If there’s something that football fans of clubs outside the world’s elite (so about 90%) know about modern football, it’s that success is fleeting. Elite teams, your Bayerns, Barcas, Reals etc. have always existed, but up until the 90’s the playing field was seemingly more level, with a greater number of teams finding successful periods. Then television companies like Sky and recently NBC poured money into the richest teams, through re-branded tournaments such as the British Premier League and European Champions League, and those on the outside have been frozen out, barring some huge outside financial investment.
I Believe in Miracles is therefore, a refreshing reminder of a time gone by where football was a more “honest”, community driven and less money-driven game. In 1975, the somewhat disgraced Brian Clough found himself unemployed after being fired by then footballing giants Leeds United after only 44 days. His disastrous spell and reputation (having walked out of Derby County and Brighton & Hove Albion previously) meant the only team who would take him were a struggling Nottingham Forest side, whom despite previous successes were languishing in the old second division.
What happened next was nothing short of a miracle. Forest rose through the division within the months of Clough’s appointment to gain promotion to the top-level First Division and from their watched their success grow as they went on to win the division title, two league cups and most incredibly, two European cups back-to-back all while retaining the core spine of the team inherited by Clough five years prior.
It is a remarkable story of how a team could once be built for success due to football prowess rather than monetary value. I Believe in Miracles excellently re-tells this story, managing to get interviews with essentially the entire squad, featuring big names such as Peter Shilton, Viv Anderson, Archie Gemmill and Martin O’Neil each managing to bring an entertaining and erudite re-calling of the team spirit that bonded them together.
Perhaps most incredibly however is that the most charismatic person to feature in the documentary is, still, Brian Clough himself. Even for generations after his prime, all football fans have at least heard of Clough, who died in 2004, his legacy remaining due to his son Nigel’s current managerial work, and in popular culture due to the recent Martin Sheen starring biopic The Dammed United. Such is the presence of the enigmatic Clough, the interviews shown here from the late 70’s show what a character he was, deflecting unwanted attention from his players through his humour and perceived arrogance, while his squad cannot speak highly enough of his, and his assistant Peter Taylor’s, man-management and tactical skills. This is an excellent companion piece to The Dammed United, which the Clough family were reportedly unhappy with, faithfully telling the story from where that film leaves off.
While this film perhaps won’t transcend it’s initial sporting audience in the same way, Senna did, it is regardless an entertaining and faithful re-telling of this remarkable sporting achievement, felt by the entire city of Nottingham. Director Jonny Owen also knows exactly when to let his interviewees or indeed, the football, do the talking, while expertly editing pieces together accompanied by the era-defining late 70’s sound of Disco, Funk and Soul music. A must watch for football fans everywhere.