It has been well recorded that Derby’s players were in Majorca and their manager, Brian Clough, in the Scilly Isles when Wolves made them champions by beating Leeds in May, 1972.
Less famously, when Wolves did Cloughie another huge favour by winning at Bolton on the last day of 1976-77, a tension-ridden Nottingham Forest party was at 30,000 feet and also heading for some Spanish sun.
Hard to imagine now but third-placed Forest had finished their Second Division campaign and, in order to cling to the final promotion spot, were dependent on either Wolves winning at Burnden Park or Ian Greaves’s men unexpectedly slipping at home to Bristol Rovers in the following midweek.
For an insight into the agonies endured by the East Midlanders on that spring afternoon, we have turned to Martin O’Neill’s excellent, newly-published autobiography, On Days Like These – some opportune research with the two clubs meeting in the quarter-final of the Carabao Cup tomorrow night.
The former City Ground midfielder, who helped Forest win two European Cups, the League Championship and sundry other silverware, writes: “We are powerless. We find ourselves in the hands of a pilot to guide us to Majorca and in the hands of Wolves to win against Bolton.”
Not far out of East Midlands Airport, the captain announced that Sammy Chung’s side had taken the lead. But then…silence from the cockpit.
“There are no more announcements and we are left in limbo,” the author adds. “Perhaps Bolton have won and he doesn’t want to tell us. If he has been able to find out the score in-flight after 20 minutes, why can’t he find out the final score?”
O’Neill’s unease that Wolves had nothing to play for, having been crowned Division Two champions the previous Saturday, would have been heightened had he known Frank Munro’s take on it; namely, that a fair bit of alcohol was consumed during the subsequent week and the trip to Burnden was little more than a lap of honour for the side.
But they dug in to protect Kenny Hibbitt’s free-kick goal and there were more celebrations among the gold and black hordes before Forest touched down, their chairman, Stuart Dryden, heading immediately for a pay phone to find out the result.
“The tension is honestly unbearable,” O’Neill recalls. “Even a draw is probably not good enough. Only the chairman’s face will tell us the news. He seems to be smiling, although we can’t be sure.
“There is a grin on his face. He says to Clough: ‘I believe congratulations are in order.’ Within seconds, there is an almighty roar in the terminal. Get in there!”
Clough apparently reminded his players that Bolton could still theoretically go up by beating Bristol Rovers by 15 goals but the fantasy-land that warning belonged in cut no ice. As in 1972, a squad under his unique control could bask in the Mediterranean warmth, think of the top division – and raise a glass to those at Molineux.