Growing up with Brian Clough: Craig Bromfield shares his amazing story | Football news
“If I had not met Brian Clough, my life would have been over before it even began,” says Craig Bromfield. Sky Sports.
Craig is back in Seaburn on an unusually pleasant afternoon not far from where he met the man who would change his life.
Clough, then one of the most famous figures in English football, took him into his home and treated him like a son.
Seventeen years after Clough’s death, their first meeting in Seaburn back in October 1984 is a big part of Craig’s life. He has written a book about the experience, something that has led to many flashbacks in recent years. Not everything has been easy.
“Too much thought,” he says. “There are conflicting feelings. I have moved back to Sunderland to live which is probably a mistake. It takes me back to some places I do not want to think about but I have had to. It is a confusing experience.”
His is a story of poverty and lively stories of racism in the 1980s – his older brother Aaron was a mixed race. In the middle of it is the extraordinary humor and kindness of Clough, the man who shared his home with him and showed him adventures, holidays and cup finals.
It’s also a story of remorse and betrayal that Craig is still dealing with. “I let them down,” he says of the Clough family. Life since then has felt like an attempt to atone. Although he can not repair relationships, as the book’s title suggests, he wants to be fine.
He does this by using the proceeds to raise money for the boys he was. He has already donated much of the book advance to charities that support homeless teens and victims of domestic abuse. “Something good will come out, which is very nice,” he says.
“Even now I struggle with what happened. There are days when it hits me more. Days when I just sit there and wonder who I am. Am I the person I have grown up with, who I think is predominantly good, or is it so a worm? After all, am I still that scrubby little kid? “
But above all, this is a story of hope where there seemed to be nothing. A story about two urchins, Craig just 11, asking for a penny for the guy as Bonfire Night approached, only to stumble across the Nottingham Forest team at their hotel preparing to face Newcastle.
Kenny Swain, European Cup-winning full-back, gave them a five and told the two brothers to return in the morning for autographs. As they did so, they came across Clough who was new from his morning walk, who gave them breakfast and tickets to the match.
That was the beginning of the relationship. The book tells stories of Clough who saved Craig and Aaron from bullies and even let him sit on the forest bench. The boys, perhaps intuitively aware of their difficult home life, were invited to come down and live with Clough.
“The reaction from my family was not great,” Craig recalls.
“They said he had just done it for publicity and that it would not happen again.” But they were wrong.
It was a tough upbringing. “I never felt safe in my own home.” His father, technically his stepfather, was to beat his mother and had been a somewhat infamous figure. “He did not make it easy for himself or us by becoming a drug dealer,” says Craig.
It’s easy to see why Clough would empathize with the waifers who showed up that day in Seaburn but that does not explain everything that followed. Why did he do that? Simply put, it seems that Clough, a Northeast native, just enjoyed their company.
“Aaron was different to me. Sometimes he joked without people realizing he was joking. The whole room was wrinkled. I was like his little sidekick. Everything he missed, I would add. Brian said we used to make him laugh at his socks. “
But there was clearly a little more to it than that.
“There was also the socialist side of him. Even though he did not know how bad our lives were, he could see that they were not fantastic and he wanted to give us different experiences. We suddenly had bicycles and sports equipment and experienced things that others were.” t.
“I think he wanted to show us that life had more potential than where we were and just give us a nicer life. I do not think he planned it to last as long as it did. Maybe it was the fact that we got to enjoy so good with the family that it became a regular occurrence. “
While Aaron joined the Army at 16, Craig moved in on a more permanent basis. He was close to Nigel and would continue to work for his older brother Simon. He talks fondly about Clough’s wife Barbara – always Mrs Clough to Craig even now.
It was a transformed life. Time spent on the team bus with England national team players Stuart Pearce and Des Walker, participated in training sessions and witnessed wins in the Wembley Cup final. Memories to cherish. “Growing up around heroes and having great experiences.”
And then there was Clough himself.
“For about three years I sat in his car and drove to work with him and saw him in his office, in his study, walking around the cricket field with him. Seeing that side of things and still seeing the sweetness shine through was enormous.”
An incident at home not long after the first meeting highlights the absurdity of Clough’s eccentric generosity and how he made it seem so natural. Swain returned to the North East as a player with Alan Balls Portsmouth and so Craig duly went to meet him.
