John McGovern recalls his special memories of lifting the League Cup with Nottingham Forest.
As Aston Villa and Manchester City prepare to face each other in the Carabao Cup Final this weekend, former players, club legends and a host of special guests gathered on Thursday evening for a special countdown-to-kick-off event at Tower Bridge.
In attendance was former Nottingham Forest captain and two-time League Cup winner John McGovern, who at the event spoke of his pride in lifting the famous trophy, and in doing so became a key part of Forest’s history.
“Obviously I was captain of Nottingham Forest and we got to three consecutive League Cup Finals, so I certainly have very special memories of this competition,” he recalled fondly.
“The League Cup plays a huge part in the club’s history. When I was there we won it twice, but the famous side with Stuart Pearce and Nigel Clough also won it twice as well, so it’s a nice little record to have for both the club and in the history of the game of football.
"Every player in those days wanted to play at Wembley in a cup final and I was no different. I always looked forward to the occasion with enthusiasm and confidence, and we won two out of three so it wasn’t too bad!”
Forest first tasted League Cup success in 1978, after beating Liverpool 1-0 in the replay following a 0-0 draw initially, though McGovern had to watch from the sidelines that day after sustaining an injury in the first final. Victory in the League Cup was followed by the league title later that season, as Brian Clough's side became the first club to achieve a domestic double.
However, the Forest captain didn’t have to wait long before lifting the famous trophy himself, as victory again in 1979 - at the expense of Southampton - saw them become the first club in history to retain the trophy.
“The first final in 1978 went to a replay and I got injured in the final, meaning I missed the replay unfortunately,” he continued. "Kenny Burns lifted the trophy instead of me which meant I had to wait until the following year when we beat Southampton at Wembley. I did get to lift the trophy that day in front of the Forest fans though, and it was a momentous occasion for me and the club, it was wonderfully celebrated by everybody involved.”
In what was described as the best Final since the heroics of QPR and Swindon Town in the 1960s, Forest actually trailed for the first half of the fixture, before a resurgent second-half performance saw them come from behind to make history.
"The night before Brian Clough had encouraged us to have a glass or two of champagne in celebration,” McGovern revealed. “The night before the final that must seem a bit strange nowadays, but to Mr Clough it was was natural!
“When we were 1-0 down at half-time he wouldn’t even let us sit down in the dressing room, he said we didn’t deserve that.
"Thankfully we turned it around in the second half, winning the game 3-2. I remember in the post match press conference they said it was the manager’s inspirational team talk at half-time that turned the tide of events - I personally think we’d got rid of the champagne by half-time and started to play like the team we knew we were!”
Even now, as he recalls his times in a Forest shirt, McGovern says there’s nothing quite like playing at Wembley, especially when you come away winners.
“Before I became a professional footballer, when me and the lads I had a kick about with would talk, the one dream of us all was to play in a cup final at Wembley. As a youngster that’s a distant dream but when it comes to reality, there’s no less enthusiasm or prestige about actually playing in a cup final at Wembley Stadium. You can’t describe it.
"For the supporters, the players and everybody involved with the club it’s a prestigious moment - only if you come out winners though!"
His love for Nottingham Forest is clear, as is his admiration for former manager Brian Clough who passed away in 2004, labelling him one of football’s special people.
"We were a very successful team at that time, under Brian Clough,” McGovern explained.
"We were full of confidence, the manager and his assistant Peter Taylor were outstanding; off the wall, different and just inspired the players to go out there and believe in what they were doing each game.
“If you’ve got someone who’s teaching you and coaching you in how to go out on the pitch and enjoy your football and believe in yourself, it’s the perfect management team and that helped us in every game that we played.
“I love Nottingham Forest and I loved the manager. When I look back on my whole career, I realise how lucky I was. I met this special man at 16 years of age, people used to ask me what Brian Clough was like and I’d just say ‘he’s different.’ That’s what he was. I’m now 70 years of age and he’s still different. There was no one like him!"
Nottingham Forest League Cup record:
1978 - Winners
1979 - Winners
1980 - Runners-up
1989 - Winners
1990 - Winners
1992 - Runners-up