New Brian Clough Book: The heartwarming story of how ex-Nottingham Forest legend saved two Sunderland-born brothers from the poverty of Southwick in the 1980s
Sunderland-born Craig Bromfield – who grew up hungry alongside his siblings in poverty-stricken Southwick during the 1980s – provides some of the most revealing and unique insight on Clough that I have ever read.
His book ‘Be Good, Love Brian: Growing up with Brian Clough’ sheds precious light not only on Clough and his love for Wearside but on the tough experiences of poor children growing up in the area.
Craig paints a true picture of one of football’s greatest characters but his descriptions of Sunderland in the 1980s – the racism, the domestic abuse and the poverty – provide an important piece of our social history.
It is heartbreaking, hilarious and full of glorious Cloughisms.
Incredibly, though, despite his family having little money and growing up with a drug-dealing and often violent father, Craig formed an unlikely relationship with Clough.
The story begins on Seaburn beach in October 1984, following a chance encounter with Nottingham Forest full-back Kenny Swain whilst Craig and his brother, Aaron, were out begging for money.
Forest, by that time double European Cup winners, were due to face Newcastle United at St James’s Park.
However, Clough couldn’t resist staying in Sunderland, where he had netted 54 goals in 61 league appearances before injury cut short his career at Roker Park aged just 29.
“I’m a Southwick boy from a pretty rough area,” Craig tells me in the Grand Hotel in Seaburn 37 years on from the chance meeting that altered the course of his entire life. “From not the greatest family in the world and we had to do everything we could to make money.
“Car washes, doing gardens, begging outside of pubs. But the most success we had was when we used to do penny for the guy, we used to do that to raise money for Christmas presents for our Mam.
“We were down next to the Seaburn Hotel [now the Grand Hotel] on October the 18th 1984, me and my stepbrother Aaron, who was mixed race.
“We’d had a bit of trouble with a skinhead, who had come to kick me in because my brother was black, he was at the opposite end of the hotel asking for money. But a couple of lads that I didn’t know at the time saw it.
“At the time I was a bit of a soft kid. They asked me if I was okay and we found out that they were Nottingham Forest players staying at the hotel and we managed to meet a lad called Kenny Swain, who was their left-back at the time.
“We asked him for a penny for the guy but he didn’t have any money. He went back upstairs to get his wallet and some autographs. We didn’t believe him but he came back out with four or five of the players’ autographs and a fiver!
“That was quite a bit of money back then. Usually, people would give you five pence or 10 pence but he gave us a fiver and told us not to stay out too late as there were loads of drunks about.
“He said that if we came back in the morning at about 10am while they were having breakfast that he would give us the rest of the players’ autographs. I know he didn’t expect us to go back.
“Me and Aaron went back down at 7:30am. We came down in the same clothes that we had been down in the day before because we didn’t know what type of mood my dad was going to be in.
“It could explode and kick off at any minute in our house, so I would just sleep in my clothes, in case we needed to do a midnight dash. Obviously, the players have seen that and thought we were a right pair of scruffy little kids.
“We were walking along the seafront outside the hotel at about 8:30am when we saw Brian Clough, Aaron told me who he was as I didn’t have a clue. I walked up to him pretty calmly, not realising how massive he was.
“I said, ‘Hello, Mr Clough. Can you tell me if Kenny Swain is up yet, please?’" The Bromfields were taught to be polite despite their rough upbringing.
“He asked why we wanted to know. We told him and he said, ‘Right, come with me. You look like you could do with a decent breakfast. We’ll get you a set of autographs and then you can bugger off home.’
“We came into the hotel and sat with them for an hour-and-a-half and at the end, Kenny Swain came up and said, ‘Look, the gaffer wants to invite you to the game… would you like to come?’ We obviously said yes!”
The brothers were taken to St James’s Park and had quite the adventure watching Newcastle United face Nottingham Forest on Tyneside, but the boys missed their chance to say goodbye to Clough and his team.
Craig penned a letter to Brian thanking him for his hospitality. In true Clough fashion, he wrote back to the boys and told them that they were welcome to attend again the next time Forest were in the area.
Between cup games and league clashes, Forest played Sunderland and Newcastle United several times over the next 12 months, with Craig and Aaron always waiting for Clough, who would promptly invite the boys into the dressing room and then onto the team bus for chocolate and fizzy pop.