“Aaron and I came down to the hotel and honestly expected Alan Ball to take us down to his house on vacation.” Did he? “He did not even give us tickets! We just thought it was normal. That was when the extraordinary side of what he had done was realized.”
Life with the Cloughs in the village of Quarndon in Derbyshire was idyllic with occasional reminders of the fame that Clough once looked called by Muhammad Ali. “During everything, he was normal. He traveled normally, he cooked for us. He treated us like sons.”
That’s why what happened since is still so hard for Craig to accept. Almost three decades later, he, more than anyone else, has been affected by the experience. “When you think about it,” he begins, “the underlying message of the book is that I stole.”
Craig worked for Simon in his shop and found out that his colleague and friend took money. Instead of reporting it to Simon, he was persuaded not to just keep quiet but to take a cut, and tried to justify it to himself by saying that they were underpaid.
When discovered by the Clough family, it was handled with care. The authorities were not involved, there was even severance pay.
But he was also cut off from their lives.
“I would have gone to jail because the amount was significant. My life at that time would have been ruined by a criminal record, a reputation. I had no education. I would not have had a chance if they had done what they could have done.
“They did not want to ruin my life. Brian said he had sentenced me to give me a better life and if he had called the police my life would have been over. It’s something I’m struggling with, to disappoint them as I did when they had shown me such love.
“What happened at that time is that I turned around. I realized the gift he had given me. I changed as a person. I went from this ugly little kid who was bullied by everyone to a CEO of three companies in Warsaw who served six-digit wages. “
He would send newspaper clippings about his success in Poland to the Clough family, perhaps in the hope that they would feel some pride and redress over their decision. He did not prove much that they were wrong but proved that they were right because he gave him that chance.
“The sick side of it, and I really do not know if I should focus on this, is that I never felt I deserved the success I had. Never. I would sit and question myself because of how I had behaved “It had a profound psychological effect on me.”
He already follows Nigel’s team with passion, having changed his support from Burton Albion to Mansfield when he moved clubs. He goes to matches at home and away. “It’s my weak way of showing that I’m loyal when I was not loyal as a child,” he explains.
“It’s a bizarre thing. I’m questioning myself. Am I doing it for the right reasons or am I doing it to make me feel better? I can not expect to be friends with him again. Nigel probably does not care that I follow. them around the country but for me it’s important. “
While talking to Nigel now, there was no reunion with his father. He came close once. At Burton Albion during Nigel’s first game there, but stopped himself. “It was completely my fault. I just dropped it at the last minute because I did not know what to say.”
There would be no other possibility. Clough dog 2004.
“I broke down in the office and could not stop crying for 10 to 15 minutes. I was angry at myself for not fixing it. It left me with such a hole. I’ve had a great life since I met Brian but nothing can follow it. … It’s heartbreaking that he’s gone. I was crushed. “
That was the catalyst for this book. “I started writing it as a letter of thanks to Mrs Clough and it just changed.” He asked permission to write it, but knows they are a private family. “Many people have said things that did not need to be said. I hope I have not done so.
“I hope the humor in the book also comes out. It’s dark but it’s funny. I do not want the negative side to be the overriding side. I want it to be the beautiful act they did. Just because I am negative to it, does not mean that history is. “
It still feels like a cry for forgiveness and some people have reached out as a result of the recent media attention, reminding him of the positive impact he has had on their lives and urging him not to worry anymore. “It has given me a huge boost,” he says.
But it is clear that forgiveness must come from himself, not the Clough family or anyone else. “They have told me on several occasions when I have met them that I need to forgive myself, let it go and move on. They are not the ones stopping me from moving on, it is me.
“There were different stages through the book, because it was cleansing, where I expected to have a happier feeling but I still did not have it. I thought that when I had the physical book in my hand I would get it. “Maybe it’s coming on publication day.”
Or maybe it will come when he can see how the money raised from this book helps others. Children just like him whose life was transformed by an act of kindness.
“My hope is that the revenue will enable me to do something good for someone else,” he adds.
“I do not know if it is selfish but it can help me if I can help one or two children have a better life.
“Maybe I’ll finally forgive myself then.”
‘Be Good, Love Brian: Growing up with Brian Clough’ by Craig Bromfield can be purchased online via Amazon Prime and in all good bookstores from November 11