Brian Clough knew a good player when he saw one and he liked the look of young Australian full back Alan Davidson enough to sign him for Nottingham Forest in 1984.
After catching the eye with his performances for the Australian national team Davidson was tracked by a number of top European clubs. He spent time at both Arsenal and Bayern Munich but for various reasons a contract was not forthcoming until Clough’s Nottingham Forest made their move.
Davidson was only 24 at the time and one of the first things he had to do was break the news to his new manager that he was teetotal.
“I first met Cloughy when they signed me and he said, ‘everybody in my team drinks’. I told him I didn’t drink and he said, ‘if you sign for me you are going to drink’ but I didn’t drink.”
His refusal to indulge in his manager’s favourite pastime did not hinder Davidson’s development and he soon won a place in a Nottingham Forest side containing the likes of Steve Hodge, Gary Birtles and Peter Davenport.
Clough would eventually take him under his wing and even welcome him into his family home but Davidson admits to being terrified of him at first.
“He called me into his office and said, ‘you don’t look too happy’. I actually told him I was scared of him and that I found him intimidating and he turned round and said, ‘son the chairman pays my wages and even he’s scared of me.’ After that I got on well with him he was really good for me. Coming across such a powerful character was a great experience in my career.”
Davidson actually got to experience a side of Clough which few of the other players ever would. Without any family of his own in England he was invited to spend time at the Clough household.
“He took me under his wing and I got to know him a bit more personally. He invited me to his house and I spent Christmas with him. I used to go to his house quite a bit so I met the family including Nigel who was a youngster coming through and was in and out of the first team squad at the time.”
Spending time with the Cloughs away from football gave Davidson a unique insight into the relationship between Brian and Nigel.
“It was interesting the way they got on. Their relationship was totally different at home to at the football club. I actually got a shock when I saw Nigel at home because he was treated like a son but when he was at the club he was just another player. I remember saying to him one day, ‘is your dad around?’ and he turned around and said, ‘you mean the boss?’ I was one of the lucky ones who got to see the relationship he had at home with his father.”
While Davidson never actually drank himself he still found himself being used as an unwitting accomplice by Clough on a tour of the Middle East.
“I knew the drinking was a problem. It was accepted but we all knew. We were in Iraq and Saudi Arabia and Cloughy would just go, ‘you, you, and you grab those bags,’ and that was it and you’d pick the bags up and go through all the customs not knowing what was in them but when you got to the other end you would see bottles of scotch.”
However he does not feel that the drinking had a detrimental effect on Clough’s managerial ability.
“His management skills were superb he was never wrong with anything he did or his decisions. Everyone knew their jobs and you did the job or you got sacked it was that simple, straight down the line. He liked to drink but he was so sharp he was like a radar. He could be talking to you but he would be listening to every conversation which was going on all over the place. He was a special man when it came to football but his record speaks for itself, you don’t need me to tell you that.”
Unfortunately for Davidson his time under Clough was marred by not one but two serious injuries.
“I had a blackout in a reserve team match. Cloughy was the one who really looked out of me, he sent me down to London to find out what the problem was. I had been knocked out in a game in Melbourne and I had damaged brain tissue and I had to go on special medication.”
This injury kept him out for much of his first season at Nottingham Forest. He recovered in time for the start of the following campaign but then disaster struck again.
“I had a good pre season and I started off well but I broke me back playing at Portsmouth. I went into a sliding tackle and a knee connected with my back and broke two vertebrates and I was out for 18 months.”
This injury brought a premature end to Davidson’s spell in England. He would eventually resume his playing career in Australia and Malaysia and he went on to win 79 caps for the national team.
Now, aged 50, he still plays football ocassionally, mainly in support of charitable causes in Australia, and has nothing but fond memories of his professional career.
“The game is about experiences. It’s a vehicle which takes you all over the world. At the end of your career you have to ask yourself, ‘are you content?’ I can say yes because the games been good to me, I’ve had a lot of experiences and injuries are just part of the game. I had two serious injuries and I still played again and I’m 50 now and I can still play.”