partnership that got them here – Woodwock and Birtles.

But the two wingers produced the magic moment in Munich. After a dazzling run in the left flank, John Robertson played a perfect ball to European debutant, Francis. The England international planted home his header to give Forest the lead at the stroke of half-time.

With Malmo’s defensive approach, the goal opened the game in the second half, but Birtles couldn’t add to his six-goal tally. The result meant English clubs won the European Cup for three seasons in a row.

Since both the finalists happened to be smaller clubs, the Olympiastadion was far from its full capacity. But, for Forest, it was a remarkable feat to be crowned as European kings in only their second season since returning to the First Division. 

79-80 European Cup

With success translated to more funding from club chairman Stuart M. Dryden, Clough had a new-look squad for the new season. Some issues from the team that spectacularly won the European Cup also meant more new faces in the door.

The start of the campaign continued their European magic as they beat Barcelona in a two-legged Super Cup. It was Forest’s sixth major trophy under the guidance of Clough.

First Round – vs. Osters IF (2-0, 1-1)

Bowyer was the star of the first leg victory against Swedish outfit Osters in the first test of the 1980-81 European Cup campaign. The midfielder scored twice in the second half to secure a 2-0 win for Forest.

Clough’s side started the new season the same way they ended the previous one as they saw off their opponent from Sweden. Tony Woodcock scored a massive equalizer in Vaxjo ten minutes before time as Osters looked for the goal that leveled the tie for them.

England’s other representative Liverpool once again eliminated in the First Round with a 4-2 aggregate defeat to Dinamo Tbilisi.  

Round of 16 – vs. Arges Pitesti (2-0, 2-1)

For only the second time, Arges Pitesti won the Romanian first division in the 1978-79 season. However, their emphatic 5-0 victory against AEK Athens in the previous round sent cautions to Nottingham Forest.

Indeed, it wasn’t to be an easy ride for the defending champions. In City Ground, goals from strikers Woodcock and Birtles gave Forest another 2-0 lead to the return leg.

In Pitesti, Forest extended the lead to four goals by the midpoint of the first half. But the hosts finished the game stronger, despite failing to add more goals to entice a nervy finale.

Quarter-final – vs. BFC Dynamo (0-1, 3-1)

For the first time in the European Cup, Nottingham Forest lost a game when East Germany’s BFC Dynamo stunned Clough’s side at the City Ground. In their first European Cup season, Jurgen Bogs’ team pulled a minor upset with the winning goal coming from Hans-Jurgen Riediger.

It was Forest’s first defeat in the competition after some 14 games. With the club also struggling in domestic football, few expected a reverse result from East Germany.

Including in the League Cup final, Forest lost twice to Wolves in the space of three days before the all-important game. But, once again, they played a superb first half, heading to the break with a 3-0 lead. Back from his injury, Francis scored a brace before Robertson extended the score from the penalty spot. 

Semi-final – vs. Ajax (2-0, 0-1)

This time around, the last four of the European Cup had a very different outlook. All of them had a history of winning a European trophy, including the holders Forest. Clough’s side met Johan Cruyff-less Ajax while Hamburger SV and Real Madrid locked horns in the other semi-final.

Although they didn’t have their talismanic leader with them, Ajax had a team filled with stars from the 1978 World Cup. But Trevor Francis continued his excellent European Cup form with the opening goal in the first half.

Robertson doubled the score from the spot as Forest held a two-goal advantage before the Amsterdam clash. It was all about keeping Leo Beenhakker’s side at bay in the return leg, but Soren Lorby scored his tenth of the European campaign with enough time on the clock.

In the end, the English team saw out the result as they progressed to the final on the back of a 2-1 aggregate victory. Despite winning each of their last seven home games in the league, it was clear Forest would not qualify for continental competition based on domestic form.

Final – vs. Hamburger SV (1-0)

Beating Real Madrid 5-1 in the semi-finals, Kevin Keegan and Felix Magath’s Hamburg were the clear favorites before the game. The Spanish giants missed the chance to play a final at home since the game took place in Santiago Bernabeu.

Robertson, who delivered the pass to Francis’ strike the previous season, scored the only goal as the trophy stayed in England and Nottingham. The team who finished fifth in the league table were the European Kings… again.

Since their goal in the 20th minute, Forest had to repeat Malmo’s trick from the year before. The team kept a clean sheet in each of their last five games and that form also translated to the big final in Madrid.

This was one last hurray for one of the most unthinkable European runs in the history of football. For their third and (so far) last European Cup appearance, Forest were knocked out by Bulgarian champions CSKA Sofia.

They planned for a squad rebuilt with the team that won major titles no longer in place. A controversial defeat to Anderlecht put an end to an equally ambitious run in the 1983-84 UEFA Cup.

But that was the exception for what followed the successful spell for Forest. After assistant coach Taylor opted for an early retirement, Clough ended his 18-year spell on a sour note as they relegated from the inaugural Premier League season.

Yet there was a positive anecdote as Clough’s son, Nigel, scored the final goal of his father’s reign. That’s also how Nottingham Forest fans see their current situation. This might not be the best of times for the club, but the good memories and the giant-killing stories will forever stay with them.

About Tony 9 Articles
I'm Tony, a football writer since 2005, from Warrington in the UK. I support Liverpool and have done since I was a kid. I've previously ran other footy sites, and have a love for the game overall (not just LFC). Find out more about me & my background on the about page, linked to in the site's main navigation.

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