“YOU, young man,” started the familiar nasal voice, “have been doing that to my Nigel for the last 10 years. How do you like it?”
Brian Clough had just kneed Steve Bruce in the back during a break in proceedings at a Professional Footballers’ Association dinner.
Worse still, the then Manchester United defender had been standing at a urinal, letting nature take its course, at the time.
That, though, did not stop Bruce laughing out loud as Clough added: “Now carry on with what you were doing.”
The laughter was reciprocated, Clough’s point having been made in a characteristically memorable manner, and the two men went on to enjoy a fine evening.
Sadly, Brian, one of the greatest managers English football will ever see, is no longer with us. But Sunday will see his son Nigel and Bruce go head-to-head as the managers of Sheffield United and Hull City at Wembley.
A keen contest is anticipated, as is to be expected considering how the two men did battle in the Premier League as players. “Steve was horrible to play against, absolutely horrible,” said the United manager with a laugh when speaking to the Yorkshire Post ahead of their first Wembley meeting since Manchester United beat Forest in the 1992 League Cup final.
“One of my first games for Forest was at Norwich, when Steve was still there. We won 1-0 through a goal by Peter Davenport.
“But the thing I remember most from that day is Steve whacking everything that moved. I don’t mean just me. Everyone got hit.”
That meeting at Carrow Road on February 2, 1985, was only Clough’s second appearance for Forest. He was still 18 and there were many on the coaching staff at the City Ground who felt the teenager should have been played earlier.
Brian, though, had been hesitant. He was worried about accusations of nepotism. The Forest manager also did not want opposition centre-halves targeting his son just because of who he was. Such thinking was why Nigel played for the club’s A-team under a pseudonym.
Once in the first team, however, it was clear that Forest had unearthed a diamond of a player. Clough went on to score more than 100 goals in an eight-year spell.
He moved on to Liverpool in a £2.3m transfer after Forest’s relegation and while the goals may have been harder to come by, Clough still had a penchant for the big occasion.
In one of the most exciting Liverpool-Manchester United tussles of all time, Clough netted twice in a fightback that saw a 3-0 lead for the visitors, which included a goal by Bruce, cancelled out to ensure honours ended even.
That particular game came almost nine years to the day after Clough had first come across Bruce at Carrow Road but the Blades manager insists very little had changed.
“Steve was still whacking everything that moved,” laughs the former England international at the memory of all those tussles in the top flight.
“You knew exactly what you would be up against when facing Steve. He never let you down, in that respect.
“He was a very uncompromising centre-half. A lot of them are ball players these days. Steve, to be fair to him, could play a bit but he also had that aggression that every good centre-half needs.
“I’d imagine he has taken that into management. He will be demanding everything from his players, just like he gave everything as a player.
“I know him a little bit outside when we played against each other. We have had chats from time to time and I like him.
“I have always respected Steve, both as a player and manager.”
The feeling is mutual with the City manager, whose son Alex will be in the squad heading to Wembley this weekend, being full of admiration at how both Nigel and dad Brian handled being together at the same club.
“I have seen a bit of what it must have been like for Nigel and Brian with my own son Alex,” said Bruce. “They were together for so long at Forest and Nigel was just starting out.
“It must have been difficult for not only Nigel but also his dad, regardless of how successful he had been.
“People say things about favouring your son and nonsense like that. Me and Alex have heard it all. But considering who his dad was and how well he did, it can’t have been easy in Nigel’s career.
“And I am sure Nigel will say that he was made the scapegoat sometimes.
“Alex said that to me a couple of weeks ago after West Ham. Allan McGregor got sent off and I took Alex off because I had to get our substitute goalkeeper (Steve Harper) on. Alex, understandably, wanted to know why it had been him that came off.
“It was so disappointing for Alex because he had just got back in the team. Nigel must have had some difficult things to handle when at Forest with his dad.
“To have a successful dad like Brian, I imagine that must have been very, very difficult. It is like saying, ‘Follow that’.
“But Nigel has done remarkably well in his own right. Especially at Sheffield United. It is a fantastic achievement to get them to a semi-final, really incredible. But look at the league, too.
“Nigel has handled himself magnificently. He is one of the good guys of football, to be fair.”
That may, indeed, be true. But it is doubtful that Nigel ever had to contend with what Bruce did at that PFA dinner all those years ago.
“It was the first time I had met Brian,” laughs the Tigers chief at the memory. “We were at a PFA ‘do’ and I’d nipped to the toilet. I was at the urinal when, suddenly, I felt a whack from behind.
“I turned round and it was Brian. He just said, ‘You, young man, have been doing that to my son for the last 10 years, how do you like it?’
“I laughed and Brian laughed. It is a story I have told friends many times and they all fall about laughing. What a character.”