A year after the boys’ first meeting with the Forest team, Clough invited the brothers down to stay with his family at his Quarndon home for a few days in a remarkable act of generosity still warmly felt by Craig to this day.
“Your Mam will think she has won the pools getting rid of you,” Clough said to the boys as he instructed Jim McInally to ring home and ask their mother’s permission. The Bromfields were too poor to own a phone, so McInally had to ring their neighbours.
“You can imagine,” Craig laughs in a voice that resembles Clough’s nasal drawl in many ways, “Some strange Scottish bloke on the other end of the phone saying to my mam that Brian Clough wanted to take her kids for a week’s holiday!”
Before they knew it, Craig and Aaron were being served bacon sandwiches by a two-time First Division champion and one of the best-known and most outspoken television personalities in Britain, whilst being looked after by his wife Barbara, who was, as Brian explained, to be addressed as Mrs Clough at all times.
Craig still calls her Mrs Clough to this day. “We got on well with the family and we made them laugh,” he remembers.
The boys were shown a life of comfort entirely at odds with the one they had in Southwick.
They were fed and watered by the family and sent back up to Sunderland with clothes, Nottingham Forest training gear and money for their mother.
Much to Craig’s dismay, the presents gifted to him by the Clough family were sold by his father – who is no longer alive – upon his return to Wearside.
“I never felt safe in my house,” Craig adds, a flicker of regret lingering across his face. “But sometimes my dad could be brilliant and beautiful.
“Even in the darkness of these chapters, I want the funniness and the light to come through,” he adds.
Over the years, the Cloughs made further arrangements for Craig and Aaron to visit, providing sanctuary to the boys on several occasions, although they were not fully aware of how bad living in the Bromfield’s Southwick household had become.
But why did Clough bother and what did have to gain from such selfless generosity?
“He loved Sunderland. He had a couple of his kids up here and was idolised up here probably more than he was anywhere else.
“He absolutely loved Sunderland and that’s not an exaggeration so that probably counted for something.”
Craig is smiling now, a boyish grin stretched across his face. “We just had that childish innocence.
“We were funny to him, sometimes he would ask us a question and we’d answer it just straight and it would make him laugh because no one else would answer like that with him.”
“You cheeky little buggers,” Clough would warmly respond.
Aaron, the older brother, joined the British army whilst Craig was invited to live with the Cloughs after his home life continued to deteriorate.
“The impact Clough had on me was huge. He taught me to be good. I’m not so sure about my voice but we picked up things after being around him for so long.
“He shaped the good side of me but occasionally the bad side does still come out,” Craig agonises.
Craig was to betray Brian and the Cloughs.
It is a traumatic event that he still struggles to rationalise even now, all these years later, despite the forgiveness of the family.
But that is a situation only Craig, who is donating the majority of the proceeds from the book to charitable causes, can describe to you in his own words.
“People can read about it in the book but I let them down and I let them down badly. It wasn’t just me but I want to take responsibility for it.
“I don’t want to be dark but it has killed me as a person and I will never get over it.”
So much has been written about Brian, some of which has been unnecessarily painful to the Clough family and often inaccurate.
With that in mind, is now really the right time for another book and accompanying news stories despite the obvious remaining intrigue regarding Clough?
“I want to shine a light on him,” Craig responds. “Everyone hears about his gestures but I don’t think people realise the scale of his generosity.
“The guy had an absolutely huge socialist heart.”
Craig, though, understands that there may be disappointment from the Clough family.
“I understand. He was their dad. He was a human being, a famous human being, but it is their dad.
“I hope that if they read it they see that it is a tribute to a wonderful man and a brilliant family alongside him.
“They went above and beyond for me.”
As a Sunderland fan from Hendon, I can’t resist one last question. Craig’s response proves both heartwarming and annoying in equal measure.
“He would have managed Sunderland at one or two points,” Craig insists.
“There were times when the approach didn’t come when it should have but he would have loved to have managed Sunderland.
“He would have loved the chance. It would have completed him.”
‘Be Good, Love Brian: Growing up with Brian Clough’ by Craig Bromfield is available to pre-order now and can be purchased online through Amazon Prime and in all good book stores on November 11...
Or, as Craig says in true Brian Clough fashion, “If you can’t find a copy online, drop me a message and I’ll sell you one for 20 quid…”